Friday, May 23, 2003

Starship Trooper

One of our buddies recently had an experience from which our darkest, screaming nightmares are formed.

This guy is a technical wiz, has worked on computers and software all of his life, and was even in the military for a while. Yet, the most common household devices flummox him. One day he awoke to no hot water and called us for advice. My wife told him that most likely the pilot light had gone out on his water heater. He said, "where's my water heater and what does it look like?"

Later, his furnace didn't seem to be heating the house right and he noticed he sneezed his brains out when it started up. He called us for some clues, and my wife asked him when the last time he changed his furnace filter was. He said, "what's a furnace filter?" He'd lived in the house three years at this point, by the way.

My wife told him to go downstairs and she'd walk him through it. He said he'd call back; he needed to get ready first.

In Colorado, some new houses have an unfinished crawlspace (meaning dirt floor) where they put the furnace and water heater, because Colorado is so arid, open-earth crawlspaces typically don't cause problems. Anywhere else you would have a huge problem with mold and other moisture nastiness.

He calls back and explains his accoutrements. He had on this wireless headset so he could talk on the phone, had wound up his emergency crank flashlight that required no batteries, had tucked his pants into his shoes as a guard against many-legged things who like to climb, and was armed with a golf putter for pushing the tapestries of spider-webs aside. He was at the entrance to the crawlspace which he described in a small voice as, "having a lot more spider-webs than he remembered" from the water heater voyage.

My wife told him to find a sliding metal panel, or anyplace that had a slot with a cardboard edge in it (the filter). After a long, quiet pause, he said, "Ok, I'm going in."

For the next minute or so, all she heard were sour, mostly profane grumbles about darkness, bugs, and sticky webs. Then, a screech of sheer utter horror as though someone had looked into the furnace of hell and spotted something Dante didn't have the bravery to describe. Perhaps Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate, frinstance. ("He screamed like a girl!" said my wife.) Then, a loud thunk, with the profanity, hooting, and intermittent banging receding from the sound field of the headset. Finally, a long silence, replaced by a dial tone.

Some details in the remaining portion of the story had to be reconstructed at a later point.

Evidently, something heavy enough to be felt through the headset skittered down the mouthpiece, and before he had time to register this fact, it reached out with at least three appendages and felt around for a foothold (feethold?) on his lips. The ancient lizard portion of his brain swung into action, commandeered his arm, and bashed him randomly about the head to dislodge the headset, and hence the unidentified creature. This effort was met with success. However, this had launched him into many sheets of spider webs that he had not yet pushed aside with his putter, which he had dropped. The windup flashlight that needed no batteries, which was placed on the ledge pointing into the crawlspace, had used up its supply of cranks, and went dark at that precise moment. Panic embraced him like a drunken sailor just back from a year at sea. (Ok, he didn't put it like that; I embellished a little bit). He literally flipped out and his flight towards the dim outline of crawlspace entrance was hindered by the spinning, tripping, and flailing his lizard brain employed for defense against myriad things brushing against and falling on him. (Think of Pris/Daryl Hannah when Harrison Ford shoots her during her attack in Blade Runner.) He bashed against the metal ducts branching from the furnace over two dozen times, counting the number bangs he recalled and the numerous bruises evident once he had reached safety.

He said he lay panting on the linoleum for about ten minutes, thinking he might die of heart failure right there, enduring the receding fantods. Then he realized he had abandoned his favorite putter in the void. So he cranked up the light and brought it with him this time to retrieve the club. Silver lining - nearly all of the spider webs had been cleared out from his whirling dervish performance.

After a couple nerve-calming beers, our hero discovered that the furnace filter was conveniently placed on the very front of the furnace assembly, allowing easy access without necessitating a trip into the depths of the crawlspace.

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