17 Jan

Things break

Entropy’s the theme lately, I guess. The thermostat’s clicking away again like a set of chattering teeth–only payday stands between it and its successor. The vacuum died. I could write a column about vacuums and planned obsolesence. I grew up with one of the old school Kirby’s that looked like it was made from melted down military grade weaponry and, short of the occasional replacement of motor brushes or roller, just roared and ran. Heavy on the roar–its job was to strike fear in the dust before it fed.* That same machine is about $1k now. Maybe I should adopt a former mentor’s model for replacing his toaster ovens–buy my vacuums cheap at garage sales or, now, on Craig’s List, that great garage sale in the ether.

The main bathroom is in severe need of a remodel–it’s in bandage mode, daily requesting a new countertop/cabinet, sink, paint job, fan, tub faucet, shower retiling, and tub re-enameling. (It’s an old steel tub, much cheaper and easier to re-enamel then tear out and replace.) Hopefully I can respond this year.

The ground under the house really needs a more thorough covering of plastic–the former homeowner, our real estate agent, employed a handy man who did a lot of great work before we bought the place, but none of it in areas where it wasn’t fun to do that work. I don’t mind crawling under houses, although with the furnace ducts, our’s is a bit of a maze.

We have some big trim on the front porch roof and around the garage that was designed to collect water and rot. I discovered it while painting the house this summer and patched it with Bondo, a solution that underscored its temporary nature by cracking and shedding paint. At least it’ll keep things together till this summer, even if it does make my suburban neighbors avert their gaze.

Our back deck and balcony off our bedroom are old and soft and splintery and ready for a tear down. I can replace the deck with stepping stones, but without the balcony, there’s no place other than the peak of our roof for a telescope–I hope to extend it a bit to give us a 360 degree instead of the current (estimated) 220 degree view (N, W, and partial S exposures).

It’s the old Tennesee Ernie Ford lament, owing my soul to the building supply store. And, maybe, IKEA.

* Vacuum as predator is the wrong metaphor. When I was a kid the Kirby, with its sleek motor housing and rectangular ramscoop head, reminded me more of a Golden Age rocket. As a little kid a couple of years into Science Fiction and Optimism, I would imagine it turning into something I could easily ride into the wild blue and never return on–at least not till dinner time. (Transformers are not remotely a new idea. That’s why kids love them so much–they connect with the primitive techno mage in all of us.) Perhaps we lament the absence of the future because we’ve stopped designing for it. The future, or at least the romance of the far future, was all around us in the 60’s and 70’s, in the lines of our machines (including cars) and many of our buildings. They were cruder or larger than many of today’s subtler designs, but they also had lines that our eyes and brains could trace and associate with fantastic promise. Today, most vacuums look more like the old Transparent Man and Lady science exhibits–see that HEPA filter, that’s exactly where the spleen would be on a person. And when the stomach fills up, you just pop it out and empty it in the trash. And in a year or so, just like PKD’s replicants, you toss the whole vacuum. That’s a different kind of future, stressing entropy over optimism.