Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sitting in the Dark

I'm having flashbacks of scenes from "The Moneypit". The movie from many years ago with Tom Hanks about an idealistic, clueless couple who get a "fixer-upper" mansion at a bargain price and set about to rehab and remodel it. It was a pretty amusing film at the time and amongst my favorites.

I'm getting that feeling of helplessness and impending financial drain right now. Not quite on the epic scale of that hapless couple in the movie, but more on my level. In the movie, everything was phrased in thousands and hundreds to fix whatever was ailing their house. In my situation, it's more modest-maybe 50's teetering into the hundreds. But it's all relative.

All I wanted to do was put in a new ceiling light. In the dining room. That's all. No biggy. A simple upgrade, people do it all the time. But I reckon most people don't live where I do. They live in residential areas that are less than 40 years old and actually have building and electrical codes. Where the electrical wiring make sense and is color coded for your convienience.
Where I'm living now is in the dark...for the most part. Literally.

Yesterday I went about finally fixing the kitchen sink once and for all. We had been plagued with a wore out washer/connector to one of the drain pipes causing ooky sink water to dribble under the sink. It got so bad that I had a dishpan under the drain to catch the torrent. I had tried to fix it once before recently, but the well intentioned dork at the True Value directed me to the wrong type washer. How was I to know? There's a plethora of shapes and styles of washers for these drain pipes, all serving a particular purpose. I explained what the drain was doing and where and I came home with a 30 cent plastic circle that did nothing to remedy the problem.
I figured the only way to fix it would be to get a complete new kitchen drain set that came with everything one could possibly need. So I finally did.

After 20 minutes of some trial and error and with no help from the incredibly vague and generic instructions on the package, my task was finished! A few test runs and I was satisfied that I had fixed it. No dribbling, no spewing, no leaks. HUZZAH! I so totally rock! Success went to my head:
'Hey, let's get that dining room light up now while we're at it!'
I had bought the fixture weeks ago to replace the awkward, ozark engineered, heavy lead etched glass pendant light that had hung there for years-a trophy from one of my husband's junking expeditions. The local funeral home had done a remodel and had all their old light fixtures sitting out on the curb, free for the taking. He brought one home, figuring it would be perfect for the dining room. An afternoon of tinkering and adapting it to suit the room and it was up and functional. And so it had hung there from the dining room ceiling for, lo, these past 8 or so years with nary a hitch.

But it was ugly, and a pain to maintain-always windexing all those glass panes which showed every little smudge and speck of dust and the length of the heavy chain it hung from made for some close calls. I had more than once bonked my noggin on it. But to him it was beautiful, elegant and most importantly- FREE.
But it HAD to go. It was time. And now flush with the success of conquering the kitchen drain I was up to the job. Hey, how hard can it be? Turn the correct breaker off, undo the old fixture, get the new one wired up and attached-bingo bango-you're groovin', right?


My first clue that I should stop just right there and now was the breaker box. It's always been a little inside joke how the old faded handwritten labels next to each breaker had absolutely no base in reality. We had always intended to mark them day. But y'know how those things go.
So now it was hit n miss time. I had the dining room light on, so I would know when I got lucky. Took about 3 tries. Curiously, the ceiling fan nearby the dining room light was still going. Oh well, who knows.
I then went about the house to see what else had been shut off. Amazing!
OK, no light in the kitchen, no light on the back porch, no hallway light, eldest's bedroom light is out, my bedroom light is out. We have no porch light! The entryway light is kerplunkt, no light in the family room and oh, yeah...the dining room light is out,too.
Holy crap! That one breaker just about took out the whole house! Then what the hell else do all those other switches rule?! Good God, are we controlling the electricity for the whole neighborhood? You'd think that looking at this breaker box-jammed pack with almost 24 switches. And only one empty spot. Basically all the lighting was takened out, except for the "newer" part of the house (newer as in within the past 30 years!) The bathroom which is in the original part of the house still had lights and power, though. Thank Goodness! We still had power at some but not all the outlets throughout the house. Oy! My head hurts just trying to figure this all out! Obviously, the computer still works-even though it's in the dining room now.
Ahhh, but it won't about 30 minutes I'll have the light in and power restored.


Bill had been in the construction biz for all his adult life and so he accquired alot of skills, shortcuts and other novel ways of dealing with any quirks in building that might have come his way. He was especially skilled at electrical and even though he had time and again tried to explain simple electrical principals to me, I just barely grasped it. He always used the water analogy to explain how electricity "flowed" through a house. All well and good, I could get the basic idea, but when your water flow starts turning into side creeks, tributaries and streams branching off from the main "river" then I'm lost! In short, I knew just enough to get me into trouble.

Like now.

Teetering on a dining room chair, flashlight stuck in my mouth so I'd have both hands free, and the front pocket of my hoodie stuffed with pliers, wire cutters, screwdrivers, wire nuts and any other implements I thought I'd need to do this task I set out to remove the offending light fixture. That took nearly a half hour! As I had said, my husband had been quite clever with his approach to things like this, and the way this whole fixture was afixed to the ceiling was no exception. I did notice that he had attached little strips of masking tape to the wires leading down from the ceiling to the light itself-no doubt to indicate which were "hot" and which were neutral, but over the years the ink had faded to the point that you couldn't even discern anything had been written-it was totally blank. Fuggin' great!
Anyway, finally got the whole shebang off, shocked at the overall weight of the fixture...all that leaded glass, I guess and was now staring up at a horrific fist sized rat's nest of archaiac wires in the round box in the ceiling. Oh crap! I'm screwed now.
This wasn't shown in the directions that came with the new light fixture!

Some were bundled in old electricians tape, starting off black but emerging from the bundle of tape as white, some were the really, really old school clothcovered wires, some showed splitting along their outer coating, a thin streak of copper showing. OH CRAP-NOT GOOD! (I do know that much.)
It was a jumbled mess. I was in way over my head. And to disturb any of this precarious balance I saw above me would mean possibly having the whole house burst into flames at the flip of a switch. Reluctantly, I knew at this point I would have to stand down and call in the calvery.
So now I have a hole in my dining room ceiling and a couple of arthritic wires poking out and am humbly sitting in the dark typing this.

Hey, we can deal with no lighting for awhile. Shoot, sometimes in the winter we go for days, sometimes a week with no power AT ALL when we get our notorious fierce ice storms. This is but a nuisance, not the end of the world. I'm hoping that electrical contractor I called can get here today. But if he can't, oh well. Suck it up. It was my fault, afterall. I will freely cop to that. I have a feeling that ponying up some major buckage for a complete home re-wiring will be in order.

"The best laid plans of mice and men..." and all that, y'know. Story of my life!


Blogger Pamela said...

Look at the bright side. The arm and the leg will be coming out of your pocketbook and NOT OFF YOUR BODY FROM BEING ELECTROCUTED OFF THE WOBBLY CHAIR.

That being said,you "done" good with the sink.

10/26/2006 12:40 AM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Okay, so I laughed. You knew we would. It was funny but why fix something that worked? Been reading Home and Garden? Serves you right. :)

10/26/2006 12:58 AM  
Blogger Fish-2 said...

Yeah,I looked at the ceiling light in the master bedroom, thought it would be great to have a ceiling fan there. Instead I bought a fifteen inch rotating fan on a pedestal and set it to circulate.

Actually I got as far as taking down the light, found out the ceiling fixture was anchored on one side only - not strong enough to hold a fan. I decided I didn't want to tear out part of the ceiling, reinforce it, then fix the ceiling and repaint the room.

Maybe some day.

10/26/2006 7:16 AM  
Blogger white trash republican said...

Pam, yes, that is a good point. Electricity scares the bejeezuz outta me, but I was drunk on power and really felt up to the task. I should have known better, since my husband had pretty much based his career on bailing out dopes like me who try to get all handyman on their homes and booger everything up! I'd dare say those were at least 70% of the calls we'd get. The irony being that he had been so busy fixing other people's problems, his own home was never properly fixed. Which would leave his wife further down the road, once he had departed, having to call yet another jack of all trades to help out, who probably has a wreck of a house,too, and a long suffering, but understanding spouse. It's all just part of the big contractor 'circle of life'. : )

Patrick, man, if you could see this light fixture I know you have strongly objected to it being put up in the first place! The dang thing was just plain gawdy/fuggly! Yes, it worked, but since redoing the dining room it just didn't go with the room (like it ever did!). I knew it was bad luck to swipe lights from a funeral home!

10/26/2006 7:47 AM  
Blogger white trash republican said...

Fish, haha.
You are far more wiser than me!
There were ceiling fans already installed when I moved here throughout the house. I don't dare even consider upgrading those! The only fix I've ever done to them was I had to shim one at the base cuz it wobbled. Used old cut up credit cards-that was 18 years ago. Still not wobbling!

And- still in the dark as of right now.
We might have everything back up by Friday. Maybe...

10/26/2006 8:16 AM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Sorry to hear you're still in the dark. Liz, if you could see my decor (from "thrift stores") then you'd know I don't object to anything that works.

10/26/2006 11:23 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

I was really worried that you were going to electrocute yourself, then I thought "how dumb is that? She wouldn't be writing this if she had been electrocuted!" Duh!

Well, you did manage to fix the sink hon, and so you done good; but I hope you will let your husband mess with the electricity from now on. I know what you mean about him being so busy fixing other people's houses that he doesn't have time for yours. It's sort of like most mechanics and their cars.

The upside of all this is that you can have romantic candle-lit dinners. :)

10/26/2006 12:24 PM  
Blogger Bonnie said...

I watched my house being built from the ground up, but I ain't TOUCHIN the wiring in here. My Mr. is a contractor, too, yet I still have rotten facia boards that he just doesn't have time to fix. Maybe I need to look in the Yellow Pages...

10/26/2006 1:56 PM  

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