Friends, I own a house. Well, let’s be clear: A bank owns a house, and if I pay the bank a garbage bag filled with crumpled dollar bills every month, we’re allowed to live here. The Duchess and I love our house, tiny and crowded with cats as it is, and we seek to improve it every now and then, the same way I sometimes get my hair cut: It’s just time to make things better. Most recently, we decided to get some air-conditioning installed.
I’ve never had any sort of central air-conditioning. I’ve had your standard window-units (Jeff Kay, over at the glorious West Virginia Surf Report, calls them “soviet humboxes”) from time to time and for the last few years, sure, but I’ve also spent a great deal of time without any sort of climate control at all. In fact, about twelve years ago I had an out of body experience in my old fourth-floor walkup in Jersey City, which reached an indoor temperature of about 500 degrees one July evening during a blistering heat wave. I’ve set up about 7 fans around my bed that night, all aligned carefully to create what I thought would be a lifesaving indoor tornado of moving air. All it did was create a sort of EZ Bake oven effect, resulting in the first time in my life I believe I soaked a mattress with sweat.
The Duchess, however, is from Texas, where everything, from homes to businesses to port-a-potties has central air. It’s a necessity down there, and people scramble from air-conditioned spot to air-conditioned spot like ants fleeing a giant magnifying glass. When she moved up here she was dismayed to find how rare central air is up in these parts, and has long vowed to rectify this in her own life. So the decision was handed down: Install some sort of AC in the house, so that we may be one of the gentry, living our ease while the rest of the world suffers.
I am always down with inching closer to the definition of “gentry”.
We found a contractor pretty easily, and they went to get permits for the work, which involved putting a condenser on the roof of the house. This proved problematic; the permit office claimed they needed architectural drawings of the whole system (which would cost about every dime I’m ever going to make, ever). The contractor basically said this can’t be right, but maybe they’re getting a hard time because they’re out of town. Hoboken is notorious for its politics, so this seemed reasonable. We decided I’d go down to the permit office myself and file as the homeowner. I mean, I pay taxes, right? Why do you think I’m broke? I might as well get my money’s worth.
What I entered into was a Kafka-like journey into a world without rules or justice. And filled with stuff I didn’t understand.
In theory, it should have been pretty simple: I show up, fill out an application, supply some basic materials describing the system being installed, and pay a fee for my permit. The first day I walked into the office, things looked promising: A nice woman told me I’d need a letter from an architect stating that our roof could handle the load of the condenser, and all would be well. This was fine – a letter from an architect is a lot cheaper than an official drawing. We procured said letter, and I went back again.
The same woman examined our materials again, and then said I’d need a drawing of just the straps holding the condenser in place. So we went and got that, and I returned a third time. Now I was informed that we needed to show liability insurance. I said, doesn’t our homeowner’s insurance cover that? And she made a call and confirmed that it certainly did, but there was something wrong with our drawing, so it had to be adjusted. So I had that taken care of, and went back, and the nice woman looked everything over and looked at me.
“We need to see a drawing of the roof with the condenser on it, showing load calculations,” she said.
I blinked. “The condenser weighs 150 pounds,” I said. “If our roof can’t hold it, we’ve got bigger problems.”
She gave me the patented city official Stare of Not Caring, and I went back to the architect to get said drawing, which he kindly threw in for no extra cost because I think the whole construction-related world was reading about me on the Internet and pulling for me. I think I was some sort of forum celebrity for a while there as kindly contractors from around the world said silent prayers that I not lose faith in The System.
“You need to show liability insurance, hon,” she said.
I stared at her. If you boiled down all my permit office experiences now into one conversation, it would go like this:
ME: Here’s my application.
THEM: You need huge, complicated, expensive architecture drawings.
ME: That’s ridiculous.
THEM: You’re right. How about a simple drawing of the straps?
ME: Here you go.
THEM: Great. You need liability insurance in case you destroy your neighbor’s house installing this.
ME: No I don’t. I’m the homeowner. My homeowner’s insurance covers everything, including the accidental molecular de-bonding of the house next door.
THEM: Right you are. These drawings are no good, we need to see the roof so we can be sure it can hold the weight of a normal human woman.
ME: Sweet jebus, here.
THEM: That’s great. Now if you could show us your liability insurance, we’d be in business.
It was like one of those phone polls when they ask you the same damn question sixteen times, phrased differently, to try and get a certain answer out of you.
So, we sent in our secret weapon: The Duchess herself. All tiny and girly, she went into the permit office the next day prepared to weep on demand, and damn if the gruff old guy in charge didn’t glance through her paperwork and grant her the permit almost immediately. This brings us to the central question of our times: Is Jeff a complete jackass, or is his wife The Duchess some sort of alien with super powers?
Most votes lean towards the former.
In the end, we got the work done and are now part of the landed gentry for reals. If anyone ever wants to come by in person for an autographed book, a hot meal, and several drunken rants* from Your Truly, you’ll have an air-conditioned couch to sleep on, now.
[*] Must bring own liquor supply.