Saturday, July 29, 2006

Boy am I in Hot Water

For those of you waiting on bated breath for the saga of the water heater replacement, you can wait no more. Today was the day, and let me first start by telling you that there is no more satisfying a shower in the world than a nice and steamy one taken right after installing a new water heater. It is the ultimate culmination of a job done to perfection.

Was it easy? Sure, it seemed so, but nonetheless, it was fraught with the usual roadblocks that I’m quite accustomed to encountering on anything I try and do. Before, I’ve lamented on the potential ease of the project: two water pipes, a gas pipe and a pressure relief valve. Presto, steam baths for everyone.

Well, the obstacles began to mount the moment I stepped into Home Depot to simply buy a water heater. The specifications on the side of the box indicated it weighted 150lbs and it also said that it shouldn’t be transported on its side (and there was an image of a station wagon with the water heater sticking out of the back and a big black line through the drawing). Granted 150lbs. is not that heavy, but it is awkward and I was in a mood where I shouldn't have to do things by myself in a store crawling with orange-aproned “professionals.” I asked the first guy I saw to give me a hand. He came back with “That’s not my section.” Okay. “Maybe you can go get someone whose section that is.” He moseyed off in a paid-by-the-hour leisurely way that made my teeth grind. Strike one.

Fifteen minutes later, I know all there is to know about every single water heater in the aisle, as I’ve read their labels, compared their capacities and contrasted their specifications. Impatient, I step in front of the next orange apron I see, forcing him to stop and acknowledge me. Put out by the brazen impropriety of a customer who wants to spend his money, he mutters the usual “Can I help you?” shtick with all the enthusiasm of a death-row inmate in charge of keeping the electric chair properly maintained.

“Yeah, I need some help with a water heater.”

He stepped to the side of me to continue on his way, and with what appeared to be almost an afterthought, he answers, “I’ll send someone over.” Strike Two.

Fifteen more minutes pass and I was still standing there, leaning on the water heater box, wishing I had a Sharpie in my pocket so I could write on the box, in bold letters: “Tired of waiting, you can find me at Lowe’s, you guys suck.”

Fed up, I pushed the water heater into the very middle of the aisle, so everyone who walked down that aisle had to walk around it... and I hoped that whoever's job it was to reset the store later in the day would see it and say to themselves, "Well, there goes another customer we lost because our staff is lazy and unprofessional." So, on my way out of the store, I give it one last shot. An older woman appeared and I recited my line: “I need some help with a water heater.” But then, since I was well beyond reproach, I added: “You’re the third and last person I’m going to ask. If I don’t get help from you right now, I’m going to leave and never come back.” I felt bad dumping on her, a random employee who happened down the wrong aisle at the wrong time and ran into me, but I have become extremely tired of the lack of service of “big box” stores that know as soon as an upset customer leaves vowing never to return, he passes on his way out, a new customer who has never been there before. I’m sure it is quantified under “customer turnover rate” and there’s some accepted value that I was nearly apart of, but it is an unacceptable side affect of capitalism. Half of me wishes for the Great Depression II; at least I'd get some good service for a change.

A note of clarification: I like Lowe’s better. It’s cleaner, brighter and better organized. On top of which, they turn the a/c on… at least they have one, but I wanted to get a water heater that matched the one I was replacing to ensure that everything would fit and nothing new or unknown would become a factor. Home Depot carries GE water heaters, sadly.

Okay, so she marches me back over to the water heater aisle, profusely apologizing for every last person employed by Home Depot worldwide and how, since she can’t lift the water heater herself (she claimed to be a floor stocker, whatever that is) she will personally get someone immediately. “Don’t go away,” she said huffing off in search of someone she called Jeffery.

Finally, some service. She returns with what must have been Jeffery, and you know what they did? They laid it down on the cart. I pointed to the station wagon picture with the black line through it, exclaiming that it isn’t supposed to be laid down, otherwise I could have done it myself, and she says that it is just there for shipping purposes and if you’re careful, you can lay them down all you want. Well, damn. If I knew it wouldn't have exploded if it was laid down, I could have left with the water heater a half-hour ago. Oh well. So, I pay for it (with a $30-off coupon I found in the aisle from the blood-sucking Gas Company) and I leave, finally. Wrestling with it into the back of the truck (who’s idea was it to make the truck bed higher!?!), I brought it home and let the fun begin.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say the best method of getting a heavy partially-filled-with-water water heater off of a two-foot platform by yourself is via kicking, swearing and then just let gravity take its course, crashing down where it lands. This, of course, was the one day that all of my neighbors were busy: one was at work, another was hosting a birthday party for his 11-year old and another had just brought home their new baby… today. So, I take a two-man job and tackle it myself, which is a pretty usual faire with any of my projects. It is inevitable that you’ll lose some water in the process of shoving it off of the platform, but the behemoth was on terra firma in 32-feet-per-second and out of the garage with a slue of new dings and dents. What did I care? It was destined to live forever in a landfill, the Purgatory of appliances, so it's not like I should be careful with it.

The drywall on the platform was so saturated with water that the legs of the water heater had started to sink, and sliding it off of the platform was nearly impossible. It started to dig holes, and I bent the metal lip on one side. Back at stupid Home Depot, I bought some plywood to screw down into the drywall to act as support for the new water heater. Baring any help from my neighbors, I enlisted Kara’s assistance in lifting up the new one onto the platform. It was heavy and awkward, and halfway up, Kara says, “I’m not really doing anything,” which is just the one thing my hernia wanted to hear, but I was able to set it on my knee (where there is now a bruise) so I could readjust.

To make a long story longer, everything attached like it should. The pilot light lit, water filled the tank and I strapped it to the wall. I replaced its little insulating winter coat and hooked up the vent at the top. There were no Poseidon Adventures, no Titanics, no Towering Infernos and no Earthquakes. The install went surprisingly smooth, as I think my “bad time of it” was taken care of by the lackadaisical ineptness of the folks at Home Depot. I guess I have them to thank, because if they were on the ball and attentive to the needs of a $500 customer, it would have been a nightmare to install it, I would have had to call in someone to fix what I broke and we would have been taking cold showers for a week. Instead, steam showers for one and all.

“What?” you ask. “Did you get a permit from the city? You know you have to get a permit from the city to install a water heater.” Like hell I will. As if I need some slack-jawed governmental official to take three days to saunter out to my house, where I will no doubt have to be home from 8am to 5pm on that particular day (but he won’t show up until 4:59), to tell me that I’ve installed the thing correctly. That is a safety net for idiots who don’t know you’re supposed to strap it to the wall or that the hot water goes into the hot tap and the cold in the cold or that the pilot light isn’t supposed to shoot flames out onto your conveniently located cans of open paint thinner and gasoline. I know I installed it correctly, as there is no gas escaping, no water leaking and the hot water comes out of the facet when I want it to, and I’m not going to pay 20 bucks for said privilege. So there, Take that Government, you fat-bellied mediocre-minded underachiever.

Of course, all the while I’m in the garage up to my knees in water heater mayhem, Kara and the kids have escaped harm and help to go shopping and the phone is ringing in the house. It was our friends, Scott and Melanie, who were patiently waiting at the children’s museum in LaHabra for us to show up and join them for an afternoon of fun, frivolity and food. We had everything all ready for Sunday. Kara said Sunday. The calendar here in my office says Saturday, but Kara said Sunday… it’s obvious where my loyalty lies, right? Who am I to trust a calendar written by my own forgetful hand over the razor sharp brain of my loving wife? So, we totally dropped the ball, and what is worse, is that they brought all of the picnic foods and servings for us too. What flakes we are, but I doubt their day was ruined… at least I hope not, as I don’t think we’re the type of people whose lack of attendance is particularly devastating to anyone. I doubt they said, “Ryan and Kara didn’t show up. Let’s go home. I’m depressed.” However, I still felt like a heel.

But I have hot water!!

*Sorry, no photos. It’s hard enough to drag a water heater out of your garage by yourself without having to capture the experience in Kodachrome. Use your imagination.

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