James Lileks
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"Tic-tic-tic-tic." "Phoomph." "Gosh!"

That is what you want to hear when it's 10 below. The gosh, however could be a problem.

The tic-tic-tic is the furnace's igniter. The phoomph is when the gas catches. The gosh is the water moving through the pipes. But when the gosh turns into GOWRSH GOWRSH GOWRSH, sounding something like Goofy the Disney cartoon dog shouting in distress, well, something's amiss.

I called the furnace repair people to schedule a tuneup, and the conversation's translation goes like this:

Dispatcher: "There will be a base charge of $49.99, with the expectation that they will find a problem costing 10 times as much."

Me: "That's fine. Will the $49.99 charge be applied to the inevitable repair?"

Dispatcher: "Yes, we'll wrap that into the total charge so you don't feel like you're getting taken, but you'll have no basis for understanding the final total anyway, so it doesn't matter. Also, it's not a furnace. It's a boiler."

Me: "Thanks! See you between 5 a.m. and 4:45 p.m."

When the boiler fixer arrived, I held out a silver crucifix, and said slowly: "I have an issue with the sound of the pipes. Well, my wife does. I'm here as her legal representative. That's all we're going to do. Avert your eyes from all else."

Because I knew he was going to try to sell me a carbon monoxide detector. I have one. Well, I have a bird in a cage. Then he'd tell me that the seal on my framulation enabler was starting to degromulate — See this, right here?

And because I'm a guy who doesn't want to seem stupid, I'd say "She's degromulating, all right. How long do I have?"

"Oh, how long do any of us have? It's a random world full of peril, but I'd say that'll fail anytime between a week and six years."

The last guy who told me there was something amiss with the boiler offered to fix it on the spot for a very large pot of money. When I winced, he said he could knock the price down, but only for today, and he'd have to call his boss.

What is this, the used-car lot? Was he going to toss in the undercoating for the water heater?

Anyway. The boiler doc was a cheerful fellow who understood immediately that he was dealing with a lunatic, and went right to work on the pipe gowrsh problem. Took him about four minutes.

"How's that sound?" he said.

I said I heard nothing.

"Exactly! It just needed some water."

"Ah, well, that's what I thought," I replied. "Either that, or it had too much water. I knew it was a water-type situation. So we're good! G'bye."

Thirty minutes later, we're in the kitchen, and he has a big brochure unfolded on the table. I nod and ask: "So does the price include a new set of Wi-Fi-controlled thermostats? No? Well, I'll still want those."

Yes, friends, a $49.99 tuneup turned into a complete swap-out of the boiler and hot water tanks.

A huge amount of equipment replaced by a smallish unit that sits in the corner of the furnace room, and frees up the entire room.

Despite what it sounds like, it wasn't a rash decision. The boiler doc pointed out that my water heater had been installed in the first years of the Clinton administration.

"That was when the midterm elections put the House in GOP hands, a move widely seen by some as a counter-reaction to the administration's overreach," I said. "Although others attributed it to the usual seesaw that follows most administrations."

He nodded, perhaps thinking about Truman's rebuke in the 1946 election, but what he said was "Nowadays they don't even last 10 years."

Same with the boiler: It was old, and the grommet around the decompostulating frittergitz was leaking.

"How much would that cost to fix?"

"A large sum that might sound arbitrary, just to soften you up for a larger overhaul," he replied. "Maybe less." (I'm paraphrasing.)

Bottom line: I decided to replace the boiler with something that also heated water on demand. The exact thing I had vowed would not happen.

After we inked the deal, I went to the grocery store for some milk and bread. The clerk was about to ring me up when he stopped.

"This milk will last two weeks, unopened," he said. "After that, it's going to go bad eventually."

"You're right," I said. "We don't even go through a half-gallon a week anymore since daughter went to college. I wish there was a way to get the amount of milk I wanted, on demand."

We got to talking, and after half an hour I bought a cow. I ran the numbers and I'll come out ahead if we have milk with every meal.

Next stop was the drugstore, because I needed some printer paper and while I was deciding whether to buy ExtraWhite or VividWhite or TruHue with ColorLock™, a guy noticed what I was perusing, and well, long story short, I bought a forest.

I don't even want to tell you what happened when I went to Victoria's Secret for a Valentine's Day gift for my wife. Let's just say the constant clatter of models' high heels on the floor as they sashay around is starting to get on my nerves.

Tic-tic-tic-tic. Phoomph. Gosh!

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks