The furnace broke on a Monday and the company that managed the warranty called me on Tuesday around 4PM, one hour before they closed, to inform me that they would have a technician at my house the following Monday. The man on the phone was named Rocky. He had the tender voice of a man in his early twenties, but the hardened tone of someone who had been dealing with customers for some time.
“Hold on, dude,” I said. “That’s seriously the soonest you can get to my house? One week? It’s getting cold.”
“I will put you on a cancelation list. If something opens up, we will swing by earlier.” Then his voice went cold, sinister. “Or you can contact an outside technician to come fix your furnace, but you will have to pay out of pocket.”
I didn’t know what to do. I felt confused and frustrated, so I just agreed to it. The moment I hung up the phone, I felt like a huge pussy. I should have fought with the guy. I should have put my foot down and told that little shit how it was going to roll. But I didn’t. I just rolled over and took it. The same despair that filled me the night before when I couldn’t fix the furnace filled me again.
I told Mel the bad news over the phone. She didn’t ask if I told Rocky about my small kids and that my wife was pregnant. She didn’t mention that I should have fought with the man. She didn’t say that I was a failure. She just exhaled into the phone and it seemed to say everything.
The next day it was 25 degrees in small town Oregon, unusually cold for a town close to the coast. We struggled to keep the house above sixty degrees. We worried about our pipes freezing. The snuggy that was given to me as a gag gift for my 31st birthday became pragmatic. Everyone but Tristan wore coats, gloves, and jackets in the house.
After a long cold week, the furnace guy arrived. Mel described him as a slender man with a lazy eye. He looked over the problem and said we needed a new something or other that controlled the this or that, and it would take 72 hours for the warranty office to approve it. This was on a Monday, and by Thursday I still hadn’t heard a word.
I called the warranty office, got Rocky on the line, and asked how things were progressing. “We found the part you need,” he said, “But it will not be in until Friday evening. We will be there on Monday to fix your furnace.”
I’d developed a nasty cold, and my voice was hoarse. Mel was moody, and the kids were getting sick of sleeping in the same bed for warmth. I was angry and tired and sick of this shit.
“Listen, dude.” I said. “That’s not going to work.” I laid into him. I told him about Tristan and Norah, ages six and four and reminded him that it was twenty degrees outside. I told him about my pregnant wife walking around the house in gloves. “Do you hear my voice right now?” I said. “I have a serious cold because you people can’t get your act together.” I told him that Monday was not going to work.
While this seems like a small gesture, getting pissed and arguing with this guy really made me feel like I was doing something. I couldn’t fix the furnace myself. I knew that. And I didn’t know how I could pay for it. The warranty was my only option and it was taking far too long. Getting pissed at this man over the phone felt good. It felt like I was fighting for my family.
Rocky put me on hold. Then he came back and said, “Someone will be there on Saturday.” It was still two days away, but it was better than Monday. I thanked him and hung up. Then I sat in my office chair, feeling like a champion. Feeling like a problem solver. Although I hadn’t fixed my furnace with my own two hands, I felt like I’d done something. And perhaps that’s what I should have done all along. I should have fought for my family.