Wednesday, February 6, 2013

(Packing) Heat

"You're the one who called late on a Friday night?"

He said it irritably, in a way that sounded stale -- as if he had said it over and over on his drive to my apartment.  He had molded, shaped, and rehearsed the line too much, and in doing so, it had lost some of its bite.

Therefore, I was still ignorant of the fact that this man hated me.

"Yea, sorry to bring you out in this weather on a Friday night.  It has been off all day," I told him.

"You should have called during the day," he said.  As he passed by me to go up the stairs, he added: "Like a normal fucking person."


I'm almost always shocked when people are mean to me.  It's weird.  My brain does this thing where it assumes that people are decent human beings.

Crazy, right?

This, on top of the fact that he was at my apartment to do his job, left me speechless as he trudged up the steps.  I mean, ever heard of professionalism?  When I called the 24-hour emergency number that I had been provided upon moving in, I assumed that it would connect me to somebody who would rather be doing anything else than coming to my cold apartment and trying to make it otherwise.

But this irritable?  Please.

He went to work on the heater, which was in my kitchen.  He didn't say much, other than the pouting, grunting, and cursing that you might hear from an inebriated sports fan whose team just lost.  Or better yet, like that little kid in Walmart whose mom just told him he can't have a toy that he wanted, but he's forced to stomp around behind her while she buys everything else in the store*.

*I've been that little kid, though.  It's rough.

The maintenance guy's phone beeped a bunch of times.  For a while, he simply cursed at it, asking it things like "what the fuck do you want?"  But when the phone itself could not answer his queries, he finally picked it up.

"Yea, I'm over at 1708.  Fucking asshole doesn't have heat all day and waits until now to call."

He said it loudly.  Not only was I within earshot, but I was standing right there, behind him*.

*Close enough to hit him over the head with a hammer**.

**Just saying.

He said it for my benefit -- to teach me a lesson, I suppose.  I couldn't hear what the man on the other line was saying, but I could hear his tone.  I tried to judge whether or not he agreed that I was an asshole or if he was telling my maintenance guy just to shut up and do his job.

By that point, Sadie was growling from inside her crate.  My dog rarely growls, but she really hated this guy.  I hated him too, but I brought her into my bedroom so that the dude could work in peace.  Because I'm not an asshole, even though I kinda felt like one.

I even let him finish his phone call before I said something.

"Listen, guy.  I'm sorry, but I called as soon as I woke up and realized it wasn't working."

"What time did you call?"




"You woke up at seven?"

"That's what I said."

"You work nights or something?"

"I do, indeed."

He didn't say anything after this for a while, instead opting to continue working on the heater (sans grunting/cursing).

I hadn't actually woken up at 7:00, though.  The truth was that I had woken up around 5:00 and tinkered with the heater and given it a chance to hopefully ignite before I called and had them send someone out unnecessarily.  But I had a feeling that such details weren't needed to make my point to a guy who didn't seem to have much of an appetite for details.

I'm not sure if he understood my circumstances, if he feared for his job, or if he was bipolar, but from that point on he became my best friend.

I was going to use an image of a male teacher, passionately
explaining photosynthesis.  But then I saw her.
He had to go somewhere to get a part.  Before he left, he explained, in detail, the exact problem and all kinds of other stuff about old heaters and why they are terrible.  Yada yada.  He explained it with hand signals and everything, the way a fifth-grade science teacher might explain photosynthesis to his class, which was a refreshing switch from a handyman bluntly explaining to a customer how he is a piece of shit.

He came and went three times, each time taking a moment to stand there and talk to me, explaining how other people are terrible drivers and how the people who run my apartment complex are cheap bastards.

I had suddenly become his compatriot.  It was us against the world, me and this guy.

"I've gotta to turn off the breakers, just to let you know.  Motherfuckers didn't label anything so I dunno which one I need."

"No problem!" I told him from the other room.

Then the lights went off.  I sat there in the cold and dark, texting on my phone.

"Goddammit!" I heard through the dark.  "Work, motherfucker!  Work!"

It went on like this for some time before the lights finally came back on and he told me the bad news.  He'd have to come back in the morning because such-and-such was fried and it could only be fixed with a thingamajig that he couldn't get until the morning.

I quickly accepted the fact that it would be a cold night, and told him that I was thankful for him trying anyway.  I was under the impression that his visit to my apartment was over, so I reached into my pocket, grabbing the twenty-dollar bill that I had put there before he came.

However, it was at this point that he stood his ground, wanting to stay and chat.

"What kind of a gun do you shoot?" he asked.

He had his sights set on my fridge, where I had a target hanging.  A couple weeks ago, I went to a gun range with my friend.  Shooting a gun had been on my bucket list, but it is a blog post for another day.

"That's some nice shootin'" he said.

Ignore the 6's.
I couldn't disagree with him.  It really was some nice shootin'.

I explained to him that my first shots were bullseyes and then it got progressively worse the more that I shot.  He nodded his head, understanding completely where I was coming from.

Then he went on and on about how my decline in accuracy was due to fatigue and about his own guns and about how much ammo costs and about how expensive of a hobby it was to shoot guns.  While he was talking about fatigue, he used his electric screwdriver as a gun, squinting through an imaginary eyepiece and letting the screwdriver slowly drop down to illustrate the effects of fatigue.  As he explained, I could see in his eyes that he thought we were on the same page, even though I made it explicitly clear that I had only shot a gun that one time and would most likely never do it again.

He went on to talk about all the guns he has shot in his life, from handguns all the way up to a .50 cal, telling me that a handgun is the hardest to shoot accurately.  He described his own .40 cal glock which was his personal defense weapon, since he has a permit to carry.

During this conversation, I was doing that thing where you kinda inch backwards in the direction of the door.  You know... where you are trying to move your body slowly towards the exit to signify to the other person that this is the end of the conversation, and nothing more than an extended goodbye.

We made it to the top of the stairs and he continued talking about ammo and how much it costs.  He advised me to go to Dick's Sporting Goods when they are having a sale and "bombard them."  By "bombard," I assume he meant just buy as much as I could.  But who knew with this guy, he might have meant something more violent.

I was ready for him to go, so while he was in the middle of some rant about bullets, I just took the twenty out of my pocket and handed it to him.

He stopped what he was saying and said, "You don't have to do that."  He even put his hands up in protest, as if to say "You don't have to give me extra money.  It was my pleasure to come out here on a Friday night and it was no trouble at all.  Even though I stormed into your apartment and called you a fucking asshole and stuff."

But he had stopped talking about bullets, which was the point.  Happy that this had been accomplished, I insisted that he take the $20.  I considered saying "Take it.  Like a normal fucking person."  But he took the money off my hands without me having to push too hard.

The thing that I found to be somewhat strange was the fact that he took out his wallet and put the twenty directly into it.  It made it feel scummy for some reason, completely destroying the mystery of the tipping process.  Usually people just say "thank you" and put it into their pocket without looking at it.  But witnessing the actual act of combining it with the rest of his money gave me this strange negative feeling, as if I didn't give him a tip, but rather money, which was just as ordinary as the money he already had.  I think that I would have actually felt better about it if he had held it up to the light to see the watermarks and verify that it was real.

The twenty did the trick -- sort of.  He descended three more steps and then asked me about working night shift, inquiring about the casino where I worked, what I went to school for, and where I grew up.

Finally, he left, promising that he'd be back the next morning.

After the door slammed shut, I shivered.  Not because my apartment was cold, but because I realized something.

Here was a guy that misjudged me.  A guy that turned out to actually pass for a decent-enough human being.  But he was also a guy who made an awful first impression -- someone who openly called me a "fucking asshole," and allowed his seething hatred for me to actually be tangible.  While he was talking shit about me on the phone, I remember thinking, man, this guy sounds like he wants to kill me, just for calling the emergency maintenance line on a freezing-cold Friday night. 

I could actually feel his rage and disdain for me.

Little did I know, but aside from his work tools, he was probably also carrying his .40-cal glock.

And the last thing I want somebody who makes such aggressive snap-decisions to be carrying is a .40-cal glock.

Just saying.

-Youngman Brown

P.S.  He wasn't able to fix my heater until Monday.  But he did reset the clock on my microwave, which is enough of a redemptive tactic to keep me from reporting him.

P.P.S.  Unless, of course, he turned the power back on at exactly 12PM, in which case the clock on my microwave set itself.


  1. oh wow I probably would have confronted him as soon as he said asshole....or kept totally quiet crying in my shower!

  2. Loved this! I mean, not your freezing ass, of course--but you have a brilliant way of telling a story. Interesting about him and the wallet...I once had something similar happen to me. I suddenly felt like I was paying a prostitute...which sounded a little too close to crazy. Nice to know I'm not alone.

    ps. Must say, despite the fact I'm six feet tall and have my own heavy bag, if my job required me to enter utter stranger's apartments in the middle of the night--I'd carry a gun too. :) (but better manners too)

  3. What a hostile frightening guy. And how did you get that picture of me when I was teaching?


  4. The important thing though--did he reconcile himself with SADIE?

    I snickered about the putting the money in the wallet thing. When you think about it it really does seem dirty. It's like watching your money have sex with his money. Disgusting.

  5. This kicks ass man, great read, thanks for sharing!

  6. I needed to read this today, thanks for sharing!

  7. This was great, and at first as I was reading I thought "you should have said something" only to realize at the end that maybe I'm too much of an asshole and you were definitely right to just keep quiet and make peace. Because I would have said something equally dickish, and it would have been a terrible night for both of us saying snappy things until finally it came to blows and he went for his gun and I punched him in the throat, and then where do you hide the body? And, and... you handled things better than I would have. Bravo.

  8. Like you, I probably would have let it go, but I probably wouldn't have tipped him... Even if we were totally BFF now...

  9. What a charmer! Armed as well; you were probably wise to keep quiet.

    A neat story, well told (as always).

  10. Terrifying that a guy like that is walking around carrying a gun. I know it would be near impossible for the government to weed out guys like that from carrying, and they would clamor about their 'rights', but I'm thinking your right to not get shot should supersede? Maybe anyone wanting a permit should have to pass the Sadie growling test first.

  11. I finally get a chance to revel in your blog again, and the first story I see is about how you almost DIED?


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