Monday, November 22, 2010

the freezer

Last Friday my wife mentioned to me: "Oh, I forgot to tell you, the Building Inspector was over by the Chinese. They moved a shelf out of the way and there was a hole in the wall, and you can see pipes and wires and stuff in there. Inspector's coming on Monday. It's behind the freezer. "

Two words can push me down into the darkness of the pit of despair these days. "Building Inspector" and "the freezer". And so, I was called yet again to visit the Freezer.

Background - part of the commercial rental complex we took on in 2003 is a Chinese restaurant. Although it's one of the cleanest, best-run, and most successful Chinese restaurants in Milwaukee, the building itself still has some on-going problems. The main problem - RALPHY. Ralphy the Patch-Meister! Ralphy the King of Schlepper-ness. Thirty years of Ralphy (the previous owner of the building) takes more than a few years to undo. There are remote corners of the building where things come undone by themselves . . . The Freezer is the most formidable of these. You can always count on something to go wrong at The Freezer. An ancient metal covered walk-in cooler, in the back corner of the storage room - with failed compressors and restaurant storage above. Bad things happen around the freezer. . .

I remember the time the roof drain backed up, and the water somehow found its way into the building - next to the freezer - The restaurant owners called - terrified. I remember holding a piece of rain gutter to lead the water to a floor drain until the inrush of water subsided enough to assess roof damages.

Last August was when we discovered that Ralphy had anchored the suspended ceiling grid to the ceiling plaster, rather than to the stud structure of the building. How did we make this discovery? One of the bolts gave way, and it caused a chain reaction of course. A major section (8 x 12 feet) of ceiling came crashing down above the freezer. The heavy plaster ceiling fell down on top of the suspended grid ceiling, destroying everything.

Left in the aftermath was a tangled heap of plaster, wires, ceiling tiles, and despair on top of the freezer. The restaurant opened late that day, while we cleaned it up. The next week I spent mostly on top of that freezer, cleaning up, and rebuilding. It was August -- the restaurant's air conditioning doesn't reach into the storeroom, much less above the freezer. Yup, it's hot. From the top of the freezer to the roof was a spacious 3-1/2 feet The new ceiling grid is installed at 2 feet from the top of the freezer - a rather cozy workspace. I shared the top of the freezer with a growling old compressor - this ensured that the temperature never got below 90 degrees.

Working on my knees, with my head ducked down, experiencing over and over the intense feeling of un-pleasure one gets from kneeling on a screw. So, sometimes I would work on my back - you might think it is more comfortable to work that way, but there are conduit boxes and BX cables on top of the freezer trying to take out my kidneys with every move I made.

And in the distance, above the droning thrum of the compressor, everything is shouted in Chinese. The restaurant is run by a Chinese family, and only the ones who know English are the ones directly in contact with the public. Before I discovered this, I had wondered to myself why these people were so agreeable. Whatever I would tell them, they would smile and nod. I felt completely isolated, as one in a far country.

I remember the ultimate moment of despair. I was almost done with the new ceiling grid, lying on my back with a BX cable digging into my shoulderblades, and the compressor blowing a 95 degree blast of dusty air at me, daring me to breathe. I noticed that a bandage one of my left fingers from the day before had slid off due to perspiration. I remember thinking to myself "O, No, Now that's going to get infected" as I paged ahead in my mental calendar for piano engagements that might be affected. Then I realized how hopelessly far from home I really was. I bet Steve Allen never had a "top of the freezer" moment with his hands. . . Maybe it was just the dust of the ceiling tiles making my eyes water... maybe not.

Though your dreams be tossed and blown. I believe Rogers and Hammerstein had the Freezer in mind when they came up with that phrase. Though your dreams be tossed and blown. - Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone.

soon - fixin' the hole...


Lydia said...

HAHAH - I'm not laughing at you kneeling on a screw, but more at the thought of the fantastic, Stephen King-y feeling I get when you say "The Freezer"!!

Via con Pollo! (Walk with chicken)

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