We arrived home from Israel last week to the place in absolute but pre-planned shambles. That is our home that I am talking about. It was a virtual — no, not a virtual, but an actual — construction site.
We are doing some updating on the home we have been living in for the past quarter-century. A few weeks ago, we told the contractor that we are planning on staying and living in the house throughout the process and for him and his workers to plan and proceed accordingly.
The idea that I communicated to the contractor sounded like a pretty good one in my mind. I told him that we would be away for 10–12 days and that is when he should bring in his full crew and do all the tough and grimy work. You know, the stuff that creates a real mess.
It was a good idea, even a good plan, but when we walked in with our luggage in tow last Thursday evening, it felt like we were in the midst of a game of musical chairs where the music stopped and we were left standing.
We found a dumpster on the front lawn that uprooted at least half of the once lush and green yard, but that is a little thing. The big thing is that the air-conditioning units — the outdoor condensers that make cool air inside your home possible — were disconnected. The temperature indoors was 87 degrees. The generator we installed after the Hurricane Sandy debacle five years ago was also disconnected and there was a serious heat wave on the way.
“I told you we were living here,” I said, trying to resign myself to the situation. “You can’t do things like this.”
But sure they can, and indeed they did.
We have to get acclimated to living with the inconvenience of construction taking place around us.
Sure, it’s rough now, but we know that in a few months, at the conclusion of all this, it will be good, satisfying, and enjoyable. That’s right, I am not complaining, just “venting”—and sweating a bit.
As Shabbos was coming, we contemplated what to do. We had just spent a whirlwind ten days in Eretz Yisrael with Karen and Joe Frager, the inimitable Mike Huckabee, and about 20 other notables. Back in the States, we were invited out to friends for Shabbos meals but I was certain that I would not be able to stay up late Friday night, and we were uncertain how our bodies would react come Shabbos day.
We decided to stay home and have the Shabbos meals at Shana and Nachi’s home because at least there I can suggest when the time to conclude the meal and bentch has arrived and we can retire for the night.
Now about the AC situation and the images that it conjured up as the catalyst to this essay. On Friday morning, the crew walks in carrying three air-conditioning units. Two are those freestanding units that are placed indoors, with the heat being let out from a sleeve placed outside a window, and one was a window unit for our upstairs corridor where we are hiding out and living while this is all taking place.
Upstairs in what used to be our kids’ rooms, we installed window units long ago because the central air is no match for the penetrating and intense summer heat. And that is when the thermometer reaches the high eighties or low nineties. Once the temperature reached close to 100°F, as it did last Shabbos, it is quite a struggle and even a showdown between the heat and the mechanically produced cool air.
The experience was reminiscent of life in my childhood home back in Crown Heights in those now distant but very good old days. I don’t know about you, but in my lifetime, central air-conditioning in a home was either rare or nonexistent. Not to drift too far off the matter at hand, but there was a time when AC in cars was an expensive option that you could choose to exclude if you wanted to save some money.
Was it less hot in those days? I mean, the technology may not have been pervasive or even widely available but it was certainly out there, albeit for a substantial cost. I suppose that driving in the summer with all the windows of the car open was the way to go once upon a time.
Let’s not jump too far ahead of ourselves. In my parents’ home, for a long time there was one air-conditioning unit, and that was in their bedroom. For the kids — that would be the four of us — there were fans. I can recall when my dad had an exhaust fan installed in the dinette window that was supposed to pull the warm air out of the house and send a breeze around to all the other rooms so that there was some kind of air being pumped into the open bedroom windows.
Even back then that was too much physics for me. I also thought at the time that someone forgot to tell the fan what it is supposed to do. Yes, it did generate a bit of a breeze, but if it was really hot outside, all it produced was a hot waft of air.
But then there were really hot days like we had last Shabbos and Sunday here in New York. That was when we all gathered in my parents’ bedroom to sleep on the floor through the night.
No, it was not uncomfortable; it was actually a piece of heaven on earth. There were four of us, and the set-up was perfect. It was my sister on one side, my older brother on the other side, and my younger brother and me on the floor at the foot of the beds. It was mamash a Shangri-La. We brought in our blankets and pillows and had to cover up because it was cold in there.
I thought of those days this past weekend as our little air-conditioner did battle with the brutal heat at the height of the day last Shabbos and Sunday (a fast day, too). For a while that afternoon, as I watched the AC unit chug along, I thought of the lone tank commandeered by former MK Avigdor Kahalani who fought off and scared away a column of 50 Syrian tanks with an unobstructed route from the Golan Heights to Tel Aviv.
If you know the history, then you know that Kahalani persevered. And so did our little AC unit, though I thought at some points that it might have to surrender. Now the weather has cooled down slightly and that makes a big difference.
Come to think of it, when we sold our ancestral home after my mother passed away two years ago I think that gray-colored little air-conditioner was still in the window of her bedroom. Of course, it had not worked for years. Years ago they installed a much larger unit in the dinette window and were convinced that when left on through the night it cooled the entire house. It certainly did not make it warmer. Let’s say it was comfortable.
On the matter of these types of machines, I received a note from a reader informing me of an exhibit of manual Yiddish typewriters dating back decades. The writer said that she knows from some of these pieces over the years that my father was a Yiddish writer and that I must have one of his old typewriters. She suggested that I look into lending it to the YIVO Institute, the sponsor of the exhibit in Manhattan.
The fact is that I do have a typewriter in my garage that looks fairly new, which my father must have acquired shortly before he passed away almost 30 years ago. I don’t know how long the exhibit is planned for, and the typewriter is locked away somewhere because of all the construction here.
Anyway, a few weeks ago I drove by the old house on Montgomery Street and it looked to me like it had not been touched since the sale about 18 months ago. I did not stop to look, but I bet that little gray air-conditioner that served us so well is still sitting in that window in my parents’ bedroom.
So I don’t know if I can dig up that typewriter right now, but I wonder if the museum would be interested in a Yiddish writer’s air-conditioner. Might be a cool idea.