Thursday, August 25, 2011


My house is old, and it is also hot.  Heated (not angry, but hot).  Baked (not high, but warm).  Toasty (as toast is).  It's August, and there is a whole lot of literal heat happening in the Frankenhouse.  I am looking at my thermostat right now, and inside my house, at 6:02pm, it is 92 degrees.

Because of the hot heated baked toastiness, I need to install ceiling fans in the living room and in my bedroom.  Like this one:

introducing:  the world's most literal "ceiling fan"

OK no, not like that one.  But that one is amazing.  

My Handy Lady told me that this would mean changing the electrical boxes in the ceiling of those rooms, to put in boxes that would support the weight of a ceiling fan.  She recommended an electrician she works with, and brought him over last week to introduce him to me and let him scope out the work.   He's close to 50 years old, with graying hair and an athletic build.  When I met him, he was wearing cargo denim shorts, and he said: Cool yeah, this is awesome, thanks for lettin me come over man.

I said: Um...yes, it is cool.  And awesome.  You are...welcome.  Man.

Later, my Handy Lady took me aside and said-- listen, he's really good at his job, but he grew up in Venice (meaningful look).  So, he's a bit, you know.  I know how he comes across.  But, he really is an excellent electrician.

Yes, I thought.  BillTed, the Excellent Electrician.

BillTed and I made an appointment for him to come over today and change the boxes in those two rooms.  We agreed that he'd get here by 9:30am.  At 9:27am, I get a phone call.

Yeah, I said I would be there at 9:30, I'm running a little late.  I just need to go grab some things, wanted to let you know.  You know?  I mean, I should be there though.

At 11:00am, he arrived, and started work on changing the box in my bedroom.  To do this, he needed to get up into the attic.  He went up there, but then would come down periodically to chat, share discoveries, ask me what I wanted to do about various things that had come up.  

At one point, he noticed I was working from home, and he asked me what my job was.  I told him, expecting the usual reaction I get when I say I work for the government, which is that people visibly hold themselves back from spitting on me.  Instead, BillTed said--

Oh, you know sometimes there will be like really good things and then they get rid of them!  Like good programs that actually are helping and stuff, and they stop!  Like, in the Great Recession, there was that Conservation Corps-- er no, the Depression, I mean.  Yeah, the California Conservation Corps!  Man, you just get a bunch of guys out there, planting trees, not laying land mines, working together.  What's better than that?  And then they could bring that back, since it worked!  They could do like a news thing on that or something.  You know, they used to do news things like that.  Every once and a while, you'd hear a peep about the government.

True, I said.  They did used to do news things like that.  

Later, when it had taken him a strangely long time to finish with just that one box, he came back out and announced he was finished.  

Yeah, you wanna just come see what happened?  I know that took me a really long time, and you're probably sittin there like, what's takin this guy freakin forever?  But let me show you, it's kinda interesting.

Oh no.  NOnononononoNONONOOOOO.  No, interesting, do not want interesting, please don't let it be too "interesting."  That, coming from a contractor, seems to mean 'your house is sort of weird and I don't know what to do about it.'

But I shouldn't have worried.  What BillTed showed me was, in fact, actually interesting (able to generate interest).

the electrical box in my bedroom, still partying like it's 1939

Yeah, see, this stuff is like way old school.  This is the old box and then the wires were all in these iron pipes.  That's like how they used to do electrical a long time ago.  But you can't take this box off the pipes, because of the way the pipes are connected to the box.  So, I had to get up there and saw out the pipes and then put new flexible casing in for the wiring, and then put the new box in attached to that new stuff.  So now it's all modern, and you can do whatever you want.  That new box will hold the biggest fan you can find.

Oh my gosh!  I stared at the old box and the iron pipes.  How old do you think this is?

Oh, 40s, easy.  Maybe 30s, but probably 40s for sure.  But this is the good stuff-- this means your house had a really good electrical system.  Back then, the bad stuff just had cloth over the wires.

Hoping to apply some of my hard-watched HGTV knowledge, I asked-- what's knob-and-tube wiring?

Oh man, that stuff is the worst!  That's like the very first wiring system there ever was.  They'd just put a porcelain knob in the wall and run the wires around it, but then 60 years later, when it's all deteriorated, the wires are exposed.  Those systems don't have any grounding either.  But your house got the good stuff, I didn't see any knob and tube.

Realizing I didn't totally know what 'grounding' was, I asked him, and he explained it for a few minutes.

I'm surprised you want to talk about this-- most people tell me shut up, they don't wanna listen.  You seem like you really want to know this stuff.  You should run for Congress someday!  You absorb easy.

After the grounding conversation, he cleaned up and was on his way.  I still don't have ceiling fans in either the living room or my bedroom.  But, I do have an excellent electrician who thinks I should run for Congress, because I absorb easy.


  1. This blog is the best blog out there. I'm going to send this to my mom right now. (Hi, mom, when you get here!)

  2. This blog has the best six readers out there! Well, seven if your mom joins the fun. Hi, Shawnté's mom!

  3. I'm completely and totally with Shawnté on this. Except for the part about sending it to my mom. But if I could, she would LOVE being devoted reader #8.

  4. Just thinking that if "the box was held up by pipes" and it was so hard to "...take this box off the pipes, because of the way the pipes are connected to the box." (I am familiar with this type of system, I have held my General Contractor's license in California and now for 12 yrs in Indiana) and that it was so rigid that he "had to get up there and saw out the pipes..." it seems to me that would have been sufficient to hold a cieling fan.

    Good thing he "then put new flexible casing in for the wiring..."


    I suppose the hardest thing for a contractor to admit is "Everything looks good, you do not need my services."

  5. Well, Anonymous General Contractor Commentor, you make a good point. I guess there's only one way to find out-- BillTed is coming back next Saturday to do more work, so I can ask him whether it was really necessary to take out all those pipes. We'll see what he says. The language about the 'casing' was my rendition of what he said-- I couldn't remember what that stuff is actually called, but 'casing' seemed like it would get the idea across.

  6. This is definitely my favorite post to date. I want BillTed to work on my house. I have knob and tube...bleh.

  7. Wait a minute. Was I asleep in an SMHS History class when we discussed the Great American Laying of Land Mines??

  8. Land mines was my favorite part! When the man casually threw in "land mines," that was when I knew that I must record this in some way, that there should be a record of this conversation.

  9. I am sort of wondering about him now though- I know my house is unusual, but it consistently takes him longer than he thinks it will to get things done.