Coffee heat rising

Hotter Than a Two-Dollar Cookstove!

Thank heaven the air conditioning guy showed up today—and by midmorning. By midafternoon the thermometer in the shade of the back porch read 115 degrees.

The unit has been laboring almost nonstop, all day long, just to keep the house at 85 degrees.

When I consider how my cash is spent…

The guy charged me $275 to replace a part that may or may not have been shot. I have no way of knowing, of course, what was wrong. He could have sold me a new air-conditioner if he’d felt so inclined…I wouldn’t have known any better.

Matter of fact, he did try to sell me a new air conditioner.

The owner of my longtime air-conditioning company, which over the past couple of years has been stumbling badly through the depression, finally sold out to someone else. He’s still around; whether as a part-owner or as an employee is unclear. But the new outfit? Not good.

First thing that happened was just a day or so ago I got a phone solicitation from someone who pretended to be “with” the company (i.e., “they hired me here in the boiler room and gave me this script”). He tried to high-pressure me into renewing the annual service contract, which I had long ago decided not to renew, because it’s such a waste of money. All it does is pay for two service calls up front, one in the spring and one in the fall, to inspect the equipment. It gives you no leg up on service when your unit craps out and no discount on products or service during the effective period.

Because he presented himself as someone who worked for Jim and Carol (owners), I wasn’t scorchingly rude to him as I would be to someone I perceived to be a phone solicitor. But I should’ve been. It took three repetitions of the fact that I’m unemployed and can’t afford to pay for a service contract before I got him off the phone!

Now today comes this new service guy—not the usual guy. Very slick sort of a fellow, not the amiably disheveled type that is our usual AC repairman.

I’d run out to Ace to pick up a nonprogrammable thermostat before he showed up. When I told him I’d learned the Braeburn unit that had been installed wasn’t meant to operate a heat pump, he demanded to know who told me that! A bit taken aback, I said I’m a big girl and can use the Internet. I looked up the unit and the model number and learned that it’s incompatible with heat pumps, which probably explains why my power bill went through the roof the instant it was installed.

He then tried to convince me that the immediate jump in the power bill had nothing to do with the incompatible thermostat but that my unit is out of date and needs to be replaced.

I said I’m unemployed and can barely afford to have him come in and fix the thing, much less pony up $5,000 for a new one!

He then tried to persuade me two more times that I should buy a new air conditioner. When I told him rather strenuously that i. don’t. have. the. money to buy a new HVAC unit, he suggested that I should take out a loan.

Then he pitched me for a service contract. He gave me the usual slippery hustle: if I had a service contract I could get the expensive new part for a discount. The contract would only be $150….

“Look,” said I, “How much will it be to buy a contract and install the part?”

“Three hundred and fifty dollars,” said he.

“Good. And how much would it cost just to install the part, without the service contract?”

“Two hundred and seventy-five dollars.”

“There you have it! Just install the part, please.”

So he won’t be coming back.

I should’ve called Sally’s guy a month or more ago, but just haven’t gotten around to it. He services both parts of the heating/cooling unit in one $65 trip in the spring (the way these guys justify $150 is by claiming they have to come inspect the AC in the springtime before you start it up and then heater in the fall before you start using that, which is clear and present ridiculousness).

Anyway, the nonprogrammable thermostat is a little easier to use than the programmable model. At least I don’t have to dig out the encyclopedic instructions and study them for 15 minutes every time I want to change the settings. It has one of those “save” buttons that causes it to reset the temp 5 degrees higher (in summer; 5 degrees lower in winter) until you tap it again to turn it off. This means that if the temp is set at a sleepable 79 degrees (about as warm as I can stand a cooped-up house and still sleep at night), when I get up in the morning I can press one button to move the temperature up to 84 degrees. That’s a degree off my normal setting, but one degree, I expect, will not make enough difference to bankrupt me.

Any more than I’m already going to be bankrupted. Literally, the unit has run all day long, barely stopping more than five or ten minutes at any time. It’s almost 9:00 p.m. and the thing is roaring away. It’s still 99 degrees outdoors.

And a good thing it is that I just went out there to look at the thermometer. For some reason the timer on the hose didn’t kick off, and the tap was still gushing into the pool!

Luckily, the water level was pretty far down, so after two hours of the hose running full-bore, it’s still an inch or two below the coping.

It needs to be backwashed, because of all the gunk the damn palm trees dropped in there. Tomorrow morning. Really. That will pull the water level back down to where it was and I’ll have to refill it again tomorrow.

Cripes. I’ll be lucky if the water bill is only $225. And the power bill a mere $300.

Endless Costs of Homeownership: Palm Trees


Well, it’s past time to have the hideous Mexican fan palms cut back. In the late spring and early summer, these towering poles sprout long, husky rods packed with billions of brittle, sharp, pointy little flowers. These they shed all over the ground and into your pool, along with vast quantities of hard, BB-sized seeds designed to break pool equipment.

Every year, anyone who has a palm tree has to get the thing cut back. Otherwise the mess becomes intolerable. And they harbor insects. Right now they’re feeding the birds with legions of flesh-pink caterpillars. Cockroaches also love palm trees.

Some wise prior homeowner took it upon himself to plant four Mexican fans plus a desperately thirsty queen palm right next to the pool. Most guys charge $45 a tree to do the nasty, dangerous job of trimming them (every year at least one man is killed trying to do this job). That would be $225 that I don’t have.


Gerardo put up one of his pals to do the job. They not only cut back the four Mexican fan palms (I decided to leave the queen, because I can’t afford to trim all five trees), they also did some degree of “skinning”: cutting off the frond stumps often left on the trunk. When they’re left on there, they drop off in every high wind, and so all summer and half the winter the homeowner gets to pick them up out of the yard and off the street. They only charged $165. Couldn’t afford that, either, but it’s a lot better than two and a quarter.

It is incredible that the men will work that hard for so little pay. It takes several men to do the job: not only the athletic, tough fellow who climbs up the tree and hacks back the heavy, thorned fronds, but a man to spot him on the ground and another to pick up and haul the debris falling out of the tree.

The palm tree is one of the messiest, nastiest plants anyone could possibly be misguided enough to introduce into a yard. Mexican fan palms are particularly egregious, because they make neither shade nor edible fruit. It’s a critter that Easterners and Midwesterners think is quaint and exotic, so when they move here, they stupidly stick the things in the ground. Only after a few years do they realize what a monster they’ve adopted. An expensive, messy monster.

My neighbor Terri was grousing about having to get hers done, too. Like everyone, she’s feeling broke, and the annual cost of palm-tree grooming strikes her as onerous. Every year, the natives inveigh against palm trees, and every year, those of us who’ve inherited them with a piece of real estate consider chopping the darn things down. Terri remarked that she thought it would cost too much to have hers taken out. She did pay a lot to get rid of the rickety eucalyptus, which was threatening to cave in her roof.

I don’t know what it would take to remove a palm. For me, the problem is there’s only a few feet of room between the pool and the block wall along the lot line, which is where my trees reside. If they’re taken out, what on earth could take their place? A shade tree would need a lot more space—crammed into that tiny strip, it would quickly heave the wall and probably would break through the pool, too. It’s hard to picture what could tolerate the heat and cramped space, and without the palm trees, the pool area would look mighty bare.

Houses are sure expensive to own. Mine has been quiescent for awhile—just a couple of minor plumbing bills over the past year. But still, there are the regular costs of ordinary maintenance: trim the trees; cut back the palms; drain and replace the stale, mineral-thick pool water; get the yard guy in here to beat back the weeds every couple of months; touch up the paint; maintain the central heating & cooling unit; maintain the pool filter and pump.

As usual, the fronds dropped into the pool. As usual, the palm tree guys broke one of my aluminum pool wands fishing heavy, ungainly fronds out of the drink. And as usual, they left an ungodly mess in the water.

Gerardo helped me clean out the pool—he ran the hose bonnet and got out all the pieces of junk that would choke the pool cleaner. And then some: he really went above and beyond the call of duty, retrieving almost all the small stuff that settled to the bottom. Offered to pay him, but he wouldn’t take a dime.

So now the pool is cleaned out, Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner has swept up the last of the litter, and the water has been hyperchlorinated, turning the thing into a puddle of Clorox. The stains from the seeds, dust, pollen, and flowers that sifted into the deep end have bleached away. And maybe by this evening or tomorrow I’ll be able to go swimming again.

The pool is cleaned out. So is my wallet.