Thursday, August 23, 2007

Larry the Swamp Cooler Guy

Larry the Swamp Cooler Guy is the kind of neighbor most of us dread. He shows up unbidden and unannounced at various hours of the day and night, invites himself in, and then becomes a free-flowing fountain of unsolicited advice.

"You really need to get a canopy for this place."

"Why don't you get a water pik? You'd really feel a lot better if you'd clean your mouth with one two or three times a day."

"You shouldn't be eating that. You need more vitamin B12."

He also volunteers to "help you with that," which for a person as allergic to home repairs and renovations as me is vaguely threatening.

But I'm glad to have Larry as a friend. He's annoying at times, but for someone as lonely as I've been for the last few months, it's a relief to have regular human contact, even from a noodge who won't take "no" for an answer. He's tactless, but he really just wants to help. Limited intelligence, unlimited heart, and definitely an unlimited capacity for repetition.

"You know, you really need a canopy for this place. Why doncha let me help you with that? If you just go down and by the parts we need, I could put it up for you in no time."

"Larry, I already told you (five times in the last fifteen minutes) I don't want a canopy like that."

However, others who know Larry have sternly warned me: "Don't let him 'help you with that.'"

Forearmed, I was ready, when the electric motor driving my prehistoric swamp cooler burned out yesterday, to resist his relentless insistence, once he got wind of the problem, to "Let me get up there and take a look at it." I'd already determined to rid myself of that ancient, rusty artifact which has been clanking and wheezing on my roof since I moved in here over a year ago. I'd arranged for a contractor friend of mine to install a new one on Saturday, which I planned to buy first thing this morning.

But first thing this morning there was Larry the Swamp Cooler Guy at the door, demanding almost angrily to be allowed to inspect my ancient Egyptian prototype of a cooler. What could I do? I folded, and within minutes he had removed the dead motor and its auxiliary parts and sent me off to Home Depot to buy replacements.

"I'm gonna save you hundreds of dollars," was both his stern admonition and modus operandi.

And good to his word, Larry and I -- but mostly Larry -- had the machine back on line by three in the afternoon, after a second trip to the hardware store and an instructive joint effort in reconstructing the motor assembly. He's more facile with tools and machine parts than I am, but because of a learning disability he's not always able to visualize how things are supposed to go together, which I happen to be pretty good at.

So now I can stay in my tin shack again because my cooler's working, and much better and more quietly than before, I might add. But more importantly, Larry the Swamp Cooler Guy taught me something about who I am and where I'm living. I'm no longer a man of means with extensive resources, who satisfies his infrastructural requirements by hiring self-effacing and polite temporary Mexican servants to haul away the old one and install a new one. Many of the people in this trailer park are poor, or at least, like me, not rich, and we get along by repairing things and helping each other and jury rigging life's paraphernalia. Financially, materially, and ecologically, it's the only way of getting by that makes sense.

So thank you, Larry. But I gotta tell you, I still don't want that hard canopy. Sheesh.

By the way, for those readers who don't know what a swamp cooler is, a.k.a. air cooler, desert cooler, evaporative cooler, and poor man's air conditioning, see this article at Wikipedia, and click on the illustrative diagram about halfway down the page for a bigger view. The machine is really beautiful in its functional simplicity, and it only eats about one-third the electricity an air conditioner does.

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