SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 26: In Which We Clear The Air

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“There!” I grunted, gracelessly maneuvering the rusty old air conditioner out of the bedroom window and onto a table that might or might not decide to hold its weight.

Miss Carol T. Cat glanced over at me from the bed, where she lay sprawled upon my bathrobe, oblivious to the hard physical labor under way just to her left. Miss Carol is always oblivious to hard physical labor. She’s a cat, whatta you want from her? 

“I hate this part of the job,” I muttered, as I tried not to break the knobs as I pried them off the front of the unit with a dull screwdriver. I pulled off the front of the cabinet, revealing what appeared to be a large felt mat, made entirely out of cat fur. 

Miss Carol’s eyebrows raised, if she’d had eyebrows. You know what I mean.

“Surely you cannot place responsibility upon me for this unfortunate state of affairs,” she sniffed. “I accept no responsibility for shed fur once it has separated from my person. There is ample legal precedent in the courts of our nation to establish the correctness of my views on this topic.”

I paid her no mind. It’s never a good idea to pay Miss Carol no mind, but in this annus horriblis 2020, what’s another consequence to worry about?  I’ve got a lot more to think about these days than offended felines.

Air conditioners have been very much in my thoughts of late. My shabby little thirty-year-old Sears and Roebuck blow-box is as nothing compared to the vast HVAC system I supervise down at the Strand, where we’ve been spending a lot of time lately working up a plan to bring it into compliance with recommended anti-Coronavirus standards. We’re lucky that the system installed during the renovation in 2005 was vastly overbuilt and overengineered – one technician told me once that it was sufficient to handle the needs of a small factory, so don’t worry about a 350-seat theatre. But even with a first-rate air-handling system there’s plenty we can do to tweak its capacity to ensure that when the Strand does reopen the air will be clean and sweet and safe. This week we’re having the dampers adjusted in accord with CDC recommendations for allowing in more outside air when the building is occupied.  We’re planning to add special anti-viral ultraviolet-ray emitters to the inside of the air-handler units.  And we’ll be upgrading the vast battery of replaceable paper filters inside the machinery to capture particles down to 0.3 microns in size. Given the demand for such work over the summer, it’s taking a while to get all this work done, but once it *is* done you can be confident that the air you’ll be breathing once you come back to the Strand will be safe and sanitary.

And, of course, though it is a source of endless conflict between Miss Carol and me, there will be no large felt mats made entirely out of cat fur clogging up the filters. That is purely a domestic problem.

Miss Carol glared as I peeled the furry filter out of my old AC,  and stuffed it into a plastic trash bag. She resented the implication, and I had every reason to expect that she equally resented the implicator. But sometimes you gotta just grit your teeth and do what you gotta do. 

So after I installed the new filter and snapped the front of the casing back into place, and slid the knobs back onto their shafts, I did exactly that. I gritted my teeth and attempted to wrestle the heavy, clumsy machine back into the window – forgetting the gnarled old ficus tree directly behind me. It’s been sitting in that corner for twenty years, but you get to my age, you forget things. What can I say?

And in rapid succession the following events occurred:

A thin and pointy branch from the gnarled old ficus tree caught me square in the eye and pulled my glasses off my face.

I reached up to grab my glasses to keep them from smashing against the wall.

I forgot I was holding a fifty-pound piece of 1990s engineering.

I dropped said fifty-pound piece of 1990s engineering on my foot.

I howled with pain and mingled rage.

Miss Carol rolled over on her side and casually licked her paw. “I have been meaning,” she tossed off lightly, “to call your attention to that ficus tree. It requires pruning. Please see to that when you have completed your present task. I find unsightly foliage distasteful.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel –“ I began. 

But I decided not to press my luck.

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