Friday, February 08, 2013

A little more spark goes out of Curmudgeon's life

We never did see the little blue or white tongue of spark or flame caused by the short circuit. But we could hear it. We could all hear it.

I felt it before I heard it -- not that I got shocked or anything -- it's just that, as I tried to reset the circuit breaker panel in the basement, as soon as I turned the switch back on, I could feel the pop -- and the switch would go back off.

Let me back off a bit to explain.

It's snowing today on the East Coast -- a major storm, I'm told, combining all the worst elements of a coastal storm and one that came from over the Midwest. Well, here in the Midwest, we were under the aforementioned component yesterday, with a 'wintry cocktail' of freezing rain and sleet and ice and plain old rain falling during the morning rush depending on where you were or the whim of the clouds overhead, all this ahead of a snowfall that was supposed to (and did in fact) snarl the evening commute.

I had to be in Wheaton yesterday morning for court; I had to drive. But, I thought, having discharged my obligations in (I believe) a satisfactory manner, it might be prudent on my part to go straight home rather than drive downtown to the office. The weather was one concern. The fact that I am still recovering from a bout of stomach flu (which hit me like a ton of bricks on Monday afternoon) was another. In fact, I thought I would head back to my recliner and, just maybe, if possible, work on some of the overdue paperwork I have to do for work. (Man does not live by blogging alone, would that it were different.)

I did get home -- many people had worse commutes than I did yesterday so I don't say there was nothing amiss... but I thought the panic-stricken tone of the newscasts just a bit much -- and I made it to my chair, ate my sandwiches (a major victory right there) and fired up the laptop in the hope of getting some work done.

Well, I didn't get too far -- I put something up here -- I read my daily comics -- I transferred my backup files (see I really was transitioning into actual work) -- when Olaf announced that the power had gone out upstairs.

Yes, Olaf was home from work yesterday preparing for his 'exit exam' at school. You'll remember he's not quite graduated yet, even though he is (thankfully) employed by a company that appears to like him and, more important, appears disposed to give him the kind of raise that will allow him and Younger Daughter and the baby to move to a place of their own once he does in fact graduate. This semester, he is taking a one-hour course that he was forced to abandon last spring (because of the migraines), one prominent feature of which is this 'exit exam.'

He failed the exam the first time. He was allowed to take it over the summer -- but without the review course, apparently, he was at a competitive disadvantage (the review course, and the test, both appear to focus more on nit-picky exceptions to general rules than on general rules themselves -- in other words, just the opposite of what he needs to know in his real-life job). Anyway, he failed again. Both times, we are told, by a single point.

He takes it again today.

(Thank you. We hope so, too. Believe me.)

Anyway, Olaf made his announcement and I went in search of the circuit breaker box and, no sooner do I get the box open than Older Daughter calls my cell phone to apologize needlessly for having 'jinxed' me. When she had been in Chicago over the weekend, I had insisted that my flu shot was a magic talisman against all infectious disease and Older Daughter R.N. pointed out -- correctly, by the way -- that the shot has no effect whatsoever on what is usually called 'stomach flu.' Or norovirus. Or Hobbes Disease (it is nasty, brutish, but the worst of it is usually -- and mercifully -- short).

I had to cut my conversation with Older Daughter short because of the developing crisis.

That's when Long Suffering Spouse called.

Long Suffering Spouse wanted to know what was going on and I told her and she told me to call the electrician and, of course, I did.

Meanwhile, I tried resetting the circuit breaker panel a dozen or so times and Olaf told me that it didn't work each time.

When the electrician showed up, we showed him where Olaf had pinpointed the arcing noise -- Olaf having slipped off in the meantime to the school library -- and when the electrician opened up the switches on the wall so we could observe, we took turns looking for the spark while the other played with the circuit breaker. The popping sound upstairs was loud; I jumped when I was there to hear it. But I couldn't see the spark any more than anyone else.

We live, as you know, in the City of Chicago. In the great City of Chicago electrical wires are supposed to be run in metal conduits in a house; that's code. When shorts occur, then, the arc or spark -- it's really a little blue tongue of flame -- is supposed to bounce harmlessly of the inside of the metal tube in which it is housed, in that way making it far less likely that the house will burn down.

This wasn't our first experience of a short circuit upstairs. I wrote about the prior incident in January 2011. In reviewing the archives this morning, I find that I do not appear to have mentioned the electrician's take on the problem.

What he told me then... and what we discussed again yesterday... was that the wires in our nice and safe metal conduits are more than 80 years old. Our original house is definitely pre-War (meaning it was built before World War II) and -- in Chicago -- pre-War also generally means pre-Depression. It is, as I have conceded in the past, possible that some houses -- a few -- were built around here during the 1930s. But not a lot of them. And certainly not ours.

In 2011 the electrician told me it would be prudent to rewire the house, or at least the upstairs, because this shorting and arcing and circuit-blowing would recur, from time to time, until repaired. He gave me his quote -- and it wasn't unreasonable. It was, however, impossible. I could no more have paid him then than, well... than I can pay him now.

By now you've certainly figured out that none of us ever found the short. Somehow, though, all that jiggling made a difference. After a few hours, power was restored. How long would it last this time? Well, let's just say the electrician's comment was not the most comforting: "I'm just hoping it lasts until I get safely out the door," he said.

So far, so good.

1 comment:

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

but is it a fire hazard curmy? that's scary stuff.

smiles, bee