In the course of dealing with the explosion and blackout, we have learned far more about our century-old electrical service than we ever wanted to know. And today, we got more bad news.
Every watt and volt we consume passes through
this ancient service box tucked in a dark corner of our dismal basement. Last week, the Con Ed guy explained that our pseudo-electricians, who rewired the CrazyStable when we first moved in 21 years ago, had hooked the new wiring up to the old "service"--the wires that come in from the street. Furthermore, they ran the wires in "the gap"--the space between this box and the new circuit-breaker box--through an almost-as-ancient fuse box, for reasons unexplainable. Once we had the new service, he advised, we should get a real electrician to close this gap of stupidity.
[Yes, I know: Why did we use pseudo-electricians to begin with? Because they were cheap and we were broke after buying our 3,000-square-foot piece of paradise, which was sizzling with wires so old that they were insulated with fabric, and ran alongside gas lines. In the very early 1900s, no one was certain that this new-fangled electricity was going to work out. ]
Right now, the temporary cable from the lamp-post, our "jumper service," is joined to these scary stubs with black electrical tape. Today, more Con Ed guys showed up, to replace the wires under the street. (Every time we hear a high wind, we marvel at the genius of buried electrical cable; you just don't appreciate it until you're the only one on the block whose juice is swinging in the breeze overhead.) But when they inspected the scary basement, something unfortunate happened: They noticed our basement monster.
He's been there since the beginning, and mostly he slumbers. He would never harm anyone unless some damn fool goes and disturbs him, and even then he's unlikely to kill anyone. There are, in fact, only a few scattered bits of him left; the rest has disappeared mysteriously. But even those poor rotten, tattered remnants strike such unreasoning fear in the hearts of men that they flee from our basement, wild-eyed and calling for their supervisor.
I speak, of course, of our asbestos pipe insulation. I suppose it was pretty dumb of us to leave a few chunks of it hanging down like a beaded curtain in front of the closet-like enclosure that holds the circuit breakers. If we had sensibly wet it and eased it off and hidden it deep in a black plastic bag on its way to the landfill, perhaps our monster might slumber still. But noooo. Medical writer that I am, I've always insisted on leaving it undisturbed until the distant glorious day when we can afford a proper abatement or encapsulation job. (Meanwhile, we simply stay out of the basement, as any sane person would.) That day, until this week, was estimated to occur in about the year 2015. Now it has to happen within two months, which is how long Con Ed will leave the Extension-Cord-on-Steroids hanging over our house. We have to produce an air testing certificate attesting to the monster's banishment, and that means banishing him. Early estimates suggest that this will require the sale of only one of our kidneys, not all of them (we have a total of six, so some will be left for the roof).
Old house owners are fond of referring to "the mushroom effect" when one repair starts a sort of chain reaction of decrepititude and collapse. We've got a basement full of mushrooms, real expensive ones, Shiitaki or oyster ones, and they are not done proliferating.
Juliet: O now be gone; more light and light it grows.
Romeo: More light and light; more dark and dark our woes!
--Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene V