Monday, August 29, 2011

Nugget #43

Mr. Gas Man


                                                     Bill Donnelly

Why most lines of work don’t work

            The night ended much as it had begun, with an ice-cold chill running up and down my spine.  My hands were numb, and my ears felt as if they were being held in the grip of frozen pliers, the pressure of which stung to the very base of my neck.  Yeah, I was just leaving the shop, waiting for the engine to warm up so I could put on the heat.  These damn cold Buffalo nights can make you forget any other problems you may have faced during the evening, but this night was just a bit more disturbing than most.
            I work for National Fuel Gas, the operation that provides natural gas to most of western New York and northwest Pennsylvania.  I’ve been with the company just under four years, and I’m now a full-fledged, leak qualified, gas certified, fire-school trained, explosive expert, line-locating whiz, relight  specialist, valve locator proficient, and all-around people-skilled serviceman.  This means I’m now trusted to work the evening shift, and being low-man on the totem pole, that’s exactly what I’m doing for the next several months until some other sap with less seniority than me gets trained.
            So this particular evening began on a bitter cold day at , with an ice-cold chill running up and down my spine.  My hands were numb, and my ears felt as if the were being held in the grip of frozen pliers, the pressure of which stung to the very base of my neck.  You guessed it, I’m just leaving home and waiting for the car to get warm, so at least when I pull into the shop just before my shift starts, I’ll be somewhat warm.
            It’s only mid-December in Buffalo, but the temperature sits at 16 degrees with a wind chill near zero, and it only promises to get colder as the sun goes down.  Luckily it’s a fairly calm day, wind wise.  I have on two pair of socks, long-johns with boxer shorts over them (gots to protect the guys) and jeans, plus a long-sleeved tee-shirt, sweatshirt, a hooded sweatshirt, leather jacket, cotton glove-liner and mitts, and a stocking cap, and I’m still cold as my trusty silver Hyundai warms up.  Something about that frozen wind blowing in off of Lake Erie that seems to cut through anything and everything to get at you.
            I get to the shop, which is the Tonawanda Service Center, located on
Military Rd.
a couple miles north of Buffalo, which is the city in which I make my home.  I quickly turn on my van so it can warm up while I get my computer board that contains any work I might have for my swing.  Being that I work nights, I usually have none, as I’m out there for emergencies, and I’ll get sent jobs to do in-between leaks, line-hits, and emergency locates. 
            Nice to know someone just recently qualified for all these emergencies is the one out there at night, but that’s the way seniority works in most lines of work, and why most lines of work don’t work.  There are two other trucks out there doing the same thing as me, so if I have any questions, I can call them.  Of course, they too are low-man on the totem pole, so it’s much the blind leading the blind.  But then, Buffalo aint blew up yet, so I guess its working ok, except for my lack of any kind of a social life.  
            We three trucks cover an area that starts in the middle of the west side at
W. Ferry St.
, up through most of north Buffalo, and fans out to include all the Tonawanda’s, and Amherst.  I think Tonawanda is a Seneca Indian word that means “It’s FUCKING COLD here”, and so when the straight-laced founders of these towns needed a name, and being honest and to the point while not wanting to offend their women-folk, just took the native term for their towns.  Thus we have North Tonawanda, The City of Tonawanda, and The Town of “It’s FUCKING COLD here”, I mean Tonawanda.  Same thing.
            So anyway, this area the three of us cover seems about the size of Rhode Island, and more often than not, we get called on to help out in Niagara Falls and Clarence, which is like adding the state of Connecticut to our territory.  But it aint blew up yet, so I guess its working ok.  Course, I’ve only been on this night thingy a couple weeks, so give it time.
            Back to this particular night.  I sign on to dispatch over the radio that often has the sound quality of a drive-through window speaker at a fast food restaurant.  I often wonder if dispatch is asking me if I want fries with that order.  Off I drive looking for a drip to check and pump until an order comes in.
            A drip is simply a capped pipe connected to a big cauldron-like device that is buried under a gas main that has water in it because it’s an old steel pipe that leaks.  The theory is that the water will settle into the cauldron, and we servicemen with nothing to do can go around pumping the water out so as to keep the mains from filling with water that then gets into a customer’s meter and freezes if it gets cold enough (eight months of the year in Buffalo)  and cuts off the gas to said customer, thus giving us servicemen a job to do, which is blowing out said customer’s lines and changing the meter, which takes time, thus we don’t have time to pump the drips, consequently causing more troubles.  Do you follow that?  It must to the powers that be at the company, or else they would be replacing the old lines with new plastic lines that do not leak.
            I pull up to a drip, and the number of these is always growing, but wouldn’t you know it.  No sooner do I climb out of my truck than my pager goes off, and an order appears on my board telling me to go to the drugstore at
801 Tonawanda St.
in Buffalo.  You guessed it, it must be FUCKING COLD on that street, and it is.
            The order is to see why the store is getting no gas inside, but since I’ve been to this store already twice before in my short stint on nights, I known there is water in the lines.  That’s because we servicemen have been so busy changing meters and blowing out lines that we couldn’t pump the drip by this store. 
And thus starts my wonderful night in Buffalo’s Black Rock and Riverside areas.  I know these two areas fairly well as I graduated from Riverside High School so many long years ago.  When I attended in the days before busing, the school was attended by kids from these two neighborhoods.  Then the area was made up of Eastern Europeans, the sons and daughters of immigrants who worked the steel mills, auto plants, and lumberyards that once flourished on the shores of The Lake and the Niagara River. 
Since my graduation, the area has changed mightily.  The Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, and others have mostly moved north to the “It’s FUCKING COLD here” towns, while the old neighborhoods are now inhabited by the poor and out of luck population that invades an area such as this.
This first order takes a bit more than an hour, since I have to remove the meter, which is outside in the cold, attach a tank of pressurized natural gas to the line, and blow the water out of the lines, which will of course all come back in a day or two since we don’t have time to pump the drip.  It’s all a tedious, finger numbing affair, made most annoying by the fact we have to keep said tank of gas specially stored in the truck.  It’s just a long and exasperating process that one has to do over and over during most cold nights.
And so it goes on this night, a leak at a stove to investigate that turns out to be a pilot on the stove that is out and the young lady has no idea how to light it, and a leak called in because another young female wants her dryer hooked up, which is something we do not do.  At least these calls are fast and easy, but one never knows what lies around the next corner.
At five minutes to eight I get a call to head to
21 Lansing St.
to check the gas pressure inside for the people who live in the upper flat.  Obviously they are not getting enough gas to run their appliances, so it’s off to the sad little one-block long street right in the middle of Black Rock near Military and Austin Streets.  Staring at the decrepit looking houses that line the street, one would have a hard time imagining the once proud homes they used to be, full of the smells of home-cooked pirogies, kielbasa, and szarlotka, with the sounds of Polish and English intertwined with music from the old country.
A young, stocky but muscular white kid in jeans and a t-shirt greets me at the side door.  He is friendly and easy going, which surprises me, since first impressions are usually right on.  His closely cropped hair and heavily tattooed arms and neck, and his looking to be about 23 years old, gave me quite a first impression, but as I say, Joe, as that was his name, came across pleasant and one who should be easy to work with.
Joe explained that he had just had his furnace worked on twice in the past week, getting $500 worth of parts installed in the hopes of having it working by now.  No such luck, and the third time the trouble-shooter for the heating and cooling outfit came by, he told Joe he didn’t have enough gas pressure getting to the furnace, and that was a “gas company” problem, which meant it was a “me” problem. 
Joe says: “Yeah, the dude tells me the furnace is only getting two pounds of pressure or something.  It’s up here in the attic, let me just pull down these steps so you can get up there, but watch your step as the first couple slats are kind of busted.”
As Joe is lowering the very rickety looking apparatus that passes for a means of getting to the attic, I glance quickly about the small upper floor apartment, which used to be just the upstairs of this house, but has since been transformed into an upper residence so the absentee landlord can make double the money renting out the house.  Joe’s young and pretty girlfriend sits bundled up against the cold watching TV.  The place is surprisingly clean, but not completely moved into yet, as open boxes litters the hallway and living room, obviously waiting to be unpacked.  A gaggle of about 15 electric guitars are all standing at proud attention in their guitar stands, apparently the first items to be unpacked.    
I climb the ladder which is pretending to be a stairway, and using my small flashlight, I spy the furnace.  Most servicemen hate these attic furnaces, as you have to gingerly make your way across a dusty, littered, low space, worried you may fall through the floor, landing on your head next to Joe’s young and pretty girlfriend.  In the summer these attics are unbearably hot, and in the winter, cold. 
Joe’s attic is typical, with boards over beams forming an uncertain floor (look out below Joe’s young and pretty girlfriend) and no room to easily move about.  These attics and low basements are why we wear hardhats while working.  Trying to test the pressure up here will be difficult at best, so I decide to see if there is a hot water tank in the basement that would be easier to get at. Down the rickety steps I come. 
“Can’t check the pressure on the furnace,” I say to Joe, “you got a hot water tank in the basement?”
“No,” he says, “we got no basement.   The tank’s in the laundry room downstairs.”
Another thing we servicemen hate.  That’s houses without basements, because no matter how nasty and scary some basements are, not having basements presents all sorts of problems.  Sometimes it means a horrible, filthy crawl space that we may have to, and you guessed it; crawl into to get at some appliance or gas leak.  It can also mean gas pipes running under floors and behind walls so you can’t trace them to see which appliance belongs to whom.  It usually means said appliances are stuck in crowded, inadequate spaces like closets or tiny laundry rooms, which gives one little room in which to maneuver while trying to deal with the appliance.
Joe’s laundry room presented me with two of these problems.  Located at the bottom of the stairs and to the right was a minuscule room loaded with washers, dryers, piled up laundry that hasn’t been touched for ages, trash, an empty trash can (go figure), two hot water tanks, and an old boiler.  This room was to the left as you walked in the side entrance of the house, and to the right was the door to the lower tenant’s abode, but I had not paid much attention when I came in.  Hardy any room to work.
The other problem was that the gas pipe to each appliance came up separately through the floor, so there was no real way to be sure which hot water tank was Joe’s.  Since the boiler, which is the first item when entering the infinitesimal room, has to be the lowers, as Joe’s is in that lovely attic, I can guess that the tank right next to it is the lowers also. 
I learned long ago not to assume anything on this job, so I ask Joe: “OK, which tank is yours?”
“I really couldn’t say,” says Joe, “I just moved in here a couple weeks ago”
“OK,” says I, “I’ll guess it’s this one furthest away from that boiler.”  My deductive skills amaze even me sometimes.
I turn off the valve on the gas pipe to the tank and begin to remove the cap from the drip.  No, not the kind of drip we pump water from outside.  Most gas appliances have what’s called a drip, which is a small bit of pipe that hangs below where the pipe tees off into the appliance.  You can remove the cap on it to check the pressure which that appliance is receiving.
So I’m attaching my pressure gauge to the drip and says: “So what part of Buffalo you moving from?”
“Nah, we just moved here from California!” replies the lad.
“Why the hell would you move from California to Buffalo, and at this time of year?”
“I’m in a rock band.” says Joe.  “Two of my members are from Buffalo, and wanted to move back.”
Now I’m thinking what sort of drugs was this dude doing to think that moving a rock band from California to the frozen tundra known as Buffalo was a good career move.  Hell, what the shit were those two former Buffalonians thinking in wanting to move back here.  Don’t they remember what the famous Seneca Indian word “Tonawanda” means?
Still I ask: “So what kind of music you guys play?”  You see, I used to play drums in a band called “Hard Rain” in the Cleveland area for over twenty years.  We played mostly original stuff we wrote, and we called it folk rock, being influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Leonard Cohen.  Maybe I can work that fact into the conversation and impress the dude!
He replies: “We’re real hard core punkers.  Name of the band is ‘Evil Dank Fungus’.  We’ve played the Ozz-Fest 32 times!”
I decide to keep my musical background my secret.  But still I have to ask: “What instrument do you play?” forgetting the gaggle of guitars I saw upstairs.
“Guitar,” says Joe, “I have 18 of them upstairs!”
By now I’ve checked the pressure, and it’s only at two inches of water column, not pounds as Joe had said. I tell him this and put the cap back on the drip, saying I’ll check your gas meter as soon as I relight this tank.  Two inches of pressure is too low, so I know there is a problem somewhere, as we should be getting at least seven inches.
As I’m lighting the tank, the door to the lower apartment burst opens and out pops a mean looking young dude.  He is extremely emaciated looking, perhaps 22 years old, but who can say as I know he’ll look the same in thirty years if he lives that long, just with a million wrinkles on his face from hard living.  His hair is cut to the skin, making Joe look like a hippy with his almost one quarter inch long hair.  He has on dirty jeans, what was once a white t-shirt, and nasty gray socks that could probably walk around on their own even if this cat wasn’t wearing them.  Oh yeah, and he looked exceedingly pissed off!
“What the fuck ya doing!” he shrieks.  “Getaway from my fucking water tank ya fucking retard before ya fucking mess everything fucking up!” 
I get the feeling he has a limited vocabulary, and I’m mighty pleased big Joe is standing between me and this fully crazed hillbilly Zulu. 
Joe has a big smile as he greets his downstairs neighbor with “Hey man, he’s just trying to figure out why I aint got enough pressure for my furnace, so he was checking my hot water tank.  Your stuff works fine, don’t it?”
“Fuck yeah it does, so why is he fucking messing around with my fucking water tank?” shouts Stanky, which is the nickname I imagine this dude to be called as I never get his real name.  “This is your tank here!” he says pointing to the other tank, “It says 2nd floor right on top here.”
Well I’ll be.  Didn’t think to look up there to figure out which tank is which.  Now I’ll just check the pressure for that one.
Joe tries to placate Stanky by telling him “You only gots two pounds of gas pressure going to your hot water tank.  The gas guy says that’s not enough.”
“Fuck him, man, my stuff fucking works.  Fucking Gas Company and their fucking employees are just out to fucking fuck us!”  Stanky’s agitated to say the least.
Trying to change the “fucking” subject, I ask Joe: “So is your landlord paying for the furnace repair?”
“Damn right she is, it’s just hard as hell to get hold of her right now.” laments Joe.
“Well fuck yeah,” breaks in Stanky, “she’s been scrambling like fucking crazy since she lost her fucking nigger whats been taking care of her.”
“Say what!” says Joe, “What nigger?”
“Didn’t you know? Replies Stanky, “Yeah, she been living with a fucking nigger the past two years.  Fucking sleeping with the fucking monkey cause he’s fucking loaded, and she’s got it fucking good, fuck it.  Then the fucking nigger up and dies on her fucking ass, and now she’s fucking shit out of luck and trying to make fucking ends meet.”
“No way!”  Joe seems truly amazed, but smiling about it.  “A nigger you say!”
“A fucking nigger I say”   Stanky is so good with turning a phrase.
“Man!” says Joe, “And when I was looking at this place with her, I was saying ‘nigger’ this and ‘nigger’ that all over the place.”
Stanky shoots back: “Well, she was desperate to rent the fucking place since her nigger died, and she’s a fucking good looking white bitch too.  Fucking shame sleeping with a nigger!”
“You got that right!” says Joe.
I just keep gritting my teeth, looking straight at what I’m doing.  I’ve learned there’s nothing I can say or do to change Stanky’s hateful way of thinking, so I go about my work and wish for evil things to happen to Stanky throughout his life.  I’m sure these things will happen to him, and I’m just as sure it will be Stanky who will make sure these things do happen to him! 
I find that Joe’s tank is only getting about two inches of pressure and tell him I need to check the meter, which is outside in the freezing weather.  On this night, it just had to be. 
So as I’m putting the cap back on Joe’s drip, Stanky is taking his leave of us with a hearty fare-thee-well.  Well, not in exactly a genteel manner, rather with a: “I’ll see you later man.  You mother-fuckers are just lucky I didn’t come out here with my fucking gun.  I hear someone fucking around out here; I gotta protect my stuff and myself.”
Cripes, I think, I hope Joe is careful in the future when he does his laundry.  Joe just gives me a “What can you do?” look and says “Don’t mind him, just do what ya gotta do to get my furnace working.
Out into the dark cold night I go, afraid of what I’ll find.  I go to the two gas meters on the other side of the house and turn off Joe’s gas.  I have to drop  his meter and turn it on to see if it produces a gurgling sound, which means water is in the pipes, which means I have to blow out the whole system, which means I have to turn off Stanky’s meter so I don’t blow up his appliances, which means I have to then turn on Stanky’s gas and light his appliances, which means I have to deal with Stanky again after he said not to fuck with his fucking stuff, which means I would have at least one too many “which means” to deal with. 
Fortunately, when I listen to the gas there is no gurgling sound, so I attach my pressure gauge, and Joe is getting 9 inches pressure outside.  The meter is empty of water or ice, but old, so I take the time to change it in the hopes the meter is the problem.  By now my fingers are like Popsicles, since you can’t do this work with gloves on, but I get a new meter on and head inside.
I check the pressure at Joe’s hot-water tank, but I do it very quietly so as not to let Stanky know someone might be fucking with his fucking stuff.  Who knows what kind of big gun he has.
Success!  The pressure gauge reads 9 inches, so I relight his water tank and we have a nice big flame.  I head upstairs to let Joe know the good news.  We fire up his gas stove and the flames are bright, blue, and healthy looking.  I tell him to turn up his thermostat and we’ll see if the furnace comes on.  No way I want to go up there on that rickety floor and take a chance falling through to land next to Joe’s young and pretty girlfriend. 
We hear the fan kick on for the furnace, and Joe starts bouncing around on chairs feeling at the heat vents which are at the top of the walls.  A couple minutes go by and nothing.  To make small talk while waiting, I tell Joe some of his guitars are pretty nice.
“Check out the one in the corner!” says Joe.  “It has inlay of naked girls made of ivory!”
I check it out, and sure enough, naked ladies made of ivory, in the pose you see on the mud-flaps of eighteen wheelers, adorn the neck of the guitar in-between every other fret.  It’s a beauty. 
As I’m wondering how much such artwork costs on a guitar, I hear a soft but urgent “Oh no!” coming from Joe, who is peeking out the top of the curtain on the front window.  While standing on the sofa there checking the heating vent, he obviously spied something or someone outside that distressed him, for he was off the couch in a flash and by me so fast he was a blur.
I turned to see him sliding on sneakers over his bare feet and down the stairs without even putting on a jacket.  I could only wonder what sort of character was down below that would get Joe agitated, since even the nasty Stanky didn’t seem to faze him.  With thoughts of drug deals gone bad or whatever, I glanced at Joe’s young and pretty girlfriend, who was finally showing signs of life. 
I just shrugged my shoulders as she looked at me, and so she went to the window and peeked out a corner of the curtain.  I had no idea what she saw, but she looked for just a minute or so and then sat back down, absorbing herself back into TV land, but I couldn’t help but notice something of a frown came over her face.  Not that she was smiling before, she had just had a bit of a blank expression that could have passed for a frown, but now it was definitely more of a frown.
  Joe finally came bounding up the stairs, and upon seeing me in the kitchen, whispered “One of my groupie women friends.  Had to keep her from getting to the doorbell!” 
I figured it was high time to get out of here, so I told Joe I would brave the attic to see what was going on with the furnace.  The fan was humming, but the thing was not firing.  Figured I better check the pressure if I could.
I moved across the boards layed carefully over the beams and positioned myself in front of the turn-off valve on the gas line.  Carefully I took apart the pipe at the union after turning off the valve and checked the pressure.  Sure enough, 9 inches, plenty, so I took off the pressure gauge and released some air, and it was air, no gas yet.  Changing a meter lets air into the system, so I let air flow until I could smell gas, then reattached the pipes, turned on the gas valve, and let the furnace do the rest.
All this time I could hear Joe’s voice coming up through the paper thin ceiling I was trying not to fall through.  I couldn’t hear Joe’s young and pretty girlfriend’s voice, but she was obviously the other half of the conversation.
“Hell, she was just a fan of the band who wanted to say hi!”  Pause!  “I couldn’t very well be rude to her, could I?!”  Pregnant pause! “How the hell do I know how she got my address?”  Tonight won’t be a night you’ll have a chance of getting your girlfriend pregnant pause!  “That was just a friendly kiss I gave her!”  Short pause!  “Now put down that guitar, you know I love only you, NOOOO!”
The furnace kicked on and I didn’t pause.  I was down the steps, stepped over the neck of the broken guitar, told Joe he was all set, just give a call if you need anything, got my tool bag, down the stairs past a startled looking Stanky who wondered what the fuck was that loud noise he heard upstairs, out to my truck, put her in gear and I was out of there!
Just then my pager went off.  The devise told me I had a leak to get to on the west side,
Potomac Ave
just off
Grant St
.  Now when we get a leak call, we have just 30 minutes to get to it as the company takes them very seriously.  They don’t want to lose any customers through explosions or asphyxiation.
Luckily I wasn’t far away, and I pulled up within ten minutes of getting the call.  I didn’t mind the diversion from the last order, and I could relax.  The order had hit my board, and it stated the people in the upper smelled gas in the kitchen.  Now any street around
Grant St
is pretty low-down and miserable, and Potomac is no exception, but after what I just came from, a leak at a range anywhere seemed relaxing. 
The young folks who greeted me were cold and shivering and looked to be close relatives of Stanky.  The place was pretty empty except for a TV that was blaring, and a few little ones were lost in its grip.  The young dude took me into the kitchen and explained they were moving all day and took the stove out and smelled gas and they unexpectedly had to spend the night there and were worried and there was no cap on the gas line but the valve was off and they couldn’t turn on the furnace in the attic as the same line that had fed the stove continued straight up into the attic and the valve was off since there was no cap on the line to the stove and they smelled gas so could I cap it for them and then they could open the valve and the furnace would kick on and boy they were cold but mostly worried about the smell of gas they swore they could smell we aint lying!
Using my Century, which will detect any gas leaking, I determined there was no leak. Using my brain to slowly figure out what the dude had been saying, I realized they had called in a leak just to get me there to cap the line so they could get the furnace running.  Without the cap, turning on the valve would mean gas would have flooded the kitchen instead of going to the furnace.  These guys were no dummies.
The company does not look kindly on false leak calls since they can tie us up when real leaks and emergencies demand our attention.  They usually piss the hell out of me too, but after the order from Hell I had just been on, and since there were some kids involved, I simply put a cap on the line and let them open the valve and turn on their furnace.  To the chorus of many thank-yous, I got back down and in the truck, punched in “no leak–false call” and went on my way, still reeling a bit from the call before.
I was just settling in and looking for a drip to pump when I got another order, this one saying “Furnace out, elderly, supervisor approves relight”.  It turns out when a lot of people have problems with their furnace; they call us to try to light it.  We usually will not and tell them to call a heating contractor.  However, if it’s cold and the people are elderly, and a supervisor feels they are worthy, we can help out.  And so I was off to Oxford St in Amherst to help an elderly woman by the name of Sally Johnson.
Amherst for the most part is a pretty nice suburb of Buffalo, but there are parts that are not quite up to the normal standards of this burg.  The area where the names sound so upscale with monikers such as Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and Princeton to name a few of the scholarly streets, are not so fashionable anymore.  So when I arrived at Sally’s small little house, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Speaking of names, without being told she was elderly, I could have guessed.  We who deal with the public a lot get used to being able to figure out a person’s age from their name.  Ms. Sally Johnson is black, and anyone with a name like Sally, or Lillian, or Eleanor, or Cleopatra, more often than not will be my age or older.  If it were a young black woman, her name would have been Tieka, Nieka, Molita, or Treblinka. 
But I digress.  I was greeted by Sally, a very pleasant, grateful, and slightly confused black woman.  Confused in the sense that one look about the house and I knew what I was dealing with.  She may have been about eighty, and her small home was filled to overflowing with piles of old newspapers and magazines.  They were piled neatly, but to get through the living room and kitchen to the basement, one had to traverse a maze of shoulder high piles of paper.  I see this situation all too often with the elderly, usually women, who are alone with no one to help them take care of themselves.
Ah, but Sally, shivering in her worn sweater and tattered mittens, was so nice and appreciative of my even being there to help, she couldn’t try harder, offering me food or drink to make my night a bit easier.  She obviously didn’t have a lot, but she was a happy person without a mean bone in her body, and after what I had witnessed earlier during these cold hours of darkness, she truly brought a ray of sunshine that seemed to lighten my mood considerably. I was going to do all I could to help her out.
In the basement, which was clean compared to many I have witnessed in my nearly four years with National Fuel, I was confronted by another labyrinth of neat piles of newspapers and magazines.  Following a path, I found her old furnace in a far corner of the cellar.  I quickly deduced that the pilot was out, (we are highly trained gas technicians) and I hoped that was all that was wrong with the furnace.  I did all the necessary tests to make sure there were no leaks in sweet Sally’s gas line, and I lit the pilot, which came right on.  I went upstairs and found the thermostat in the muddle of newspapers squatting all over the dining room.  I turned it all the way up, crossed my fingers, and went back down.
Hurrah!  Success!  The furnace kicked on, and after a short wait, the fan began to hum, blowing heat throughout Sally’s abode, hopefully warming her up quickly, along with the mounds of precious periodicals she was hoarding.  After making sure the flue worked, it was up the stairs again to turn the thermostat down, then back down the stairs (who needs a Stairmaster when you work for the gas company?) to make sure the furnace would go off ok and see that the pilot would stay lit.  It did, and it did!
Of course, with each trip to and from the basement, Sally was immediately there, saying how indebted she was and offering me cookies and pop or tea.  When I was finally done, she asked me my name.  I told her, she wrote it on an envelope, and handed it to me.  I figured it obviously contained a Christmas card, as that holiday was near, so I thanked her and slipped it into my jacket pocket, and left, feeling great that I had helped out one of the good people in this city.
No sooner had I gotten back into my truck then I got a page that sent me straight back into reality.  I was to go to the upper at
21 Lansing St.
, as the tenant was reporting that his furnace had stopped working.  It was getting late, and I sure as heck did not want to deal with these people again, but I felt I had no choice.  Off I headed into the suddenly much darker night.
My cell phone rang and it turned out to be the night supervisor, Russ.  He was wondering what had happened before at Lansing that I had to go back.  As I meandered through the streets I explained about changing the meter and getting 9 inches of pressure at the furnace.  I said I was at a loss.  He said simply go there and check the pressure while everything was running.    
Great!  The only way I could do that was at the hot water heater, and that could mean dealing with Stanky again.  I could only hope that he was passed out after drinking his forty ouncer, but I doubted that.  I could picture him by his door, smoking a cigarette, assault riffle cradled in his arm, listening intently for some motherfuckingsonofabitchlowlifeniggerlovinggasman who might happen by to try to mess with his fucking equipment.
I arrived and went around to the side door.  Opening it, I was immediately greeted by a smiling Joe, who was watching Stanky on the floor of the laundry closet trying to light his boiler.  I asked Joe what was going on.
“Man, his boiler and hot water tank went out now.  I figure he has the same problem I had.”
 “How about your furnace,” I asked, “did it stop working?”
“Hell no,” says Joe, “It’s working like a charm.  I called and said it stopped working to get you back to help him.”
I looked at Stanky contorted on the ground, trying to light the boiler’s pilot with his Bic lighter, a definite scowl shining forth from his ugly puss.  “Thanks for calling, Joe!” I thought.  I could tell by Stanky’s demeanor he held me completely to blame for his problem, and I could only guess what he would do to me if I couldn’t fix things.
I was just about to head for Stanky’s meter with the thought of changing it when the lad let out a whoop.
Stanky’s scowl was now a bitter glare aimed at me.  “I got the fucker lit now,” he snarled, “shut that fucking door before you blow the fucking pilot out again asshole!  Just get the fuck out of here before you fuck it up again!”
 I didn’t have to be asked twice.  I bid a found adieu to Joe, wished him luck, got to my truck, and took off.  A couple blocks safely away from them I punched up the order on my computer and filled in my report.  Deep down I knew Stanky had not solved his problem, but I was not about to tell him that.
I began heading towards a drip to pump, as it was approaching , and since my shift ended at , I was hoping I would get no more orders so I could basically relax.  It was only 15 minutes since I had left Joe and Stanky to their own devices when my pager went off again.  The order showed up on my board, and wouldn’t you know it, 21 Lansing again, furnace went out.
The dispatcher called me and let me know that Joe called again, and that his furnace had stopped working.  I asked to speak to the supervisor.  I told him the situation and the attitude Stanky had towards me, and I indicated I did not want to deal with them again tonight, or any other night for that matter.
Luckily, he agreed with me once I had described Stanky’s outlook towards life and towards servicemen in particular.  He suggested they could call a heating contractor since we were providing enough pressure.  I thanked him, found a drip or two to pump, and my long, cold night was finally winding down.  I brought my truck back to the shop, signed off and put my board in its compartment to download, and headed home.
I arrived a bit after , tired and disheartened about things after dealing with the likes of Stanky.  I plugged my cell phone into its charger and pulled out my pager to turn it off.  Out of the pocket with my pager came the envelope that held the card Sally had given to me.  I had completely forgotten about it.
I had not even read the envelope before, and I saw it said “to Mr. Gas Man – National Fuel”, and below she had written my name, Bill.  Inside was a ‘just a friendly note” card, and I opened it to find five well worn single dollar bills.  She had written “Thanks so very much for coming out on such a very bad nite!  God bless, Sally Johnson.”  And next to that she scribbled sideways on the card “$ for coffee & bagel.”
We are not supposed to take tips, and I never would have taken Sally’s $5 had I known it was in the envelope.  She could hardly afford it, and that made those five well worn single dollar bills all the more meaningful to me.  I fell into bed with all thoughts of Stanky and his problems erased from my mind.  The night had seemed endless, and at times hardly worth the hassle, but helping out a wonderful person like Sally helps keep me going, and she and people like her makes my job meaningful, at least at times, and that is enough!

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