When he came last year to turn on the gas in my new home, I walked from work and met him on the sidewalk, just as he was starting to unload his truck. I had gotten the automated call saying he had been dispatched, and I’d pressed 2 for “I’m not home, but I’ll be here in 30 minutes or less.” So he knew to expect some waiting time.
He was jovial. It was a sunny morning in late spring, not hot yet. While he did the outside part, wrenching open the gas meter, we chatted about his job and how long he’s done it. When he came inside to light the stove, I said I was looking forward to cooking with gas again. He’d had a spell without a gas stove, and he agreed it was better in some ways—able to see the flame, and control the heat’s increase or decrease more swiftly.
I told him not to bother with the gas heater. I wouldn’t be using it any time soon, and in fact, I was a little scared of it. As he was leaving, he noticed my canister of flutes, whistles and panpipes. “Do you play, or collect?”
“Yes,” I said, meeting his playful eyes and matching his grin. “Both.” And all day I felt good about the possibility of human connection with the strangers who cross our paths.
Today when I got the call, I pressed 1 for “I’m home,” then changed out of my pajamas and into presentable clothing and waited for a call directly from the service guy. (I guess I got the gas people’s methods mixed up with the Internet people’s.) After a few minutes, there was banging downstairs on the front door, then louder banging.
It was the same gas guy, and he seemed upset. It was a gray damp morning in midwinter, and chilly, and he wasn’t wearing a jacket. I apologized for making him wait and led him to the meter out back. When he came back in to light the pilot lights, he also seemed weary, even before 9 a.m.
There was no bonding over cooking with gas this time, no friendly small talk. Was the difference the weather, chilly and gray instead of sunny and warm? My housekeeping, a sink full of dishes and a half emptied drain rack instead of a clean sink and cleared counter? Or was it the situation, not activating the gas for a new tenant this time, but reversing a shutoff for a customer who hadn’t paid?
I don’t think the gas man’s indifference was about me, though. I think he was just having a hard day, which probably started before he had to knock, twice, at my silent door.
When he was done in the kitchen, he lit the main room’s elderly gas heater. I told him I hadn’t used it yet. Then he pointed out that it has two panels, and he’d lit only one. Did I know how to light both?
No. Would he show me?
“Why don’t you do it,” he said. “Then you’ll know how.”
The first panel lit slowly, like it needed to remember how. The second panel, though, lit in a sweeping sheet of blue flame, with the accompanying “Foomph!” sound.
Now that I think about it, we did have a moment of connection. When he told me to do it myself, I think he understood that he was also telling me, “I know you’re a little afraid of that fire. The way around that is through.”
There was one thing the same about both visits. Each time, he kept up with every burnt match he had used, and took them with him when he left.
A week later …
So, about that shutoff. Somehow I missed a gas payment, and then another came due, and I came home from a Christmas trip to find my gas had been shut off. I got online and paid what I owed. As always when I pay online, the final screen told me I was eligible for automatic payments, deducted each month from the account of my choice. As always, I considered it for about three seconds, then declined. I used to pay all my utilities this way, but when I moved into this place, I opted to get a bill in the mail and pay it each month. I chose this for two reasons.
The lesser: People who are wary of autopay arrangements always warn that it can be hard to end them, so the move offered an opportunity to return to manual payments. (That caution became reality when one utility kept billing me months after I’d moved and ceased using one of their services. It took a number of conversations with humans, and some assertiveness, to get them to find my original shutoff request and to reimburse me for what I’d overpaid.)
The greater: Literally, manual payments. I wanted to tear open a paper bill, write a check with my hand, stick it in the provided envelope, lick it shut, stick a stamp on it, and drop it in a mailbox or walk it to a place that accepts payments. I wanted that added physical, tactile awareness of what I am paying each month.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I set the bill aside, and then end up paying online just before the deadline. Which, obviously, sometimes I miss. Which I would like to stop. Among other things that fall under the heading of procrastination.
Someone recommended a book to me recently, the kind of book with some homework at the end of every chapter. Early on, it recommends taking a procrastination inventory:
- 1. Make a list of all the things you are procrastinating about or putting up with in your personal and professional life.
2. Eliminate EVERY item on that list.
I made the list on a significant day: I had planned to accomplish several very important overdue tasks, but couldn’t, because I was stranded by weather at Chicago Midway. Then I lost the journal I made the list in (or misplaced; I’m still hoping misplaced rather than left on the plane). So I made it again. It’s soberingly long. But I’ve eliminated a few items on it.
As with so many things, I think the way around a lifelong problem with procrastination is through. For me, through often means writing. So for a while, Daylilies will also be a place where I reflect on the finitude of a day and how I am spending mine. It’s partly learning to be more realistic about what I can reasonably expect to accomplish during one; but mainly, it’s about spending each one well, with some attention to what they add up to, instead of so often feeling like the sum of mine is coming up short.
The day after the gas man came, I turned the oven on to make pizza. It takes about 35 to 40 seconds for the “Foom!” of the oven to fire up. Sixty seconds passed in silence. I turned the gas off. Felt inside the oven. Its floor was cold; the pilot light had gone out.
It happened once before, right after I moved in; I was still skittish about fire then, so I called the landlord. He came and fixed it while I was out. This time I was determined to do it myself. It took watching a couple of YouTube videos to learn where it was on my stove (under the oven, at the back of the broiler area). Then it took MacGyvering a way for one hand to safely carry the flame all the way back there while the other held the oven knob (light a kitchen match, grip it in long-handled metal tongs, move surely).
I got four meals out of that pizza.
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