Noe Valley Voice February 2000

Home Repairs

By Mike Underhill

Okay, so most of you know that our gas appliances, or at least those with pilot lights, have a set of instructions telling us how to relight the pilot. It goes something like, "Turn off gas valve, WAIT AT LEAST ONE MINUTE, open valve, then attempt to light pilot."

I know that you know, and indeed I knew, that the reason the water heater manufacturer put that one clause in capital and bold letters was to give us some kind of a heads-up -- a warning, if you will. Now a pessimist would look at that clause (okay, okay, I'll call it a warning) and figure, Let's see, I'm working with a combustible gas, and the pilot's probably been cranking away, unlit, all night, and then of course I've got this match here in my hand, and if I light the match and there's all that gas around and, hey, what's that gassy smell anyway...?

To make a long story short, the pessimist would probably go ahead and wait the stupid minute before striking the big wooden kitchen match. But then the pessimist probably also would have followed the matchbox instructions that say, "Close cover before striking." Paranoia, what can I say.

Well, I'm not a pessimist -- carpe diem and all that stuff -- and besides, I'm sitting there squatting in the basement, and it's early in the morning, and it's cold, and I didn't put on shoes or a shirt, and a minute is just so, so, very arbitrary. I mean, why didn't they say "wait 59 seconds," or "23 seconds"? You see my point, right? Anyway, having determined that a minute is just an arbitrary time they decided to throw in, I assumed they just as easily could have meant, oh, say, 5 seconds. Yeah, that's probably what they really meant to say: "WAIT 5 SECONDS BEFORE LIGHTING PILOT." Man, manufacturers these days, they just can't get anything right.

Okay. You know where this is going. There was the match, the explosion, me flying backwards about five feet, and the first bubbling thoughts of what life without eyebrows would be like. Checked around: Hmm, nothing caught fire in the basement other than a tiny bit of my hair, and only the gray ones at that, and come to think of it, why do we need arm hair anyway? Just staying one step ahead of evolution, I always say.

Continue checking: Left hand's felt worse before, and they say first-degree burns are pretty much like sunburn, and California boy that I am, I've had plenty of those. All in all, things are in pretty good shape and beginning to look even better. Gonna be a real good day, by cracky. Start the morning off with a bang! Or was that a boom? Whatever.

Know what really makes me proud: I got the pilot lit and the heater started. This home repair stuff is a snap, boyo. Tomorrow I think I'll get started on fixin' the circuit breakers and rewiring the house!

Directions? Who needs 'em.

Mike Underhill is the author of "Toots and Harry," published in the Voice's 1995 summer literary issue. He reports that after selling the Axford House at 25th and Noe (his landmark house), he moved away from the neighborhood for a short time. He recently moved back, however, and is practicing maritime environmental law -- when not engaged in home repairs.