Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
November 28, 1975
“I’m going to have to fail your wiring.”
“You are?” Tim did not sound at all upset.
“I’ve never seen such a bad job. It looks like a bumbling amateur did the work.”
Because the laws had changed in 1974, the older simple two prong receptacle was no longer allowed to be installed in houses. New outlets were required to use the three prong grounded receptacle. While they had not been required to upgrade the outlets, the old wire motivated them to upgrade everything. This home had originally had 60 amp service. They had upgraded to 150 amp, not because it was necessary now, but they knew in the future that 100 amp service wouldn’t be enough.
“Who did the work?”
“Who told you how to do this?”
“If I remember correctly, you were the supervisor.”
“Oh! Darn! That’s right. No shake down, today,” Mr. Miller said with a broad smile.
“Poor you,” Sandra said.
“I won’t be able to buy you such a wonderful birthday present.”
“That’s okay, I’ll forgive you, “ Sandra said with a laugh. “You’re still my favorite uncle.”
“I’m your only uncle.” Getting a lot more serious, Mr. Miller said, “Tim, you did a great job here. I was pleased when you went ahead and upgraded the wiring. You could have passed it off as it had been.”
“The moment we saw the cloth covered wire, we knew it was a fire waiting to happen,” Tim said.
This was something they should have checked for when looking over the house and hadn’t. It wasn’t until they removed the wall plates that they saw the wiring. That resulted in a long late night conversation while they tried to figure out what to do about it. There was only one decision possible, they had to rewire the house. It wasn’t safe to do anything else.
“I didn’t think someone your age would recognize the danger.”
“The leading cause of house fires is bad wiring.”
“You’re absolutely correct. A lot of people think grease fires in the kitchen is the cause of the majority of house fires, but they’re wrong.”
“We knew we had to replace the wiring with something safer. Beside, it really needed an upgrade for the service. I mean, 60 amp service is barely adequate.”
“I don’t understand why you went up to150 amp service, though.”
Benny answered, “Well, in the past few years it went up from 60 amp to 100 amp because a lot of new electronics have been added to houses. People keep buying more things like radios, televisions, and electric kitchen appliances. There’s no reason to think that trend will reverse. Why not anticipate the future?”
“That’s very forward looking of you.”
Mr. Miller had no idea. In forty years, odds would be good that the owners of the house would want to upgrade to 200 amps. Televisions in nearly every room, computers, and an Internet of Things would place high demands on the electrical infrastructure of the house. Tim could remember having all kinds of power strips plugged into outlets all over the house just to run the USB transformers to recharge cell phones, head phones, tablet computers, and everything else.
“We’re putting a lot of work into this place. Why not do the job correctly?”
“I wish more builders took that attitude. Everyone wants to cut corners.”
“We’re ‘Two Guys Working,’ emphasis on working.”
“You put a lot of work in, dropping those wires from the attic.”
The lath rock and plaster walls would have been exceptionally hard to remove. Fortunately, they could rewire the house by dropping new wires from the attic down to the old outlets. They had added a few outlets, too. Cutting through the walls had been the hardest part. It had taken an entire weekend to get all of the wires dropped. The next weekend, Mr. Miller had supervised while Tim made the connections. He personally inspected each and every connection Tim had made. He was impressed at how good of a job Tim did.
“It was a cold day, so it was only mildly uncomfortable up there. I’d hate to be crawling around up there when it’s 90 degrees outside.”
“You’re not just whistling Dixie.”
Mr. Miller had spent a lot of time inspecting the air conditioner installation. It wasn’t to find something wrong, but to see how Tim had managed to incorporate an air conditioner into such an old heating system. Tim had installed the new air conditioner as part of the electrical upgrade. The compressor was sitting on a slab in the backyard. The condenser was incorporated into the furnace plenum and utilized the furnace blower for air circulation. He had spent a lot of time in the attic repairing and replacing some of the duct work.
One might have wondered where they were getting the extra money to do work that hadn’t been part of the original estimate. When Tim and Benny had gone through the hardware store getting prices for items, they had looked at the regular retail price. When they went to purchase the materials, the clerk took one look at their list of required items and added them to their list of contractors. They suddenly had a 5% discount.
Mr. Miller signed the inspection form and hung it off the electric panel. He gave Tim a friendly pat on the shoulder and said, “I bet you’ll be glad to have electric service again.”
“We’ve never had it.”
“Considering the condition of the wiring, it was probably a pretty good thing.”
“We really appreciate you coming out on a weekend.”
“No problem. I’d hate to be the reason for you kids to miss school.”
“We don’t need a reason to miss school,” Benny said.
Thinking that he was joking, Mr. Miller laughed. “That’s funny.”
“It’s not that funny,” Benny said, “I really don’t need a reason to miss school.”
Mr. Miller frowned. “Are you serious?”
Sandra, seeing that he was bothered by Benny’s statement, interrupted, “Oh my. Look at the time. We need to get home. I’ve got to be there before any of the guests arrive.”
After glancing at his watch, Mr. Miller said, “The birthday girl needs to get home to her party.”
Sandra kissed Tim on the cheek, “See you at my party.”
“We’ll be along shortly,” Tim said knowing that the party wasn’t for another three hours.
Tim and Benny watched Sandra and Mr. Miller drive off. They walked around the interior making a mental inventory of what still needed to be done to the interior. Painting, carpeting, kitchen cabinetry, and installing the appliances. The bathroom had been the first room they had restored to functional service.
“How are we doing on the budget?” Tim asked.
It seemed to him that they were blowing through their money. Rewiring the house had cost them money they hadn’t planned to spend. He was worried that they were going to lose their shirts on this project. It never had that much of a profit margin.
“According to Cathy, we’re right on target.”
“We’re lucky Mr. Miller helped us with the wiring instead of requiring us to hire a licensed electrician. When we got that estimate, I just about had a heart attack.”
“That was a major expense avoided thanks to Sandra. We’re lucky her uncle is the building inspector for the town.”
“You can say that again.”
“He was impressed with how you integrated the air conditioner with the heating system. Of course, there was no way for him to know that you were a HVAC guy in your past.”
“In twenty years from now.”
“Now we can call up the power company and get the electricity turned on.”
“Once we have electricity, we can turn on the gas. We’ll have lights and heat. I’m tired of being cold.”
“I can’t wait.”
Tim said, “By the way, I found a carpet guy who will probably work off the books some weekend. That will save us some money.”
“Great. The cost proposition between having the carpet company do it and us doing it was a dead heat since we’d have to buy or rent the tools.”
“In the long run, buying the tools would be cheaper.”
“Only if we need to install more carpets.”
The two sat down on the floor in the middle of the living room. It was late in the afternoon and they wouldn’t be able to finish any kind of project they might start. At this time of year, sunrise came late and sunset came early, making for a short workday.
It had been a while since they had a planning session that only involved the two of them. It seemed to them that Cathy and Sandra were around all of the time. A good planning session was long past due.
Not quite ready to discuss the future, Benny said, “Once we finish the kitchen, paint the walls, and paint the outside, our part will be done. The carpet guy, the roofers, and the landscapers will handle the rest.”
“Not so fast. I think we ought to take care of the flowerbed. We can pot a couple of bushes and plant some seeds. It’s far cheaper than what the landscaper will charge.”
“Okay, that’s one afternoon of work.”
“So we’re agreed.”
They sat there, side by side, looking around the room. The silence lasted long enough that most people would have become uncomfortable. Benny and Tim were trying to get clear what they wanted to say.
“Do you think we’re nudging the world in a better direction?”
“I don’t know,” Benny answered. “If we are, it’s too early to tell.”
“I think we are.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Cathy is alive. Sandra is happy. Terrance and his family are better off. Gladys is living at home. Her kids are probably sleeping better at night. I think you got through to Sean. At least his sister thinks so.”
“I don’t know if any of that counts as a nudge.”
“It’s an improvement.”
Tim said, “There’s a couple of men who now own a lawn mowing company who were not going anywhere fast. Maybe now they will.”
“Whoever buys this house is going to be moving into a safer place. This might be one of the most important things we have done so far.”
“We’ll never know.”
“I know. That’s what’s wrong with this nudging business. The initial effects are small and we don’t know enough about what happened the first time. We’ll never know how our nudges affected things.”
Benny said, “Chaos theory.”
“It’s an area of mathematics describing how a very small change in input, can produce very large changes in output. That’s the whole point about nudges, they can produce very large consequences. Not every nudge has that effect, but it only takes one.”
“So long as the mathematic picture is on our side,” Tim said with a smile.
“We’re back to that ever unanswered question. So, now what?”
The two of them sat there thinking about it. ‘Now what?’ was the one thing they kept returning to over and over. There wasn’t a long term answer to it. Even knowing what they knew of the future, they kept making plans and revising them beyond recognition. Bringing Cathy and Sandra into partnership in a new company, Four Worker Bees, never happened. It was a good plan, but they never pursued it.
Finally, Benny said, “I think we continue on as we have.”
“What does that mean in terms of real actions?”
“We buy the shit house and fix it up.”
“You know the problem with that.”
The problem was that two teenagers owning a property that was covered with marijuana plants was a recipe for a life jail sentence. They weren’t going to buy the property until they had that problem cleared up. They had come to the conclusion that someone was actively cultivating the plants and they had no idea who it was.
“Yes, but I have a plan on how to deal with that problem.”
“What kind of plan?”
“We need to send a letter.”
“I’m not following.”
Benny explained his thoughts while Tim listened, incredulous. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. It was an audacious plan, but he couldn’t see any downsides to it. Considering how much it depended upon human reactions, it was amazing that Benny had been the one to come up with it.
“Let’s do it.”
“I came up with the plan. You deal with the people.”
“All right. You came up with the plans, I deal with the people. I just need to know who I need to deal with.”
Benny dug out his wallet. He pulled a sheet of paper from it and handed it over to Tim. Tim read the names on the paper and smiled. Benny had definitely done his homework.
“Yes, this will work.”
Tim refolded the paper and put it into his pocket. He would write the letter later when he could consider every word and line.
Benny answered, “We need to start making plans for me to go to college.”
Tim slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. “I forgot all about that. You’ll be a senior next year.”
“So what do you need to do?”
“I’ve got to start putting college applications out.”
“Have you decided on a major?”