We had a pretty big week at our house. Actually it was just one day of the week, and a small part of that day, about one second long … but that one second made the whole week. It was a Movie Moment.
A Movie Moment is when you very briefly get to star in your own movie. It’s when something occurs that is so utterly perfect or fateful or cliché or tragic, it feels scripted. You almost expect to hear “Aaannnnd … Cut!”
These moments are best when they impart some deep meaning to your life. If life just picks up where it left off, you still feel pretty important and universal — after all, you did just star in a movie — but you’re not really a changed man. You’re just very pleased with yourself.
Well, our moment had deep, profound significance for me.
Ours is the kind of household that cares — rather too much, perhaps — about recycling. To that end, we’ve discovered a marvelous online community called the Freecycle Network. It’s simple and brilliant: instead of tossing something away, one first posts it on a list service to see if someone else wants it; if she does, it’s hers. These objects can be anything, from frying pans to computers to food to dirt. It’s the world’s biggest junk pile, and like any junk pile, you find the occasional, slightly battered gold nugget. There’s also the obvious environmental benefit of passing this stuff on to new owners instead of sending it to a landfill; plus, the original owner avoids any potential effort or fees involved with disposal. Everybody wins.
My wife, an intrepid Freecyclist, recently tracked down an ancient air conditioner. We dutifully rescued it from eternal decomposition in some scrapyard, hauled it home and dragged it upstairs and put it in the window and plugged it in and it works — well, it groans to life and dims all the lights in the building and produces a small trickle of cool air. But in a wintry economic climate (and a stifling meteorological one), free A/C is not to be scoffed at.
It is a Fedders. (Yeah, I haven’t either.) Their motto is, “There’s Nothing Finer Than Fedders.” It is brown. It is ugly. It is absurdly heavy. I don’t know when it was manufactured, but when was the last time you saw a brown air conditioner, the late 1980s? If it were a car, it would be a Ford Crown Victoria station wagon, or just something big, heavy and unpredictable.
This summer, we’ve been using our air conditioner more often, just like you. For various reasons, we decided a few weeks ago to move it from the bedroom to the living room. Then, last night, we decided to move it back.
It was a dark and stormy night.
I’m not kidding; when we get that sucker back inside, it’s soaked. “Slippery when wet,” I quip, puffing and stumbling across the floor and back into the bedroom, where I deposit it, along with a few well-chosen oaths, on the windowsill. We begin edging it back out over nothingness. Soon, the Crucial Moment arrives: as the hindquarters of the unit gradually project out into space, one must lift its front bottom lip over the lip of the windowsill; having done so, one must then support the infernal weight of the unit while one’s boon companion carefully but quickly lowers (quickly, quickly, for crying out loud) the window with the object of trapping the upper lip of the A/C unit against the bottom of the window (Figure 1). Then, all being well, everyone exhales with relief and steps back to admire the dubious physics of an inch of plastic molding preventing a huge leaden beast machine from jumping to a watery oblivion.
Sadly, all was not well.
In the midst of the Crucial Moment I make a grievous error: having opted to counterbalance the weight of the appliance by positioning the ends of my fingers along the upper lip of the front and pulling towards myself, I now have nowhere to put them once the window descends — they are in the no-man’s-land between the lip of the A/C unit and the bottom of the window (see Figure 2). Also, everything is wet.
Somewhere between requesting a slight raise of the window and attempting to reposition my fingers along the edge, it slips. It’s like a fish — like a scaly fish, which would like nothing better than to jump through your hands and swim away from you. This air conditioner doesn’t jump so much as leap — it positively scampers out, I swear I hear a “Wheeeeee!” as it exits — and I know we’ve done it, we’ve really done it. We’ve dropped the air conditioner out the window.
This was an important moment in my life. Something big was happening. Something big was falling.
And it was at that moment, my friends, that I knew, in my secret heart of hearts, that I have always wanted to drop an air conditioner out the window.
Why? Because it’s asking for it. There was a day in history when the founding fathers of air conditioning sat around a table to decide how best to install their enormous, staggeringly heavy metal appliances in the home. And guess what they came up with? After much discussion, I’m sure, the winning solution was to mount the unit by its very edge in an open window with nearly the entire mass suspended over thin air, supported by nothing — unless one is handy with tools and takes the initiative to build a brace beneath the window and nail it to the house. (Presuming of course that one owns the house — our landlord generally gives us the thumbs-down on punching big, round holes in the siding. By the way, I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, my landlord’s not on this email list. I checked.) But of all the air conditioners I’ve seen hanging out of windows, I’ve seen maybe four braces. It just isn’t done.
I remember being mystified as a kid as to why these things weren’t falling out all the time; seems like all it would take is a decent bump and whoops — here’s seventy pounds of rushing metal, sponsored by gravity.
It’s just that a window air conditioner is so heavy, and is balanced so precariously, and when it falls on you, you are not bruised or maimed, but dead.
With this in mind, one would think my immediate reaction upon dropping it was abject terror. One would be right. But that was not my only reaction; I must say, there is also a certain thrill to the experience. And, if I am honest, an element of humor, too.
It could be a guy thing, but there is a deep, mysterious gratification in causing a heavy object to fall from the top of something to the bottom, where, with luck, it smashes. It’s a primitive impulse, but we must acknowledge it. Now, I enjoy it much more when I know no one will be hurt (at least permanently) by my enjoyment. But I confess the inner demon child in me will always love throwing dirt clods into the road, rocks into the river and, apparently, air conditioners into urban space — and have a hard time feeling guilty about it afterwards.
I’m happy to say that this albatross, this anvil of technology, came to rest in nothing more than wet sod. No one was hurt; no one, that is, but Fedders. I’m sorry to say that, whatever our Freecycling intentions, we have bowed to the inevitable, and shall be visiting our local superstore to purchase a new air conditioner.
Maybe there’s a brown one lurking in the back room.