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“Turn and face the strange … ch-ch-changes.” Bowie nailed it, didn’t he? Dylan nailed it, too, because it certainly feels like the times are a changin’ to me.
As I punch these keys using only my two index fingers, we are in the midst of COVID-19 and my consulting business has slowed way down. The phone stopped ringing and the emails stopped coming about the end of April. No more load calculations. No more piping diagrams. No more site visits. No more pump sizing. No contractor referrals. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
And the timing could not have been better.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and I’ll be doing it until the day I’m counted among the dearly departed. Most everything has slowed way down, so my situation is not abnormal. It’s the new normal, for now. Not too many things are normal these days. Up is down. Right is wrong. Fact is fiction. Fiction is fact. And someday, I hope sooner than later, things will return to some modicum of normalcy.
But for now, these past weeks and months of business downtime allowed me to focus on other things in need of my attention, whether there was a deadly virus or not.
Life comes at you fast, so you better be ready for it.
What’s that old joke?
“How do you make God laugh?”
“Tell him your plans.”
It’s true. The only constant is change. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray, some notable poet once said.
For my wife Barb and I, it started when her hours were drastically cut, and she started sending out her resume. And by sending it out, I mean way out. Barb and I both grew up in Tinley Park, Illinois. She was my girlfriend in 7th grade; that romance lasted two glorious weeks.
A year later, her family relocated to Arizona. That’s where she’s been until we married eight years ago. Barb has two sons and two granddaughters who live in the Las Vegas area. She moved back to Illinois for, you’re not going to believe this, me.
Well, I thought it was time to repay her commitment to me, so I suggested she send the resumes to Vegas and its surrounding communities. Long story short, she was offered a good job and she accepted. She is a certified nurse/midwife and now has resumed her nursing career after delivering 2,000-plus babies as a midwife.
Then, we went into scramble mode. Barb’s new job started May 4, so we needed to get a home out there stat and move 90 percent of our stuff out there. We managed that successfully while I remained in the Chicago area until June 6. That’s when the movers came to grab my library of books, my boxes and boxes of vinyl albums, CDs, cassettes, two stereos, and a large inventory of tools I refuse to lose — even though I haven’t been a contractor for almost two years now.
The reason I stayed back was because I needed to get our house ready for sale. And by get ready, I mean make it look as good as a state-of-the-art boiler installation. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? My list of things to do started with a count of 53, grew by 15 or 20 and, by the time the house went on the market May 26, I had the list whittled down to three.
I painted everything on the inside of the house. I removed and packed the Lochinvar boiler and all the near-boiler piping I use for training. I cleaned grout. I power washed the deck and driveway. I repaired things that should have been fixed long ago. I was shocked and disappointed in myself by the number of things I put off, not my usual method of operation.
I replaced doors and doorknobs. I packed a 500-pound steam radiator from 1865 in a self-made crate that would survive an earthquake. I installed a new central AC system among so many other things I do not want to do again for at least another year. I got out of the trenches for a reason.
In the midst of all this, we lost my dad. He was my hero and it happened on the same day Barb left for Nevada. He was an incredible guy; I know they say that about most people, but he really was. He grew up in a broken home on Chicago’s South Side. After a fight with his stepdad, he quit high school and joined the army. He was 17.
He earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, and he never talked about the Korean War until he retired — and then, it’s all he talked about. It haunted him. He told me stories about events no teenager should ever have to go through. We ask our young kids to do more than they should, for reasons that often confound us.
He was a war hero. There is no denying that, but it did not define him. What did define him were his words and actions. They define all of us. What makes us different are the words we choose and the actions we take, and my dad shined in those moments. His honesty, empathy, integrity, character and work ethic were remarkable.
He’s the man who taught me how to be a man, and I’m not sure where he got that ability. He didn’t get it from his dad or his stepdad. His dad left the family when he was a baby. His stepdad had a serious drinking problem and was violent when he drank. By the way, his stepdad, my grandfather, never drank again after the fight that sent my dad to Korea. He turned out to be a great guy.
My dad must have committed to breaking the cycle of bad dads and boy, did he ever. I miss him every day.
As I write this column, it’s been almost five weeks since Barb and Little Man, our dog, moved west and I haven’t had a minute of downtime. I’m lucky in that regard. I know a lot of people who are struggling with the isolation. I’ve been too busy to feel down. There’s not even a TV here now, and I don’t miss it one bit.
The isolation and the thoughts that ran through my mind while working 10-hour days in my own home taught me much about myself. It’s made me more self-aware. It’s also a little disturbing and comical at the same time.
I’m not looking forward to living 1,800 miles away from my girls, my granddaughters, my mom and my friends. But I have to be fair to my wife. She deserves it. I’m also not looking forward to the 1,800-mile drive, but I am welcoming change.
As you read this, I’ll be back with my wife and dog and the craft of hydronics. And writing, I love to write. Maybe I’ll put a bunch of stories together someday. You know, like a book.
Be safe. Be smart. Be patient. Things will get better.
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