Thursday, March 06, 2008

Warm Thoughts

The other day our furnace died.

It, like myself, has turned a cold face to winter. Except while I keep jetting myself to warmer places, the furnace just decided to pull the plug on itself, lay down and die.

It worked too hard. Overtrained. Tired of getting up day after day to warm the house. Started with a sputtering, a rumbling and then finally just shut itself down.

The house plummeted to 59 degrees. Boss was shaking. I walked around in a wool cap. Made the call. Waited for the furnace man.

He arrived. With a sidekick furnace man. We went to the basement – honestly the first time I had been in the basement in days. And I’m not sure who was more surprised – me, having lived in this house and still surprised with mouth open at the mess of wheels, bikes and cables all over the place or these two guys who probably thought a bike was how you got around when your license gets revoked for violation and not something you collect in masses at your house.

Either way, there were bikes everywhere. Bikes on trainers, bikes by rollers, bikes by the tv, the table, bikes on roof racks, bikes leaned up against walls. Four time trial bikes, two mountain bikes, three road bikes, a fixed gear bike, cyclocross bikes, cruiser bikes and just for kicks…one bike that wasn’t even ours.

I didn’t know if I should say something to explain away the obvious bike obsession that had exploded in our basement or just pretend like this was totally normal behavior.

Tall furnace man spoke first, “you guys ride bikes.”

You could say that. And yes, looking around you might say we also have a bit of a problem with the bikes.

Short furnace man began looking for an outlet. I looked for one too. Impossible. Every outlet was covered by furniture and bikes. And to get to one required wading through a sea of towels and empty gel packets scattered on the floor. They find an outlet and then I start picking up the place. This is what happens when you leave husband home alone all weekend. Things get a little messy, a little out of control.

They set about to diagnose the furnace while I returned upstairs. As I walked away Tall furnace man said to his short counterpart, “Geez these are some really nice bikes.”

A gentleman and a scholar; differentiates between beater bikes and nice bikes – of which we have a few. Nice bikes as in bikes that probably cost more than the furnace itself. Nice bikes as in when it comes down to should we buy a new car or a new nice bike we almost always choose…the nice bike.

A few minutes later, they call my name. I walk back downstairs. Tall furnace man tells me how much it will cost to fix the furnace. I get it, I get it now. Furnace is making a very expensive point. A point now well taken. The fee is exorbitant and I nearly consider offering up one of my nice bikes.

About an hour later, they return with the new part. Honestly if it came down to replacing the furnace to live with heat or purchasing a new Power Tap, I’d take the wheel. Boss could just wear a sweater and I’d be content in my wool cap. But alas that wouldn’t do much for the resale value of the house. Not that we are reselling it but if you are interested in hiring a young thirtysomething couple and their small Chihuahua to do something for your booming business which happens to be located in a warm location in the continental United States, well, I’m listening. Talk away.

After 30 minutes, Tall furnace man comes upstairs. “So you do triathlons?”

We’ve done a few. But if you were thinking it might have crossed the line from healthy hobby to crazed obsession then you might….be right. I have nothing to hide.

“I saw all of your trophies and things.” He coughed a little, probably from years of the cigarettes that still oozed from his clothes, then continued with another question for me, “Tell me the truth, who is better – you or your husband.”

Part of me knows that I shouldn’t even answer this. But why not. I said that if it was gender graded we would be about the same. He smiled and said that I didn’t have to admit I was actually the stronger one. Well, if you say it that way……

“I saw all the pictures from Hawaii, that’s a real nice place.”

It sure is. And it’s even nicer when you don’t have to spend nearly an entire day swimming, biking, running and shitting yourself. But these are details you probably don’t want to or need to know. In fact, looking at it from your point of view Tall Furnace Man, I can see how you might think my husband and I need to stop pedaling ourselves silly in the basement and instead get a real life with real objectives and real activities that real people do in the real world. Like watching tv in a comfy chair or raising a gaggle of kids or going to the bar with friends. Or whatever else real people do. Because whenever I talk to someone that is not in the sport honestly that is how I feel. That maybe they look at it and think – what’s wrong with you, why waste your time, don’t you have better things to do.

Probably. But for now, I’m ok with the choices I’ve made. And the things I do. Tall Furnace Man asks more questions about my life, husband and sport quickly reminds me of all the opportunities I have received because of the sport. Like finding my husband. Or making new friends. Or turning my passion into a business. Or seeing the world. In fact, come to think of it the sport has been a gateway to a life that is better than any I imagined when I was a little girl. I always thought I would be a teacher with really long hair. I know, I didn’t dream real big but now, well, you could say I’m living big dreams. And for that – I am pleased.

So, furnace men, stand proudly in my basement with me. These are my bikes, these are my wheels. This is more than just a basement of bike toys, it is my home. My comfort zone where I race my heart through all of my zones and through each learn a little more about myself and think about the world.

The furnace was fixed and eventually the furnace men left. As they drove away I wondered if they were sitting in their truck thinking of this job as the one with the crazy girl in the basement with a boatload of bikes. Or maybe my victories, bikes, and posted memories made a spark, lighting the idea that on the first nice day of spring they would get out and ride a bike. Or take their child to the park to ride a bike. Or take better care of themselves.

You could say that the furnace made its point. An expensive point, but one that reminded me that the choices we make have potential to reach far beyond ourselves. That sometimes our obsessive passions rightfully spillover on to someone else. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it might inspire someone else to try something new or see a different way of experiencing the world.

For now those are very warming thoughts. And for that I am glad - because with the house at 59 degrees it’s going to take a while before things warm up as the furnace gets back up to speed and in catching up probably crosses over into LT.


Pedergraham said...

We had our deck replaced this fall--it was totally rotted and we were getting carpenter ants--anyway, the carpenter kept asking me when I was going to get a job, how fluffy it must be to be a stay-at-home parent, etc. Then he saw a print on the wall from art gallery at my pricey highschool and informed me that I was making a waste of my parent's money. The worst part was that I LET him get to me--this stranger coming in my house that didn't even know me!

I am glad that you gave us an update on the state of your basement! :)

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Liz - this is great. I have given a lot of thought to "where I want to go", to "what I want to do"... "normal 9-5 job that my parents/society/friends/family expect" vs what I truly want to do. You captured this so well... thanks. Just what I need...

kerri said...

This is another keeper, Liz. You just put a big smile on my face. As an wife, mom, and athlete I often ponder about the same struggles you just mentioned. I continually question the time, effort, money, and energy that I spend doing this sport and wonder if I should be doing something else, go back to teaching, etc. But the furnace man assured us...he came at the perfect time. Sorry for your loss of heat but thanks for the words of encouragement.

Andrea said...

I love the way you write, Liz! You can turn a simple experience of interacting with the furnace guys into a really introspective one.

Beth said...

I 2nd everyone else's comments - it's hard sometimes to justify the amount of time/money/energy/etc... this sport requires but as you very eloquently put it, it's more than just swim/bike/run repeat...isn't it? Thanks for the reminder. I've only been in this sport for 2 years and it has already pushed me and challenged me beyond what I ever thought possible. And taken me to places I never thought I would go...

Stef said...

This made me smile. For me the most pressure, especially in the career/job arena, comes from myself. Hard to deal with sometimes.

As the other comments say here, you captured this really well. Thanks.

Stacey said...

I wholeheartedly agree -- you are just a phenomenal writer Liz (in addition to the whole phenomenal triathlete thing) -- maybe a book one day???!! ;)


Jen in Budapest said...

I must agree with Andrea. I found you through Bree and wanted to leave a comment. This was hilarious and I laughed really hard about the smoked clothes. Here in Eastern europe where they still haven't got the memo that smoking kills, I'm just amazed at how many people still do. Anyways, great writing. I hope to check in once in awhile. thanks jen

triclancy said...

I'm just jealous that you even have a basement!! Those things don't seem to exist in California (especially if your house was build after 1975). have the bikes sequestered to a dungeon rather than strewn about in our garage (which does not hold real cars because there are too many bikes, trainers, paraphernalia) and *gasp* our living room.

OK, ok, I have good weather (and a Great Dane), but you have a basement (and a Chihuahua)...somehow the universe balances out. ;-)

Scottie said...

So I hate to make a pessimistic assumption, but you were wondering what Tall Furnace Man and Short Furnace Man were thinking as they drove away...

All I can say is that you might want to consider having your home security system upgraded as your next home improvement project. ;)

No, I am just kidding! I am sure that Tall and Short are both reputable fellers - I just thought you might get a chuckle. I know I usually do reading your posts.