I have a reminder note above my computer screen; it tells me when to change the air filter in my office building. Every three months is the target. I suppose I could switch it out more often if I were a worrier, but I’m not. The first year or two I didn’t know about the filter, which is located in a large vent in the attic above my desk. Getting to it requires a ladder and the removal of a ceiling tile and a 6 inch layer of fiberglass insulation. It’s not a hard task, but it is dirty and itchy.
Once you breech the attic, you have to pull yourself up next to the vent and pull out the old filter. It’s covered in gray dust like dryer lint. You slide the fresh new filter into the slot and voila! Clean air for a while… unlike the first couple of years when I did not know about the filter. I learned on a steamy hot summer day that the filter must be changed or else it turns to a solid concrete barrier that shuts down air flow. When the compressor feels the pressure building up, it automatically shuts down. That’s when I called the HVAC guys.
Friendly Mike’s HVAC tech came out and immediately assessed the situation. My heat pump on the roof was fine, but he needed to use the $200/hour boom truck to get there. The compressor was just locked up due to a pressure switch glitch. Before you knew it, Larry was climbing into my attic and swapping out filters. He showed me the year old filter that should have been changed out four times by then. It resembled a thin concrete sheet cake ready for icing and candles. If I took it to the bakery for decorating, the attendant would ask, “And what would like to say on the cake, sir?”
“Eejit… that’s all.”
I think Larry got some satisfaction out of my disgusted reaction. “Wow, Larry, that’s a lot of dust, man.”
“Yup, four hundred dollars worth… yuk, yuk.”
I vowed then and there to never let this happen again in my living lifetime.
Larry offered to come back every three months to do this again. And why not? It was nearly free money for him. Foolishly I agreed to the deal. I say foolishly because the next time he came he put in a filter that he charged $12.00 for, plus his service call fee. I watched him do his routine and was amazed at how simple it was. ‘I can do that’, I thought, without Larry’s service call and overpriced filters. I stocked up on filters of the same type, getting 4 of them for $12.00. Then I couldn’t wait for the system to get dirty.
Ninety days later I opened the dark dusty attic tomb to look for the mummified air filter. In my one hand was a flashlight, an air filter in the other. I plucked the old dirty filter out of its slide and inserted the fresh clean one. Simple and satisfying. Yeah! Such a mundane action gave me a boost of manly competence. I felt like doing an Old Spice deodorant commercial then and there. “I am the Dust King! Bow to me, Ye Evil Dust Motes.” I replaced the insulation and ceiling tile without too much mess. Put away the flashlight and ladder. Went back to my routines… thinking about that filter. I had saved the lungs of countless hundreds. Though they would never know, dust free air was thanks enough.
Okay, I associate this and that and the other thing as you already know if you’ve read any of my previous posts. I can’t help it anymore than your kidneys can stop purifying your waste water or your liver purifying your blood. It’s in me, man.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a mental filter you could change periodically, one that would catch all the crap of life and keep it from recycling through your brain? How often do you make a mistake and feel stupid for a really long time afterwards as you perseverate on the error? I’m not talking about murder or Wall Street Ponzi schemes here. I mean something as simple as missing your trash pick up on Monday morning. You just forgot it Sunday night. Oh, and it was also recycling pick up day, so you missed that too. You feel stupid and even less than competent because you failed to do something so simple. For the next week you walk by the trash containers and feel stabs of guilt and embarrassment. “I’m a moron. A loser.” The overflowing receptacles seem to mock you as you try to ignore their smell, height and girth.
“This will never happen again,” you vow to the squirrel on your deck.
And we have other mental filters that get dirty, filters of guilt and shame, even pride and self interest. A wise young woman named Angela once told me that she had to choose between her divorced parents, who had been at war with each other for her entire life. Freedom and low maintenance were available at Mom’s home. At Dad’s there was contention and constricting rules that suffocated her. He would not listen to her reasonable and logical requests. “My house, my rules. My way or the highway. Do or die.” He was a binary thinker; black and white were the only colors he acknowledged. She wanted to escape Dad’s control, knowing full well that Mom would switch the script once young Angela moved in with her.
On the other hand she worried about her younger siblings left behind at Dad’s. He hadn’t been the tenderest or most patient father to them when she was present. What would happen to them in her absence? His new wife would be unavailable for months, she knew. Everyone else in her family seemed to be entitled to go on pursuing their lives and livelihoods, but Angela was constrained to stay behind and pick up their messes. She loved each of her family members but not their messes, the blaming, the tough love, the high drama, the double standards. She just wanted to filter it all out somehow without hurting any of them. Every so often she would get so full of pain and anger she felt she would explode and vaporize. She needed a filter change.
Drugs and alcohol were out. Sex too for now. Just too complicated and hard to control. She settled on cutting herself in a neat 3x 4 inch rectangle across her abdomen with a new razor blade. She then cut vertical lines across the short side and horizontal lines across the long side until she had her bloody drama filter. Finally it felt good to breathe again.
“This will never happen again,” she swore to the empty room.