Bad Karma, or Karmic Heat Wave?
In fact, our furnace is so old that (supposedly) none of the heating/cooling technicians in Brno know how it works! This meant that when nights started to get cold and we wanted to turn the heat up, it was necessary to find a very special technician. The owners of the house contacted an older repairman who lives in a village outside Brno. He came to turn on the heat, but he could only come at 8 in the morning. He also deemed it his business to pass judgment on more than just the furnaces, such as the state of housekeeping in the downstairs apartment.
Of course there had to be an adventure somewhere in all of this. Well, about five minutes after the repairman left I was sitting in the kitchen and talking with my Czech tutor. Suddenly, we heard (and felt) a loud explosion-like noise. After sitting in shock for a moment, we realized the house was still standing and there was no fire. Apparently the pilot lights blew out shortly after the repairman left. I have no idea why they made a noise like that, but I was more than a little nervous about the heating for a while after this.
The next logical step was to turn off the gas, but I didn't know how to do this. There is a furnace manual. Presumably it is meant to help you figure out one very complicated task: how to turn the furnace on and off. It is entirely in Czech. It also features helpful diagrams with circles and triangles, dotted lines and arcs, and even alpha, beta, and gamma symbols. No problem, I mistakenly thought, I can read diagrams and I can read Czech. From what I understood, it seemed that you were supposed to open the small glass door with your right hand (you have to hold it because it has a spring that snaps it shut otherwise), then press the red button in the center of the white knob with your left, wait five seconds, and turn the knob counterclockwise until you hear gas flowing. Now, hold your breath, stand on your head, use your left foot to strike a match (your right hand is still holding the small door open), turn the white knob until your reach position beta (approximately half way) and sing the Slovak national anthem backward in triplets. The anthem, “Lightning Over the Tatras,” presumably summons the old Slavonic goddess of fire to your aid, who thenceforth ignites the pilot light with no further effort on your part. In short, I could not resurrect the pilot light and, since I preferred having a cold weekend rather than exploding on Friday morning, I left the situation as it was. I opened the outside door to improve ventilation and then decided to go out for the afternoon.
My landlords came by the next morning (a Saturday, again at 8 a.m.) to assess any damage. They were eventually able to relight the pilot lights, and there was no apparent damage to the furnace or water heater. We now have heat, which means that I’m slightly more prepared for the winter.
What about the title? The type of water heater that we have is colloquially called a karma, reportedly a conjunction of the first and last names of its inventor. Through the round hole in the front you can see the pilot light. Underneath, there is a lever that can be slid from left to right, regulating the temperature of the water output. But due to some problem, ours will only heat water to the maximum or not at all. This makes it very difficult to achieve any gradation of “warm” water in your shower or for washing dishes. Thus, as anyone who has been scalded by my shower can attest, our house has a bad karma. Actually, it’s a pretty decent one – it certainly accomplishes what it’s supposed to – but perhaps it is in need of therapy. Or maybe it’s an Irving Berlin fan, “We’re havin’ a heat wave, a tropical heat wave.”