saved by the asbestos
Wednesday, June 8 2005
Given how much I hate electrical work while I'm actually doing it, you'd think I'd know enough to turn down cowboy electrician gigs. You'd be thinking wrong. Some sort of amnesia comes over me after every successful bout of wiring and all I can remember is the warm glow of satisfaction that comes with completing a job. I never remember the skinned knuckles, the forgotten tools, the boring repetitiveness, and the dirty streams of sweat running down my back.
That last unpleasantry was the chief (but by no means only) feature of today's cowboy electrician gig down in the village of New Paltz. The day was a scorcher, and I was up in an uninsulated attic slowly cooking in the dry 120 degree heat. The geometry of my mission was a little confusing and I'd forgotten to bring some essential tools, so it looked like I would need to be hitting the local TrueValue hardware store. One of the things I bought there was a flashlight so I could see what I was doing down inside a hole I'd bored through the attic floorboards with a hole saw.
Armed with proper illumination technology, I finally got to see what I was dealing with down in that hole. I knew there was insulation down there, but I'd assumed it was just fiberglass. With the light shining on it, though, I immediately saw that it was asbestos wool, the most dangerous form of asbestos known to man. A defining characteristic of asbestos is the presence of numerous thin, straight, extremely sharp quarter-inch-long crystals. I thought about maybe getting a mask so I could continue working, but it seemed like too much trouble. Maybe I could just slam through and get it done without stirring up all that much asbestos dust.
Shortly thereafter, though, I needed the client to help me with determining where a fishline was going, and I casually mentioned that her walls and ceiling were completely stuffed with asbestos. At first she didn't seem to believe me, saying she'd thought the insulation was made of cellulose, and that it had probably been put in with the vinyl siding (some 20 years ago). So I proposed that we perform a test and try burning the material in question. If it was cellulose, it should burn. If it was glass, it should at least melt. We performed the experiment and the white puffy stuff didn't burn or melt; all it did was blacken in the flame. At this point the client decided it was best that I not proceed with my work and that she should call someone to see what to do about cleaning up the asbestos that was now in her son's bedroom. She wrote me a check for the time I'd worked so far. As a side note, she wondered why the last electrician who had done work in her house had said nothing at all about the asbestos. "He's a union man. He knew," she insisted. Maybe, but maybe not. Looking on the web, there are precious few pages that tell you what to look for when looking at a material that might be asbestos. And I've yet to find a page that suggests the simple test of attempting to burn the material.
As for me, I was happy to not have to do that particular job, asbestos or no. In this case, the asbestos is what saved me from my own foolishness of having agreed to do the job in the first place. I have no business doing electrical work for other people; as I said, I always hate it when I'm doing it.
This evening at Gabriel's Café in Kingston there was a little $50/person fundraiser event for Brian Shapiro, an Ulster County Legislator from Woodstock. Unlike the other dreary bepompadoured white men in the legislature, Brian is young, liberal and vegan. Supposedly, though this might be a suburban legend, he has the word "vegan" tattooed inside his lower lip.
All the usual suspects in our animal rights circle were there, though we were by no means the only ones. There must have been at least ten people I've never seen before, though two of them were Brian's parents. Had there been any more people Brian would have had to have used a bigger space.
So we ate a bunch of vegan (as well as some merely vegetarian) food and shot the shit. It was fun, but it wasn't exactly my scene, so, not knowing what else to do, I drank a lot of wine. I might have been the drunkest person there, but I wasn't the only one tying one on. It was just a matter of time before J from Willow, our vegan amputee friend, took off her lifelike prosthetic leg. She did so as a means of topping the other ladies when they started affecting various absurd yoga position.
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