Thom’s Thursday Thoughts on Problem Solving

Thom the Solutions Man

A few weeks ago, when fall temperatures first hit, Thom decided it was time to turn on the radiators. A seasoned dweller of old New York buildings, he showed me where the radiator knobs were located and with some effort, twisted them on. We heard a few mild clangs and a hiss as the steam hit cold metal, but were soon enjoying our warm apartment.

In the middle of the night the clanging returned, this time much louder. It jolted us awake.

“Sounds like the Koreans downstairs are trying to turn on the radiator but the handle’s stuck so they’re hitting it,” he said.

I agreed with Thom because, what else could it be? The sound came from directly below and it was a cold evening. Judging by the urgent vigor with which they were beating their radiator, the poor slobs were probably near freezing to death.

“Well, they could also be trying to turn it off,” Thom said, “I turned ours off an hour before bed because it was getting too hot.”

I hadn’t known that, but nodded again, remembering a summer afternoon back in my studio. I’d woken up in a sweat because I’d forgotten to turn the AC on before taking a nap. They were probably sweating their minds out.

“Yeah but do they have to do it at 2 in the morning?” Thom said, “That’s just rude.”

I agreed. How incredibly rude! But I am not, despite the many problems that have arisen in the course of my life, a problem solver. Instead I laid in bed suffering. I waited for the Koreans to figure out how to turn their radiator off or on; then willed them to open a window; then wished they would decamp to some friend’s house or get muscle cramps or move out altogether. But no matter what I wished, they did not stop their hammering.

“I’ve had enough,” Thom said finally. He threw the blankets back and went to the radiator, listening.

The Koreans, if they heard Thom’s footsteps, did not stop. They beat harder so that the clanging seemed to reverberate throughout the entire building.

Thom stomped on the floor. Hard. Five or six times, the unmistakable sound of neighborly defiance: We. Will. Not. Put. Up. With. This! 

The clanging stopped. We rejoiced. Thom, my solutions man, had shown our rude neighbors that they were not the only ones capable of extremely loud noises in the middle of the night. We fluffed our pillows, looked forward to returning to our dreams.

But as soon as we closed our eyes, the clanging began again.

“Good Lord,” Thom said.

Not so good to us tonight, I thought. But we both knew that the Koreans were a persistent and passionate people, not ones to give up easily. We slept fitfully until the clanging stopped around daybreak, when the Koreans finally went to bed.

The weather was mild again for the next few days. But winter crept closer and the temperatures began to drop again. One evening the clanging returned.

“My God,” Thom said, “They’re at it again.”

I nodded, wondering, of all the smart and polite and compassionate Koreans that existed in the world, why did such savage, sleep-robbing types have to live in our building? Never mind that they were here first. I always smiled at them in the stairwell. On Halloween, I had even opened the front door for two of them – young women dressed up as Disney sluts (Snow White and Belle)- as they teetered their way out of the building. And that one time their mother came over to cook them dinner or drop off their laundry, hadn’t I helped her pick up a towel she’d dropped? Now at 2AM couldn’t they be courteous and a tiny bit humane to let us have the simple God-given right of a good night’s sleep?

Thom threw the blankets back. That’s right! My solutions man getting to work!

Instead of stomping on the  floor however, he went into the bathroom. Without closing the door.

I wondered if everyone in the building, including my boyfriend, was a rude beast. I thought too of pounding on the floor myself, but that would mean my getting out of bed and it wasn’t in my character to do such things at such times.

Tom came out of the bathroom. I hadn’t heard a flush. I was about to point this out but –

“I think I’ve figured it out,” Thom said, “It wasn’t the Koreans after all.”

Not the Koreans! Then who?

One of our own: the radiator pipe in the bathroom, which has no handle to turn off or on and stands very close to the toilet.

“If you look at the edge of the tank lid,” Thom pointed out, “It’s all messed up because that’s where the pipe keeps hitting it.”

“Ohhh,” I said.

I marveled at his skills of observation and deduction.

Why hadn’t I thought of that? Because I hardly, if ever, thought in terms of finding a solution. I mostly just thought in circles about things I wanted. Like the Koreans to move away. But even had this wish been granted, the clanking, as was now apparent, would have continued.

“We need to put something in between the pipe and the toilet,” Thom said.

Wanting to be a part of the solution, I found a piece of thin cardboard, folded it in half, and handed it to Thom, who wedged it in between. The clanging stopped.

I remembered Thom’s stomping and wondered what the Koreans below must have thought of us.

“They probably thought it was the radiator too,” Thom said, and having washed his hands of another problem, went promptly back to sleep.

Also: Thom’s Thursday Thoughts on Art and Thom’s Thursday Thoughts on Halloween

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