The Gas Man Cometh or, Why Didn’t You Call Us (Part One)


There’s a theme running through my life this week and that theme is WHY didn’t you call us? It’s a story in two parts so gather round, children. We’ll have Part One of the tale today and Part Two tomorrow.

 I have a friend named Lois who will be 79 this year and one night about a month ago with a houseful of people due to arrive on my doorstep to read a Shakespearean play aloud, she arrived to help me set things out but became distracted by what she called the smell of gas outside your house. “There’s the smell of GAS outside your house, dear! You really must drop everything and call the emergency line!! Terry, dear, you really MUST,” she said again in her voice like Eleanor Roosevelt’s, the idea being What if it’s a leak?

But I was in no mood for that. Not only were 30 relative strangers about to descend on me but I’d just finished installing my post-surgical cat upstairs in sickbay with a clown-collar around his neck to prevent him from tweezing out the stitches with those pointy little teeth of his. Never mind that I couldn’t find the goddam COCKTAIL NAPKINS, and was fanning frantically through all the kitchen drawers thinking “OK shoe polish, plant food, tuna-flavored hairball cream, WHERE IN HELL ARE THE COCKTAIL NAPKINS? Am I going to have to set out folded squares of toilet paper for these fancy people? “ 

I found them finally and the crowd arrived and we read our Henry VIII and that day passed and the next and eventually a whole month went by and my poor cat healed up and his lovely pale green eyes the color of Coke bottle bottoms began to sparkle once more and Lois came again to my house, this time to pick me up for more Shakespeare at somebody else’s house this time and uh oh now I was in trouble because she said again that she smelled gas out on the sidewalk. “You really must call the gas company in the morning!” she said sternly and a third friend who was also going to the reading said she’d write me an email when she got home to remind me and she did and so I did. Call I mean.  

And not 20 minutes afterward, the doorbell rang and there was the gas man.  He identified himself but he didn’t make eye contact. He asked me to show him where we were getting the smell from so we stepped out on the sidewalk. 

I said a number of friendly if not out-and-out wheedle-y beseechingly co-dependent things and finally he sort of thawed out enough to actually look at me.  “Not to be fresh or anything,” he said “but my work order says you smelled gas outside here a MONTH ago. Why did you wait so long to call?” 

“Well see I didn’t really smell it” I said and told about the 30 people and the sick cat and ended with “I mean what’re you are saying, that houses, like, blow up or something?” 

He narrowed his eyes for just a second, then opened them really wide. “HELL YES THEY BLOW UP!” he bellowed. Then he just sort of came to life.  

“There are these two gay guys a few towns over not that that enters into it, and they smell gas at 1:00 on a Sunday afternoon only they want to watch the football game, see, so they don’t call it in until 4:00. And when our guy comes he doesn’t even have to set foot inside to know what’s happening. He tells them, “Get out! Get out of the house now!’ and then BOOM! she blows. The House is GONE! Follow?”  

He named three other houses  in neighboring towns that also blew up, then told me he would have to use his various long-nosed sensors to probe around outside every OTHER house on the street too. He said he might have to knock on all their doors and get inside those houses too.  

“But like that neighbor right there: she’s not home in the day.” 

“Don’t matter!” he shouted. “We get a reading of gas leaking, we’re goin’  in! We break a window if we have to.” 

“Hamm, well if the people ARE home, will they let you in always?”  

“Hah! Sometimes they don’t want to let us in even if they called us. I get this one lady calls us up and I come and she won’t let me in.  ‘I need to see some ID,’ she says . So OK ‘Here’s how I looked 20 years ago’ I say, showing her my badge. ‘And how do I know that’s really you?” she goes. “How do I know you’re really from the gas company?’  ‘Lady YOU called ME!’ I mean, what did she think? Was this Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory? She thought I, what? intercepted the call, caught up with the real gas man, knocked him out, took his clothes, rang her bell?! Gimme a break!” 

After all this fun he came inside at last and spent a good 20 minutes in the basement positioning his delicate proboscis of a sensor here in there in the foundation and whew the inside of my house looked OK even if I did wait a month to call him and by then we were practically pals. “I’m going out now to check on all the neighbors’ houses” he then said, “and either you’ll never see us again, which means it’s basically nothing to worry about, or you’ll see us immediately, which means there’s a serious leak. OR,” he said, “You could see us within the week which means it’s a leak all right and we’re there to fix it.” 

Well I guess it turned out to be the last thing, because all of a sudden today what do we have outside but TWO gas company trucks, a big yellow backhoe AND an actual policeman workin’ the paid detail. They’re making a huge racket and that asphalt just doesn’t want to bust up as the backhoe tap-tap-taps on it with the back of its gorilla knuckles. It will bust up eventually though, I’m sure. Because even I understand this much by now: this the bloomin’ gas company we’re dealing with here, and when the gas company says jump you just say, “How high?”