I knew something was amiss when I awoke to find that the breeze from my slightly open window was uncomfortably cold. The heat stopped working overnight. Having made a special effort to be up early to run errands, I was furious to discover that the hot water was also out. There are two things in this world which, if missed, will make me instantly irritable: meals and showers. I ate breakfast.

I started calling the landlord. The boiler in my building dates back to approximately the time of James Watt, so one or two major mechanical failures per year is customary. The system closely resembles Frankenstein’s laboratory. Wires, bare and cloth-insulated, twist and turn like vines along walls. The windows of gauges and sight glasses are mottled by the accumulated crust of decades. Obsolete parts are bypassed but left in place. Unable to troubleshoot it myself, I call hourly for status updates. I found it curious that it was taking hours to dispatch a repairman. What could possibly be wrong this time?

The answer became clear after lunch when the “repairman” finally showed up, not with a toolbox but with a tanker truck. Who lets their tank of heating oil run dry!?!