From the moment I opened the front door into my apartment on Friday evening, I could tell I was stepping into a bubbling hot brew of insanity. Immediately I felt a Backdraft-esque wall of heat press itself against my face, as if trying to rush past me out the door. I soon realized it was actually the spirit of fiery death being released out of my apartment, moving through me in search of another soul to lay low.
I surveyed the scene. Dogs sprawled out on the floor, tongues out and breathing in rapid convulses of fur. In truth both animals looked like a pair of fried eggs on a hot sidewalk. Within seconds, sweat began to bead up on my brow as my eyes moved over the living room. I slammed the door shut, hearing for the first time a new deafening silence; the low hum of a compressor fighting the roasting temperatures outside was mysteriously absent. The sound of the dogs panting punctured the silence in between their breaths, like the horrible sounds you’d rather not make sitting on the toilet when you have to use the bathroom on a first date.
I took two huge strides over to the nearby thermostat and lowered my face down directly parallel to the controls, seeing nothing but lies. 72 degrees. I flicked both of the plastic switches made available to me on this $2.99 thermostat every which way its designers could have envisioned, and then I’m sure in some ways they had not. Before I knew it, I was pushing up and down on the controls in a rhythm and yelling at it, “come on, damn it. live! fight!” But the electric brain of this patient was already seemingly comatose, staring back at me with its unflinching dead LCD eye glazed over and stuck in another reality where it was still “72 degrees.”
I threw up my hands so dramatically that they slapped against my sides on the way down, helping me to realize that my legs were now sweating as well. I took off my pants on the spot, and turned around, looking down to meet the misery of my dog’s face looking up at me as if to say “Fix this, human. Fix this with your human magic. I cannot shed my layers as you can.” At this point the gravity of the situation began to take hold of my mind. Hot dogs.
I rushed to the closet and pulled out a couple of shitty little is oscillating fans. I hastily set them up and pointed them directly at the poor wretched animals, who each managed to wag an appreciative single thump of their tail against the floor. While the airflow was no doubt a help, I could tell this wouldn’t be enough. I needed the A/C back on, and I needed it now. I looked at the clock. 5:58pm. The apartment office would close in two minutes.
I flew out the front door and bounded out towards the office in what probably looked like someone escaping from a mental hospital, gasping in airfuls of freedom. As I approached the office, I could see the lights inside were turned off. I cursed, loudly, as I slowed down and caught my breath. But then, for one glorious moment I saw a crack of light flash from the office door as it began to open. It turned out to be the bright, shining, caucasian ass-crack of the maintenance man’s exposed rear end peeking out above his jeans, reflecting the vibrant sun as he walked backwards out of the office, locking the door behind him. I rushed up and startled him.
“Hey man! My A/C is busted.” It was then that I saw it.
As the man turned towards me, I found my gaze drawn down away from his face, down to his shirt. A giant penguin greeted my eyes, smoking a cigarette with one flipper and holding a beer in the other, set on an icy blue tie-dye background. No text, no words. Just the penguin, just looking back at me. After a moment I realized a voice was coming from out of the penguin, it’s features perfectly rounded and filled out from the underlying shape of the maintenance man’s gut. The effect was hypnotic. As the man spoke, the penguin moved in perfect synchronicity with his every word. I found myself talking directly to the penguin, and before long the penguin and I had parlayed the use of a temporary a/c wall unit. It was a lot like that scene in Total Recall where Arnold is talking to Quato. I realized I was in the presence of the Lord of Cool and that he would open my mind to new possibilities.
Once we had finished exchanging words, the Penguin Lord vanished inside his layer for a few minutes, emerging with the a/c unit in the hands of his vessel, the burly, mustachioed and amazingly untanned maintenance worker. I followed him to my apartment feeling a gentle cool breeze trailing behind the master of my fate, mingling with the smell of menthol chewing tobacco.
As we got back and hooked up the unit, no words were spoken. The dogs tails began thumping again against the floor as the penguin went about his work, beating a primal, almost ritualistic string of thuds and thwaps against the ground. As the ceremony reached it’s climax and the tempo of the thuds quickened, the penguin turned to me. “Ok, I think we’re ready to flip this baby on.” I nodded deeply, knowingly, as I moved my body directly in front of the A/C’s vent. The man flicked the A/C unit into the ‘On’ position.
I can only describe what happened next as what I imagine as the sensation of being reborn. The gust of cold air was a baptism to a new reality. I closed my eyes and managed only a quiet “thank you” to my new god. I’m not sure how long I stood standing there in that chilled embrace, but when I opened my eyes, the penguin and his keeper were gone. Only the dogs were there, standing next to me, seemingly revived. I looked out the window. No one in sight. No one walking away towards the office. Nobody.
The next day I went to the office to thank the maintenance man, who I’ve gradually come to understood was not a vessel for His Holiness the Penguin Lord (long may he reign), but just a really nice guy who has wears awesome t-shirts. Sadly he was nowhere to be found. I asked around and was directed to the maintenance office, where I found a note, scrawled shakily in pencil on his door “apt 212 – a/c repair needed. temp unit in place. remind tenant to wear pants for next service call.” Needless to say, my a/c has not yet been repaired.