About a year ago, we had to replace our windows. This is the kind of expense that your average homeowner deems unavoidable when, on particularly windy winter days, there is a snow accumulation on the east side of the house. Indoors.
We surmised this day would come during the first fall we lived in our new home, 14 years ago. The windows rattled in the wind, and you could feel a distinct breeze. In some cases, we could even see daylight between the frame and the window.
"At least we'll never be victims of radon gas," I remarked cheerfully to my husband.
But my husband was not amused because he cares deeply about windows. He is not alone: I have overheard men talking fervently about windows, as well as insulation, joists, wall thickness and concrete driveways, at social events.
We called the builder to report the malfunctioning windows, and he elucidated what we had heard from our neighbors: It's not that the windows were installed incorrectly -- they were just plain cheap. He suggested we call the manufacturer.
So we did. And the manufacturer's representative brought this helpful information to our attention: "Have you tried some of the window sealing putty they sell at Home Depot?"
We embarked on more than a decade of putty, of sealing film, of space heaters and fleece throws in every room. But then, one by one, the window springs started exploding -- the sound was gunshot-loud, and always in the middle of the night when the temperature took a steep dive. It was alarming. Now we had scary, cheap windows that had to be propped open. For this, we used little wooden sticks, which brought our windows down to the level of scary, cheap and ugly. It was time to face the cruel truth.
Window replacement is not a sexy improvement. For example, have you ever walked into someone's home and thought: "Wow, these are some functional, attractive windows!" Do you crank open a casement window, just to admire its smooth mechanism? Do you appreciate the generous sills, the argon gas insulation? The UV protection?
No. You are more likely to notice original art or an oriental rug. Window replacement is hum-drum. And so might this column be, if it weren't for what happened with the window installers.
The men who showed up to replace our windows were very rugged, rough types who smoked a lot of cigarettes. That's OK -- I wasn't really expecting a crew of salespeople on their day off from Jos. A. Bank Clothiers. But on the first day, the job foreman offered the following disturbing information: He was sorry he had to leave early -- but his girlfriend's sister had just been murdered! And the sister's boyfriend was a suspect; he had a history of violence.
"He just got out of the slammer, and she didn't want nothing to do with him," he reported. "He don't like me much, either," he added. "I helped change her locks."
My first thought was: "I wonder what Dr. Phil would say if he were having his windows replaced and was presented with such a dire family emergency."
"By all means, go to her right away," I said. I think the foreman thought I was being compassionate, when in fact I just didn't want the alleged murder suspect to hunt him down in my backyard.
Throughout the rest of the project, I unwittingly heard more lurid details of the story. Suddenly, I was connected to a real person who lived a life that -- to me -- had heretofore only played out fleetingly and comfortably in the pages of newspaper crime stories.
And now, as the weather turns colder, I miss my drafty rooms. Because as I sit in my warm home, I look out a new set of windows and am reminded of how different, and difficult, some people's lives are.
Contact Janet at janet@ janet gilbertonline.com