I grew up in the heart of suburban Pittsburgh. The son of a police officer and a successful real estate agent, we were pretty much as middle class as you could get. Two cars in the driveway, karate lessons, the occasional vacation. We were living the American dream, but for a large portion of my childhood, one luxury eluded my family… central air conditioning.
That is not to say that there was not air conditioning in our house. Contained in my parents’ bedroom was the beautiful BTU-spewing window a/c unit. After a hard day of imaginary battles against Shredder and the Foot Clan or a successful POG trading transaction, there was nothing like seeking refuge from the summer heat in within the cool confines of my parents’ bedroom to watch a little Captain Planet on their 13 inch TV/VHS combo before dinnertime. If it were a particularly hot night, I might be lucky enough to spend the night in a sleeping bag on the floor of their room, sleeping comfortably in artificially chilled bliss versus the sweltering jungle of preteen funk that was my bedroom.
For years, I yearned for a window air conditioner of my own. However, unlike my parents’ bedroom, my room faced the street three floors above our driveway, and my father felt that the presence of a window a/c unit would damage the curb appeal of our bright yellow aluminum siding clad house. So many a night, I lie awake, dreaming of my next opportunity to escape the heat and enjoy those sweet BTUs.
Then the day came; my parents decided to upgrade their window unit to a newer, more powerful model. Summoning the combined Jedi mind control powers of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and Yoda, I asked my father, “What are you going to do with the old one?” I was rewarded with the words I had only dared to dream when he responded with, “I guess we can put it in your room.”
Though I was mature for my 12 years of age, my parents felt the need to go over the rules that came with the responsibility of having my own air conditioner. I could not leave it on when I left for the day. I obviously could not have the top portion of the window open while it was running. I could not have the old IBM computer, which had recently been replaced by an elegant cow-themed Gateway, and the air conditioner on at the same time. It seemed simple enough to me.
Once I had agreed to the aforementioned conditions, my father placed the hulking beast into my window frame. A metal lip held the unit in place. It was around this time that my mother called up from downstairs that it was time for dinner. My father smiled as he watched me admiring my new air conditioner. I cranked it up to full blast and felt its frosty caress. I was in heaven. He ruffled my hair and told me we would secure it with screws after dinner.
I didn’t come right up after dinner. I wanted to experience the pure joy that I had felt so many times before by walking into a properly chilled room. After about 90 minutes, I figured my room had probably hit utopia status, and I headed up to enjoy a thrilling novel by horror legend R.L. Stine in the paradise of my chilled bedroom. Let me tell you, it was worth the wait. I stepped into that room, and I heard angels sing. I laid down with 120 pages of PG-rated horror when I noticed something. The top portion of my window was open about six inches. Well, I wasn’t going to break the rules on my first night. I quickly got up and closed the top portion of my window, which subsequently stuck to the bottom portion of my window, lifting it up the few inches it needed to clear the metal lip holding it in place. The 68 pounds of manmade cooling comfort dropped the better part of three stories… onto the hood of my father’s 1994 Ford Ranger pickup truck.
I stood there, stunned. It is a rather surreal thing to watch an air conditioner drop out of a window and fall onto the hood of a pickup truck. I did the only logical thing I could think of; I sat on my bed and pondered my fate. My father had never hit me, but I feel like dropping a major appliance on the hood of his truck might just create an exception to his commitment to non-violent parenting. My father, who could be a sweet man, also had occasional bouts of curmudgeonry. I wondered if my scolding and punishment would make the news. What was the world record for length of time being grounded? Would I be confined to my room so long that the financial investment I had made in Beanie Babies would finally reach maturity and the profit from their sale be used to replace his truck I had undoubtedly ruined? This was going to be trouble with a capital T.
I gathered my courage and left my room, descending the steps toward whatever fate awaited me.
My father, a man often of quick temper, laughed. He laughed in utter disbelief when I told him. We went out and inspected the damage. He could have yelled; he could have screamed, but he laughed. Later, while we were cleaning up debris, I asked him, “So am I seriously not in trouble?”
“Did you drop an air conditioner on my truck on purpose?” he asked.
“No,” I responded.
“Were you being reckless or careless when you closed your top window, or were you trying to follow the rules we set?” he continued.
“I was trying to follow the rules,” I said.
“Were you the one who decided not to do the safe thing and screw in the air conditioner when we installed it or was that me?” he asked.
“You,” I said, thinking it over as the puzzle pieces began to connect in my head.
“Then why would you be in trouble? Accidents happen. Nobody got hurt, except for my truck…and I think your mom’s headlight took some collateral damage.”
And that was the end of it.
I think about that night often. Luckily, the air conditioner took a glancing blow off the side of his truck’s hood and didn’t damage the engine. It did leave an impressive dent. A piece of shrapnel took out the headlight of my mother’s station wagon. He drove that truck for years after that, never bothering to get the dent fixed. It was ugly, but it ran.
That could have been one of the worst nights of my young life. Not many dads would have been as level headed about the situation. He had every right to be frustrated; he had every right to be angry at the situation, but in the end, he was calm and rational enough to realize that given the circumstances, he really didn’t have the right to be mad at me.
That night, my father did two things. He taught me a valuable parenting lesson which I have clung to my entire adult life, and he gave me one hell of a story.
Oh, and that was the last time I was allowed to have an air conditioner in my bedroom.