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A guy in a truck 

The Observer, having owned a little white house way down in Stifft Station lo these past 14 years or so, has amassed a collection of Guys in a Truck. If you own a home, you may well have your own Guys in a Truck: the reliable, reasonable, honest, independent contractors who you call when something goes kaput. The roof starts leaking, the hot water heater spews, the washing machine dies with a gurgle and a wheeze, and out comes the phone, along with a prayer that your Guy in a Truck hasn't chucked it all and gone to work for The Home Depot or the highway department since the last time you called him.

When we bought our little house on Maple Street, one of the things tendered in the sale was the package heating and air unit: a vast, slumbering rectangle of sheet metal just off the back steps. Even then, it wasn't new, and possibly not even new when it was installed on the house, which we bought from a rather shoddy flipper back when flipping houses hadn't yet helped crash the economy. That first summer, the air unit worked fine until the blazing heat of July, when it coughed and died, plunging our house into the kind of heat normally reserved for orchid greenhouses and Brazil. So, to the phone book — remind grandpa to tell you what those are someday, children — where we flipped to Page 1 of the air conditioning section and soon picked a name at random that sounded somehow reasonable: Around The Clock Heating and Air, Mr. Mamdo, sole proprietor.

Mr. Mamdo, angel that he is, always comes to us in times of trouble, when the perspiration is running from our furrowed brows or our feet are freezing. Over the long years of our shared, mechanical torment, he has watched Junior grow up and seen us through three cats, as we have seen a few of his kids, tagging along with dad on service calls, grow up. One of them is in dental school in Florida now, put there by the blue-collar sweat and toil of his immigrant father and The Observer's desperate insistence on clinging to an HVAC unit that should have long since been consigned to Valhalla. We always make a point to ask how his soon-to-be-dentist son is doing when Mr. Mamdo comes to call. The Observer, whose own dear Pa worked himself into an early grave on a roof to give Yours Truly a better life, knows the sacrifices fathers make for their children.

So it was that last month, our heating and air unit — that rumbling, clanking warhorse of many a 110-degree day and sub-zero night — gave up the ghost, to much weeping and gnashing of teeth by all but Mr. Mamdo. He'd been warning us for years that the day would finally come, even as he held our AC unit together with bubblegum and zipties. Finally, it was here. Not only had the blower fan died, he told us, like a doctor delivering a cancer diagnosis, but the heat exchangers were on the verge of rusting out, raising the specter of carbon monoxide poisoning. "A Death Machine," he called it, which made the pale gray box by the back steps suddenly seem very exciting indeed.

A price was quoted, Spouse went to the bank for a loan, and then we spent a day watching Mr. Mamdo, a helper and one of his sons wrestle the old unit out through the back gate and the new, shining unit into place. Even when it was time to pay up, Mr. Mamdo argued with The Homeowner, cutting his price and still trying to insist that we could pay him half now and half next month, interest free, no problem. "It's the holidays," he said, perhaps sensing, as The Observer did, that it would be the last time we saw our old friend for a long while, "and you are like my brother, man." Never has The Observer come so close to shedding a tear while handing over a large check, and it had nothing to do with the staggering number of zeros.

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