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Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Justin wrote Iceland, a blog about his band’s American tour. Justin isn’t on tour anymore, but Iceland continues, twice a week, on City Desk.
“Your chimney is exceedingly dirty,” commented the chimney sweep. For a mere $129, this noble soul had dutifully reported to my house and cleaned my chimney.
“I regret that my chimney has fallen into a state of disrepair,” I remarked. I offered the sweep a glass of water. “Chimney maintenance was complicated by the fact that, until recently, I was not aware that I had a chimney.”
“Yeah,” the sweep murmured. I wondered whether this “yeah” indicated sympathy for my chimney ignorance or dismissal of my uninformed position. The sweep wiped soot from his nose and drank the glass of water I had offered. “You need to get your chimney lined,” he gasped between gulps.
“Chimneys require lining?” I queried. “But my chimney is brick. Good, strong, ancient, well-mortared brick. Good enough for industrial England—-good enough for me. Yes?”
“No,” the sweep replied. He finished his water. “Your house is over 100 years old. Because your chimney predates World War I and the invention of the automobile, your precious bricks have begun to deteriorate. Your chimney—-the lungs of your boiler—-is collapsing. For this reason, your boiler is not venting correctly. To repair this problem, you must line your chimney with stainless steel. If you do not, deadly, odorless, colorless carbon monoxide will build up in your chimney and, perhaps, in your home and the homes of your neighbors. Carbon monoxide poisoning kills many people every year. Do not doubt that you, your neighbors, and your loved ones could be next.”
“What is the cost of this life-saving chimney lining?” I inquired.
“$1,800,” replied the sweep. “That is an off-season price. I’m trying to hook you up.”
“I have lived in my home for eight years with numerous housemates, and, to date, no one has died of carbon-monoxide poisoning,” I asserted.
“Carbon monoxide can strike at any time,” the sweep insisted.
I considered my dilemma. “So, like terrorism, I must live in fear of carbon monoxide,” I concluded. “Carbon monoxide can kill, but I will never know how, why, or when. All I can do is pay someone to correct a problem that may or may not exist, then take his or her word that this hypothetical-but-conceivably-lethal problem has been and is being corrected. I must trust you, or be terrified.”
“You also have to watch out for raccoons,” the sweep responded. “There’s a lot of raccoon shit around your chimney.” The chimney sweep’s use of profanity was unexpected and startling. Our discussion took on a new level of intensity. “I pulled a dead raccoon out of a chimney earlier this week. This raccoon had begun to rot. You wouldn’t believe the smell. I couldn’t eat for two days.” The sweep set his water glass down and licked his lips. “Mmmm,” he moaned. “That water hit the spot.”