The Electric Octopus

It was newlywed bliss in the Mr. & Mrs. HomeOwnerMan household.  They were living in a starter cave that HomeOwnerMan had purchased during his single years.  It was humble but it was where HomeOwnerMan called home for many years, and now he welcomed WifeGirl into it hoping that she would give it the loving touches that only a female super-hero was good at.

There was a finished attic in the place which made the cave a bit larger and had been the residence of HomeOwnerMan’s college roommate, EconoBoy, who made his living in the World Trade Center.  The HomeCave was attractive because of its proximity to public transportation into the Big City, so EconoBoy rented the attic for a time until he met and later married Leeblu-Woman. They moved out to the suburbs, and shortly thereafter along came WifeGirl, who at the time went under the name GirlfriendGirl. HomeOwnerMan thought this was a somewhat redundant name, but fell in love just the same.  But I digress.

WifeGirl made the large walk-in closet in the attic the home of her extensive wardrobe of spandex Lycra suits that all had “W” emblazoned across the chest.  She was a working super-hero, with corporate looking supersuits and a collection of tiny shoes that would have made Imelda Marcos proud.  One morning the light in the walk-in closet, which was a 65-year-old pull-string type, gave up the ghost and WifeGirl was unable to tell her taupe supersuit from her mauve supersuit in the low light.  So she asked HomeOwnerMan to replace the light.  He knew instinctively that the mystique of his identity hung in the balance of his ability to do a quick, clean, and high-quality repair on this, the first of many home repair jobs to come.

closet light

Sizing up the job, HomeOwnerMan wanted to knock her socks off, so he decided he would not only replace the light but also add a light switch outside the door of the closet for added convenience.  He furthermore noticed that the wires were the original ones from 1926 when the house was built, so he thought he would replace them, too. So off to Home Depot he went. Lowes was not yet in business and Grossmans had just gone out of business; Square D was around but was lame.

He chose a nice sealed light fixture because the ceiling was low in the attic, and a clean-looking toggle switch, box, a wall plate, and plastic coated Romex wire.  He also bought a ceiling box because there was not one where the old fixture was.  HomeOwnerMan’s brother-in-law, Mayor McWeinerMinder, who at one time worked for the Electric Company (not the children’s show on public television but the actual power company), had given HomeOwnerMan personal lessons on wiring, so he knew that safety was always the right choice.

Turning the power off at the electrical box, HomeOwnerMan faced the reality that the one breaker was responsible for all the power on the second and third floors of the HomeCave.  So working in the ambience of flashlights, HomeOwnerMan taped the new wire to the old wires in hopes of easily fishing the new wires to the power source and to the wall switch. He started to pull on the one end.  To his delight the wires moved about a foot, but then abruptly stopped.  So he went to the other end, figuring there was just a snag, and pulled the wires back the other way.  Again they moved a foot and then stopped.  So he summoned the able help of WifeGirl.

WifeGirl was instructed to stand at the one end of the wire and, when given the HomeSignal, pull the wires towards her.  HomeOwnerMan would use a stethoscope, which was entirely useless in his short-but-dazzling medical career but was invaluable for things like working on his car and finding out what was crawling inside the walls, to listen to where the wires were moving.  So WifeGirl pulled, and HomeOwnerMan discovered that there were wires moving twenty feet away on the other side of the attic.  “This is bad,” he thought to himself.  The noise was coming from a recessed light. So HomeOwnerMan got started removing the fixture to investigate further.

electrical wire octopus

As he removed it all manner of dead wasps, leaves, sticks, straw, hay, Jimmy Hoffa, etc. fell out of the hole in the ceiling.  After making sure that no active wildlife had taken refuge in this hole, he began inspecting it using the most effective means available for a small hole – a make-up mirror and a flashlight.   To his surprise and enjoyment, there was an OCTOPUS of wires a scant one foot from the hole, which was easily pulled toward him for inspection. Needless to say the wires from the other two areas that he was previously working pulled toward HomeOwnerMan one foot, both being connected into this octopus.

At this point I should describe the octopus.  There were not less than ten sets of wires coming into it.  There was wiring from 3 distinct time periods: Romex from the contemporary era, mesh covered wires from the Neolithic period, and knob-n-tube wiring from the Paleolithic era.  The wires went to every outlet, light, fan, and switch in the room. In short, it was the power plant of the third floor, but it had all the makings of an incendiary device built by middle-east terrorists.  There was no such thing as a wire nut, junction box, or ground wire in the whole mess.  Instead, the whole entity was held together by carbon-datable electrical tape.

Here was the problem:  HomeOwnerMan needed to identify the wire which was carrying the power to the entire organism and isolate it from short-circuiting.   Otherwise, he would be unable to turn that circuit on at all rendering the whole second and third floors devoid of the new Edison electric lighting and throw the whole place back to pre-industrialization days.   After deciding that that would truly be a hassle, HomeOwnerMan began cutting all of the wires off the octopus one-by-one, labelling their probable function,  and taping them up with electrical tape.

With his superior intellect, HomeOwnerMan finally reasoned that the knob-n-tube wires were likely the power source since they were the oldest and the previous owners were undoubtedly too lazy to bother running new cable to the electrical box.  But, of course, reasoning was not enough; as a true scientist, he needed to test his hypothesis.  For this he again needed the help of his lovely assistant WifeGirl.  His instructions to her were simple.  “WifeGirl, run down to the basement and flip the breaker.  If it pops back, come back up here, and bring the ‘swear jar’ with you.  If it doesn’t pop back, RUN up here with the fire extinguisher.”

WifeGirl ran down to the breaker box as instructed flipped the [correct, amazingly enough] breaker, and raced back up the stairs with the fire extinguisher, just as she was instructed.  Fortunately, there was no fire, smoke, or smoldering wires.  AND, when tested with HomeOwnerMan’s trusty multi-meter from his tool belt, his hypothesis held up – the oldest wires were the power source!

Over the next two months HomeOwnerMan and WifeGirl set about rewiring the attic, making it safe and restoring it to present day technology.  It was a good thing that WifeGirl and HomeOwnerMan found this problem as to avert an inferno but that was not what they had expected to get into at the start of the project.

HomeOwnerMan – making the ordinary extra-ordinary.


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