Friday, April 6, 2018

On fixing a fan


Two years ago I tried to replace a broken ceiling fan.

I had a little trouble fitting the cable clamp, and figured I crimped the wires too much.

Sometimes the voltmeter showed something, sometimes it didn't. I feared a short, cut off the circuit breaker when I wasn't home, and pondered.


And pondered and pondered and pondered. I may be the world's greatest ponderer. (Pondering gets you nowhere, by the way....)

I once worked in Port Newark, on the docks at the water's edge, moving tons of scrap metal day after day after day. Some men had cranes. I had a shovel.

I worked as a longshoreman when men still mattered as much as machines. We had a saying.

"If it don't fit, don't force it, turn it over and try again."

That's carried me for well over four decades.


I have always focused on the black wire, the live one, the one with the power and the glory. The neutral one, not so much.

In the States, our power is AC--electrons go here, then scamper quickly back to there. While the black wire has, at its peak, 120 volts more than the neutral, its strength relies on a differential, not an absolute. After two fucking years, I took the abstract and put it in the real world.

If the black wire is live (as it was) and nothing is happening, maybe it's because the electrons have nowhere to go. (If you're a first year electrician's apprentice, no, I do not need to hear from you.)

Pretty much every circuit has a switch, and switches are ridiculously easy to grasp. But people make mistakes.

I had assumed that the problem I had was at the point I was focused on--where the wires fell through the ceiling, the point where I had crimped them together a tad too much two years ago.


I opened the switch box--and there it was--the neutral wire connected to, well, nothing but air.

So now the fan and light work again, but that's not the point. The sun will rise tomorrow, the wind will blow. I can live without a lamp and a fan.

The point is this--the neutral wire matters every bit as much as the one that could kill me. Power makes us all drunk.

The folks making all the noise, controlling the money, hogging the airwaves, well, yes, they can make changes.

But the rest of us, the neutral wires, decide what flows and what doesn't.



Throw your shoe into the machine.