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Repairathon Man

8 Apr

If you have three small children and a broken dryer,  you have some idea of what hell is like.  A few weeks ago we were at my daughter’s house and   her bathroom was covered with hangers holding various articles of clothing, while a large fan whirled relentlessly.  The dryer had broken and they were waiting fir a replacement part they  ordered online. She had not yet resorted to that epitome of despair– taking her wet clothes to the  laundromat. 

For me the  laundromat, always   triggers traumatic memories of when I was single and spent   a large portion of my life at the “World O’ Suds”. I would  s put this off until the last possible minute and then I would schlep down there looking like a hobo in the only clean clothes I had left, in order to spend a fortune in quarters trying to get those darn towels dry.

Just a few months ago our dryer broke down. I decided to save a few bucks by seeing what the internet could offer. I eventually found a website that showed my dryer, and exactly what I needed to do to repair it. It seems that all the fuss was caused by a minuscule plastic fuse that cost about five dollars and takes 10 minutes to replace.  I went to the appliance store  where I bought the dryer and they sent me to an appliance parts warehouse out near the airport. This place actually had the fuse I desperately  needed hanging on a display rack near the cash register like it was a box of TicTacs®.

When I got home I managed to lose about half of the little metal screws that hold the back cover on the dryer, but after 10 minutes— all I can say is “Mission Accomplished”.

            Last winter, I used the Internet to fix  our furnace.  We have an oil furnace, which always manages to run out of fuel on the coldest day of the year. When our oil  furnace    completely runs out,  it  requires that you run some fuel through the line before it will start pumping again. So even when we finally got our fuel tank filled,  the furnace wouldn’t work.

I looked all this stuff up on the Internet and had decided to try to fix it myself, although I was very worried about what might happen in light of the unfortunate incident of the Coleman® Stove. I was alarmed to find that the process of running fuel through the lines is called “bleeding”, a term which has been often associated with my home repairs. I was also worried because the furnace in the pictures did not look very much like our furnace so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. With ticking  parts and colored wires sticking out all over, the furnace resembled  a large time bomb that I was trying to defuse. Call it “beginner’s  luck” or more properly “dumb luck”,  but I managed to bleed the line, only spilling  a gallon or two of No. 2  fuel oil over my coat and our basement floor.

            I must admit that I usually try pawn off calling the repairman on my wife, Diane. I also   make a point of not being around while the repairman is there and I have even  been known to take several trips around the block,  waiting for the repair truck to leave our driveway.

I think I do this for a couple of reasons. First it seems less than masculine to have another man come to your house to fix something that you should be able to repair yourself. Secondly, repairmen all seemed bent on giving me  a lecture on how I  can  make the repair myself in the future should it break again. Having no intention to ever do so,  I nod my head knowingly and have no idea what they’re talking about when they rattle on about   broil plates, solenoids, mullions and my personal favorite “the infinite heat switch”. Then I say that I understand perfectly and make a mental note that if it breaks again I will definitely have to get Diane to  call another repair guy.

Finally I  am embarrassed that they might   disparage my lame attempts at fixing the appliance before they came. They might ask what happened to all the metal screws on the  back cover, for example,   or ask what is all that duct tape doing wrapped around the infinite heat switch.

Years ago I had a van that would stall out all the time because the carburetor’s butterfly valve  would  not open and car didn’t get  enough air.  I discovered that if I shoved an object into the carburetor, it would open the valve enough to allow the engine to run. Generally I used a screwdriver for this purpose, but once I couldn’t find one  and instead   used  an old  bayonet,  I had  nagged my dad in buying me at the army surplus store when I was a kid. 

A few weeks later the car had other problems  and I took it into the garage, completely forgetting  about the bayonet. When the mechanic saw it  sticking in the carburetor he pulled it out as if he were King Arthur extracting Excalibur.  He said “I think I see your  problem, someone has engaged this van in hand to hand combat”.   I never lived  it down.

When we visited our daughter again on, thankfully,  her dryer was working again. We knew it was working because we could hear a continuous loud squeal emanating from her basement — or should I say “her downstairs”.  She has a walk-out  ground floor that she hates to hear us call  “a basement”.  I’m not sure what was wrong with the dryer, but I  told her if should  could  find me a large dagger of some sort,  I’m  sure I could fix it.

      

The Three Labours of Stawar

3 Jan

           

        Amidst my constant brooding about money matters, I recently came up with the scheme for refinancing our house, to take advantage of the rock bottom interest rates. I surprised myself, since generally I just talk about such things. Actually doing them makes me feel like a take-charge kind of guy but also incredibly anxious. I filled out the mortgage application papers like I was in a trance and had to face the trauma of looking at credit scores and listing all my bills. There was, however, one thing, I hadn’t counted on and that is the mortgage company insisted on having the house appraised. The thought of someone poking around our house, taking note of all my neglect, was enough to make me reconsider the whole thing.

             My wife Diane said she would go along with the refinancing, but she established two conditions. First, I had to be the one who was at home when the appraiser came to our house. I admit that I usually foist such embarrassing jobs off on her. When electricians, plumbers, or other repairmen come to our house, I conveniently have a very important meeting at work that I just can’t cancel. She has to face their embarrassing questions as they look over various aspects of my shoddy workmanship. If I see a repair truck in the driveway on my way home from work, I usually decide that maybe we need some milk from the store. Shepherding the appraiser through our house would be sort of a token payback for all the times Diane was stuck with that dirty job. Diane’s second condition was her insistence that I, for decency’s sake, clean up the basement and make some minor house repairs that I had been putting off for years. She had only asked me last week when was I going to straighten up my work bench. I was intimidated and reluctant, but that fixed 4% called to me in a siren’s voice. Diane had just sprained her foot so it was also made clear that these jobs were mine alone.

             The task before me began to assume mythic proportions in my mind. I remembered how the Greek gods require Hercules to complete a series of nearly impossible tasks to atone for his past misdeeds. But Hercules only had to slay some monsters, clean stables, and steal a couple of apples. Compared to my jobs, Hercules’s labors were a piece of cake.

Labor 1: The Cleansing of the Basement Hercules’s most humiliating assignment was to clean the Augean stables in a single day. King Augeas was known for his famous stables, which were the largest in the world. The livestock, housed there, were supernaturally robust and produced an enormous quantity of waste. Furthermore, the stables had not been cleaned in many years. However, if you ever saw our basement, I’m sure you would agree that the Augean stables had nothing over the Stawaran basement, which due to my procrastinating had not been thoroughly cleaned in nearly a decade. Hercules accomplished his task by cheating. He rerouted the course of two rivers so that they flushed out the stables. It would have probably been easier to redirect the Ohio, but I used plain old elbow grease. Although technically I wasn’t required to slay any giant monsters, cleaning the basement did involve tackling several horrendous spiders and something that may have been a slime creature. The job took two full days, dozens of trash bags, and a lungful of dust and debris. There was also some psychological cost to the task, since it involved sorting through our youngest son’s old toys. He is the baby of the family and although he’s been away from home for almost six years, his absence is still hard to accept. All those Legos and Star War toys evoked a flood of bittersweet feelings that didn’t make the task any easier.

Labor 2: The Spackling of the Bathroom My second task was to repair a hole in the ceiling of the guest bathroom. I forget how long ago the hole was made by a plumber looking for a leaky pipe. The leak had long since subsided, but the hole remained. Most of our guests have had the good manners not to inquire about this hole, but lacking any such social inhibitions, visiting children always point it out. Even babies having their diaper’s changed in this bathroom have gestured upwards towards the ceiling in an accusing manner. I managed to cut a piece of drywall and nail it to the ceiling and fill in around it with spackling compound. Since the ceiling had an “orange peel” plaster finish, the smooth drywall piece didn’t blend in very well, even after I painted it. About a day before the scheduled appraisal, I decided to get a large spray can of plaster texture to try to apply a surface, similar to the ceiling, on the drywall. A friend at work told me I didn’t have to put up masking tape since any spillover would easily wipe off. Just to be safe I taped a few sheets of newspaper to the walls anyway. I shook the can vigorously to mix the texture. When I pushed the button, it was like a plaster bomb detonated. I must have swallowed about a pound of plaster and the overspray covered everything in the room including the sink, walls, the chair I was standing on, and the shower curtain. About the only thing that did not get a coat of plaster was the piece of drywall, I was aiming at. It took me hours to clean up the mess.

Labor 3. Weedwacking the Pathway We have a small outbuilding about 100 yards from our house. Since I wanted the house to appraise for as much as possible, I wanted to make sure the appraiser could see it. Over the summer the pathway to the building had become overgrown, so my final labor was to clear it. For over twenty minutes I tried to get the line trimmer going, by pulling the starter cord. I finally discovered I had dialed the wrong settings, which would have prevented it from ever starting. By the time I got the thing started I was already exhausted. The pathway had many painful thorny branches blocking it, but the trimmer was able to mow them down. In a green cloud of flying thorns and poison ivy, I cut a pathway to the building, completing my final labor.

               The appraiser went over the house with a fine tooth comb. Just my luck that since the mortgage crisis, banks are very wary of inflated appraisals. I survived the ordeal and am waiting for the results. If the appraisal isn’t high enough, my next scheme may involve fetching a Golden Fleece.

Orginally published in the New Albany Tribune/Jeffersonville  Evening News

Why I Am Not Handy Around the House

4 Feb

I have always wondered why I am not very good with tools. When it comes to tasks around the house, I am definitely mechanically challenged. Worse yet, I cannot bring myself to hire professionals who know what they are doing, until the situation becomes critical. Reflexively I have bizarre unrealistic expectations regarding the expense, knowing that this is the act what will finally drive us to the poor house. All this neurotic thinking drives my wife crazy.
I would like to blame my father, at least in part. Like many people who grew up during the depression, he believed that you should be totally self-reliant. Only the Vanderbilts and Astors actually hired people to work for them. Dad was also the one who always talked about being driven to the poor house. I was always scared to death of going to the poor house, although I don’t think I ever actually saw one. Hiring craftsmen was a foolish waste of money, perhaps even un-American, and a sure rod to the nebulous poor house.. My father was a good electrician, and he thought he could do any sort of skilled work. He couldn’t and neither can I, although that strong expectation is still present.
I never had the same relationship with tools as my father. He would get furious when he found his best screwdriver rusting away in the pile of dirt where I left it. It was probably the same feeling I get when I see my son using one of my books as a coaster.
I’ve analyzed the situation and have identified four main factors that account for most of my ineptitude in home repair.
1. Lack of Adequate Tools. Yes, it is a poor workman who blames his tools. But since I am a poor workman, I’m entitled to this excuse. I never have the appropriate tool. But since I always purchase the cheapest tools possible, (imported ones on sale at the discount store) even if I have the right tool, often it is of such poor quality that it doesn’t function properly. A related problem, of course, is just finding my tools in the first place. If they aren’t laying in their usual location, in a heap on the garage floor, I’m in trouble. “Now where is that wrench, I ‘m sure I left it in a pile of dirt in the backyard on Saturday.”
2. Task Transformation. No matter what the job start starts out to be, it always mutates into some other task I must complete first. If I’m not looking for some tool, I’m trying to replace a crucial part I’ve manage to break or lose. I must spend at least 95% of the time looking for lost screws, sockets, or patience. Just replacing a switch cover can turn into an endless quest to the hardware store, beginning with trying to find my lost car keys, wallet, and watch and then stopping for cash, gasoline, and Prozac before I even get to the store.
3. The Hemorrhage Factor. A third major stumbling block is the bloodletting that invariably occurs at some point during the project. I’ve managed to injure myself with wrenches, tire tools, glue guns, and assorted sharp objects. This distraction leads to the obligatory trip to the emergency room for the embarrassing explanation and requisite stitches, tetanus shots or neurosurgery. Even minor injuries take a great deal of time. “Where is that peroxide. I know I left in the backyard last Saturday when I was fixing the fence.”
4. The Humiliation Factor. Perhaps the most important obstacle, this involves trying to avoid telling other people the idiotic things I’ve already done. For example, I hate taking my car into the shop and hearing the mechanic say “Hey who tried to tape this engine together and what’s this coat hanger doing here. You shouldn’t mess with this stuff. You could hurt yourself.” Good advice, but I already hurt myself ( see factor #3).
And I don’t like explaining to the hardware store clerk that I need the spare part because I stripped the threads or dropped the spring down the drain. “Gee I don’t have any idea what happen to it. It was that way when I got there. Maybe one of the kids messed with it.” That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
I suppose I could go to the community college and take some courses in home repair or see a therapist for a few sessions, but that probably cost so much I’d end up in the poor house.