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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.



American Pyro

12 Jun

My family always went over board on holidays– like the Christmas my electrician father installed 200 red and green 100 watt light bulbs around our front porch. He thought it lent that special holiday magic. My mother said it made the house look like a sleazy tavern. The Fourth of July, however ,was a time when things really got out of control. One year my older brother constructed a working carbide cannon out of 6 foot length of sewer pipe. Dressed like a revolutionary war soldier, he pulled the cannon down main street to advertise his new barbeque stand, which specialized in pig snouts. This was the same brother who had once fashioned a hot tub out of a cattle feeding trough.
The fourth was a major event in the small town where I grew up. People would cross state lines just to buy illegal fireworks, even though the local cops were highly skilled at confiscating them. These fireworks would turn up at the town hall where city employees would take them home for their kids. I didn’t mind– my dad was a volunteer fireman. I occasionally regained possession of my own contraband fireworks this way. As in prohibition times, there was no way to quench the public’s thirst for bootlegged fireworks. There were black cat and atomic firecrackers, cherry bombs, Roman Candles, fountains, pinwheels, helicopters and the dreaded M-80s (advertised as an eighth of a stick of dynamite). There were even tiny firecrackers called ladyfingers that kids would dare you to hold in your hand while they exploded. I wasn’t that stupid, even then.
Like today, parents encouraged younger kids to play with sparklers. For some reason these molten metal spewing flares, that exceed 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, were considered harmless. When they burn out you’re stuck with a red-hot piece of wire– the perfect plaything for a barefoot five year old. I personally managed to eliminated the spent sparkler disposal problem by inventing the exploding sparkler when I was 9 years old. You simply attach a M-80 to the bottom of the sparkler and shove it in the ground. A few minutes later there is an immense explosion and the white-hot wire is hurled into the stratosphere. My mother didn’t think much of the invention.
One year I threw a cherry bomb in the middle of the street. It appeared to be a dud, but before I could do anything a state police cruiser came screaming up and parked right on top of the still-glowing explosive device. The surly patrolman said, “Hey kid, you see any punks around here playing with fireworks?” A fleeting vision of a police car engulfed in a ball of flames, a 10-25 year stretch in Statesville, and possibly a boyfriend named Buster raced through my mind. I must have sweated enough to extinguish the water proof cherry bomb.
The highlight of every Fourth of July, however, was the city fireworks display. This always took place at the fairgrounds where they held the carnival and fish fry. Every year I’d drop a bundle on the pan game. The local Catholic church ran this roulette-like concession. It was played with deceptively innocent looking, multi-colored muffin pans and a volley ball. One year I devised a fool-proof betting system that cost me 6 month’s allowance, but greatly advanced my knowledge of statistics and probability.
At nine o’clock I would take my prized seat to watch the show. Since my father was a fireman, I got to sit in the emergency fire truck, which was parked about 50 yards ahead of the police line that held back the rabble and lowly civilians. While the fire chief was distracted by a side of barbecued ribs, my father and the other firemen would fill up the truck’s huge hubcaps with Falstaff beer and ice. These would come in handy later.
I always preferred the ear-piercing aerial bombs, but the crowd went wild when glowing debris would fall to earth. One year to almost everyone’s delight, a burning chunk actually fell on the roof of a nearby house. Fortunately it was early enough in the evening that the firemen were still sober enough to put it out. There’s nothing like a little old fashion pyromania to make you feel patriotic and proud to be an American.