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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.

      

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.