Friday, December 02, 2005


In Which I Reveal A Big Secret...

Like my aversion to heights, there are certain things I hate revealing about myself. It almost goes without saying that I don't like to reveal my flaws, failings, or shortcomings (but of course, being married, I have someone on site who handles that job for me, now don't I?).

But with an ego as massive as mine (and really, you have no idea), you'd think I wouldn't mind admitting to some of the things I can do, flouting my capabilities with impunity. But it is not always so.

For example, I have spent years telling anyone with a prurient interest--roommates, girlfriends, employers--that I am the least handy man on the planet. That I am the Bizarro version of Bob Vila. That if they ever did a Special Olympics Edition of This Old House, I could put in an appearance, but otherwise, I'd have no business on the set. And that, in general, I should not be counted on to do more than hang a picture on a wall (and even for that I'd need one of those laser levels, and a picture big enough to hide the three nail holes I'd inevitably put in the wall before finding the right spot).

But the truth is, I'm beginning to think I might just be a wee bit handy.

It's so odd to say that, and really, you're the first ones I'm admitting it to. I think part of my problem is that I grew up in the shadow of my dad, who is so handy he puts MacGyver to shame. Trust me, folks, if you were ever stranded on an island, my dad's the one you'd want with you, because he could not only build you a bamboo house with indoor plumbing, he'd also figure out a way to heat the sand on the beach enough to make glass for windows. The man can run large earth-moving machines, lay stone and brick, frame houses, run plumbing and electricity, dig a well, dam a river, take apart and reassemble any gas-powered engine made before 1978, shoe a horse, kill, skin and cook any animal, name any tree, bush or flowering plant in the forest. And these are his hobbies! The man is a welder by trade, for crissakes.

By comparison, I'm lucky if I can find my ass with both hands. At least, that had always been my perception.

But in the past month, I'm beginning to feel as though some constructive strand of DNA has started vibrating, some weird mutant gene of ability has activated.

Case in point: Not so long ago, Her Lovely Self clogged the garbage disposal. It's actually a fairly common occurrence. She doesn't like the noise it makes, see, so she'll fill it with a day's worth of detritus, so she'll only have to run it once. Only then she wonders why coffee grounds and egg shells come exploding out of the sink when she runs the water and hits the switch at the end of the day.

But this one time when she threw the switch, there was no Vesuvius of cooking detritus. Instead, there was an ominous GLORM GLORM GBLATTT sound from the cupboard under the sink. It sounded like we had a troll under there and he'd just been violently sick.

The water pressure and back-up of disposal gunk somehow conspired to blow apart the drain assembly to our sink. We were expecting guests for dinner that night and needed a working sink badly, so to Her Lovely Self, this was a crisis on par with your furnace conking out in the middle of winter, and she reached for the Yellow Pages to call a plumber. However, as I was sopping up the mess and wiping coffee grounds off all the bottles of kitchen cleansers, I looked at the sink pipes and realized something. The U-bend was cracked and the collar that held the U-bend on had been snapped somehow. But everything else seemed fine.

It was Sunday evening--not the best time to be making an emergency call to a plumber, you know--so I begged Her Lovely Self to give me 30 minutes to try and fix it. She gave me one of those you-can't-be-serious looks, but I was already on my way to the basement.

Now, in my dad's basement, he would have not only five U-bends to choose from, he'd also have the option of using ones of different widths, as well as ones made with PVC pipe versus metal. Come to think of it, he also has a spare garbage disposal down there and anything else you might need to effect kitchen sink repair--including a kitchen sink. In fact, including two kitchen sinks.

My basement, as you know, is cluttered with crap, but not useful crap when it comes to household repair. I have a small table where I keep a very modest toolbox, an assortment of flashlights requiring batteries or bulbs, a cordless drill, a few spools of electrical and duct tape, and two or three mystery boxes that came with the house or represent leftovers from jobs Her Lovely Self has cajoled my father into doing for her.

There in the mystery boxes I found some PVC primer and glue as well as two PVC elbow joints (remnants of the home vacuum system that was installed with the house). I glued the two joints together to make a new u-shaped pipe that I was able to glue in place of the old one. Then I wrapped the assembly up in enough electrical and duct tape to preserve a mummy.

No leaks, no spills, no Exorcist-like expectorations of coffee grounds. The damn thing worked. And would continue working until I was able to get to Home Depot the next day and buy a proper replacement U-bend for the sink.

No one was more surprised by this development than I was, except perhaps Her Lovely Self, who gaped at what I'd done in 20 minutes. "I had no idea you could that," she stammered. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I took it.

This event was followed not too many weeks later by the discovery of a rock in our basement and a matching hole in a nearby window (Despite an ongoing investigation, the culprit remains at large). Sadly, this was not the kind of window where you just replace the broken pane (unless, of course, you were my dad, in which case you'd just make your own from that beach sand I mentioned earlier). I had to order a replacement window. It was supposed to come in a week, and I dutifully went about the job of removing the old window in preparation for the new one. Her Lovely Self freaked about this because she assumed this meant I was going to smash the remaining glass out (no doubt this idea was accompanied by visions of her children and neighbors staggering about, bloody and pierced by countless shards) and bash the frame work to bits in order to remove the window. When I told her it was more a matter of peeling back a little bit of flashing and pulling out about a dozen nails and the window would just fall right out on me (literally, as it happened), she just stared at me again. "How do you know that?" she demanded.

The truth is, I have no idea, unless it was that mutant gene again, or some long buried memory of watching my dad do something similar. Either way, I was correct, which is quite rare indeed where differences of opinion with Her Lovely Self are concerned.

Still, no task of mine is without its hiccup, and so it was that only after I got the window out, of course, I got a call from the window folks informing me my order would be delayed til after Thanksgiving. Thus I was forced to seal the opening by nailing a big piece of grungy plywood over it, giving that corner of the Magazine Mansion a rakish style I like to call "Suburban Crack House."

But now, with Thanksgiving over, the new window just arrived and I have some idea how I'll be spending my weekend.

So there it is. My secret is out. I'm apparently handy. Not as much as some, but more than I thought I was.

Either way, I'm ABSOLUTELY sure I'm nowhere NEAR as handy as Her Lovely Self now seems to think I am.

The other day, as it was dawning on us that the holidays were approaching, I asked her, as I always do, what she'd like for Christmas. Usually, I am roundly hem-hawed and have to fend for myself, but this year, to my surprise, she had a ready answer.

"How about this indoor greenhouse for my plants?" she asked, handing me a piece of paper.


I stared for a moment, thinking it was an odd way for a gardening catalog to display an indoor greenhouse.

Then it dawned on me that this wasn't a product image from a catalog.

It was a schematic.

She wants me to BUILD the damn thing.

Something tells me I should have just let her call the plumber back when the sink blew out.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

OH MAN! that indoor greenhouse rocks my socks! is there more to the indoor greenhouse than that? if yes, could i get them?

[hrm.. i seem to have missed the point of your post.. haha]
Puh-lease. You can totally do that. Just fire up your ADD/OCD skills write down all the parts and go to town. Plus it's an excuse to buy some tools. Worst case scenario find some other husband of your wife's gardening companions and the two of you work together to build a pair of them. Then if there are some rough edges you can always say "Oh. That's the part BLANK worked on." Either that or as we've been taught by countless sit-com episodes you are going to have to screw it up so badly she will go back to never asking you to do anything.

Co-opt some Lego. Build a scale model. Figure out the potential problems, build the real thing.

Your Pal the Bunny
I'm like that with sewing. My mom is an amazing seamstress, but her talent seemed to have skipped me completely--until I decided to make some cushions and a lap quilt for my couch. Everyone thought I bought them! Now, my sisters won't leave me alone with requests. I guess this kind of stuff is absorbed through osmosis: if you watch it being done enough, you automatically pick it up. Weird.
Be careful how far knowledge of your new found competence spreads. I pulled off one or two similar things and now I get called in for all kinds of crazy projects by neighbors, friends and family.

Kind of fun to be useful in some practical way but it's definitely a hassle in some ways.
Hey, my dad made one of those once, for starting his tomato plants! :)
Good luck- I know you can do it. (just please keep Thomas and the Brownie far, far, away when you do...)
I'm just horrified that you used "flout" when you meant "flaunt." And you an editor, fa chrissakes!

Here's a horrible thought—what if moving towards competence in one area erodes your competence in another? What if, as you increase in handiness, your language skills disintegrate entirely?

I'm amazed... that HLS would put so much faith in you after 2 such tiny projects.... Did you ever say if the windo was installed correctly? I missed that part. Shoot after nearly 22 years of marriage and many, successful projects completed by my husband that I finally feel comfortable saying he is a handiman. I know I shoulda gave him credit after the first one and I did but I just didn't feel sure he could pull it off again!
It's time to call in a couple markers from the Yummy Mummy husbands that you have lent your chainsaw to.

My Dad is like your Dad - he could put the ass back in a cat.
Is it wrong that I am practically giddy with the potential blog entries that could come of said project??
GLORM GLORM GBLATTT, made me chuckle.
Was there more than just a schematic? Like, oh, maybe directions? I have faith in you. Just promise you'll share the story of THE PROJECT.
I'm the same way man. My Dad is an architect and he remodeled houses just about all of my child hood, but I'll be damned if I could actually do anything more than use a screw driver. It's sad, but I honestly feel that my mutant gene will activate soon.

I hope your family had a great Thanksgiving!

Oh and good luck with the greenhouse.
I thought the same thing...HLS sure has alot of confidence in you after only two projects completed in what...eleven years of marriage? My husband is like your dad...he can fix absolutely anything and if you're stranded on an island, well, he's the one you'd want there with you. Whenever he fixes something I screw up, which is invariably quite often, I always say, "See, I KNEW I married you for a good reason!" This ability only becomes a problem when he insists on "improving" things that aren't broken just because he's bored. He has a tendency to take apart and then reassemble random appliances just to "see if he can make them work better". So I often have alot of disassembled necessities like coffee pots and hair dryers which he puts back together and seem to work exactly the same as before. Irritating to say the least, but since I've never had to call a plumber, a/c man, electrition, or roofer since we've been married, I can let the little things slide.
I would love to see a photo-by-photo chronicling of this building as it proceeds. Please don't let us or HSF down!
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