Monday, January 12, 2009

The Handyman Gene

"A man who cannot handle tools is not a man."
--Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals--"Fix It" (mp3)
Zach Gill--"Handyman" (mp3)

I was sitting with a co-worker at a wrestling match, and she was talking about some of the house projects that her husband had completed during the break, new doors between rooms and that kind of thing. I said that I really wasn't very handy, and she replied, "Oh, of course you are. All of you guys have the gene."

Do we? Do all of us have innate abilities handed down to us when the first cave guy used some extra beaver pelt to improve the insulation on a leaky cave door?

I thought about it and wondered if maybe I was selling myself short. Maybe I'm handier than I think. After all, I can paint. I have built a closet (two boards nailed on walls with a rod attached to both).

In our house, many of the improvements were done by the previous owner, a guy named Gene. He put in a new deck, turned one room into two, finished the basement, and a host of other projects. All of which have eventually led to considerable problems.

Consequently, in the family vernacular, you either "fix" something or you "rig it," a la Gene. My particular skills tend toward the latter. While there may not be all that much that I can fix in the way of carpentry or electrical work or plaster, I do have a bit of a gift for rigging. I like to think of it as representative of my creative side, more MacGyver than Bob Vila.

I may not be able to rewire a lamp, but I can keep a toilet that needs new innards working for years with nothing but a rusty safety pin. Admittedly, it may lead to some internal leaking and an increased water bill, but the thing does flush, and it didn't before.

I may not be able to fix the water drainage system that overflowed from the washing machine, but I can dig a self-designed ditch to hold the overflow. Of course, some neighborhood animal may end up drowning in it.

In fact, when I review my God-given gifts, I realize that those gifts all tend toward arming me for my ongoing battle with the nemesis of all home-owners--water. Whether it is leaks in the sink, flooding in the basement, broken pipes, overflowing dishwashers or washing machines, rust, mold, rot, or termites, water is the root enemy in almost every situation. Based on my gifts, I have to conclude that if water is the ultimate adversary I am horribly underequipped. Water has opened a 5-front war against me and it is winning every campaign.

I've also noticed that most of my work at home involves the breaking of something else. Take the outer awning down, break a storm window in the process. Cut the grass, but use the lawnmower until it's wheezing and the engine eventually locks up. My tools rust, my drill bits get scattered and lost, the chances of finding a wrench in the same place I last found it are slim.

I have done incredibly humane work, however. When a batch of kittens climbed into the exhaust fan on the deck and ended up trapped in the oven fan, I took the fan apart and gently rolled the fan rotor in reverse by hand until all were free. Unfortunately, I never repaired the vent opening on the deck, so I have had to perform this rescue three times with three different batches of kitchens. And, in pulling the stove out to disassemble it the first time, I broke the exhaust connection, so that for the last 8 years, when we turn on oven's exhaust fan, it merely blows the hot air around the kitchen.

So, yeah, I'm handy, just like the rest of my male tribe, but it's pretty fair to say that I will never become the chief of that tribe. Still, when called upon to tackle a leak in the plumbing under the sink, my instincts, yes, instincts, are strong, and I get a plastic bucket to catch the drips, and, for the past 5 years, try to remember to check that bucket often enough to make sure it doesn't overflow before I can dump it out.

Zach Gill and Ryan Adams' songs are both available at Itunes.


Daytimerush said...

One of my husband's attempts at fixing the plumbing led to the use of a fishing pole as a "snake" to remove whatever was clogging the pipe. The fishing pole got stuck. A real plumber was called. He got a good chuckle out of that one!

Billy said...

In The Breakfast Club, the geeky character flunks shop because he can't make a lamp turn on. That geeky character was based on me. You are Bob friggin' Vila by comparison.

I've been surprised to discover that the ability to hook up all species of electronic entertainment -- computers, TVs, sound systems -- is considered a distant cousin in this area of talents, and one which many handymen don't have, so I'm only 95% useless.