Stop this Mister Fix-It before he fixes again

May 20, 2012 

Todd Jones.


I can’t stand outsourcing. No, I’m not talking about the guy in Bangalore who helps me with technical issues (You’re the man, “Kevin”!). I’m talking about home repair, gadget resuscitation and keeping the overwhelming array of fragile complexities that’s part of our quest for a “carefree” lifestyle humming and functional.

Born out of equal parts DNA-lodged cheapskatery, Oedipal competition with my father (brilliant scholar, one-time holder of the Japanese hurdle record, all-around bon vivant and frequent flyer in the Duke ER following most handyman episodes), and unjustified hubris that I can do anything with sufficient trips to Home Depot, plus a couple poorly videoed YouTube clips and enough mid-project cursing to form a navy, I cringe at the thought of calling in a so-called “expert,” whose only advantages over me in fixing stuff are equipment, training, experience and temperament.

I’ve had a few victories, enough to feed the delusion of self-sufficiency. There was the ancient cordless phone my wife “accidentally” dropped into the bucket of soapy water. Time for an upgrade? Not so fast, m’lady! A quick disassembly of the phone, laid to rest on towels, a visit from the blow dryer, a couple days of bed rest for the components, and voila, the old unit re-roars to lo-fi life. There was the Halloween firefly costume for my then 3-year-old, featuring a repurposed flashlight for on-demand rump illumination, making Bob the Builder’s mom cringe with jealousy. And then the woodshed I designed and built for drying firewood from the tree I cut up and split, emerging from both project phases with the proper compliment of fingers and toes? Winning.

But every success has a brutal counterpart in the abject fail column.

There’s the time I decided to cut my own hair. What’s the worst that could go wrong? (Always the innocent precursor to serious kharmic comeuppance.) Fast forward a couple haircuts to my wife watching me calmly walk across the front lawn, half my head shorn, with the now-broken hair clippers in hand, looking for an available rock or concrete surface to effect “the final repair” to the clippers I had spent the better part of 30 minutes trying to fix mid-haircut. A new coif is born, the sideways mullet!

There was a gutter-cleaning incident in which, at the 30-foot Himalayan peak of my roof, I encountered not only a leaf-clogged gutter, but an angry nest of yellow jackets just below the eaves. My exit path involved a careful descent down a ladder or a leap to agonizing, but non-yellow-jacket-based pain. I chose the former (the ladder, not the latter), which afforded the swarm plenty of time to seek revenge in a gorgeous pattern of painful welts. As my wife heard the distant screams, knowing only that I was on the scary part of the roof, she reflexively became outraged at the quadriplegic care she was inevitably destined to provide to Mr. Former Handyman. Luckily for her, the confirming “thud” never arrived.

Then there was a recent lawn-mowing incident where a chunk of quartz, sheared by the mower blade, sent a hefty fragment that looked like a Homo habilus mastodon hide scraper into my exposed calf. Not a huge gash, but deep enough to cut a couple arteries, spewing blood horizontally and winning me a free ambulance ride (“Free? Hahaha!” – my insurance company) to the Duke ER, where Humpty Jonesey was put back together again, only to arrive home as the neighbors were envying my lawn, which looked oddly similar to my hair a few haircuts ago.

In fairness to my patient spouse and to accuracy of reportage, even my triumphs typically involve a long ramp-up time to implement or a tortuous crawl to the true finish line (indicated by an absence of: strewn about tools, chunks of material and buckets of solvent sitting in traffic paths). To wit, the burglar alarm system, whose components sat idle in a dusty cardboard box, becoming increasingly obsolete with each passing year. Finally, when our daughter got old enough to stay home alone, I was given the final push to implement. I argued it was typical to wait until one’s home was already violated to install a security system. For some reason she didn’t buy it. Then, the ragged hole in the living room ceiling Sheetrock (to repair a leaky shower), which I had tried to ensconce as a great conversation starter for formal entertaining. But after a couple short years (mere minutes in home repair time), my wife pushed me to close it up and paint it. Now our dinner parties feature many awkward silences without The Gaping Void of Wonder to get chatter flowing.

Yet, through these giddy highs and bloodletting lows, I have to say, I’ve gotten a lot of things fixed (eventually). I’ve bought a lot of really cool tools and my kids have learned some awesome curse word combinations. Sure, the schoolyard may have taught them the basic swear components, but only under the tutelage of the Sensei of Home Repair Profanity have they learned that some curse words can be interspersed mid-syllable between other curse words, the sign of a true Tarantino-level master craftsman.

I’ve built beds, tables, treehouses, bookshelves, recording studios, storage units, stone walkways, paths, electronic equipment, woodsheds, dog pens, many Halloween costumes, security systems, ladders, dog houses, garden beds, balance beams and more. I’ve fixed sinks, toilets, tubs, outlets, lights, dryers, computers, routers, vehicles, not to mention repairing the things I built that succumbed to the ravages of entropy far quicker than I’d hoped.

I think I’m saving money, even considering the cost of outfitting an impressive shop, ambulance charges and lost modeling gigs thanks to a half-shorn head. More important, however, is the satisfaction of a job occasionally well done, bolstering my sense that as civilization crumbles in the Great Zombie Apocalypse, my self-sufficiency will buy us at least a couple extra weeks until the zombies breach my homemade defenses (I knew I should have used three more rolls of duct tape!) and eat our delicious brains.

And that’s the kind of peace of mind that helps my family sleep each night.

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