Uppermost house: Emergence of the 17-year handyman


By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

It began innocently enough, taking the initial form of a short twig of errant wire sticking up out of the corner of the dining room floor. It had been poking up thusly since we bought this old house almost two decades earlier, and I don’t know why it caught my eye this particular morning, but so it did, snagging me in a moment of idle momentum. Without thinking I stepped back into the kitchen, grabbed a pair of scissors, returned, bent, snipped, tossed the bit of wire in the trash, put the scissors away, and returned to my mindless journey in the general direction of the living room, still idling and wayward, but having accomplished at least one small task.

For unknown reasons, this benign chore set in motion a terrible fit and frenzy of home repair far out of proportion to the normal handy-man proclivities I had demonstrated over the previous 35 years (just ask my wife).

Over the course of the coming week I rushed home from the office each day and immediately sought out a pair of pliers or a screwdriver or a tube of caulk or a sheet of sandpaper.

Donning a headlamp one evening I crawled into a low dark closet and moved an electrical outlet that had rattled for several years and which we feared might become sparky and unpredictable. Six inches to the right I found sounder wood and anchored the outlet properly, having flipped the breaker off first, of course.

I replaced a light switch that for several months had forced us to jiggle it vigorously to make the light go on or off, the accompanying and somewhat muffled sound of frying bacon sometimes being heard from the wall behind it making us uncomfortable.

(While seeking advice at a big-box home improvement store for these basic wiring projects, I was politely admonished to pick up some smoke detectors. Aisle 1, bay 13.)

In the kitchen, a lip of pine trim that ran the length of the countertop, yet jutted above it about the width of a zucchini slice, was summarily planed flush; and for the first time since the younger Bush had been in the White House my wife could sweep debris off the counter without snagging her fingernails.

On Day Four I holstered my trusty plane once again and took the stairs to the second floor two-by-two, excited to pare back a recalcitrant and sticky door that always jammed partly open, making pure modesty impossible in the upstairs bathroom.

Proud of my newfound prowess with sharp tools, I called my 24-year-old daughter up to witness the astonishing fact of a door that now closed all the way.

“This just took me three minutes!” I said, proudly, fanning the door several times and creating a refreshing breeze that blew the curled pine shavings down into the foyer.

“Yeah, you should have done that when I was seven,” my daughter said, giving me the kind of slightly annoyed look you might affect if you found a red squirrel gnawing on your cell phone.

I won’t go on and on with the list, although I certainly could, because I don’t want to embarrass any other husbands who might read this but who aren’t so adept or inclined; but suffice it to say I’m on first-name basis with the cashier at the box store and I now have a favorite brand of paint.

Drifting off to sleep the other night, thinking fondly back to that little bit of wire that started this whole mess, I realized that I could have done all these things 17 years ago and what had I been waiting for anyway.

“I’m like a cicada with a cordless drill,” I announced toward the ceiling in a whisper. “I’m just a giant locust that stays dormant for years and then suddenly goes berserk.”

Lying there in the dark I did the math in my head while my wife, the one who doesn’t bark her fingernails on the over-jutting countertop trim anymore, slept the peaceful sleep of the recently renovated.

In 2034 I shall re-emerge and paint a bathroom.

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