I learned long ago to wave the white flag before the battle even begins.
Some might call that defeatist. I call it reality. When faced with a home repair or maintenance issue-- no matter how slight-- the best thing for me to do is put down the flat-head and pick up the phone. Call a professional. Call a friend. Call anyone with a modicum of mechanical skill so that before I’ve wasted the better part of my weekend with blood pressure rocketing into the stratosphere, I can head off the crisis by simply parting with a few bucks.
I hold this truth to be self evident: I am not, and never have been, a handy guy. Need a voice for your outgoing message? Got ya covered. Need a silly joke in your Facebook feed? I’m there. But if you have a honey-do list of things that need to be fixed at your house? Best to leave me on the bench for that one, coach. Or better yet: don’t even let me near the field.
My lack in this area was most recently demonstrated when strong winds took down the basketball hoop in front of our house. Faced with a broken backboard and bent rim, I sullenly resigned to a tree hugger’s last resort: tossing it out. But to achieve this sad goal, there was a hurdle: disassembly. The entire thing was not simply going to be put in the trash can.
I began by taking out screws. Then I . . . I . . .
Ok. That’s all I really did. Take out 3 or 4 screws. I was already frustrated. The pole that ran from the base to the backboard appeared to separate into 3 pieces, but I couldn’t get it to dislodge. I took a few steps back and stared at the whole thing, taking a second to collect myself. This is a good thing to do when you want to fool yourself into thinking you’re actually cooking up a strategy.
The charade lasted less than 30 seconds. Who was I kidding? It was time to call Dennis.
Dennis is a great friend for lots of reasons, but one way he consistently earns his stripes with me is showing up with his tools whenever I need help. Good friends know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and respond in kind. When my wife needs to mount something heavy onto our wall, she doesn’t even bother to ask me. Why would she? If I put up shelves, they’d be about as stable as a Jenga tower. My wife calls Dennis.
So, with a broken, horizontal basketball hoop littering our cul de sac and guests coming over for Easter, I had a job to do.
Step One. Remove a few screws. Then, when the first bubbles of irritation begin to surface...
Step Two. Call Dennis.
Dennis has a typical backstory for handy guys. He learned through his father. He has an older and younger sister, so Dennis was the natural heir to his dad’s mechanical knowledge.
As I have searched the annals of my memory, I realize my dad was a lot like me. A bare minimum handy guy. He certainly took care of what needed to be done around the house, but the project I remember him working on most often was putting up and taking down the seasonal awning over our porch. This consisted primary of tying knots, a skill which was definitely not passed on to me. You do not want me as first mate on your sailboat because all the rope will be tied like my shoelaces.
Secure the rigging with bow knots? Aye aye, cap’n!
Commercials for Home Depot make any domestic project look like a breeze. The ad is 30 seconds long and by the end, the kids have a treehouse for fuck’s sake! How hard can it be for me to replace a doorknob? For years, I bought into the idea that I could tackle basic tasks, because I’m a linear thinker. I believe in lists and agendas and order. Follow a set of simple instructions? Piece of cake.
One of the first times this perception of mine collided with the real world was when a headlight went out in my ‘82 Volvo.
“Well,” I thought, “can putting in a new headlight be much different than screwing in a lightbulb?” I found the answer in the following weeks as my new headlight illuminated the treetops, instead of the asphalt in front of me. And the installation process itself was maddening. What I thought would take 10 minutes stretched for over an hour at least.
As I transitioned into married life, my wife began to understand the limits of my skills (read: extreme novice). Like many couples, she and I learned that assembly instructions from Ikea should also include contact info for a divorce lawyer. Our attempt to put together a bunk bed for my son stalled at 70 percent, with both of us ready to whack the other with the wooden slats scattered on the bedroom floor. In a moment that became etched in marital legend, I declared, “If you wanted a some-assembly-required husband, you picked the wrong guy!”
We live, we learn. I’ve accepted what I can do well, and what I cannot. I’m still open to learning new things and have even become comfortable with a few power tools over the last year or two. But I know my limits.
Put another way: if you need help building a treehouse this weekend-- call my friend Dennis.