“It’s always something” is a common phrase loaded with meaning. At my place it is the rule. Why is everything always breaking? And what am I to do about it?
I have already exposed my inadequacies in this area (“The End of the Hammer,” March 18, 2021). I am not a repair guy. The only tool I have the least bit of facility with is the toilet plunger, and even that skill set is limited. The smallest home project puts me in an existential dither. If I need a plug or a plank, a nut or a bolt, a hinge, nail, or screw, I go to my local hardware store and dissolve in confusion. Overwhelmed by the endless shelves of stuff, I am immediately fatigued, just as I am in any large museum full of endless walls of masterpieces.
I always look for Oliver, my savior in all things related to repairs. He reminds me that over the years I have depended on friends to help with projects large and small, but as I age many have either died or retired and left me in the lurch. Not very considerate of them.
How many times did I stand by helplessly, or at best hold up one end of a board, shine a flashlight into a crawl space, or plug in one tool or another, as the work proceeded? Often, I just hovered at the perimeter of the work, not wanting to get in the way. It is humiliating to be so dependent — not to mention downright inconvenient. Now I need a new file cabinet, but each one I find has to be assembled. I look at the directions for assembly, pages and pages of intricate diagrams and instructions — and I have to lie down. I will need help.
It’s not that I do not own tools. I have lots of them out in my shed. The challenge is finding any particular thing there. I think of myself as a fairly orderly person, but that humble structure tells a different story. Items are piled, heaped, and strewn about. Every few years, in a paroxysm of rectitude, I achieve a bit of order in there, but over time it all goes back to hell again.
My favorite definition of life is simple: “A temporary disruption of entropy.” For those who need a brief refresher, entropy is defined, as I understand it, as the natural tendency of all matter and energy to run out into disorder, to dissipate. Your beautiful body, fueled by electric energy running through conduits from brain to fingertips, is destined to end up, eventually, as random atoms and molecules pulsing out into the universe. And the universe itself is doing the same thing, on a cosmic scale. So is my shed, my house, my desk — and so am I.
There are two kinds of people in the world: problem solvers and problem avoiders. I fall into the latter category. If a door does not shut properly, I adjust to the situation rather than solve it. We have doorknobs that won’t stay on, windows that resist opening and closing, artwork that won’t hang properly, heating duct vents that fall off, and so much more. I adapt.
Some months ago, I noticed that our old metal mailbox had lost its handle. It may have been that way for months. In order to open it, you had to pull the door by the rim. So that’s what I did. Problem solved — that is, avoided.
One day a small plastic knob appeared on the mailbox door, perfectly screwed in, with a plastic washer (I think that’s what it’s called) holding it in place. How did this happen? I couldn’t imagine a helpful neighbor noticing our lack of an opener. There was only one likely suspect. I confronted Steve, our letter carrier, and, with a sheepish grin, he admitted that he had made the repair. “You wouldn’t want to be pulling on those metal rims in the winter,” he said. What a guy!
All over again, I fell in love with Provincetown. Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Oliver. Thank you, Keith, my longtime friend and plumber, and thank you, all my dear departed or retired helpers over the years.
And to the rest of you: wish me luck.