Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I can tell you where our toolbox is, but that's about it

There are two reasons we can't have nice things in our house (three, if you count the fact that we're all the domestic equivalents of bulls in a china shop and we break new items within seconds of obtaining them):

(1) When expensive nice things break, you need to hire a professional to fix them. And I don't have a job. Which means that unless the repair person is willing to accept empty coffee creamer bottles as legal tender, I can't afford their services.

(2) When less-expensive nice things break, you're expected to fix them yourself. I can't fix anything. The last household item I could reliably fix was a personal computer, and that was back when they all had monochromatic green screens and were powered by DOS.

People who know me know about my mechanical incompetence. It's part of my mystique, along with a weird competitive streak and my penchant for talking freely and innocently about inappropriate subjects, as if I were one of those brain injury victims who have lost the use of that part of your brain that's supposed to filter out socially unacceptable topics of conversation.

People who know me also know I rely a lot on my wife in matters involving tools, and even more so on my saint of a father-in-law.

Please understand, this is not a case of me simply being too lazy to learn. I've tried. Many times. But I just don't see the way things fit together like most other people do.

I still try to at least talk a good game, though. Let's say, for instance, that our toaster oven is suddenly on the fritz. My first thought is how much a new toaster oven costs at Best Buy. My wife, on the other hand, will (as she often says) first try to "assess the situation." Which just means she'll give the toaster oven a once over to try and diagnose the problem.

Here's how that conversation usually goes:

ME: The toaster oven is broken.

TERRY: Yeah, I know. I opened it up. The bitzer valve is filibustered.

ME: What?

TERRY: The bitzer valve. It's filibustered.

ME: Oh, I thought that's what you said. That was my first thought, too: The bitzer valve is definitely filibustered.

TERRY: No, it's not.

ME: Sure it is. You just said so.

TERRY: I made that whole thing up. There's no such thing as a bitzer valve.

ME (flustered): Well...uh...that just shows how much you know! I've had a surprising amount of experience with toaster ovens, and especially with bitzer valves, and that is easily one of the most filibustered bitzer valves I've ever seen.

Of course, it doesn't matter whether the bitzer valve is a real toaster oven part or not. And it certainly doesn't matter whether it's filibustered, because I wouldn't begin to know the difference. I'm already mentally taking the money for a new toaster oven out of my Starbucks Fund and heroically sacrificing a few future frappuccinos just so the family can continue to meet its monthly quota of toasted bagels.

Being mechanically inept is not only an expensive way to go through life, it's also a little embarrassing. Guys, as you know, attend a special school when they reach the age of 10. At this school, they're taught three important skills: how to spit, how to ignore household dirt, and how to fix stuff.

Or at least I assume this is how it works, and that I for whatever reason was not asked to attend this school. I don't spit well, I hate a dirty house, and I most definitely never got the memo on fixing things.

The result is that I have to rely on other people to fix my stuff. And I end up having conversations with professional repair guys in which they talk about bitzer valves and such, and my only reaction (in the name of saving face and trying to preserve some Guy Dignity) is to nod thoughtfully and in such a way as to convey the message, "Yes, that's exactly what I thought was the problem. I would fix it myself, of course, but I have to go and remount the engine on my '72 Mustang. So why don't I just go ahead and give you several pounds of paper money and have you fix it for me?"

The repair guy, who instantly knows I have no idea what I'm talking about but is a nice person who understands the Guy Code, will readily agree to this arrangement and will go along with the facade of me being a real Tool Man because he knows it makes me feel better.

And given the fact that I've already financed two of his kids' college educations with various repair jobs, it's actually in his best interest to play along.

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