Working With My Thumbs

I have said for years that most of my work days start like the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan – the nausea of certain doom, heavy email fire from the financial front, PTSD all over the office (Post Traffic Stress Disorder).   Monday didn’t start any better – a pre-dawn service recon mission to the car dealer (German too, just to top up the metaphor), radio signals of trouble at the warehouse, goods held hostage.  Yeah, the smell of payables in the morning isn’t victory.  What’s worse is that I left dishes in the sink because the handle on the kitchen faucet kind of freed itself from its mortal coil so to speak.

I beheld the suddenly disconnected low-end Moen swivel faucet like Larry Olivier  in Marathon Man, when der weisse engel  realized his deadly “wrist knife” was now stuck firmly in his own mid-section.  Now what?  Death can wait, I had dishes to clean before the girlfriend came over.

My choices at that point were thin.  One, I could call down and wait three days for someone to show up.  The collateral damage, beyond the pain of relocating my kitchen to the forensic killing field known as my bathroom sink is that look from the  super – the  “Are you that useless?” head tilt.  I regularly feel less independent than Mrs. Ruskin in 1008 who is pushing 99 and still has more game than me on any given day.  The alternative was to – give me a second just to find the courage to type it out – Try To Fix It Myself.

Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to remind you that I am Jewish.  Cue the eyes rolling knowingly heavenward with the words “Of course…!” from the chorus of  gentile tradesman who have made millions visiting Hebrew households for the sole purpose of releasing a trapped chain in a run-on toilet.  That should explain just about everything.  You will never see our people hosting any kind of home reno reality show other than, “I Can’t Believe What This Marble Bathroom Floor My Wife Insisted On  Is Costing Me.”

Historically there is very little Biblical evidence to the contrary when it comes to manual skillsets amongst our people.  Apparently Abraham and Isaac dug wells but there is no tractate in the Torah which they actually appear shovel in hand.  I suggest that most of the digging was left to “schleppers” recruited from the heathens.  Jacob hands were so soft he had to fake his ‘evil’ twin Esau’s calloused hairy skin to steal his father’s blessing.

Here’s a perfect illustration – my girlfriend is close with a family who have a daughter who was “marrying out” so to speak, meaning that her future husband was not of the faith which was a blessing, so to speak, for his future father-in-law who now had genetically capable labor inside his own family.  However, once the kid converted to Judaism he suddenly went from singlehandedly installing a boat lift at the summer home to, “Dad, now that I’m Jewish…let’s just call someone…” when it came to dry walling the guest  house.  I’m not even sure it was a legitimate conversion but just the notion of Jewishness changed his  DIY DNA.

Back to my own ambitions which led me to the local hardware store.  Not Home Depot, just the local Home Hardware.  The former is so intimidating that my few trips there have usually left me on my knees in the parking lot  crying to the contractors stepping out of their Dodge Ram Diesels in the special VIP “Professionals Only” spots,  “Help me….please Help me. I have money, please.”  Reverse begging.   Home Hardware is a little more my speed.  They sell things I can understand like driveway salt and chocolate bars.  Most people come in looking for a decorative light bulb or a second house key.

The plumbing department is one small aisle that allows you a couple of minutes of almost looking like you know what you are doing.  I pulled out the old “fake nod of wisdom” as I handled the various Moen faucet kits.  A clerk  soon approached with his own nod, the old “this customer has no clue” look.

“I think I might need a new faucet,” I said pulling my tap out of my pocket, “The thingy that keeps this whatchamacallit in place kind of broke and I don’t know if I should replace the whole tamale or see if you have a part.  Probably have to replace it because its all a racket.”

My father is fond of saying that everything is a “racket.  Hardware, dairy products, marine fuel, colonoscopies. Its all fixed, all rigged by the unions and the manufacturers.  All at the expense of the honest taxpayer.

“Well are you sure you can replace it yourself?” was his response because he had clearly sized me up like so many others and was correctly thinking to himself –  ‘this Jew isn’t doing shit’.  Truly, there was no friggin way I was going to replace a complete faucet.  Would that I could there would be a Negev Dinner thrown in my honor with Mike Holmes leading the tribute, “Ladies and gentleman, this man sitting next to me taught me and, I guess all of us, that  home improvement has to begin in your heart before you can do the job with your hands.”  Something like that.  Then a half hour of Tim Thomas standup before we hit the valet parking.

However, the aisle had a parts section – various bags and little plastic bubble packs containing washers, bolts and pipe junctions unaccompanied by any kind of 4K Bluray instruction disc – and I noticed one package containing a little thingamajig that looked exactly like the thingamajig inside the handle in my hand!!!!  It came with a washer that looked vaguely like something that might fit my faucet.  And there was an allen key to boot!

Of course what followed was about a half-hour of soul searching.  Should I?  Can I?  What if I completely screw it up and the pipes blow up and the resulting flood seeps into Debbie’s apartment directly beneath me.  That’s a ticket to a permaglare every time we meet in the elevator together.  Forever.

Finally the clerk said, “Look, if its the wrong part just bring it back.”  Ah, an out.

For ten bucks – it is really a racket – I took a shot and brought it home.  I immediately set out to remove the screw in the tap that held the broken washer.  No go.  Pulled out the power drill with the screw driver attachment.  No go.  I then did something that truly defines the miracle of modern living.  I went to the computer and Googled ‘Moen Faucet Repair’.  Sure enough, up came a home made video from a guy and within a minute I figured out how to pull up the screw to get it loose.  I also was reminded to turn off the water before working on your faucet.  Solid advice.

Within ten minutes the job was done and I had very clean action on the faucet.  Not going to mention that I accidentally reversed the cold and the hot water, a minor detail, but I did it and holy shit, was I proud.   I was close to inviting the fellas over for wings and beer just to see the handiwork.  Trust me, they would be impressed.  Had I done this for the girlfriend…?  Well  a woman working for me had an Italian boyfriend who came over and in one afternoon completely rewired her house. After that she said, and these are her words, “He could do anything he wanted to me.”

Well, maybe not a faucet but if I fixed her fridge?   It has been on the fritz so much I am jealous of her relationship with the repair guy who seems to show up daily.  Another racket.

The lesson of the faucet is an easy one, albeit one learned late in life.   We are so dependent on others that when we achieve self-reliance, even on this tiny level, we  harken back to the untamed west when rough hewn men would build rough hewn homesteads from el scratcho for their families.  They figured it out, they improvised, they invented.   There is something intrinsically holy about working with your hands which are capable, with the right intention, of making all kinds of miracles.  Yeah Jesus was a carpenter.  And  Jewish.

Its actually embarrassing  to celebrate ten cents of workmanship, shoddy or not. However imagine if I had picked up some of the trade skills they were teaching us in Shop Class fifty years ago and ran with them from an early age.  Geez, I don’t even know how to replace a light switch.  What’s worse is that my former wife went out after our divorce and without a contractor for the most part and built a country home for herself.  Quite an achievement.

I am emboldened to again by the dream of going to Florida and buying an old yacht that needed a year or so of restoration.  I would do as much as I could myself, owning the experience as much as the boat itself – remember Tim Robbins in that last scene in Shawshank Redemption – the result of which would attach a value to it far more than what I paid.

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