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[whitespace] Repair-Impaired

Confessions of a home improvement-disabled male

By Dan Zevin


RECENTLY I decided to build a shelf for the closet. This would have been a good idea if I were one of those hands-on, do-it-yourself guys for whom home repair is second nature. Unfortunately, I'm one of those hands-off, do-it-someone-else guys for whom home repair is a humiliating descent into the depths of incompetence. For I am repair-impaired.

Do you want to know the contents of my toolbox? I will tell you: thumbtacks. OK, I lied. I don't even have a toolbox. I have a shoebox. A shoebox filled with glue. Not just Elmer's glue: I have waterproof silicone glue, three kinds of contact cement, a dual-tube mixing pack of two-ton epoxy. Like all of us for whom a "shop" is strictly a place to buy--as opposed to sand--things, I have used glue as a crutch. Here is a list of things I have recently glued: coat rack (to wall); refrigerator vent (to refrigerator); and headlight (to car).

I have no doubt that I inherited my disability from my father, the same man I hold responsible for my nose. My father is a doctor. He knows how to perform knee-replacement surgery. He does not know how to hammer. As a kid, I would sit at the dinner table, enthralled by his tales of life-saving surgery. But every now and then something would disrupt his train of thought.

Dad: Today I performed a quadruple oophorectomy and . . . uh-oh! Light is no longer coming out of that glass thing on the ceiling!

Me: I guess the bulb blew out.

Dad: I'll call Bob Duris.

Bob Duris was this all-purpose Mr. Fix-It character we non-handymen looked upon with a mix of awe and envy. He possessed tools that required extension cords. When he hammered, he stored the nails in his teeth. Bob Duris could assess any home-improvement task by instinct. "Yep, Doc, looks like your garage-door opener needs a new battery," Bob Duris would say.

I've established a vast network of pro bono Bobs over the years: roommates, landlords, the owner of Massey's Hardware, whom I once lured to my leaky toilet with the bribe of a bottle of gin. When the good-natured ribbing began (Q: How many Zevins does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: A what?), I just played along. But last year, everything changed. Last year my wife, Megan, and I bought our first house.

If you are a real estate agent, you would refer to this house as "a fixer-upper." If you are an honest person, however, you would call it "a shit-hole." Before I knew it, Megan was drilling, spackling, cutting out pages from The Modern Woman's Guide to Home Repair. I began sneak-reading this tome one night when she was off at Home Depot. She returned to find me soaking wet, shouting expletives at the drainpipe.

"Oh, you don't have to worry about that," she said. "I already asked Jeffrey and Rick to help me with that."

Jeffrey and Rick, it should be noted, are my friends. It was one thing for me to call them whenever I was too incompetent to fix something myself. But it was another thing for her to call them whenever I was too incompetent to fix something myself. Suddenly, I felt like a big nancy-boy in front of my wife. I had to do something to reclaim my manhood. I had to put a shelf in the closet.

And so it is with the hope that I may be an inspiration to the repair-impaired throughout the land that I now leave you with . . . Non-Handyman Dan's Guide to Basic Closet-Shelf Installation (share it with someone you love).

Step 1: Estimate time required for home-improvement task.Based on my experience, a good rule of thumb is: five minutes in estimated time = five years in actual time.

Step 2: Obtain a shelf. As a budding handyman, I determined that I needed a really big shelf because this was a really big closet. Using my Lucite "Virginia is for lovers" ruler, I measured the area (10 by about 11 rulers) and proceeded to Home Depot to secure a piece of wood. It is not advised to arrive at Home Depot the day they decide they'll no longer cut wood to size.

Step 3: Cut wood to size. To do this, I found it necessary to buy a saw (a sharp cutting implement available wherever you buy glue). Actually, I found it necessary to buy many saws--a jigsaw, a hacksaw, a circular saw, a rhombus saw--each of which proved to be a more inappropriate saw for the job than the one that preceded it. What I learned from this experience is: it is best not to oversaw. You'll know it's time to stop when your wood begins to warp from the perspiration that is pouring off your forehead.

Step 4: Attempt to insert shelf in closet. At long last, I was ready to reap the rewards of my foray into home improvement. I hoisted the shelf into the closet, balanced it atop the clothes-hanger rod, and stepped back to gaze upon my achievement. It was then that I realized I had done something more here than just build a shelf. I had built a shelf with no support brackets. And as it came crashing down, producing a fresh new gash in the floor, a strange calm came over me. I am not a failure, just a beginner, I realized. My wife does not think I am a nancy-boy just because I cannot install a shelf in the closet. I am good at other things, such as gluing.

All of this brings me to the last but most important step for the non-handyman who is considering engaging in home-improvement activities.

Step 5: Call Bob Duris.

Dan Zevin's latest book is The Nearly-Wed Handbook: How to Survive the Happiest Day of Your Life (Avon Books). You can reach him by visiting www.nearlywed.com.This article originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix.

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From the April 6-12, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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