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Cleansing breaths for the handyman

If you had asked me 40 years ago to list the most difficult tasks in my life, depending on the day I would have told you something like: A) Finishing Joyce’s “Ulysses,” B) finishing and comprehending Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” (at least I finished it), C) coming up with enough cash to pay the rent on the trashy garret in which I lived (the tiny bathroom was painted black, with one wall covered with crumpled aluminum foil), to pay rent on a downtown studio and to secure the array of earthly delights needed to see me through the above mentioned problems

If you ask me today to list the most difficult tasks my life, I will, without hesitation, reply: “Putting up a rod in the bedroom closet.”

No intellectual obstacles to scale, no bohemian concerns to tend to, certainly no earthly delights.

It’s that damned clothes rod that spans the side of the walk-in closet.

It collapsed the other night, and to the floor with it fell thirty or forty items on hangers.

The rod is an eight-foot length of pipe and, until the other night, it was held in place by two cheesy plastic contraptions designed to bear, perhaps, 20 pounds of weight.

I estimate Kathy had at least 50 pounds of stuff hanging from the pipe when an end bracket gave way: pants, coats, sweaters, shirts — all on the floor.

Kathy informs me of the disaster and I go to Defcon 5. The stress level in my life shoots through the roof. I am at Max Tense in the blink of an eye.

Why? you ask. The clothes rod in the closet is on the floor. Fix it.

Let me list the reasons for my reaction.

1) When it comes to repairing things around the house, I am totally incompetent.

2) Refer to reason No. 1.

Let me walk you through this.

I have the required tools to accomplish most home repair jobs.

I’m just not sure where they are.

Many of the tools are battery powered (such as my drill). The batteries are inevitably dead, since I don’t know where the tools are and I don’t think to recharge the batteries.

I have the required nails, screws, bolts, washers, etc. to allow me to accomplish most small repairs.

I’m just not sure where they are.

They are in small boxes and shaky plastic cabinets somewhere — in drawers in any number of rooms, some in the garage, covered by mounds of crap that I’ve been meaning to throw out for four years or so.

I have them.


It’s not that I am unable to figure out, in theory at least, how to do most small repair jobs around the house. When I was younger, I hung and finished drywall, did cement flatwork; I did some framing; I assisted my father-in-law (a master plumber) on any number of jobs and picked up a few tricks along the way. I have run some wire, installed a few new circuits in my day.

But, in practical terms, (please refer to No. 1 above), I run into difficulties.

I am a total bozo because my disorganization and my disconnect from my tools and supplies causes me to — how should I put this? — get a bit frustrated.

It is something Kathy knows all too well. Generally, when there is a household repair at hand, she flees the scene. Since she broke her knee, however, she is in Tiny Tim mode and she ain’t travelin’ anywhere.

“You’re not going to go berserk, are you?”

“What on earth do you mean?” I have to talk loudly — I am in the laundry room, looking for my drill. I finally find it, hidden beneath several cartons full of old magazines destined for the recycling bin. They will get there, some day.

I press the trigger on the drill.


“This %&&$@^! piece of *&^^% ##@!^ is !$%@^&^@ dead!”

Let the games begin.

It takes me half an hour to find the battery charger and in the two hours it takes to recharge the battery, I am able to make and eat a sandwich, take some cleansing breaths, assess the damage in the closet and plan my strategy.

First step: remove the debris from the closet floor, clear the area, get a good look at the damage.

“These #^&^@@#$!! clothes keep falling of the *^$#@^&* hangers!”

Kathy peers around the corner of the bedroom doorway, shakes her head and hobbles to a safe zone.

I am three hours into the project.

The plastic pipe holder at one end of the closet has ripped in half.

“Oh, &^$@, this ^&^&@!@$$ thing is useless. I’m going to have to go to the #%%&&#! hardware store!

Kathy has locked herself in the front bathroom.

I slam the door as I leave the house.

I find some neato wood rod holders at the hardware store. I realize I can purchase fasteners, but I figure I have some at home.

Sometimes we create our own problems, don’t we?

I look for the proper size screws at home, rifling through drawers without success. My neck is incredibly hot and my head feels like it is expanding.

“Oh, for !$%^@ sake, I’m going to have to look in the $%^&%@! garage.

I open the garage door to shed some light on the space.

My apologies to the neighbor who had to hustle the kids into the house.

I am five hours into the project.

Drill in hand, screws and new pipe holders in tow, I proceed to the work area.

In my attempt to put the new holders in place, I strip the heads on four screws. My favorite expressions during the process are *&%#!^&*, ^^$@*!, and *^%#!#$$*.

Finally, the holders are up and I put the pipe in place.

Well, not exactly. The new holders are thicker than the plastic ones.

The pipe is now too long.

My new favorite expressions are %*^$$@#& and *^$@ *^*&%%$.

Kathy is now in the front room. She has headphones on and is playing her digital piano at top volume. When I express myself, she sings as loud as she can.

I am now in hour six of the closet project.

My options: cut the pipe (fat chance); kick a hole in the wall of the closet; launch into a furious rage, throw my tools and break things in the bedroom; or put an ice bag on my throbbing brow, pour a glass of a cab franc from Chinon, take more cleansing breaths, listen to some Vivaldi and improvise a solution.

After engaging the last option in my list, I am seven hours into the project.

Approximately an hour later, I am done. I have used one tattered end of the old plastic hanger system and one end of the new wood pairing and, after stripping the heads of four more of those $^&$^#!@ screws, the pipe is in place. It takes me another 15 minutes to hang the &^$$%@% clothes on the pipe before I emerge into the living room, triumphant, sweating, tools in hand.

I hear a muffled cry from the front bathroom.

“Is it safe to come out yet?”

Yes, my love. My work is done.

“Ah, Mr. Fix-it has finished his job. Did you break anything in the bedroom?”

Where once I was flush with rage-born fever, I now glow with pride. Not bad, one closet rod in just less than nine hours.

A record.

And, boy, am I hungry. I pour another glass of the cab franc and ponder the menu options.

I am a bit tuckered out, so I need to come up with something that will be quick and, at the same time, nourishing. I need to replenish my store of energy.

My guiding principal? What will go with the rest of the Chinon?

Roast chicken?

Takes too much time.

Likewise, I don’t have time for anything braised or baked.

I could pan roast salmon, but Kathy and I went out the night before and had a spectacular roasted filet of halibut, bedded on a fingerling salad (dressed with a wonderful bacony vinaigrette), splashed with a meuniere-style sauce, the butter deepening and balancing the vinaigrette in masterful fashion.

What is quick, tasty, complementary to a great cab franc?


I cheat: I purchase a pre-done crust, thin.

I brown crumbled Italian sausage (hot) and toss in chopped white onion, cooking until the onion is soft. I make a simple sauce: tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, basil, sugar, a splash of the wine, plenty of mushed garlic. I reduce the sauce to a near pastelike consistency.

I shred some whole milk mozzarella and pop open a container of shaved parmesan. I chop some kalamata olives.

The disc of dough is covered with a thin layer of sauce. On top of that goes a layer of the sausage/onion mix and chopped olives, On top of that: a layer of shredded mozzarella and shaved parmesan.

Into a 450 oven for 10 minutes and it is ready to go. Served with some steamed and buttered haricots vert and a salad of greens, chopped cucumber and carrot, chopped tomato and some garbanzo beans (the mix kissed with a red wine/garlic vinaigrette) the pizza makes for a fine meal.

The only hitch: When it came time to make the vinaigrette I couldn’t find the &%%#@$%& whisk!

Cleansing breaths, Karl. Cleansing breaths. And another sip of wine.