How difficult can it be?
After all, I have a college degree.
Kathy comes into the house toting a couple of bags full of stuff; she’s been shopping for home improvement items. I am not alarmed. Generally, when she purchases these types of items, they quickly disappear beneath the tidal wave of clutter that washes over our living spaces.
My favorite example of this occurred when she purchased a book on how to “declutter” your home — a guide to cleaning and clearing out your space.
The book was lost in the first hour. We’ve never found it.
But, this time she deposits a long, narrow box on a dining room chair and lets me know what she expects.
“There it is, Mr. Fixit. Get out your tools and go to work.”
I have no idea what she’s talking about. I’m indulging my favorite pastime, watching the Cops marathon. A team of officers from the San Jose PD has pulled over a stolen car after a chase. My bet is the suspect is wearing a sleeveless shirt, has his hat on backward, has numerous crude tattoos and — can you believe it? — is drunk.
“Karl, pay attention. I need you to do something here.”
The guy (who, as I suspected, is wacked on wine coolers and a few hits of low-grade crack) makes a run for it.
“Just a minute sweetie; I want to watch the K-9 unit locate this devious scoundrel. Those dogs will tear a man’s arm off, especially if he’s poor, intoxicated, stupid and heavily tattooed.”
“Turn that ridiculous show off and come over here; you’ve watched that episode at least ten times. There’s work to be done.”
Kathy hands me the box. It contains a louvered mini-blind, beige in color, 27 inches wide.
“I want this blind put up on the front door.”
“I was driving down the street the other night and I noticed you can clearly see inside the house if the light is on in the hallway.”
“So? Nobody’s going to see anything that looks interesting. We don’t own anything worth stealing and, if we did, it would be buried under a load of junk.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about children who might wander past the house. A child should not be exposed to a sight like that; it could really sour her outlook on life it she realized a lot of guys eventually look like you do.”
“Like a yeti, wearing baggy underwear. Put the blind on the window.”
“OK, as soon as I watch these officers from the Amarillo PD stop a guy in a stolen car. Look, he’s wearing a sleeveless shirt. He’s drunk and he has his hat on backward. Who woulda guessed?”
“Now, Yeti Boy.”
How difficult can it be?, I ask myself as I open the carton. I find the blind and a small package containing several pieces of plastic and some screws.
There is also a sheet of directions, but I don’t pay a lot of attention to details. My short attention span doesn’t allow me to inspect things like directions very closely. I get halfway through the first paragraph of a set of instructions and a bright, shiny object catches my attention or I hear a birdie sing and …”
What I do when confronted with directions is look at the drawings. I’m spatially oriented — have been since I was clobbered on the forehead with a baseball bat at age 12. One day I’m doing math at the top of the class, the next day Danny Freeman nails me with the bat, I can no longer add or subtract and I’m painting like a Cubist.
The diagrams and drawings for the mini-blind are simple. I grasp the essence of the installation process in a millisecond and I get to work.
I fetch my cordless drill.
It’s been so long since I’ve used the drill, the battery is dead, so I break out the charger. I am able to watch another hour of Cops. A SWAT team from the East St. Louis PD breaks down the door of a ramshackle house and arrests a tattooed drunk who’s wearing a sleeveless Megadeath shirt and has his hat on backward.
When the battery is recharged, I take one of the plastic brackets from the little pack and I mark where I am going to drill pilot holes in the door above the window. I do the same with the second bracket. I drill the holes, I attach the brackets.
I’m breezing right along.
Until I try to fit the top part of the blind in the brackets.
So, I move one of the brackets a teensy bit to the right, drilling new holes and screwing the bracket to the door.
The top rail of the blind fits perfectly.
In a way.
I realize there is nothing to keep the rail from sliding out of the brackets when the blinds are raised or lowered. I look again at the diagrams.
I take the brackets off the door, reposition them, mark and drill two more holes in the door for each bracket. By now I’ve drilled six holes on each side of the door above the window. It is a metal door, so there is no way to fill the holes. It’s a bit unsightly, but I’m counting on Kathy being so thrilled with the installation she’ll ignore the carnage.
This time the installation looks exactly like the diagrams and when I place the rail in the brackets and put the little plastic end pieces on the brackets, everything is nearly perfect.
If it weren’t for the fact I’ve placed the rail in backward (much like the hat on a tattooed felon) I would be done for the day.
A bit of adjustment and, voila, the deed is done.
We have a new mini-blind over the front door window. A child has been spared a traumatic experience, thieves have been denied a peek at our riches.
And it has taken me a mere three hours to accomplish the task.
I’m pretty darned proud of myself. I fetch a can of cashews and plop myself down in front of the TV.
“Not so fast, Bronco. I got a new security light for outside the garage.”
“A new security light. The world is full of barbarians; you need all the protection you can get. They like to huddle in the dark spaces around a house waiting to spring on unsuspecting residents and loot the premises.”
“Huh? You mean there are Visigoths ready to make off with the old chest of drawers stored in the garage.”
“That, and worse. Much worse. This is no joking matter; you should know that, as much as you watch Cops. But we have protection: It’s a halogen light with a one-hundred foot sensor. Anything moves within a hundred foot arc of the side of the house, anything as much as stirs, and the light goes on. The ad for the light says its blinding; there’s no way an interloper can remain undetected when this baby fires up.”
“A hundred feet is a long way out there.”
“You bet. Everything I read says you have to establish a decent perimeter if your defense is going to work. You need to see the threat in order to deal with it.”
“A car driving halfway down the cul de sac will trigger the light. The cat across the street will be blinded every time it leaves its yard.”
“Yep. You can’t be too safe. I’ll offer to make blackout curtains for the neighbors’ bedroom windows. Now, get to work.”
I use the excuse that I need to recharge the battery in the drill and I’m able to eat half a can of cashews and watch the Salem, Oregon, PD subdue a drunk tattooed guy wearing his hat backward. For a small drunk, the fellow puts up a laudable struggle.
I begin the project by prying the old light fixture from its mooring next to the door. Easy business. I stand on the metal ladder and began to undo the connectors that hold the wires together. Suddenly, I have an idea: Wouldn’t it be a fairly good idea to turn off the electricity to the outlet?
I took physics when I was in school. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but the electricity/metal thing made sense.
After cutting the juice, I detach the fixture from the wires and start to connect the new security light to the wires and the electrical box in the wall of the house.
The base of the fixture doesn’t line up with the box.
A competent handyperson would replace the box. I decide to retrofit the new fixture. I tightly screw one edge of the new fixture to one side of the box then drill a hole in the side of the house to secure the overlapping part of the base of the security light. When I finish, there is a half-inch gap between the top of the base and the cutout for the old box.
No problemo. Not when you’ve been hit in the head with a Louisville Slugger.
Have you noticed that contemporary acrylic products solve most construction problems? Take my word for it: with a case of caulk on hand, there is no gap that can’t be filled.
By the time I finish my project, there is enough caulk around the base of our new security light fixture to hold up the entire house. The caulk fills the gap then laps up and over the plastic mount. I have caulk everywhere: on the siding, on the fixture, on me, on the driveway leading to the garage.
The house is beige, the caulk white. I’m hoping the caulk will stain over time and deepen in color.
I can say without a doubt, despite any aesthetic problem, my caulk job will prevent moisture from infiltrating the light fixture.
For the next 2,000 years.
The project takes three hours. I’m triumphant, but pooped. And, of course, I’m hungry.
What does a guy suddenly free of fear, bathed in stunning, bright light and absent the threat of raiding Visigoths make for dinner?
As a handyman, I can assemble whatever is available and produce a delectable dish. We handymen are catalysts of transformation.
I find half a bottle of Chardonnay, a bit of chicken broth, an onion, some diced tomato in juice, parsley, garlic, some plain, cooked artichoke hearts packed in oil. I have some tarragon, salt, pepper, pitted, oil-cured olives and flour in the pantry. I zip to the store and purchase a couple skinless chicken breasts.
I cut the breasts in half and pound them to uniform thickness — about a quarter inch. I want them breaded, but only lightly so. There’s no need for an egg wash, which produces a heavy breading, and I’m too tuckered out after my day of home repair work to prepare a wash with egg white and crumbs so I season some flour, season the meat and simply dredge the chicken in the flour, tapping off the excess.
I saute the meat in a mix of olive oil and butter until golden brown on both sides and remove the meat to a plate. I toss sliced onion and crushed garlic in the hot pan, adding a bit more oil. I saute the vegetables for a couple minutes, until they are soft, then toss in a half cup or so of the tomato and let the tomato cook for another minute, reducing the juice and sweetening the fruit. In goes chopped parsley and a half cup or so of the wine. I reduce the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the goodies into the liquid. In goes about a half cup of broth, a teaspoon of chicken base, a bit of the dried tarragon and the liquid is reduced by half. I put the meat back in, add some olives and artichoke hearts and let the meat heat through and the sauce reduce by half again, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. I add more tarragon to taste, some salt and fresh-ground black pepper and I complete the dish by swirling in a pat of cold butter with the pan off the heat.
It goes well with a quickly sauteed julienne of zucchini.
Thank goodness there’s enough incredibly bright light coming in through the closed mini-blind that I can see a glob of caulk floating next to the chicken breast.