Trapped in the Land of Do-It-Yourselfers
I don’t like to brag. But I’m a bit of a home improvement guru. Be it erecting a backyard fence or wallpapering the bedroom, I can do just about any project with minimal mistakes. And I only need one tool to do it all: my cell phone – which I’m very handy working with to call a contractor to complete these projects.
What I’m trying to say is – and this is something that will surprise nobody who has known me for at least five minutes – I have absolutely no Do-It-Yourselfer skills. NADA. Zilch! I blame this on my father, because, well, he passed away 43 years ago, so he’s not here to defend himself. My dad was a workaholic, usually coming home from the office well after nightfall and often working weekends. He never taught me how to unclog a plugged drain; or light the pilot light on the furnace; or change a flat tire. So, I never learned any of that stuff when I was young.
By the time I finished grad school and dove headlong into my career, I worked crazy hours like my dad. So, I had no time to do household maintenance projects – nor any burning desire to learn how. Fast forward forty years, and I’m now in my sixties and retired. I live in a semi-rural island community populated mostly with other retirees. Everybody here is frugal. All of these people know how to handle all sorts of home repairs and improvements. They’re all self-reliant. – a word nobody has ever once accused me of being when it comes to fixing anything around the house.
Everybody here is a DIY-er, a Do-It-Yourselfer. A week does not go by that I don’t hear one of my neighbors explain how they just finished installing a ceiling fan or renovating their kitchen. By themselves, of course. And it’s not just the men. All the women here know how to fix stuff. And half the men here have the skills to become a finalist on Top Chef. How do I compete with that? I may not be as talented in the kitchen as any of my neighbors, but I can microwave a mean Stouffers Spaghetti in Meat Sauce. (The key is to poke at least six holes in the plastic covering, but no more than eight.)
I don’t know how to cook, build, or fix anything. Heck, I consider it an achievement when I can reset the time on my Fitbit watch. And don’t ask me how to set up the new router for my computer. That’s why you have teenage children, isn’t it?
The closest I came to fixing something mechanical was when at the age of 14, I built a minibike and installed the lawnmower engine – all by myself. I was so proud of myself – until I pressed the accelerator. The bike immediately responded by going BACKWARDS. I had somehow installed the engine backwards. I was never able to make it fit onto the bike frame in the proper direction. Thus began a long, undistinguished career of calling others to fix things I was too incompetent to do by myself.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I sit on my couch all day watching football and eating ice cream – although, if you ask me, that sounds like a perfectly good way to spend an autumn Saturday afternoon. I know how to power wash my driveway and use my leaf blower to blow away the leaves (into my neighbor’s yard). A couple of years ago, I even planted over 200 tulips and daffodils – while my wife watched and pointed out how I was doing it all wrong.
One time I even erected a colorful 12-foot signpost in my front yard all by myself (and by “all by myself” I mean with the nominal assistance of a carpenter buddy who brought his power tools, a wheelbarrow, and cement, and who knew how to use a circular saw and explained the importance of measuring things).
Recently, a powerful windstorm knocked out all power in our neighborhood. Fortunately, we have a generator and an elaborate auxiliary power grid – which I paid to have an electrician install. I would have tried to install it myself, but I felt that paying a professional $750 was probably cheaper in the long run than the cost of having to rebuild our house after I would have no doubt accidentally burned it to the ground due to a series of egregious electrical wiring mistakes.
Anyway, the contractor walked me through a 16-step process of flipping circuit switches, plugging in the generator, opening up the propane tank, turning on the battery, adjusting the choke, etc. I wrote it all down in great detail, because I knew the chances of me remembering all these steps were about the same as the odds I’d be chosen to be the next Pope
So, the storm hit, our power went out, and I followed all 16 steps precisely as I had written them down. And to no one’s amazement, the generator would not start. I asked my neighbor Ron to help, because he’s much handier than I. He quickly figured out the problem, which was that I should not be allowed anywhere near complicated mechanical equipment. I apparently had two steps in the wrong sequence.
Ron figured it out and got the generator – and our power – going within minutes. I thanked him profusely – and made a note that the next time our power goes out to call Ron, so I won’t have to tackle this confusing task myself. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m an excellent delegator.
Sure, at times I feel a little inadequate that my home improvement skills are roughly on par with those of my cat Zippy. And I sometimes get embarrassed about my lack of knowledge about how to do common household things like putting down tile flooring or installing a new bathroom sink or replacing the AA batteries on my TV remote. But that’s a small price to pay to have all that extra free time on my hands to watch the game… on the couch… with a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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