Things I never expected to have to do

It hit me when I was kneeling on the kitchen floor. I was trying to untangle the strings of three helium balloons – a butterfly, a fish, and "Happy Birthday." They had wound themselves around each other in the back seat on the way home from the toy store.

Here was yet one more of the Things I Never Expected To Do In Life.

Untangling helium balloons is right up there with trying to mix epoxy glue or replace a handy reel for the garden hose. Or handle a cigarette-lighter tire pump – bought after sobering instructions that the new car's tires had to be kept "precisely inflated at all times."

The helium balloons, thankfully, were inflated at the toy store. But in the kitchen, they want to rise all the way to the sky or, in this case, the ceiling. From their little star-shaped weights on up, their strings are naturally taut – just the way you never make strings when you want to untangle them.

With one hand I have to relieve the stress on a string by pulling down, say, the really big fish balloon. With the other hand I have to extricate this string from the string of the gorgeous butterfly. With the other I have to free both of them from "Happy Birthday."

Yes, that makes three hands. Actually I need more.

Why not leave them in a balloon bouquet, you say?

Because once grandparents get a notion, they get a notion. The butterfly would hover over the chair of the 3-year-old girl whose party this was. The fish would hover over her little brother. "Happy Birthday" would be floating outside to welcome them and guests.

Unwound at last. I mean the balloons. After everyone had arrived, the outside balloon was brought in and tethered a respectful distance from the other two.

The 3-year-old, as joyous as we had hoped, yanked on the strings, jumping and dancing. How happy Grandma and Grandpa were.

Then Grandpa had another opportunity for the Croix de Guerre. The strings were beautifully tangled again.

Moving right along. Glue used to be glue. Krazy Glue was a breakthrough. Instant gratification on many small jobs.

But sometimes a major bond is needed. A broken caster on the suitcase with the little rollers. Rolling a suitcase was itself one of the things I never expected to do in life.

Maybe epoxy – the mysterious substance that comes alive only when two substances are mixed. – would do it. It's easy to say "Push the two pistons to release equal amounts." What if only one piston delivers? There's a little pool of unfulfilled epoxy.

A straightened paper clip helps, as it usually does. The second piston starts to flow. Both streams are the same no-color. How will I know if they are equal?

Eventually a fellow just has to take a risk. Will the epoxyfied caster hold? Call me after our trip.

As for the garden hose, it used to get by on its own. Every once in a while we loosely coiled it out of the way.

Then came the hose reel on wheels, with a crank on the right to wind the hose in like a writhing fishline.

Great. After some years, the reel fittings start to leak. The face plate for the faucet connection is loose. The screw holes have eroded. I try larger screws. I try new washers.

The resident gardener senses my defeat before I do. I take the reel back to the store. It would have to be sent to the factory for repair. But they have an unassembled replacement. They'll be glad to assemble it in a week or so.

Now the crank is on the left. Not good for right-handed reelers. Also, it is the reverse of the diagram.

They are not convinced, but they will evaluate it in another week.

So we have a hose reel again. It's the same but different. It was falling over when the hose was pulled from it, so I lashed it to a heavy grating. Everything seems to work now.

The cigarette-lighter tire pump also works, but its booklet notes that the reading on the dial is not necessarily exact. So to put the specified 28 pounds in the front tires and 32 pounds in back, I have to guess the midpoint of the frenzied needle's vibration as the pump roars.

After the car's second warranty servicing, I check the tires just for fun. The dealer has made them 32 in front and 30 in back. I phone to see what I should do.

"Don't worry about it."

What, me worry? But these were Things I Never Expected To Do In Life.

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