I've always envied those people who can descend into their basement workshop after breakfast and emerge before lunch with a just-built birdhouse that would be welcome at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Unfortunately, I am one of those people who descend into the basement workshop after breakfast and emerge later with my thumb wrapped in gauze. I am not a “handy guy.”
In junior high, during “shop” class (I wrongly assumed that it taught the subtle differences between Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom), I discovered that I possessed no aptitude for doing anything with wood. Confronted by a plank of oak or pine or, for that matter, Woody Harrelson, I was guaranteed to get a sliver.
Tools then and now hold such a terror for me that when people refer to “weapons of mass destruction,” I visualize a room full of table saws.
That shop class in seventh grade was, I believe, the start of my failed career as a basement workshop guy. While other students were happily making picture frames with corners that actually met, I was bribing my buddy Greg with Hostess cupcakes to be my “partner” on a project. I would feed him sweets. He would design, build, and finish the knickknack. I would get equal credit for it.
When I bought my first house, since Greg was nowhere to be found, I hired the equally adept Larry the Fixer to do handy stuff around the house – tough stuff, like plugging in the toaster oven. Larry spent so much time with us that one day, after my 3-year-old son had bitten his tongue and I had assured him that “it’ll be all right,” he agreed with a tearful, “I know, Larry will fix it.”
When I moved to California, I thought all those trees waiting to become end tables would turn me into the Fred Astaire of woodworking. Instead, it turned me into all three Stooges. Not only was I still unable to hammer a nail without losing my nail, I became a dangerous moving object. Within three weeks of meeting my future wife, I walked through her screen door – twice. Needless to say, I didn’t attempt to fix it.
To this day, when the toilet begins its bimonthly leak, I know the only way to repair it is to yell out, “Janet the toilet is leaking again.”
I am not one of those who believes that as I get older I can do what I haven’t been able to do all my life. I don’t plan to join a chorus, study nuclear physics, or learn the difference between a wrench and a ratchet. I am still the same fix-it-challenged guy whose friends gave him a light bulb with painted arrows so he’d know which direction to turn the bulb.
As I write this, my wife has adjusted a number of doohickies to fix the TV that I was certain was broken. Now that I can happily watch football, I’m also feeling really good knowing that people like Greg, Larry, and Janet are there to help me turn that light bulb the right way.
• Chuck Cohen writes from Mill Valley, Calif.