The art of the fix-it
Members of the Fixers' Collective help New Yorkers repair their broken stuff at no charge, for the sheer joy of it.
The first object is a blender. As blenders go, this one is tarnished, but not particularly old, and for a few long and silent and tense moments, Vincent Lai rolls the thing around in his hands, shaking the base, tugging meditatively on the power cord, and finally squinting down into the internal drive, like a veteran marksman sizing up a target.Skip to next paragraph
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"It was the ice," says Nancy Sampson, a bright-eyed local artist and the bereaved owner of the broken blender.
"The ice?" Mr. Lai raises one eyebrow. He is wearing high-waisted stone-washed jeans and a dark work shirt. As he talks, he sifts through the top drawer of an open toolbox.
"Yeah, I put some ice in there, and screeeeeeeeech!" – Ms. Sampson claps her hands together, and Lai jumps – "the thing just broke."
"I think what we really need is a needle nose," says Joe Holdner. Mr. Holdner, who is shorter than Lai and seems more anxious, would clearly prefer to cut the small talk, crack open the blender, and get to work.
"No," Lai says. "We need a wrench; 3/8th-inch, probably."
"How about 5/16th-inch?"
"I have that precision stuff in the car."
"It seems like a well-made blender ...," Holdner laments.
"My poor blender," Sampson says, and bows her head.
"Don't worry," says Holdner, who wears his graying hair pulled back tight in a ponytail. "Sometimes there's a magic aura in here, where things just get fixed."
"Sometimes not," Lai says.
"Shhhhh," Holdner says.
They both burst out laughing.
Repairing for the joy of it
Neither Holdner nor Lai, it should be said, is a professional mechanic. Neither man has ever worked an assembly line, nor served out an apprenticeship in some fume-clogged Brooklyn garage. Instead, they are what might best be termed handymen hobbyists: They fix things at no charge, for the sheer joy of it. Every week for the past year or so, Lai and Holdner, along with a slew of other handy types, have flooded the back room of an old box factory in an industrial section of Brooklyn, with the express purpose of helping New Yorkers repair their broken stuff.
The members of the Fixers' Collective, as the organization is known, have repaired just about every conceivable household object under the sun, from chairs and lamps to computers and gaming consoles. The unstated motto of the collective is a simple one: With enough elbow grease or know-how, anything can be fixed. Anything can be saved from the trash heap. And anyone – even admittedly unhandy types – can be taught to wield a wrench.
On Thursday nights from 7 to 9, the collective, which is housed on the premises of Proteus Gowanus, a funky and popular local event space, invites residents to bring by their battered and bruised stuff. Reservations are not required; the only fee is a suggested $5 or $10 donation, which is used to pay the rent and keep the collective flush with the necessary tools. Traffic is typically lively, with dozens of visitors flitting in and out of the Fixers' room, clutching their ailing objects.
"Master Fixers" like Lai and Holdner are on hand to help advise newcomers, and to develop a repair strategy, but laymen and -women are often prodded to take matters into their own hands – to batter, slam, pry, wrench, tap, snap, click, twist, screw.
For David Mahfouda, the young and bearded cofounder of the Fixers' Collective, helping people develop more intimate relationships with their stuff is of paramount importance. "In our culture, when something is broken, our recourse is always to buy, buy, buy," Mr. Mahfouda says. "It's lovely to be able to repair something yourself, to have that dialogue with your environment. When we started the group, our big hope was that people would take the ideas and processes that they learned here – that agency and authority – and use it in other parts of their lives. And they have."