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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tool Time*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, March 21, 2010
as "Handy Man in Need of Repair Man"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
There are certain expectations that go along with being a man. Most I fulfill with ease. However, where home improvement is concerned, I definitely fall short of the mark.

Most men yearn to build, or at least remodel. There’s something about tools that awakens the primal urges buried deep within our DNA. All of us have experienced the sensuous power of the drill, or the circular saw. For men, standing in front of a fully stocked tool chest is like standing before the gates of Heaven. “I am Man; Watch me Build.”

Traditionally, sons learn from their fathers. This is accomplished by the father hijacking a perfectly good Saturday, and putting the son to work. I was raised by a father who hired repairmen. About the only thing I ever did that even qualified as home improvement was change the furnace filter. So while my contemporaries labored and learned alongside their fathers, I coasted blithely through my life, content to watch my Dad hire contractors and service people.

Eventually, I did learn how to change the oil on a car, although the first time was a bit rough. My girlfriend of the moment was there and I’m sure I was showing off a bit.

Perhaps more than a bit.

Okay, a lot.

As I started draining the fluid, she leaned over, somewhat puzzled and asked, “I thought oil was black. That stuff is red.”

Quick on my feet, I explained that I had also intended to change the transmission fluid as well. “Oh.” Said she. Then looking around, she asked, “Where’s the new fluid?”

This was my first real lesson about girls. They ask entirely too many questions.

After getting married, I discovered to my chagrin that my bride’s father was a mechanical genius. Give him a roll of baling wire, a soldering gun, and a pair of pliers and he could build an engine. Naturally, she expected the same level of expertise out of her husband.

To her credit, her faith in me far exceeded what I deserved. She continually encouraged me to undertake projects. What followed was a succession of disasters and near-immolations.

Once, in the middle of summer, the furnace motor burned out. This also meant the A/C was kaput which, in a Missouri summer is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. I knew this was beyond my capabilities, but she can be so very convincing. We bought the motor, brought it home, tore the old one out, and bolted the new one in. So far, so good. Now, however, we noticed that there were a large number of wires coming off this motor. I am a graduate of the red wire-black wire-green wire school of electrical knowledge. But this thing had 8 wires of wildly different shades. Guessing, we hooked it up, held our breath, applied the juice…and voila! The motor started right up. We watched it for several minutes, and then, smug and satisfied, we left for our favorite warehouse store.

We returned about two hours later to a house full of smoke, and a utility room full of soot. The motor had apparently blown up, thankfully tripping the breaker. The next day at work, I asked our staff electrician what I had done wrong. He asked, “Was it a two-phase or three-phase motor?”


Seeing my blank look, he closed his eyes and asked:

“Is your house still standing?”

Eventually, the furnace guy told us that we had not just blown up the motor, but the furnace as well. So, in trying to save $150 on a furnace motor, we spent $1,200 on a new furnace.

I could tell other stories about the hot water heater, installing toilets, and plumbing, but perhaps I've supplied you with enough mirth for one day.

In my defense, I do have some skills…somewhere. And maybe in this collection of disasters there lies a kernel of truth about my destiny.

I have come to the conclusion that I was born to be wealthy.

Because I can’t fix a darn thing.
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