What a tool

I recently repaired a dripping drainpipe under a bathroom sink. This is remarkable for several reasons:

1) I usually can’t fix anything.
2) Plumbing problems typically make me weep while reaching for the phone and the checkbook.
3) I actually sought, heeded and understood advice from the expert at the hardware store.
4) I didn’t make the problem worse, trying to fix it.
5) The job required no new tools. Or duct tape.

The leak was caused by a simple cracked washer. I replaced the beveled washer, put the drain back together and -- surprise! -- the leak stopped. Since the drain consists of plastic pipes, screwed together by hand, no tools were necessary.

It’s this last item that made the job most unusual. Household repairs generally require knowledge and/or use of tools. For those of us who are unhandy and/or idiots, this often is the sticking point.

Way down in the fine print of Murphy’s Laws, you’ll find this: No matter what household repair you attempt, it will require a specialized tool that you do not own.

We unhandy idiots react to this in different ways. We give up immediately and call a professional who owns the applicable tools and knows how to use them. Or, we try to force the issue, using the wrong tool, which often results in a much higher eventual repair bill. Or, we make yet another trip to the hardware store for the correct tool.

Having the right tool for the job doesn’t necessarily mean the repair will be a snap, of course. It’s still possible to make things much, much worse, particularly if running water is involved. Trust me. But with the proper tool, the home handyman has a fighting chance of success.

He also has a new tool. One that (and I’m pretty sure Murphy covers this somewhere, too) he will never, ever need again.

In this way, long-time homeowners accumulate a vast collection of esoteric tools. Not to mention fasteners and washers and assorted stray parts.

We keep them forever. Because you never know. We might one day need that socket/mallet/jigsaw/crowbar/drill bit/screw extender/stud finder/butt hinge/torque wrench/detonator. And wouldn’t we hate to make yet another trip to the hardware store?

Unless you’re one of those neat freaks who keeps all his tools “organized,” possessing these specialized tools means that every home repair becomes a museum tour through the garage. You go to fetch a simple hammer and find yourself, an hour later, pondering a reverse butterfly ratcheting nut-driver. You probably can’t remember how you use that gizmo. Probably can’t recall why you bought it in the first place. But there it is, among the tools, taking up space, in the way.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to tools, of course. Home offices also accumulate assorted widgets and electronics that seemed absolutely necessary at one time, but now are good only for paperweights.

Go take a look in your kitchen. If it’s like ours, it’s full of specialized choppers, strainers, scrapers, graters and gravy boats that rarely get dusted off. Not to mention foods and spices purchased for particular recipes, then rarely used again. How else to explain shelves overflowing with little jars of fennel seed, cumin and turmeric?

And let’s not even mention the medicine cabinet, crammed full of outdated pills, outmoded cosmetics and dried-out tubes of mystery ointment.

It’s enough to make me hit myself in the head in despair. If I could only find the hammer.

1 comment:

Hal Johnson said...

Congrats in the repair. I can identify, since friends tend to flee in terror when I pick up a tool. But thanks to my beer-chugging prowess, and the fact that I almost never stop to ask for directions, I still feel like a real man. Now, if I can just force myself to get rid of those Michael Bolton CD's.