Friday, June 6, 2008

The Handyman

My father is a great man and has many skills and traits which I have inherited and try to emulate. One of them, however, is not household maintenance and repairs. My dad built me a two tiered water bed with dresser built into it and a play tunnel underneath it - without using a single nail. The guy is an engineer and constructs things for fun, and his general knowledge and usefulness around the house is impressive.

I have none of that. A nail falls out of a board? I need help. Air filters need replacing? It's a half a day project. Picture needs hanging? I don't even try anymore after scarring too many walls.

This part of Minnesota has recently been inundated by big box hardware stores, as I have two Menards, three Home Depots, and two Lowes within a 10 minute radius. I fear these stores and have an anxiety attack just driving by them. Huge monstrosities with millions of parts, pieces, and miscellaneous stuff that I don't know what they do or how to use them. Generally, I step foot in these retailers once a year, when Becky wants to see their Christmas stuff.

Yesterday should have been a disaster. I am home alone as Becky is off at an opthalmic conference out of town, which set the stage for my greatest home repair triumph of all time.

The morning started off innocently enough. I woke up, showered, checked the old fantasy baseball team (still stretching for third), and ate some breakfast. I casually strolled into our downstairs half bath, used the facilities, and went to flush the toilet. I pulled down the handle just as I have for the last three years when all of a sudden I hear a massive SNAP. The toilet does not flush and the handle is dangling from the hole.

My first reaction was to panic. Home alone with no ability to flush the toilet, I might as well board up the door and never return. That plan of action, of course, was foolish. I can't use a hammer and nails let alone deal with acquiring the boards. So, after "some time" I built up the courage to attack the problem. I dismantled the top of the toilet and discovered a fairly simplistic lever and chain mechanism that created the oh so familiar toilet flush. I studied the pieces and even played with the plunger thingy inside until I felt confident in my understanding of how this thing works.

The next step involved replacement parts. Already thinking of having to go inside of these massive stores was causing me shortness of breath. Again, after "some time" I took the plunge, hopped in the $aturn, and picked Menards as my behemoth hardware store of choice. I pulled into the lot and set foot inside trying desperately to look confident enough to know what I was doing so as to avoid the sales clerk who would no doubt know me to be a fraud. A quick reconnaissance of the hanging signs revealed bathroom supplies to the left. I scanned for clerks, avoided the Charleys, and made my way into the four aisles with the much needed ammo required for the toilet.

Menards features no fewer than fifteen different arm and levers for toilets. Damn it. I didn't measure, and only because I have lived there for three years did the fact that the lever was even white somehow register in my forgetful brain. In choosing white levers, I eliminated half the possibilities. So many of them looked so similar. What to do? Wait a moment! Some of them looked a little too similar. Relying on my retail background, I flipped over the package and cross checked UPCs. Just as I suspected! Multiple facings of the same item! Score one for the Walgreens assistant!

I narrowed down the selection to two. One a five dollar arm and lever and the other a three dollar. They looked pretty similar, and I considered buying both to avoid making another trip back. I declined this thought pattern, instead opting to roll the dice on the latter one, gambling that this would be my one and only trip to Menards. I snagged the repair piece and headed to check out.

I again surveyed the land for sales clerks, and I successfully avoided all of them. This excitement though, left me parched and I succumbed to an impulse purchase of a bottle of Dasani near the front check out. I paid and ran like hell back to the $aturn.

Once home, I knew I had not the energy to continue the process. I napped. I cleaned. I ate. I did everything but finish the project. 4pm rolls around, approximately 6 hours after the initial crisis began, and I realized now was the time.

First, I detached what remained of the old lever and chain. My hands got wet, which frightened me that somehow this water was contaminated or something, but I strengthened my resolve in conjuring up memories of having scooped poop off the Walgreens' sales floor. This was nothing.

Second, I had to attach the new lever and chain. A feisty bastard, the hook connecting the chain to the lever was an elusive match. I inadvertently flushed the toilet twice in fiddling with the unifying piece. Eventually, I succeeded. All was one. All looked right.

This, though, was too easy. I knew something had to be in error. There was only one way to know for sure if my half a day, four dollar home repair was a success. I had to use the toilet. So, I did. I stood up took a deep breath and pulled the lever, watching the swirl with greater pride than ever before. The victorious pee left me. I had won.

Subsequently, I went to my local Blockbuster and rented Rambo. I feel manly.

Photo from