Skip to content

Deferred Maintenance

February 16, 2010

The door to the hallway closet will not stay shut. The latch is stuck inside its casing and no amount of door knob jiggling will loosen it. Now there are people who would fix such a thing, people who would promptly fetch their tool box from the basement and with a few smart turns of the screw release the latch and return the door to proper working order. Let’s call these people “handy.” 

Jaime is not one of these people. Jaime deals with broken things by letting them remain broken. Unless they’re big things representing a real danger to his family’s health and well-being or a significant threat to the value of their real estate investment, at which point the services of a professional are summoned. The closet door is neither of these. The closet door is a small thing. Were it left to him that closet door would remain ajar for eternity. 

Right now you’re probably thinking it’s such an easy fix. It’s not as if the roof is leaking, or the furnace has stopped working. He could have that door working again in a jiffy! True, true, and yet he willfully ignores it in favor of more creatively stimulating, less home equity-enhancing pursuits. Let us examine the purported reasons for Jaime’s reluctance to take up tools and make useful household repairs: 

Reason #1: He doesn’t own any tools. Well, this is a bit of an exaggeration – he owns some tools:

  • A Phillips-head screwdriver. He used to own a flat-head screw driver as well, but someone removed it from the basement and never put it back. That someone probably wasn’t him, since he makes a point of touching the tools as little as possible.
  • Two hammers. He used to own just one hammer, whose curved claw head tilted at an odd angle to its handle, the result of who-knows-what sort of misuse. He didn’t do it. That’s all he knows. The second hammer was left behind by some disorganized contractor on a repair call. Jaime considers it one of the fringe benefits of hiring professionals to fix things that they often leave tools behind when their work is complete. Contractors are excellent at repairing things, i.e. good at the hand work, but a bit forgetful where collecting their belongings is concerned, i.e. bad at the brain work. A gross generalization to be sure, but it works for the sake of Jaime’s self-defense against the charges of home repair haplessness sometimes levied against him by his family and friends. At least he remembers things. It’s a good thing said contractor left said hammer behind, because the other hammer had ceased to hammer properly and those residents of the house who were inclined to hammer things had temporarily taken to using a rubber mallet, which ineffectively and rather comically bounced off the nail when struck, rather than driving it into the wall.
  • A drill. This was a handy purchase because if Jaime was somehow lured into doing any repair or installation work at all around the house he’d prefer to expend as little energy as possible in the execution (i.e. turning a Phillips-head screwdriver). He has one simple 3/8” wood drill bit, which sometimes also goes missing. When it can’t be found, holes do not get drilled. Often, the hole to be drilled is bigger than the 3/8” diameter of the bit. In those instances, multiple holes are drilled, in a crude and incompetent effort to compensate for accuracy. The drill hasn’t worked quite so well since it was plugged into the outlet using the wrong AC adaptor, a mistake only discovered when the house started smelling like a toast factory had gone up in flames. 

Rounding out this motley assemblage of home repair contraptions is a wrench, a pair of pliers and a box of assorted nails. Everything is loosely housed in an open plastic storage container, kept on a basement shelf next to a bag of dry dog food and a book about exercise that Jaime also doesn’t use. As I’m sure you’ll agree, he might as well not own any tools. 

Reason #2: His parents rarely fixed anything, thus depriving him the opportunity to observe and learn. And when they did engage in some project of home improvement, they managed to make it look dreadfully painful. A short and mildly humorous anecdote that Jaime’s wife has heard about a million times from Jaime’s mother, offered by way of explanation for Jaime’s resolute commitment to hire professionals whenever things around the house require repair. Told in Jaime’s mother’s voice, for maximal effect: 

“It was summer 1975, about ninety degrees, and Donald (Jaime’s father, for the uninitiated) is killing himself in the attic, putting up drywall, trying to finish it so we can move our bedrooms up there. He’s doing the whole thing himself, because you know Donald, too stubborn to ask for help. At some point during the day he comes downstairs to take a break. He’s dripping wet, covered in dust, a beaten man. He grabs a beer from the kitchen and goes outside to sit on the front steps next to Jaime, whose reading a comic book. And Jaime looks up at him and says “when I grow up, I’m going to hire someone to do the attic for me.” You know, he was always smarter than his father, even at the ripe-old age of seven.”  So there you have it. It’s written in the stars.

Reason #3: He’s terrified of making a bad thing worse, since bad things cost enough, and worse things cost much more to fix. Apart from his not having the “know how” or the right sort of equipment, he’s keenly aware of the high costs of home repair hubris. It’s insult enough that Jaime has to pay a trained service technician to come out and so much as install a grounded outlet or bleed a radiator; it would be downright injurious to his financial and emotional well being if he set the house on fire or caused a flood while attempting to do these things himself.

All of this is mentioned because yesterday Jaime’s son got hip to the fact that the closet door will not stay shut. Because he is seven and too young to know better and because he is blessed with a cat’s curiosity he starts fiddling with the latch. Being an industrious and creative sort, the boy approaches the problem with anything he can find: a ballpoint pen, a rubber band, a blue marble. These all look like perfectly good and productive approaches to Jaime, and since he is loathe to get involved (as that would require going to the basement to get some kind of tool) he stays out of it. Instead, he takes his re-heated pizza and his newspaper (nee comic book) to a sunny spot at the dining room table, blissfully, willfully ignorant of the home repair drama unfolding.

But not Jaime’s wife. She knows a few things about hammers and wrenches and drills after all, and furthermore, she doesn’t wish to see this particular and somewhat annoying family history repeating itself. The world doesn’t need another perfectly capable young man unwilling to take up tools for the sake of small household improvements. She grabs the Phillips-head screwdriver from the basement (just lucky, I guess, that it wasn’t a flathead she needed), and gives the boy a lesson.

“Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.”

And somehow, through the miracle of screwdrivers and tinkering and a little self-confident ingenuity, the two of them, mother and son, make it so the closet door can latch once again. Fixed. Resurrected, as it were.

The boy is ecstatically proud of this accomplishment. It’s a first for him, this whole “fixing broken things” thing. The opportunity has never presented itself before, since, as we’ve previously established, broken things are typically allowed to remain broken. He pulls up a seat beside his father at the dining room table and says “I like fixing things, Dad. I like using tools. Maybe, if I learn to use more tools, I can build inventions.”

Jaime thinks he ought to encourage this. Maybe he can sign the boy up for some classes somewhere. Maybe Home Depot gives fix-it courses to seven year old boys and girls. Because Lord knows, it’s not an interest he can personally help the boy with. And his wife’s ability will only take the kid so far. She can fix the small things. But what about the big things? There’s the golden opportunity. If the boy can learn to fix the big things, then he might one day become an inventor. And along the way, he can save his dad a lot of money in outsourced professional home repair services. Smarter than his father, indeed.

Photo courtesy of my beautiful and infinitely talented wife Jennifer. You can see more of her work on Flickr – check it:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara permalink
    March 9, 2010 12:04 am

    And, another good one!!
    Just great!

  2. Bill permalink
    March 10, 2010 9:47 am

    Where the hell is my hammer!?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: