Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do-It-Yourself, Ltd.

Truth be told, I don't so much mind doing the occasional home project now and then.  That being said, I also know that I am among the worst procrastinators about this sort of thing, but there's a reason for that.  Over the years, I have found that the most successful home (and car) repair efforts are those accomplished when I'm in just the right frame of mind.  The problem is, my mind has many frames, and I'm generally in the wrong one.

My approach to home (and car) repair is that I will only take on that which I know that I can do without a) hurting myself or b) doing something which results in property depreciation.  I know this to be true, because I clearly remember hurting myself on more than one occasion, and those cabinets I put up in Roswell...mmm...well, maybe no one noticed.

I could wax on all day and night about the nature of various home (and car) repairs, but I think it's probably best to highlight a few specific instances where I realized that my repair knowledge was "limited".  You may have noticed that I've put "(and car)" in parentheses in each instance where repairs are mentioned.  The reason for this will become clear in DIY Story #4 below.  So, here we go:

DIY Story #1
For some odd reason, most likely due to creative experiments I performed as a child, electricity does not frighten me.  Plumbing does.  With plumbing, you never know when a well-intentioned replacement of a pipe or tightening of a washer will result in a slowly developing leak.  You will only realize that a leak has developed when you return home from a Disneyworld vacation or something of the like.  Electricity, on the other hand, sends out a clear signal that something is wrong.  One day back in the early 90's, I was installing a dimmer switch, and as soon as I had the wires all connected and went to throw the switch, a magnificent ZOT was emitted from the switch assembly, followed by a profusion of acrid smelling smoke.  At that point, I went back to Home Depot and picked a three-way switch instead of a two-way switch...or maybe it was the other way around...I can't remember.  Anyway, installing the second switch worked, and we sold the house shortly thereafter with no complications.

DIY Story #2
One Sunday in the late 80's, I decided to repair a leaking toilet.  In those days, I was but a novice at toilet repair (I am now practically licensed in this endeavor).  Having previously purchased a fine little volume entitled "Basic Home Repairs - Illustrated", I looked up what I would need for the task, went to Home Depot, purchased all the right parts, and brought them home.  For a while, the repair went smoothly, and then, due to my lack of knowledge about how much to tighten a retaining bolt, a small leak appeared beneath the toilet.  No matter what I did, the leak continued.  Finally, I was at the point where I realized that this task would have been better accomplished under the influence of alcohol, but of course, by then it was too late.  After wrangling with the thing for about five hours, I finally managed to get the leak to stop.  By this time, my wife was ready to contact a local mental hospital to see if I could get an express admission.

DIY Story #3
Several years ago, we renovated two bathrooms.  In my defense, I installed a lovely vessel sink and faucet fact, I am so proud of this that I have posted the picture over there on the right side of this article.  Professional plumbers have remarked when making other plumbing repairs at our house that for me to have installed something this complicated was pretty remarkable.  What I haven't told everyone is that when my daughter Hannah and I were installing the vanity (which we actually fashioned from a night stand) over the water pipes, we bumped into one of the faucet valves by accident, and water shot up to the ceiling with tremendous force, in the style of Old Faithful.  This caused us to simultaneously, in one rapid motion, lift an entire piece of furniture off the pipe faster that I could ever have imagined, and then to soak up the spill with many beach towels.

DIY Story #4
Everyone has a grandaddy of a repair story, and this is mine.  In early 1987, I owned a snappy little Datsun 200SX sports car, and it began to leak oil with a vengeance.  One day, I popped the hood, looked around as if I knew what I was doing, and could see that the oil was leaking from around the deep-seated head gasket, which lay at the bottom of the engine block.  My friend Butch offered to help me change the gasket, saying it was something we could do ourselves, especially since he had a Toyota pickup truck on which he had recently done "the very same thing".  That sounded like a plan to me, so on a bright Saturday morning, we began to disassemble the engine.

By about 3:00 PM, we had gotten all the way down to the gasket, and we methodically removed the old one, cleaned the area, and installed the new gasket.  Then we began to reassemble the engine.  At approximately 6:15 PM, we realized that we could not seat the timing chain on the cam sprocket, because the tension on the chain was too tight.  What this meant was that the car would not "go".  We tried everything, but we could not reseat the chain.  Exhausted, we threw in the towel for the day, and feasted on some Chicago-style pizza that my wife Karen had made for us, vowing to resume our effort the next day.

Sunday rolled around, and after hours of futile attempts to reseat the chain, we decided at about 5:00 PM that it might be time to purchase a Chilton repair manual to see what we had done wrong.  (It is worth noting that by this time, Karen was no longer speaking to me, and Butch did not feel all that welcome, either.)  We opened the manual, and there at the beginning of the section on head gasket replacement was a note that said that unless a retaining block was placed alongside the chain at the beginning of the repair, it would be impossible to reseat it on the sprocket without taking the engine apart all over again.  So we put all the leftover parts (and there were several) into a large black plastic bag, and on Monday morning, I had the car towed to the dealer.  At the end of the day, Butch took me back over to pick up the car, and the mechanic told me that I had probably saved about $250.  I told him it wasn't worth it, and he just kinda laughed.  Six months later, I traded that Datsun for an Audi.

I guess that sometimes, you just have to know when to limit yourself.  Wait...why are the lights dimming?  Oh, well...I'll look at it tomorrow.  Until then, happy home repairs!