The toilet and the truck: Handyman humility trumps hubris

Jeff Keeling, Associate Editor

Jeff Keeling, Associate Editor

By Jeff Keeling

The need to address deferred maintenance at Chez Keeling recently brought to mind two of my somewhat rare forays into handyman work. One involved hubris, followed by humiliation (the forays are rare with good reason). The other was characterized by humility, followed by stupefied triumph. I’ll call them the tales of the toilet and the truck.

Shortly after we moved into our lovely craftsman on Maple Street in 2007, our then-teenaged unit Sydney discovered the toilet in the upstairs bathroom was leaking. My investigations revealed a seemingly simple problem that even I might be able to repair.

I bought some inexpensive tank materials and set to work, somewhat doubtful of the ultimate outcome but willing to give it a swirl. Not many minutes later, I had successfully flushed the toilet a couple of times, with scintillating results that included a dry floor, a nicely refilled tank, and all the other workings one should expect. Then came my moment of hubris.

Feeling rather warrior-like, I sought out the lovely and talented Angela. I had hitched my pants down to complete my plumber-like guise, and wrench in hand, I turned my back to her, did a little shimmy, and said, “Who’s a plumber? I’m a plumber!” A few flushes later, the toilet was leaking. The plumber line is a favorite in the family lore.

It got much better a couple years later. The creative multi-instrumentalist Zach had run into a problem with his 1990 Ford Ranger straight drive. As it turned out, the starter was shot. My mechanically inclined brother-in-law, Justin, suggested I could replace it myself. I thought he was wildly overestimating my skills, yo, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

With Justin providing phone guidance, I spent a couple hours under the truck proper, under the hood, and back and forth to the auto parts store. I learned why mechanics are prone to cursing. But when it ended I had, per Justin, probably completed the changeout successfully. I remained sure that when I turned the key in the ignition, the result would be either silence or something far worse.

She started right up. This remains the pinnacle of my handyman/mechanic accomplishments and probably always will.

Eight years into our richly blessed residency in the Tree Streets, things are getting a little tatty here and there. Gutters need repairing. Exterior walls need painting. The beautiful, wraparound porch threatens to become a money pit without quick action.

I own a few tools and don’t mind working on the roof or on ladders. I fancy the thought (theoretically at least) of returning from the big box home improvement store, my pickup’s bed filled with materials that exude masculine competence. I did manage to adequately re-secure a fallen fence panel recently – my newish electric drill was involved – but even that job reveals a few extra wood screws jutting out, a testament to my relative incompetence. So with good reason, after fancying the thought mentioned above, I sigh to myself, “perish the thought.”



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