I am not a handy man. As I see it, as a scholar, I felt it was more important to enrich my mind than to learn how to fix things.
This was the great lie second generation Americans lived by. Make sure your children graduate from college. Get that degree! It seemed like a good plan. I gathered up college credits and went off to face the world armed with a degree and $40,000 worth of student loans.
I remember scouring the help wanted ads. “Thirty thousand plus benefits to the right candidate!” they would promise.
I remember my first job interview.
I thought a Phillip’s-head screwdriver was Phil Head’s father’s screwdriver.
“So. Tell me Rick, what skills do you bring to the table? How can you help us here at Acme?”
“Well. I speak Latin,” I said. “Or should I say, Linguam latinam narrow?”
“Son, we fix trucks here. What do you know about trannies?”
“Well, my Uncle Frank once lost a bet and had to wear a dress to work and he really felt liberated.”
“We’ll call you.”
“OK, but I am going to need five weeks vacation and green M&Ms in my dressing room. By the way, my cosine said this would be a good day if I didn’t go off on a tangent. Get it?” The guy shook his head sadly. Needless to say, the call never came, nor did countless others.
While me and the other smart kids languished in the schoolyard, Tony, Ralphie, and the like — the kids we thought were dumb — grew up and became rich. Tony lays tile. Ralph is a mechanic. And Paulie — jeesh! Paulie is a plumber. He’s like, a millionaire.
But there are very few openings for trigonometry or physics majors. The truth is, I never had a shop class. In Catholic School, it was more important for us to learn mathematics and the like so you could figure out how many thousands of hours you have to spend in purgatory if you got caught stealing cigarettes from Murray’s Candy Store.
I have told this story many times and no one believes me, but it is true. I thought a Phillip’s-head screwdriver was Phil Head’s father’s screwdriver, just as I thought Stanley’s screwdriver was my father’s. I always wondered why none of the stores carried Rick’s screwdrivers.
I attempted to fix the broiler element on my GE stove last week. I made the decision only because our appliance man retired and now lives in the south of France with several starlets half his age.
“Just Google it,” one of the guys told me. Yeah, that was easy. I needed to know the model number of the stove. I needed the part number of the broiler element, if the thing was gas or electric — God help me! As scholarly as I am, it is possible to stump me.
“I knew I smelled gas!” Karen insisted when I told her the stove needed fixing.
“It’s electric,” I pointed out.
“I smell gas every night when you come to bed,” she answered earnestly. It took two weeks to get the right parts. Now came the challenge — the installation. “Pull the unit away from the wall and open the back panel,” the directions read.
I stared at the stove. On its right was a cabinet, flush against it. The dishwasher was right next to it on the other side. I couldn’t get my hand in between to move the damn thing. When I finally yanked the thing out away from the wall, I climbed behind it and went to take off the rear panel.
You guessed it. The screws were not the Phillips shape I had so recently mastered. They were not regular screws. They were square. Honestly, now I’ve been on this Earth for six decades and I have never seen a screw with a square head. Even Phil Head would have been baffled, and, he’s like, the father of the modern screwdriver.
While I was mulling over my next move, wedged into this tiny spot between the kitchen wall and the stove, Karen began vacuuming the floor where I was standing, the vacuum head slamming into my ankles and ripping flesh off my legs. “Quid agis infernum!” I screamed, adding the French word I use to describe her when I’m really, really mad (It means ‘pumpkin’ I told her).
Thus, one of the great conundrums of American life surfaced. If the stove is flush to the dishwasher on one side, flush to a cabinet on the other, and flush to the back wall, how did all that food fall behind it and rot? None of the mice back there seemed to know, or at least they weren’t talking. I ended up ordering a new stove.
Yeah, I could have taken Spanish in high school, but the Jesuits convinced us nobody spoke that language anymore.