If It's Not One Thing, It's Another


January 19, 1991|By Rob Kasper

While I was fiddling with a broken flashlight the other day, a chair broke. This cycle of one hurried repair leading to another homefront accident is a pattern I am familiar with. I call it the-fireman-at-the-front-door syndrome.

This is a reference to what happened to a friend of mine when the claw feet fell off his bathtub one Sunday night with him in it. The tilted tub snapped the hot water pipe, sending a stream of water into the air.

He jumped out of the tub, and when he couldn't get a plumber on the phone, hastily called the fire department. My friend lived in an older apartment building that had a magnificent, turn-of-the century leaded glass front door. A door that was kept closed. He remembered that the leaded glass door was shut right about the time he spotted the fireman bounding up the front steps wielding a large ax.

It was quickly apparent that the fireman didn't know he was responding to a plumbing problem, he thought he was fighting a fire. And if the leaded glass door wasn't open, this ax-wielding fireman wasn't trained to ring the doorbell and wait.

And so, the race to the front door began. From outside the house rushed came the fireman, from inside the house came my friend. My friend got there first. The margin of victory, he said later, was about the length of an ax-handle. He may have lost some of his dignity, but he saved the door.

For me there are two morals to this story. First, be careful taking a bath on a night you can't get a plumber. And two, a hurried attempt to patch over one problem often leads to bigger trouble.

That was what happened the other day at my house when a simple flashlight repair job turned into a lengthy chair-repair session.

It began when I was trying to fix a bulb in a flashlight. We go through flashlights in our house at the rate elephants go through peanuts. This particular flashlight, a big one called a lantern, was a Father's Day gift to me from my youngest son, who is now almost 6 years old.

He had picked it out for me on a shopping trip with his mother and brother and, after presenting it to me on Father's Day morning, had kept the light in his care. The light worked from June to about October. My guess is the flashlight was burning almost constantly for those months.

And so the other day when I put a new battery in the flashlight, my son was at my side, anxiously awaiting the results. Even with the new battery, the light wouldn't work. The problem was the bulb wouldn't sit in its plastic socket. It wouldn't sit there because part of the socket had been shattered, no doubt in a fall from atop a bicycle.

"If I had some tape," I said aloud, "I think I could fix this light." We go through tape in our family as fast as Babe Ruth went though hot dogs.

"I know where some tape is," my son said and sprinted from the room. A minute later I heard a thud as something crashed to the floor in room downstairs. I ran downstairs and found my son crying in the living room. He wasn't hurt, but the desk chair, the one he had attempted to climb up on to get the hidden roll of tape in the desk drawer, had fallen to floor.

One of the chair arms, a delicate bowed piece of wood, had snapped in half. It is his mother's favorite chair. One of the few pieces of furniture in the house that is built for style, not durability. It is a chair so fragile that my wife hides it, when we have a party, from grown-ups.

My son wasn't hurt but he was ashamed. He ran upstairs. I found him hiding behind a door, crying. I tried to tell him that it was OK. That everybody breaks things. That when I was a boy I was so scared after I broke a bed at my cousin's house, that I just ran out the door, down the alley to my house.

He stayed behind the door and ordered me to leave him alone. After a 10-minute cooling off period, I talked him into going down to the basement with me and fixing the chair.

We worked slowly this time. We took some carpenter's glue, and some "C" clamps, and some pieces of scrap wood. He offered to break a large piece of the scrap wood into a smaller size by giving it a karate kick. When the kick failed, he agreed to help me saw the wood.

Carefully we glued the broken arm and held it in place by sandwiching it between the two pieces of scrap wood, secured with the "C" clamps.

I wasn't sure the repair would hold, but I thought the experience had taught my son a lesson about the perils of rushing into a repair job.

It turns out he had learned a lesson, but it wasn't about hurrying. Sizing up the repair, he looked at me and said, "Don't tell Mom."

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