Incompetence has its rewards

Kevin Cowherd

November 06, 1991|By Kevin Cowherd

WHEN IT comes to being handy, I can barely work a shower curtain, but don't cry for me -- you'll just be wasting your tears.

There are those who curse their inability to do odd repair and maintenance jobs around the house, but I have found many advantages to this handicap.

First of all, when you're mechanically impaired, no one in your family ever bothers you with requests to fix things, freeing you to lay on the couch for vast stretches of time.

My wife, for instance, would never even think of asking me to look at the dishwasher when it breaks down, which it seems to do every other week.

Oh, I'd look at it all right -- on my way to the phone. Then I'd get out the Yellow Pages and let my gaze wander down to the listing for: Dishwashing Machines -- Service and Repair.

Then I'd dial the first number listed. A few seconds later, I'd report to my wife: "Some guy named Lenny will be out to look at it. Maybe tomorrow, or the next day."

Then I would return to the couch, which is absolutely the best place to be when a man named Lenny hands you the bill for fixing your dishwasher.

Children, too, can sense the futility of approaching the mechanically impaired for help, and will therefore leave you alone for the most part.

The other day, however, my 6-year-old asked me to fix one of her toys. One look at the damn thing told me the whole project was way over my head.

"In order to fix this, Daddy would need a special tool called a screwdriver," I explained. "And even if Daddy had such a tool, he'd have no idea how to use it. Why don't you ask that nice Mr. Russell up the street to fix it? He'll probably put it on one of his belt sanders."

Speaking of which, another advantage to being mechanically impaired is that your neighbors will rarely ask for your help with their inane projects, such as building a redwood deck or installing an automatic garage door opener.

On the weekends in particular, this will allow you many more hours of laying on the couch -- although every once in a while, some well-meaning nitwit will test your patience.

Some years ago, shortly after we had moved into a new neighborhood and before word of my affliction got around, a neighbor appeared on my doorstep at 10:30 on a rainy night. The man's face was covered with grease.

"It's my sump pump," he said sadly.

I nodded my head thoughtfully, all the while wondering: What's a sump pump?

"Damn thing's broken," he continued. "Can you come over and take a look?"

Well. My first instinct, of course, was to slam the door shut and turn out the porch lights and wait for the guy to go away.

But then I thought: No, what if I have to hit this guy up for money someday? He'd probably hold a grudge if I slammed a door in his face. Some people are like that -- real touchy.

So I went over to look at his sump pump, although not before reminding him that this was one hell of a time to be interrupting me, just as Starsky and Hutch were taking a corner on two wheels in pursuit of a heroin dealer.

To give you an idea of my vast knowledge of sump pumps, when we got to my neighbor's house, I immediately headed upstairs.

I figured the sump pump -- whatever that was -- was probably located in one of the bedrooms. Or the hall closet. Turns out it was in the basement. Go figure, huh?

Anyway, we got down to the basement and there was water all over the place, which I thought was kind of odd.

"What's with all this water?" I asked.

Well, I guess the guy spotted the vacant look in my eyes and it finally dawned on him that he'd made a grievous mistake soliciting my help.

All I did for the next 20 minutes was hold the flashlight while my neighbor bent over the sump pump, occasionally barking: "hand me that wrench" or "shine the light a little higher."

Some of the terms he used, such as "wrench," were a little confusing. But we got by somehow and pretty soon that sump pump was humming merrily.

Unless that was the washing machine.

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