I fixed a screen door. I was so impressed with my work that I stared in admiration at the new, shimmering metal screen. From time to time, it seemed as though the screen had disappeared, and that I was "at one" with the flora and fauna beyond the door. It was your basic Zen screen-door experience.
A bug snapped me out of my reverie. It hit the screen. That meant the screen door was doing its job, keeping critters out.
Replacing the screening on a wooden door is a pretty basic repair, something that probably takes a skilled worker about an hour. It took me most of an afternoon, a couple of trips to the hardware store and -- this was the humiliating part -- help from my wife.
The problem was my staple gun failed to fire. It was a big, heavy duty sucker that didn't merely emit staples but instead hurled them out with a wallop.
It stopped walloping at a crucial juncture. I had taken the door off the hinges and it was resting on a table. The old screen had been removed and the new screen was stretched over the frame, beckoning me to fasten it in place.
It was the kind of situation a staple-gun guy dreams of. You swagger in, pull out your piece, and start shooting. In a matter of minutes, order is restored, the varmints are at bay, and the homestead is safe. I sauntered, I drew my gun, but when I pulled the trigger it fired blanks. No staples came out.
Figuring I was out of ammo, I got some more staples and reloaded. Once again I fired duds. This routine went on, with some variation, for about 30 minutes.
I was under pressure to get the door fixed. As long as the door was off the hinges, varmints could fly right in, set up housekeeping, even invite their relatives over.
I studied the gun and tried to come up with a reasonable explanation of what was wrong. I found none. When brains failed me, I tried force. I slammed the gun against the table. Apparently a staple was stuck in the gun, but I couldn't knock it loose.
I made such a commotion that my wife came by to see what was the matter. I handed my gun over to her to see if she could coax it into working. She couldn't. Next I hatched a plan for getting somebody else -- the folks at the hardware store -- to fix the gun.
I suggested to my wife that she take the stuck gun down to the hardware store where I had bought it, and ask for help. There were several reasons I thought this strategy might work. First, there is a tradition in real hardware stores of helping distressed customers. This is especially true in small-town hardware stores. The store we were dealing with -- Showard Brothers Hardware in Chincoteague, Va., a town of 3,500 where we were spending a few days -- fit this description. Finally, I thought the old damsel-in-distress approach was good for something, even the in the '90s.
While my wife was at the hardware store, I decided to start fastening the screen to the door with tacks instead of staples. Pulling the screen taut over the wooden door, I hammered the tack through the edge of the screen into the frame. Next, I put the molding strips, narrow pieces of wood, on the door frame over the tacked-down screen. Earlier, when I was removing the old screen, I had pried molding off with a putty knife. The molding went back on the door like a puzzle. The pieces wedged against each other, putting pressure on the screen. I nailed the molding down to the frame.
I had just nailed the last molding strip into place when my wife returned. She was beaming. Not only did she have a working stapler, she also had a tale to tell.
A posse of people in the hardware store had offered to help fix the stapler, she said, but the fellow who did the most was a customer. He was a professional screen repairman who happened to be in the store buying supplies.
He fiddled with the staple gun, slapping it around, then shooting it. The hardware store staff cheered him on. Eventually he freed the stuck staple and got the gun working. When he gave the gun back to my wife, he passed along some advice. The key to keeping your gun working, he told her, is to load it with only one strip of staples. If you load two separate strips, the firing mechanism is likely to jam.
And so as the sun set, I reloaded my gun with single strip of staples and, just to make sure the shimmering screen didn't go anywhere, I fired off a few rounds.