Faulty bell is both a blessing and a curse

July 20, 2002|By Rob Kasper

The doorbell had become choosy about whom it would announce.

When a visitor pressed the doorbell button, sometimes the doorbell would ring. Sometimes it would not.

This was not necessarily a bad thing. If, like me, you become somewhat anti-social when you are ensconced in the comfort of your home, then having a quirky doorbell can be a benefit.

If, for example, your doorbell doesn't ring, you will not have to pull yourself away from a fine supper, stomp to the front door and briskly inform a total stranger that you are not in the mood to open your wallet to save the water, the endangered whales or the huddled masses yearning to see trees.

In addition, a doorbell that doesn't ring offers some insulation from those ever-cheerful, Supreme-Court protected but nap-interrupting doorbell ringers, Jehovah's Witnesses.

Living with an unreliable doorbell also means, however, that you could miss a rendezvous with welcome visitors, such as the UPS man bearing important packages or a friend delivering heirloom tomatoes.

After several months of not knowing if the doorbell would toll, I broke down last Saturday and bought a new doorbell button at the neighborhood hardware store.

It was a handsome looking device, especially when compared to the item it was replacing. The old doorbell button was battered and had a hole in its middle, which probably explains why it rarely worked after a heavy rain.

One of the two screws that were supposed to fasten the doorbell button to the front of the house had vamoosed and the other was very close to fleeing the scene. Only years of habit and a healthy dose of caulk had held the button in place.

In my rush to pry the old caulk-laden doorbell button away from the house, I made a mistake. I broke one of the doorbell wires, two amazingly thin filaments that are vital to doorbell functions. Moreover, the wire snapped at a most inconvenient spot, only about a quarter-inch away from the front of the house. It was a nub of wire and I needed at least two inches of wire to reach the contact points on the new, handsome doorbell.

As often happens with us weekend repair guys, I spent the next half-hour in a hissy fit. I got mad at myself for breaking the wire. I got mad at the wire for breaking. I got mad at the house for refusing to give me some slack. I wanted the house to loosen up its hold on the doorbell wire. There was plenty of excess doorbell wire running along the basement ceiling, the route the wire traveled to get from the button to the bell. But no amount of pushing the extra wire toward the opening at the front door or trying to pull the wire out with pliers had any effect.

So I returned to the neighborhood hardware store for anger management and advice. There the hardware store guys, Mickey and Maurice, handed me a couple of strands of wire, a crimping tool and a tiny little plastic cap with metal innards called, I am told, a neon pigtail. Their theory was that I could use the crimping tool and the cap to join the new wire and nub in a tight metal-bound union. Then I could attach the other end of the new wire to the doorbell button.

It was a good theory, except that the nub refused to go along with it. The nub of doorbell wire was so short, it kept slipping out of the cap.

I considered leaving the bare doorbell wires sticking out of the front of the house with a note that read: "To ring bell, connect wires." But then I reconsidered. I figured that the only people with enough motivation to ring a doorbell by connecting two bare wires would be canvassers, the very doorbell ringers I wanted to avoid.

After much trial and error, I finally was able to connect the spliced wire and nub by pinching them with a pair of needle nose pliers. Working carefully, I connected the spliced wire to the doorbell button, and eased it into place. Slowly, I tightened the two long screws that held the new button to the front of the house. When I pressed the button, the bell rang.

Now that the doorbell functions, I feel some pressure to conform to social norms, to get off the sofa and commune with the wider world. I am resisting it. Where, I ask, is it written that just because a doorbell rings, you must answer it?

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