Friday, August 30, 2013

Repair Dispair

As a church musician for the past 30+ years, I've developed  heightened dexterity.

My mother, an RN who would know these things, would often look at my beefy hands and comment that they reminded her of "surgeon's hands," given the extreme muscularity that developed over years of practicing scales, hymns, choral accompaniments and Bach toccatas.

Not to mention typing. Writing for a living has also made me fleet of finger.

Why, then, am I such a doofus when it comes to tools?

I have exactly 0 ability with a pliers, wrench, socket set, hand saw, drill or screwdriver.

This deficiency is a major obstacle as the only male in a house of women. Well, there's Parker, but he doesn't even have the opposable thumbs needed to pour his own kibble (which may be a good thing!).

I am, therefore, the go-to guy when things go awry in the house.

Which was exactly the case when our front-load washer went on the fritz last night. Of course, this happens at 10 p.m., with a load of sopping clothes inside and an energy and patience reservoir on low, considering my workday and the late hour.

I never quite grew up with the fix-it mentality. Dad was incredibly adept at this kind of thing; the engineer in him loved puzzling out a problem and working through a solution: a washer here, a shim there, a spritz of 3-in-1 oil for good measure. And voila!

Unlike a lot of sons who hover at their dad's side offering to help -- or a least watch -- I was #3 in a line of three brothers. Any view of what was going on was routinely blocked by two other heads and four other hands (more capable from being older) ready to assist.

I've picked up a lot of things on my own, though. I've managed some low-level plumbing repairs around our house, deconstructing and replacing the float-lever on the toilet, for example. Electrical projects scare me just a bit, but I've replaced outlets and switches without frying my hair.

Car fixes? Not so much. I can change a flat, re-fill the windshield washer reservoir and work jumper cables. That's about it. Early on, I remember changing the oil myself, but I now leave that task to the professionals -- it's messy and inconvenient and disposing of the used oil is a pain.

Tech? Eek. I've kept our computers running thus far but currently am having network issues associated with a new router.

Fortunately, I have resources.

One of our longest of long-term friends is a help-desk guy for a major, local financial institution. He's terrific for diagnosing over the phone and walking me through to-dos.

And I've gotten a lot of help along the way from YouTube, which, if you can weed through the useless but funny cat videos, does have good home-repair info, all demonstrated for we who are truly hapless handymen. I fixed a door that wouldn't 100% catch by watching some Bob Vila-type go at the misaligned trim with a drill held sideways, widening the receiving notch until it successfully grabbed the latch.

But this front-load washer train-wreck is proving to be a major hurdle.

YouTube had a few suggestions, like cleaning out the drain pump, a task I successfully managed last night, despite my reduced mental state and a continual challenge of sloppy, smelly water. Plus the fun of working wet with a plugged-in appliance.

And I thought I had it.

Until it became clear that I didn't.

Luckily, I can continue to use my manual dexterity.

Dialing a repair-dude does take a bit of finesse with the fingers.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I'm looking forward to the beginning of football season.

It wasn't always the case.

I used to hate football on television.

Part of that is because I grew up in a football-addicted household. Both my parents were fervent and hopeful fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, which meant they spent many Sunday afternoons watching horrible players do inexcusable things.

Not one to hold back, they often yelled at the screen, coaching plays from home. My strongest memories of this are from high school and college, when I'd be heads-down into a textbook in my room -- directly aside the master bedroom where the TV was -- while they reacted to what was going on:

"get-em, get-em, Get-Em, Get-Em, GET HIM!"

Always this escalation of cheering that seemed to cause the plaster on the walls to crack and flake.

These were the years of Leonard Tose ownership, Dick Vermiel leadership, Ron Jaworski stardom and Bill Bergey muscle. But Mom and Dad stayed devoted fans, through the years of Norman Braman, Buddy Ryan, Rich Kotite, Randall Cunningham, and Donovan McNabb.

He never went to the The Vet, the stadium where these battles unfolded. We would talk yearly of season tickets as a gift to him, but it never worked out. After a trip to an Eagles game at Franklin Field with the Boy Scouts, where his good coat was ruined by a hotdog tossed by someone who had drunk too much "antifreeze" as a guard against the chill, Dad was content to watch from the comfort of his own home.

He dreamed of their reception of a set of Super Bowl rings. And at the close of each disappointing season, he'd sigh: "Well, there's always next year..."

Dad was never one to authorize meals in front of the television; he wanted them at the table and away from the distraction of the tube. But on afternoons of Sunday Eagles football, he was okay with lunch in front of the game. So midway through the anguish, Mom & Dad would pass by my door, check in to see how things were going, and return after a trip to the kitchen, carrying bowls of soup or stacks of peanut butter crackers.

I hated it. Not sure if I hated the noise or just the thoughts of football on TV itself, but I was never quite a fan.

And I stayed distant from TV football for years and years. Graduated college and didn't watch. Dated Eileen and didn't watch. Married and didn't watch. Had kids and didn't watch.


Sometime in the early 2000s, I flicked on a game. And I got caught.

There was something about the battle -- the long struggle of one side against another for turf and time -- that appealed to me. Other teams bored me, as I didn't know (or didn't care) who the stars were. But the Iggles had their claws in me and I became anchored in front of the set each Sunday afternoon.

I was happy to share my new-found interest with Dad, who was eager to explain shotgun formations and onside kicks to his football novice son. We cheered together at their appearance at the 2004 Super Bowl, taking the occasion to involve even Amanda, Claire, Kristin, and Wesley.

But sadly, it was too little too late.

Dad passed away in 2006, just as my Eagles fandom was taking deeper and deeper root.

I fumbled. I fumbled on those years when we may have shared just one more thing.

I think of him often on Sunday afternoons.

And raise a spoon of lunch-soup as a toast, as I'm sitting in front of the set.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Driving Force

It seems like each summer we grab a project that occupies a lot of our time during the June, July, August period.

Last year, it was the pursuit of full-time employment for me.

This year, it's getting Claire, our middle daughter, her driver's license.

According to the driving laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, learner's permit drivers must log a certain number of hours behind the wheel with a licensed adult over the age of 21. When Amanda, our eldest, went for her license four years ago, my memory tells me that her requirement was somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 hours.

Not sure why, but in the interval between then and now, that bar has been set higher.

It's now a whopping 65 hours!

And what's more, they've got to be in-state. Student drivers cannot be behind the wheel and cross state lines.

So to amass that time in the driver's seat, at the onset of this project, Claire needed to steer her way the equivalent of the distance of about six round trips between home and Pittsburgh.

Knowing that that was infeasible, revved her engine on shorter jaunts.

The biggest issue has been fitting those trips into an already packed schedule. Weekends have been prime, but Eileen is often working at the bank Saturday mornings, and I'm often tied up Saturday afternoons during the summer accompanying weddings. We've tried as much as possible to have her drive us on various errands, but c'mon. The dry cleaners and back is probably 20 minutes, tops. 65 hours worth of that is 195 trips! Nobody's got that much dry cleaning.

We've pieced together a schedule that has had us out a lot of summer evenings, practicing highway travel, parallel parking, merging and yielding after dinner.

After some initial (expected) bumps in the road, Claire has developed into a good driver. She's still got a ways to go (15 hours or so), but she has progressed very nicely.

She's come far from her fledgling steps, circling the empty parking lot of a local outlet mall. Claire is a very lineal thinker: A is followed by B, which is followed by C, D, E, and F.

Unfortunately, driving doesn't unfold that way, so she struggled at first with the requisite multitasking:

  • "Yes, Claire, you must turn and accelerate at the same time."
  • "Yes, Claire, you need to pull up to the stop sign and put your turn signal on at the same time."
  • "Yes, Claire, you must stay in your merge lane and look for traffic on your left at the same time."

She has made a lot of progress, though.

And in all honesty, our time shared in the car has turned into a good chance to chat, share, bond.

Soon, she'll have her license and the wings of freedom to fly.

And I'll be very proud of her accomplishment.

But I think I'll miss our time together, too.