Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Fixer

When something breaks, people expect me to fix it. I’m a father, a husband, a grandfather. I also take care of vacation properties to supplement my teacher salary. To fulfill these roles, I need a workbench with a vise and tools within reach. So, when I built my garage, I put a work area in one corner. If I pull a vehicle in and open the hood, my workbench is right there with lights, a power source and tools. Much of this had been in my basement and there is still a bench down there, but I don’t use it much. It’s hard to lug stuff up and down the stairs and there isn’t as much room to work on large objects as there is in the garage.

There’s one problem though. My garage workbench is right next to the door leading into the house, so when someone comes home with armloads of things, the natural tendency is to set one or more of the loads down on my bench before opening the door. Sometimes they’ll come back and put it where it belongs and sometimes they won’t. Stuff accumulates, covering every square foot of space in a matter of weeks - sometimes only days. So, when I need to work on something, I must first clean off all that stuff before I can set down whatever I’m supposed to fix and examine it.

That’s frustrating. It’s seldom possible to call everyone who put the stuff there and ask them to take it away, so I have to deal with it myself. By the time I’m done, my mood has sometimes soured and I don’t feel like fixing whatever broke.

Some items are things people don’t really want very much, but can’t make the decision to throw away either. So when I ask them to put the things away, they don’t actually have a place. The items haven’t been adopted into the household. They’re kind of a temporary foster things and decisions on their final status have been postponed or forgotten. It falls to me to have to force a resolution. Usually I say something like: “Well put them somewhere, or I’m going to put them in the trash. They don’t belong on my workbench.” In response, I hear a sigh and an “Oh all right,” and some foot stomping while they do it. Those are not the kinds of interactions that engender good will. Though I’d originally set out to do something helpful and nice - to fix something for somebody - it can get unpleasant.

A friend has been remodeling a kitchen and he gave me some old oak wall cabinets. I hung them in the garage and organized a lot of my tools and other stuff and I feel good now. I cleaned off my entire workbench and it looks great. I know where my tools are and there’s a cleared work area on top where I can actually set something down, turn it over and around, disassemble it, and work on it. I don’t know how long it will stay that way, but for the time being, my workbench can be what it was meant to be. I feel powerful - ready to fix whatever should break next. I’m even looking forward to it.

It had been so long since I’d thoroughly cleaned it off, things appeared which I couldn’t identify. They were metal, plastic or polymer and more like pieces of things, but I’ve forgotten what things. I don’t know if they were important things or unimportant things. My wife might have put them there or I might have, but neither of us can remember. Those weighty decisions now fall to me: throw them away only to find out later that they were dreadfully important doodads? I can’t form a committee to decide because I’m all alone, so I put them in an large coffee can labeled UPIPs, or “Unidentified, but Possibly Important Pieces.” I have to save them for five years before I can dispose of them.

Then I realize there are UPIPs on top of my dresser, in the kitchen catchall drawer, on the dashboard of my pickup truck, on the desk in my office at home and on my desk at school. Should I consolidate them all in this one container or leave them where they are? Decisions, decisions. It’s too much to consider all in one weekend. I’ll leave them there for now and figure it out later.


Anonymous said...

I know what you mean. I have an old hen house. It gets "stuff" that I don't want to throw away until I can't move aropund there. Then I haul it to the dump. Excuse me, the "Transfer Station".

Harvey in North Baldwin

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a column that is truly relevant to many of us. Humor is often lacking in the press yet you are able to combine serious issues of the day with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
After reading Ms. Alberts letter to the editor today I could not resist the urge to ask you to consider correcting her grammar and style issues. It's a good example of what we have to deal with in the workplace.
Many thanks for writing these columns. I did notice when this last column was posted.
Best Regards. Russ Wilson - future resident of the north country.