- Pumping Irony -

PUMPING IRONY: Requiem for a Handyman

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Requieum

Age and (relative) affluence have cut into my DIY opportunities, a development that has bruised my ego but may keep me out of the hospital.

My garage door busted the other day. It’s one of those old-time overhead doors, just wide enough to welcome our low-slung Honda Fit when a blizzard forces us to vacate our parking spot on the street. When the door was operating normally, lifting it offered a pleasant full-body workout. The nature of the problem — a snapped cable — momentarily suggested that I might be able to fix it myself. Buy a new cable, attach it to the door, thread it through the pulley, and connect it to the spring. What could go wrong?

I was about to recommend that course of action to My Lovely Wife, but she was already giving me that look. The next day, she was on the phone with a guy from a garage door company who probably knew what he was doing.

In my younger years, I tended to fancy myself a handyman, a sort of DIY disciple whose pluck and perseverance occasionally overcame my lack of skills. I removed walls, patched ceilings, wired light fixtures, built patios, erected fences, and hung drywall. MLW quietly acquiesced mostly because we could never afford to hire anyone with a real talent for such things. Also, most of what I was trying to do didn’t involve an imminent threat of bodily injury, and that seemed to ease her mind — a sentiment I continue to find mildly endearing.

She’ll still let me put up shelves, assemble IKEA-style furniture, and paint objects that need painting, but in recent months I’ve been an innocent bystander as guys who knew what they were doing repaired a couple of rotting windows, enclosed a pipe with drywall, installed several lights, and extended the garage roof over a handsome new potting bench (which my brother made for us). This can be a little hard on the ego.

It’s not that I think I could do a better job than a hired hand, or even that I’m so keen anymore to push my aging body through the rigors of an extended construction project. These days, a couple of sweaty hours yanking quack grass out of the garden sends me to the patio with a cold one. It’s just that it all makes me feel slightly less capable than I’d prefer — even though I wasn’t all that capable before — and maybe hastens my psychological descent into uselessness.

Aging is full of trade-offs, though, and not all of them are ego deflating. The time and energy I no longer spend on hastily conceived fix-it crusades has expanded my weekends, allowing for more fruitful pursuits. I’m free to catch up on any writing and editing work left dangling at quitting time on Friday (it’s when I typically duct-tape this column together, for instance), MLW and I can pedal our bikes to the coffee shop for some caffeinated recreational reading, and there’s always the laundry. So, it’s not like I’ve lost all sense of purpose or anything.

Still, I found it vaguely synchronistic in light of our garage-door dilemma to have stumbled upon a recent study linking financial literacy to lower hospitalization risks among the elderly. Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center didn’t exactly conclude that paying a guy who knows what he’s doing to fix something rather than trying to do it yourself would save you a trip to the emergency room. It was more about the salutary effects of managing your money wisely as you grow old.

But I took it to mean that MLW’s financial acumen — and her insistence that I step aside when my meager skill set is inadequate to the demands of a job — lowers the risk that I’m going to sever a digit while attaching an oily cable to a lethal garage-door spring. And, while I’ve never been one to lean too much on research to guide my actions, I suppose it won’t hurt to recall these conclusions the next time we discuss adding a second bathroom.

The garage-door guy came by one evening last week, and we sat on the patio I had constructed from chunks of the doomed backyard sidewalk. It’s a pretty straightforward job, he explained, showing us the various door models and describing the features of the electric motor that would lift one of them — and, presumably, our spirits — into our twilight years.

I asked him if there was anything we needed to do in the garage before the installation, and he said there were a couple of things. He pushed his chair back from the table (its legs caught momentarily on an upraised chunk of concrete) and led us inside. “You’ll have to move those screens from the rafters,” he noted, before pointing to a section of drywall that encroached on the track. “And you’ll need to pull this back until the new track is installed. You can put it back once we’re finished.”

With nary a glance toward MLW, I sized up the project with what seemed to me to be an air of confidence. “Hmm,” I considered. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

is an Experience Life deputy editor who explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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