Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mr UnFix It - 3/14/2010

As has been chronicled in past postings, my dad had the ability to fix anything. He never used the services of any sort of repairman in his life. He could function as a plumber, electrician, auto mechanic, or carpenter; whatever was required. He was not simply a blue collar guy. The two major occupations of his life were miner and tobacco picker. I like to say that he was a “black and blue” collar worker.

Dad, though small of stature, was extremely powerful from a life of hard work. I remember his hands were as rough as 60 grit sandpaper and his grip was as strong as a vice. I, on the other hand, cannot fix anything. It is actually worse than that. If I fix something it ends up unfixed to the point of being in worse condition than it was before I began the project. Though I can muster a pretty strong grip (shut up Mike), my hands are as smooth as those of a 12 year old girl. My dad did not want to teach me any practical skills. His intention was that I earn enough money to get some guy like him to fix stuff for me. He didn't want me to learn to work on cars because he said that as soon as a boy starts tinkering with cars that is all he will ever do. Dad had no idea what an underachiever and poor earner I would end up being and that a little practical knowledge might save me from myself. I provide that back story as a preamble to the following anecdotes of my exploits as a handyman.

Some time ago, I posted a story about the wonderful work I did on the cassette deck in my vehicle, so the following accounts will not surprise anyone who follows my escapades. Because I have absolutely no tradesman skills, there is no reason to own any decent tools. I have a couple of screwdrivers, a partial set of sockets/wrenches, and a hammer. I have some sort of learning disability that prevents me from being able to follow written directions and my lack of patience is legendary. Those conditions are a recipe for disaster which I will share with you now.

My first new car was a 1972 Gremlin-X. For those too young to be familiar with the AMC Gremlin, it is widely regarded as the worst automobile ever manufactured. And that includes some Eastern European Cold War cars made from expended shell casings and scrap metal. I was an airman in the Air Force with a wife and child. I could barely afford the $36.00 per month car payment and a $5.00 tank of gas, let alone any repair/maintenance. I don’t remember having car insurance. It must not have been as big a deal in those days. Well, as soon as the warranty expired, the car began to self-destruct. I was living in Tucson, too far from my dad for him to redneck engineer it into working order. I was on my own.

It totally stopped running once and a guy looked at it and said it was the carburetor. I went to the parts department and was told that a new carb would run me about $75 but I could buy a rebuild kit for $2.99 that would allow me to repair the one I had. He said it comes with simple directions and anyone can do it in about an hour. He had obviously not seen me in action. Anyway, since I had only about $5.00 in my pocket at any given time, I opted for the DIY undertaking.

I went home, removed the carburetor from the car, sat down at the kitchen table, and commenced the rebuild. Eighteen hours later, I had “finished” the job. I held it up proudly to my wife and she commented that there were some parts left over on the table. There was a spring, a couple of metal screws, and a rubber gasket. I determined that they must have given me some spare parts in case I lost something. I tossed them into the trash and proudly took my expert workmanship outside and bolted it onto the car. I turned the key, pumped the gas pedal, and the car “fired up”. I use those words because when I started the car a flame shot straight up into the air. I don’t mean that a spark was emitted. It was an open flame, a blaze, an inferno. When I shut off the engine, the fire immediately receded. I can’t remember how I obtained the money, but I paid for and had a new carburetor installed.

Unfortunately, that was not my worst or most embarrassing handyman effort. That would come several years later. I bought my daughter, Carly, a new bike when she was about eight or nine. It was a Strawberry Shortcake bike, all the rage for girls of her age. The challenge was that it came in a box, unassembled. The box indicated that assembly should take about an hour and only required a couple of general tools, which I actually owned. I sat down in the middle of the living room floor and began assembly. After a few hours, Carly had actually given up ever getting to ride her bike. Heartbroken, she watched from a distance as questions about my progress were met with increased anger and frustration, and words no child should have to hear, let alone in reference to Strawberry Shortcake.

Eighteen hours later I stood back and admired my work. It actually looked somewhat like the picture on the box. The final touches were inserting the streamers into the handlebar grips and adjusting the seat for maximum comfort. Then it was time for a test ride. She was overjoyed that, finally, her new bike was ready to ride. Swelling with pride, we took the bike outside. She got on and attempted to pedal off for her first ride. She said that it was “kind of” hard to pedal. There was also a horrible squeak every time she tried. I figured it just needed some WD-40 (a non-mechanics answer to everything). That remedy did not work; neither did my many attempts to make adjustments to try to ease the pedaling.

Though, she loved that beautiful bike, she was never able to pedal it the way a normal bike should be propelled. For the life of the bike, it was nearly impossible to pedal and always made a sound that people could hear blocks away. But poor Carly kept trying, hoping that someday her bike would heal itself. It never did, nor did her dad ever make it better. I had other people try to fix it and evidently my assembly damaged it beyond repair. Ever the optimist, Carly would just push it along or coast it downhill, trying to get maximum enjoyment out of her crappy bike. It was the saddest bike ever. It was so hard to watch her ride it a few feet at a time. Homeless kids that got their bikes from dumpsters had more fun than Carly did. Luckily, she eventually outgrew it.

I only wish that these stories were exaggerated.


Anonymous said...

Haha! Yes the Strawberry Shortcake Bike didn't pedal but I loved that bike all the same. Luckily we lived right by a good downhill alley and I could get a good ride down it. Very good post. I would have loved to have seen your face when the Gremlin sparked. This story does explain a lot about my personality though. I do often get stuff that breaks and hope that it fix itself. Love you Carly

Lena said...

Haha! Poor Carly. Good post. You should write more of these, personal experiance, stories.

Anonymous said...

We were still in the green house in Cheyenne so I must have been about 6 with the Strawberry Shortcake. Plus you did a great job putting together Carson's construction set. Or destruction set as he says. Love ya, Carly

myrtle beached whale said...

Instead of having parts left over, we were short parts on that project. Carson got tired of waiting for me to finish and picked up the crane and said, "I'll just play with it like this."

orionsbow said...

You should have simply learned the first basic rule of redneck engineering: If you can't fix it with duct tape, a standard screwdriver or a hammer, it ain't worth fixing. I have made permanent repairs to the roof of my house using just duct tape and a t-square. I have patched together sliced tires with screws, duct tape and Elmers wood glue and DROVE them to the tire store for replacement. Good duct tape will withstand the heat from a volcanic eruption, it just will. These are the real skills you need. Everything else is academic.