Why can’t homes just improve themselves

I hate home improvement projects. Or home sustaining projects. Or anything that requires tools more advanced than a flashlight. And not one of those fancy flashlights that double as an emergency beacon that I think is supposed to be only used by Bruce Willis trying to land a plane in a snowstorm.

Home improvement projects are designed for guys named “Mac” or “Duane” who have a garage full of tools rather than a milk crate full of flat footballs. I’m not entirely sure, but I’d be willing to bet it’s difficult to replace a deck with a tennis racquet from the 1970s. Maybe if I had a newer racquet.

These guys are in their element at giant mega hardware stores. They talk to salesmen in fluent Projectese instead of hiding in the plastic containers section hoping they don’t get the wrong size of matching plastic freezer bowls. Perhaps most impressively, they ACTUALLY KNOW WHERE THINGS ARE in the giant hardware store vs. needing to suit up with a compass, schematic printout and plucky computer savvy sidekick in a van outside like you’re planning to steal the Declaration of Independence.

These guys shower in ball bearings, have a dog named “Duke” and can make a combustion engine out of pine needles, guano and whatever’s in their tackle box. They’ve never seen an episode of Glee. If they listen very closely they can tell when a part of something is about to break.

I am not one of these guys.

Growing up, my dad gave me the valuable and not-at-all humiliating job of holding the light. Often even my “skill” at this was below par. It was disconcerting to realize that my abilities were worse than a well-placed hook. The only other job I was given was to “stay out of the way.” At this, I’m proud to say, I excelled.

“Do you think he needs help?” I’d ask my mother, peering through the window to the garage careful not to spill my hot cocoa hoping to get credit for asking without having to actually DO anything. I’m proud to say this is a tactic I still employ whenever I watch my wife clean anything.

“Why don’t you go ask him,” she’d reply, like it would be a good idea to interrupt him in the middle of a project when he had a perfectly good hook already holding his light.

I suppose some of the problem stems from my not having much of an interest, largely because I was much better at breaking things than I was fixing them. As such, my dad and I had an unspoken agreement — he wouldn’t ask me to help and I wouldn’t screw up whatever it was is he was fixing.

During the renting period post-college, I would call up the landlord and, after a few short months, the problem would be sort of fixed.

This is not the case when you own your own home.

When the kitchen sink faucet sprung a leak, I called my former landlord and found they no longer cared about my discomfort.

One project I found myself doing not long ago was winterizing my home, which sounds like a term that should be reserved for snowboarders.

Snowboarder dude 1: “Hey, did you just see me flip six times on the half pipe? I feel so winterized!”

Snowboarder dude 2: “Dude!”

The chief assignment has been to place 16 inches of insulation into the attic, something my dad refuses to do for me on account of his back. Like crawling around on your hands and knees for four hours is in any way taxing. Yet you can play golf for the same amount of time? Check and mate.

While refusing to be my labor while I take up my previous job of staying out of the way, he’s still able to provide advice, which he outlined here.

Lazy Dad: “The first thing you need to do is build yourself a box to cover your house fan.”

Perfectly Capable Me: “OK, I’m going to stop you right there. You said ‘build’ and you were looking at me. The last thing I built was a sandwich, and even that didn’t stay together. Maybe we should just axe this whole thing and we can come to live with you during the winter.”

LD: “It’s not that hard.”

Me: “Then why don’t you do it instead of abandoning our family to freeze?”

LD: “Moving on. To build the box you’re going to have to go get some wood.”

Me: “Oh, and where am I supposed to go get that? The WOOD STORE?”

LD: “It’s called a lumberyard. What tools do you have?”

Me: “Whatever tools you gave me, willingly or without your knowledge. I think I have an awl. Do we need one of those?! I can’t do this!”

I so very badly want to be able to fix things, if only to preserve what masculinity I have left after the unfortunate hair highlighting days of 2001-2002. But unfortunately, no matter how hard I stare at a particular problem or set of building materials it does no good.

But I can still shine a flashlight like nobody’s business.


Kelly Van De Walle can be reached

at vandkel@hotmail.com