Husbands and hardware stores go hand in hand

Published 7:46 am Wednesday, August 19, 2009

“Get away from that hammer! You don’t know anything about machinery,” was a friend’s warning to me.

Such talk made me bluer than a sad Smurf. I wanted to be more like my father and my brother Donald. They could fix stuff. They would study on things and somehow find the secret to repair. Their motto was, “So many wrenches, so little time.”

Those who know a lot about do-it-yourself projects are willing to help the do-it-yourself impaired. Sometimes the assistance is nothing more than saying helpful things like, “Are you sure that’s the way you’re supposed to do that?”

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Years ago, I stopped at the hardware store that brother Donald owned before both he and the store retired.

“Here’s the part you wanted,” he said.

I nodded.

“You’d better take this, too.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s the right part that you will need when you discover that the other part won’t work.”

Do-it-yourself home repair projects are to me what Kryptonite is to Superman. Any project done without involving a visit to the emergency room is considered a success. I’m a student of the “Don’t-do-it” school of home repair. If I have to do-it-myself, I pretend that I’m not me.

I want to be one of those guys who can discuss the theory of toilet repair involving the time-space continuum, the adaptability of the PVC pipe, and how to build a motorcycle using nothing more than a ceiling fan, duct tape, and pliers. Part of the problem is that I don’t understand that do-it-yourselfspeak that is comprehended only by hardware clerks with degrees from MIT and the one guy who reads instruction manuals. My obtuseness put over four owners of hardware stores into the Happy Home for Hardware Store Proprietors.

I like hardware stores. My father did all his Christmas shopping at Einar’s Hardware. I could ask for anything, but if Einar didn’t carry it, my chances of getting it were nil.

I frequent the HIC — the Husband Improvement Center — a place where every item is guaranteed to be wrapped in plastic. They feature the Acme line of products. It’s where Wile E. Coyote did his shopping during his Road Runner pursuing days. I’ve drooled over the Acme “Little Giant Do-It-Yourself Rocket-Sled Kit.” I enjoy looking at all of the gizmos, doodads, thingamajigs, whatchamacallits, and tools. I stop by the rolls of chains and rattle a few like Marley’s Ghost. They are chains you can believe in.

I fixed the plumbing in our house one year. The only thing going down the drain was my bank account. Coincidentally, that was the year we lived with my parents until the waters subsided and FEMA completed its evaluation. Never underestimate what one inept man with a pipe wrench can do. The plumber called it the “flood of the century.”

I walked into the HIC and asked if they had a tool for breaking up hard ground.

“Certainly, take your pick,” said the chuckling clerk. “I just want you to know, that no matter what everyone else says, I think that you are sharper than a tack.”

“Thanks,” I replied in an “aw, shucks” manner.

“I’m just not sure which end of the tack it is that you’re as sharp as. How many trips to the hardware store does it take Al Batt to change a light bulb?” he asked a co-worker.

“I don’t know,” said the other.

“Four,” he answered.

It was like a gentle knee to the groin. They fell to the floor in laughter.

They exaggerated. I once fixed an appliance while making only three trips to a hardware store. I had to go to three different hardware stores because I feared the first two might remember me from my previous visits. OK, I went to four stores.

I told my wife that I could go to the HIC and rent a floor sander, tile cutter, or wet vac. She told me that if I did, I would need to rent someone who knew what he was doing. She thinks it’s a shame that brains don’t come in men’s sizes.

My neighbor Crandall, who suffers from a chronic plunger elbow, says that hardware stores will soon carry surgical instruments in the do-it-yourself section under the new healthcare system. He also believes that the ancient Druids worshipped not only trees, but also hardware stores.

I have put at least four hardware stores out of business during my time of visiting them. I still have a couple of hardware stores that I frequent — good places with good people. I don’t know what I would do without hardware stores, but they are diminishing in number.

If hardware stores go away, can husbands be far behind?

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.