The Usual Fool’s Guide to Home Repairs

Today I decided to surprise my wife by creating an urgent need for us to have our restroom professionally rebuilt.  That wasn’t what I intended to do, but in my projects, “not what I intended” is applicable with alarming frequency.  It could be the subtitle for any Do-It-Yourself book I ever write, either that or “Better You Than Me.”  And for whatever reason, my restroom repairs invariably yield the worst results.

For example, when we first moved into our house, our shower didn’t have a curtain rod.  I rose to the challenge–however lowly and simple it ought to have been–and tried to install one; the result was probably indicative.  It’s crooked and droopy.  Even worse, my misguided thuggery insured that it can’t be easily fixed: I destroyed the wall underneath the mount brackets by repeatedly trying to screw the brackets into place.  Apparently that’s a bad idea, especially when dealing with plasterboard.  Repeatedly banging my head against the walls nearby didn’t help either.

Today I needed to replace a towel rod.  I tried to be more careful.  I did not succeed.

Step 1: Reveal the Existence of Other Fools

I don’t want to question the skills of construction workers and handymen everywhere, so I’m going to hope that this step is exclusive to my endeavor today.  However, when I removed the old towel rod, the wall behind it looked suspiciously like the wall behind our shower curtain mounts.  Apparently someone else had used my method during its installation.  Or it had been installed by shotgun-wielding monkeys, who’s method is only slightly superior.

I suppose this could have made me feel better about myself–it’s nice not to be alone in my clumsiness–but there’s a reason that I don’t take our curtain rod down.  I don’t know how to fix messes like it.

Step 2: Follow Instructions

Thus instead of trying to work in that ruined space, I decided to install the new towel rod slightly higher on the wall, in the pristine looking section above the damage.  I even thought this might be a good idea, because our towels would hang down and block the visibility of it. (All I would need to do would be to make sure that my wife never moved them, and also never grew suspicious of that prohibition.  What could possibly go wrong?)  I forgot to ask why that section was pristine, while the rest of the wall showed signs of age.

However, I did read the new rod’s installation instructions carefully; they seemed straightforward.  I needed to screw special widgets into the wall, then screw a doohickey into each widget, then attach the towel rod.  (The instructions were slightly more technical, but only slightly.  They were illustrated though.)  I made it about a quarter of the way through the first step; I couldn’t get even a single widget to work.

What I didn’t realize was that the wall there was cursed, jinxed, bewitched, or in some way rendered unwelcoming to success.  As I looked at it later, I realized that the area looked like a bit of patchwork, as though someone else had tried to install something there, succumbed to the curse, and done a hasty repair.  Also, that person had obviously effected their repair with diamond coated flesh of superman, which is notoriously impervious to widgets.

I chipped the paint off and made a small crater, but my widget went no further.

Step 3:  Improvise

For anyone seeking a good definition for “committed,” it’s what you are when you’ve already put a hole in the wall.  I was determined to get the widgets and doohickeys into the wall where I had started, because I didn’t want there to be a new damaged spot somewhere visible.

First I thought that I would drill pilot holes for the widgets.  It wasn’t part of the instructions, but it didn’t involve causing any further holes, so it seemed like a good idea.  On an unrelated note, perhaps the government should require people to have some sort of license before operating a drill.  I created plumes of probably toxic dust, shredded the wall in a ghastly manner, and still couldn’t get the widget in.

Then I resorted to hammering, which features prominently in many of my “plan B’s.”  The widgets vaguely resembled nails; the wall already had a hole in it.  What could a little bit of unbridled whacking hurt?

Step 4:  Regret Step 3

In general I find that Step 4 overlaps Step 3, beginning very quickly after it but then continuing on its own after Step 3 has finished.  Today’s regrets involved a coating of plaster dust on the restroom floor (which I had just mopped) and a moderately sized hammer impression in both my thumb and a nearby but otherwise unrelated wall.

More importantly however, I had bent one of the widgets and gotten it stuck in the wall.  I couldn’t drive it in any more–it just kept bending–but I couldn’t pull it out either without wreaking untold carnage on the plasterboard which it seemed determined to grip.

I couldn’t continue installing the towel rod there; it wouldn’t fit around the broken widget.  I’d have to install it somewhere else, then explain to my wife why our bathroom had gained an unusual and unsightly decoration.

Step 5:  Sit in Dejected Awe

I can say this with confidence, because I spent a good portion of my afternoon thinking about it: there isn’t an endearing way to say, “Honey, I broke the restroom again.”  I’ve been blessed with a patient and generous wife, or I might be on the lam rather than telling this story.

Step 6:  Concoct a Plan

I don’t know how long Step 5 took, but in retrospect I think Step 6 didn’t take long enough.

Somewhere in my hunt for widget disguises, it struck me that I only had three widgets left, one less than the instructions required.  Visions floated through my mind of a restroom in shambles, lacking even a new towel rod to boast.  In the ensuing panic, I fatefully decided to use the anchors from the old towel rod, which were still limply dangling from the mess they had caused.

I’m pretty sure that this entire post is evidence of my dubious expertise about wall-anchors, but “limply dangling” should probably have raised a red flag in my mind.

Step 7:  Apply Thuggery

Clearly the solution was to push the anchors (and wall bits) back into the wall with manly force.  This I did.  Then I finagled a way to screw the doohickeys into the anchors without the widgets, which coincidentally also involved the liberal application of manly force.  Thankfully, the tightness of ill-fitting parts kept the wall bits from falling out of place again.  For an instant I had hope even.  Finally, I retrieved the new towel rod and tried to attach it to the doohickeys.

Here’s an interesting fact: the old towel rod was a quarter inch shorter than our new one.  The difference is so small that I didn’t notice it until I tried to hang the new rod’s brackets over the doohickeys in the old rod’s anchors.  They didn’t align, so they wouldn’t attach.


The instructions said that the installation should take about eight minutes.  After two hours and marginally more hammering than anticipated, I finally managed to wedge the towel rod into place.  I think it only stays there because it’s afraid of what I’ll try next.  I might need to invent something though, because as soon as I hung our towels on it, it started to sag.

Sadly, the towel rod was the simplest of the home repairs I had hoped to accomplish this week.


2 thoughts on “The Usual Fool’s Guide to Home Repairs

  1. I love coming here. I need confirmation that my husband isn’t the only man in the universe who doesn’t know a hammer from a nail. I do ALL the manly work in our home. My tool box runneth over. It’s not because I’m a whiz, it’s because I have common sense and spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to do what needs done:

    Being a handyman is something my husband neglected to ask for before he was born. So I’m the one lugging the tools through the house while husband is doing the dishes, or vacuuming. It’s a trade-off. We either do it that way or I would have a house that looked like swiss cheese with no towel bars.

    I also have a lifetime assortment of vinyl spackling in the garage and cans of paint. I DO make mistakes, but they’re MY mistakes, so I don’t end up looking at my husband in amazement when he tries to screw a nail into the wall.

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