The art of avoidance comes in handy

May 18, 2009

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For guys like me, who don't know which end of a crescent wrench to point at a bolt, the worst thing about an economic downturn is the increased pressure to engage in "do-it-yourself" projects.

I deeply loathe those guys who can tear apart and reassemble a garbage disposal as easily as they would pick ticks off a hound. They have a skill, fine. I understand that. But it's not my skill. The natural, and highly unfair assumption is that because some, maybe most, guys are handy, all guys must be handy.

Women, in particular, do not understand that these skills are nontransferable. Look, when a furnace mechanic wants to have a column written about something, does he do it himself? No, he calls me. And I quickly and efficiently say, "That's very interesting. Now never call me again."


But when a lawn mower breaks, I am expected to fix it myself because, in the words of a person who I will call "Beth," fixing a lawn mower "is a guy thing."

And in a pinched economy, fixing it yourself is cheaper, right? Wrong. I tried to fix a lawn mower once. I tore it apart, rebuilt it, pulled the cord and it exploded. A chunk of lawn-care shrapnel flew up and cut open my forehead. I had to buy a new mower, so what should have been a $40 repair cost me $350.

So I have learned the art of avoidance, which is a skill in itself. For example, one trick I have learned is to never plug in the battery on the cordless drill.

I get instructions to fix something and I say, "Happily, my dear," and trundle off to my workshop (in place for appearance purposes only), grab the dead drill and make a grand show of pointing it at a screw and pulling the trigger, with no result.

"Oh shucks," I say loudly, "the battery is dead. I'll plug it in and get the job done as soon as it's charged." Then I go back to the shop and throw the drill in an old milk crate.

This act is easier at some times than others. We needed to have our septic tank pumped the other day. Fortunately, my shop does not include a 50,000-gallon pumper, so I reckoned I was off the hook.

A wonderful gentleman named Kyle came over and did the job. First, he had to dig down in the yard to find the tank's lid, which -- excuse me if I'm getting too technical here -- is a metal thingie attached to a concrete thingie. For purposes of future pumping, he explained, it would be a lot better for us if we would install a mechanism allowing, without excavation, easy access to the metal thingie.

Kyle said his company could do it for a reasonable fee, but we could buy the parts and do it ourselves for a lot less.

"There's really nothing to it," he said.

These are the five words I fear most in the English language. There always seems to be something to it.

Had Beth not been standing there, I would have raided the egg money and slipped him a few bills to address the situation, but under the circumstances, this was not an option.

I've tried to avoid the project, but a big hole in the yard is a pretty grim reminder, despite my efforts to hide it with lawn furniture. Every so often, a baby goat will fall into it and bleat noisily, an audible beacon to my ineptitude.

So right now, the way I see it, it's a race against time. All I need to do is stall on the project long enough for the economy to improve. I like my chances.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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