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I Actually Fixed Something

Are you handy around the house? If so, would you marry me?

This week I took up the smallest little fix-it job, trying to make my porch light more presentable. This is a covered porch, nine feet wide and 24 feet long, one of the main reasons I bought this house; it’s where I live during the summer. I have four hanging baskets of impatiens there, my charcoal grill, a table and chairs for outdoor dining, a yucca tree and more flowers in stands; I love to sit there with my friends of an evening, chowing down on good food and watching the traffic go by, approximately two cars per hour.

It is an outdoor room, and earlier this season I bought a sculpted lamp that sits on the floor, and a piece of sculpted tin I want to hang on the chimney that forms part of the living room wall, so we have something to look at besides the greenery and the cars. Have to drill a hole in the mortar for that and I’ve not got round to it yet. Why? Keep reading.

When it comes to mechanical things I’m retarded. Slow, developmentally disabled. I used to think this is because I’m Gay, but my brother Dick convinced me otherwise. I was complaining about my disability, how “Dad didn’t teach me anything,” when he said, “Gay’s got nothing to do with it, he didn’t teach me either.

“Everything I know I learned from Time-Life Books.”

I was devastated by this disclosure. If I could blame Gayness for my klutziness, the world started to make sense. I’m good at language, a nearly perfect speller with impeccable grammar, but I can’t handle a screwdriver to save my life. So here comes Dick to say, “I couldn’t either. Dad didn’t know how to teach us, he just did it all himself. Steve’s the same way.

“But the real carpenter in the family was Mom. Did she ever teach you anything?”

“No.”

“Me neither. Get yourself some Time-Life Books.”

Sigh. I’ve looked at those books and they’re way beyond my skill level. I mean no insult to the intellectually disabled, but I’m flat-out retarded when it comes to fixing things.

I can assemble structures that come in boxes with instructions (even though they’re translated from Korean and make no sense whatever); I can do that. I have built shelves, hung brackets, installed mini-blinds and felt butch while I was doing it—not least because my lover was even more clueless and disabled than I was. What is it about Gay men?

I know drag queens who can install garbage disposals, whole appliances; this is obviously not a function of one’s sex drive, but a matter of skills. Some guys got ’em, some guys ain’t. I’m on the ain’t side.

So there I was with a working light over the charcoal grill, just a bare bulb; surrounded by an old housing that once contained a globe that was long gone. When I bought this house (85 years old), that light had a cheap plastic clip-on shade that was always askew. Then at some point a year or two ago the clip-on shade, which was never that steady, got blown off by the wind and shattered.

We have lots of wind here, south of Chicago, the Windy City, and two miles north of one of the largest wind farms in North America.

So, thought I, it’s time to put a real globe up there. So I measured, and went to my local hardware store where the women know everything, and I bought a replacement—only to find the job was more complicated than that.

I got out my ladder, I investigated. (Is there some reason ladders are always unfinished and rough on your hands? Well, yes, so you’ll feel butch making home repairs.)

The globe I bought would fit quite nicely, but the screws that hold it in place were painted over and would not move.

Mind you, the housing is 85 years old, rusted out, painted over, and pliers didn’t budge those screws.

Climb back down the ladder, stew about this for an hour; since the housing was old and ugly and rusted, why not replace it too? The local hardware ladies can fix anything, they really can. So I unscrewed the housing (with four-inch bolts) and took it to them.

Unfortunately the woman who sold me the globe was out to lunch, and the woman who helped me was laughably inexpert. Still, she did solve my problem, so I’ll always be a fan of Hopkins Electric.

Nothing in stock was the same size as the old housing, which left me with the problem of painted-over screws that wouldn’t budge. She thought of some goop that might jiggle the screws, but don’t breathe it and don’t touch it and for God’s sake don’t dispose of it incorrectly, because it can spontaneously combust. She used the store’s own goop-can to try and free my dead screws. “Take it home, let it be, and don’t for anything let it combust.”

Talk about an anxiety attack; “Your house will spontaneously combust!”

She only used 12 drops of this stuff, but in fact it worked, a few hours later I could use the pliers to twist the screws and baby!

So I climbed the ladder.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like screwing rusty shit over my head. My hands get all wobbly, the screwdriver doesn’t stay put, I’m a basket case, and screwing the old housing back with those four-inch screws takes forever. I have no eye-hand coordination; that’s the flip side of being able to spell. Turn one skill on, the other one goes off, they’re mutually exclusive. When Josh has a screwdriver in hand, cover your head.

In 10 or 15 minutes, I got the housing screwed back up there, with many pauses to breathe and rest my neck and center myself. I replaced the white bulb with a yellow bug-light, another $2 (“bugs can’t see yellow,” I was told). Then came the big test; would the globe fit? Could I use the pliers to turn the rusty painted screws to make my side porch beautiful?

Well, yes, though I have to report I am the clumsiest screwer ever. My hands shake, I’m uncoordinated, the screwdriver slips, I feel like a fag.

Feeling like a fag becomes the whole point; men are supposed to know how to do this stuff.

But Dick said, “Everything I know came from Time-Life Books. Don’t think Dad didn’t teach you because you’re Gay; he didn’t teach me either.”

The truth is I’m very clumsy, but I’m okay with that, given the things I’m good at. I need to know my clumsiness does not result from my sexual orientation.

Dick said, “Straight guys are as dumb as you are,” and suddenly I’m okay.

I now have a fairly attractive light on my side porch. It wasn’t easy, because I feel so inadequate, but now the job is done. Like any home improver, I feel some satisfaction.

Still I’m aware of a certain amount of mental oppression: “Men fix things. If you can’t fix things you’re not a man.” Ha, my mother was the best fixer in my family. My father didn’t teach because he didn’t know how.

• When you’re halfway gifted in language, but retarded in mechanics, accept your limitations and thank God for what you’re good at.

• When any task becomes a test of masculinity, go ahead and flunk. Then take your problem to the hardware store, where ladies can solve any challenge.

ª Go ahead and be Gay. Maybe you can build shelves and install appliances; maybe you can’t. No shame, no looking back.

I’m near-sighted, I have wobbly hands; I never misspell an English word. Be the one God created you to be. Mechanics are great, but so are writers, and it’s okay to suck the one you’re not. Indeed that’s the point; some are artists, some are mechanics, and we all want completion. Straight folk seek it in gender difference, and Gay folk seek it in skill sets and attitudes.

Are you handy? Will you marry me? I promise I’ll feed you good for life.++

2 Responses

  1. The Hopkins ‘girls’ are great [knowing from my own experience].

    Why didn’t you tell me when I was there? I don’t need a ladder. And I could have drilled a hole in the wall so your art piece could have been up there to be enjoyed for the last 6 weeks. [Time flies!]

  2. Peter, it didn’t occur to me to take advantage of your height. You might still have needed the step-stool, but perhaps not the ladder.

    It was an ugly job, which I do not ask a guest to perform.

    Besides, I got it done with the Hopkins ladies’ help, so I’m entitled to my little celebration. I FIXED SOMETHING!

    I’m entitled to my little comedy, especially since I know Dick would have been just as clueless as I was, without all the Gay panic I put myself through.

    Who cares whether you can fix stuff? Let’s eat!

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