Although my father was good at household projects and repairs and his father was a carpenter, the “fix-it” gene passed right over me. Surprisingly though, I did work for a contractor when I was in my early twenties, mostly as a roofer. In fact, once when I was using a power saw to cut a cedar gutter into pieces I fell off the roof.
When someone asks my wife Dale if I am handy around the house, she tells them: “I have to hide the hammers from him.”
Still, on a recent day off from work I grabbed an old can of epoxy spray paint from the garage, to cover over a rusted spot on an outside door. It wouldn’t work. Through a set of careful calculations and keen observation, I discovered that the spray cap was stuck from dried epoxy. I pulled off the cap with a pair of pliers and then pushed a safety pin through the spray hole to clear out the dried paint. As I did this, epoxy dripped and sprayed all over my hands and splattered across my face.
When Dale came home from work, she asked, “Do you know you have paint in your mustache?”
I tried to wash it off, like I might water-based paint, but it didn’t work. I did a Google search for tips and found that to remove epoxy paint I should cover the affected skin with a cloth soaked in vinegar. The tip said that the adhesive should start to soften and come away from my skin.
It took some time, but it worked. I wasn’t quite ready, though, to apply a cloth soaked in vinegar to my face.
Of course, my hands then smelled of vinegar. In another search, I found that to get rid of the vinegar smell on my hands, I had to moisten my hands and fingers and then rub them together with salt to remove the odor. The tip said if I rubbed them and then rinsed them with water, the smell should automatically disappear.
It should take the average person about 10 seconds to spray paint to a two-square-inch area on a door. But, an hour had already passed and I still had paint on my face.
All of this delighted Dale to no end.
Listen, I was always good at lifting, digging, demolition, chopping wood, changing tires, pushing cars with dead batteries, snow shoveling, opening stuck windows and jars; and, even putting together IKEA-type furniture and barbecue grills (with a lot of cursing).
In fact, I like grunt work so much that when I was 15 I had a summer job doing odd jobs at country club. My boss told me to do some light maintenance work. I asked him if he had anything harder. He handed me a shovel and, for the rest of the summer I dug trenches for the plumber to lay pipe for new water lines.
Much later in life, as the CEO of an organization that owned three buildings, the maintenance man had a heart attack. It was uncertain when he would return. So, on a temporary basis, I came in to the office early in the morning, with a change of clothes, and took care of all urgent maintenance jobs. I did the same during my lunch hour and after hours if necessary. I did the grunt work and contacted a variety of contractors to take care of plumbing, carpentry, electrical, HVAC and others to do the work that actually required some skill.
Believe it or not I did that for a full year. I even had a tool box in my office that made it look like I knew what I was doing. But I made sure to hide the hammers first.
Andrew Malekoff is a New York State licensed social worker and an Anton columnist.