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Mr. Wizard and the Knack of Figuring Things Out.

I got a great "unintentional" gift from my son on Tuesday. We were chatting as we drove home from his college house, where he lives with a half dozen other Lacrosse players. Apparently, their house washer had gone gunny-sack on 'em and they weren't having much luck getting it fixed.


"Yeh," said Jack, "I was remembering the times you'd fix the busted washer and you'd say "wanna watch?" and I'd run fast the other way. Now I was wishing I'd paid better attention."


Now that is the kind of comment that makes a father's day--makes his week, actually. These are college men--(supposed to be smart)--but knowing how to do these home handyman chores is out of their league. They don't know where to begin.


Truth be known, I barely know myself--but I don't put that out. When the renters phone with a problem, I try to show up with an air of competence and self assurance. None of this stuff is astro-physics--there's a logic, to how all this goes together, you just think it through while you go exploring.


A while ago, Kath complained that the washer just died--made a "PoP' and stopped working. Analyzing the symptoms and the case history, nothing obvious jumped out at me. Not a belt, filter, or hose type of problem. I went online to some appliance repair sites, and they had little to offer, so I started doing the appliance autopsy.


I noticed some mouse droppings on top of the inner housing--that seemed strange, because the laundry room is where the cats get fed. Not likely a good place for a mouse to live--but maybe all that cat food was his little mousie buffet. I looked around for something that looked out of place, and noticed an electrical box, marked "control" on the schematic. It was an electronic sandwich between two slices of translucent plastic. I could see a dark clump that didn't look electrical. I dug it out with two large chopsticks--our little mouse tenant, totally "crispy-crittered" by the 220 volt current in the washer. My search was over.


Of course, this wasn't something you'd see in the shop manual or the online help sites. "Look for fried varmint in the wiring...." nope, you don't see that, but it's one more possible answer.


I make a run at these chores because I don't want to call the repairman and have him come out and charge the minimum fee to say "oh, it's not plugged in." I want to be able to describe the technical issue without sounding like a doofus ripe for the plucking.


Once, a neighbor in the boat moorage had a $7500 speedboat that wouldn't start. He had no skills, no tools, no truck and no boat trailer--so he gave up on fixing his dead boat without even trying. He sold it to a neighbor for $250. The problem was a loose wire from the coil to the distributor. He had to live with watching that neighbor cruising around in HIS boat for years. The most cursory effort to check out the problem, and he would've found it--but he was certain he was in over his head. I don't wanna be that guy.


When you're in over your head, you've exhausted all your cliche solutions. You're plowing new ground, blazing new trails--this is when you learn and grow. This state of openness is devoutly to be wished for, when you're stuck. Frustration can be the welcome mat to one kind of enlightenment.


By the way, this isn't my photograph. It belongs in my "Found Art" set, because it's a copy of a photo I found in a pile of publicity hand-outs being discarded by the college newspaper--sometimes way back when. It's a great shot, and electricity is one aspect of the handyman world that has always held special challenges for me. Screw-ups there can be outright "shocking."



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Taken on November 21, 2009