Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tool time

posted Sun, 25 Jul 2004

I am so lucky to have my Harpo. Not just because he is smart and funny and sweet, but because he can fix things. He is not one of those girly men who has to call a plumber or a mechanic or a plumber. He knows how to do all those things himself, which is something I have always thought to be an essential part of masculinity. Men need to be able to fix things. That is one of the things men do.

I don’t recall ever seeing a workman at my house when I was growing up. Maybe I have a flawed memory, but it seems that my dad was able to do anything that needed to be done. His father had a car dealership and garage, so my dad grew up working on cars. When he was in the Air Force, he worked on planes. When he retired, he got his mechanic’s license with the intention of finding a job at a nice, sunny, south Texas airport fixing planes. At one interview, the guy told my dad that he did not hire retired officers because “they couldn’t take orders.” My dad’s response was that he was tired of being the one giving orders and that all he wanted was a simple job.

I’ve been very impressed at the things Harpo can do. He is quite artistic and creative: he composes music, he plays the harmonica beautifully, he paints, he writes. And he fixes things.

Yesterday he put the new speakers in my car. Remember the instructions the manual gave me – “remove door panel, install new speakers, replace panel?” Well, it was a little more complicated than that. It is definitely not something I could have done myself.

What they don’t tell you is that removing the door panel to a Toyota Corolla is a job in and of itself. There is not just “a panel.” There are at least four separate parts that must be removed, each with its own secret unlocking mechanism. Then, once Harpo got the panel off, he discovered that the new speaker didn’t quite match with the housing of the old one. He had to drill new holes to screw it in. This is the part where I was useful: I wentto the attic to get the drill. Which had not been charged in a couple of months. So he could do only the one front speaker before the charge ran out.

I plugged the drill (my Ryobi cordless drill with the level on top and forward and reverse drilling! Now I know why men get so excited about power tools. They are fun!) into the outlet so it could recharge. Harpo started pulling apart the back seat so he could install the rear speakers. At first, he thought they might be accessible through the trunk. You can see them when you open the trunk – and in many cars, you apparently can install them via the trunk. But not on the Corolla. Oh, no. They want to give you a challenge. They want you to give up and go to a dealer and pay hundreds of dollars for someone else to install your speakers.

Ha. Harpo was not to be daunted. He had to remove the back seat, the side panels between the rear window and the back windows, and the panel between the back seats and the rear window. Oh yeah – and the housing for the brake lights. At least five pieces and maybe more.

We were now in hour three of the project. I had not yet bathed for the day, even though I ran eight miles in the morning before Harpo came over and had also made a huge batch of chili so I would have something for lunch at work. I had also spent some time in the mud of the back yard, blitzing nutgrass and other weeds and trying to mash down the high pieces of ground so that my lawn might become relatively level. It was hot and humid yesterday (well, as hot and humid as it gets here) and I know I was not at my most attractive.

Still, as Harpo pointed out, I couldn’t leave because I was “riveted at the sight of [his] semi-nude, middle-aged body sweating in the car.” He had started out fully clothed in jeans and a button-down shirt, but had gradually stripped, eventually borrowing a pair of shorts from me so he wouldn’t be indecent.

When he got to the rear speakers – which, like the front speaker – were falling apart, which explains the poor sound quality I have been getting for oh, I don’t know, the past four years – he discovered that Crutchfield.com (which has been excellent in every other way – a great place to order sound equipment) had not included some little plug thingy you need to attach the new speakers to the wiring. He cursed, then got out of the car, stomped over to the porch swing where he had left his car keys, and drove off. When he returned, he had a soldering iron and wire strippers. This is where I got really impressed: he cut and snipped and soldered and all of a sudden, the new speaker had all the right parts. My strategy would have been to close up shop, call Crutchfield, and ask that they send me the missing part, but I guess that would have been the sissy way out.

The whole time he was doing all this, I was alternating between making him coffee (Pilon, of course) and a coffee cake (he hadn’t eaten yet when he came over), doing laundry, washing dishes, putting the chili in Tupperware for freezing, and reading a book. Mostly, I sat on the porch stairs next to the car in case he needed anything – a small price to pay for having my speakers installed. Usually what he needs is someone to listen to him, which again, is part of the deal. Fair enough, I think.

My dilemma, though, is this: he has so little free time – he is scheduled to work about 56 hours a week and usually works about 70 or 80 – that I don’t want him to spend it doing my car and home repairs. Not just because I feel guilty about his using his time that way but also because he is the only person here I really hang out with – my only friend who has time to do things with me. I have lots of women friends, but they are all married, either with children or with child, so they have other demands on their time.

If he has free time that he is willing to spend with me, I want to do something fun. I want to go to a movie or out to eat or to a museum. Those are all things I could do alone, but they are so much more fun with him. He is happy to hang out at home and do nothing, but I get enough of that during the week. On Saturday, after my chores are done, I want to have fun. With him. I want to get out of the house! When I am in my house, all I can think of is all the work I need to do: fold the clothes, make the bed, clean the bathroom. If I can get out of the house, then I can leave those things behind.

We made a quasi-compromise on that last night. When he finished the job (four and a half hours – ouch), we each bathed, then took the car out for a spin to test it. I am delighted to report that “Mama, don’t let your children grow up to be cowboys” sounds fabulous now coming out of the speakers. We turned them up full blast and played with the treble and the bass. Incredible! Harpo is a magician. He said he had fun putting in the new speakers, but I think the main reason he did it is so he wouldn’t have to read here that I had done it alone. Baby, I couldn’t have done it all. You’re safe.

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