The Handyman

posted in: Columns by Mark Chester | 0

I accept the fact that when things around the house need fixing, I am most handy out of the house. I have two left hands.

I can’t draw a straight line even with a ruler. Besides, I run around in circles.

My tools are simple – pen, paper, camera and my noggin.

Unlike my neighbor and college friend, he has every conceivable machine, tool, and gadget in his garage, ready for any task.  And if he doesn’t have the right doodad, he rents it or buys it on Craig’s List and eBay. He collects things I don’t know how to pronounce.

Patience for such procurement isn’t in my d.n.a. I prefer the yellow pages to call a professional fixer.

One morning Charlie was in his driveway pushing a mini Bobcat track loader. He was, rebuilding a stonewall, uprooting old tree stumps, and searching for anything else he could tear down. The manufacturer touts that “the compact machine allows you to go where many machines cannot.”  I’d rather not go there.

While Charlie’s a hands-on kind of guy, I’m hands-off.  I suffer from M.P.  (machine phobia). Though admittedly, the mini Bobcat® looked like a lot of fun. So, I stood behind the control levers and ran it up the hillside.  It felt like driving one of those Dodgem bumper-cars at amusement parks, especially when I crashed it into a tree.

Charlie loves trailers. I’ think that he’s addicted to them. He’s an “alcho-hauler.”He hauls boats and furniture across state lines, yard leaves and tree limbs across town limits. His driving ability and reflex actions are off the charts; he can maneuver his Jeep and added-on wheels as good as any experienced semi-truck driver.

His training as a Navy jet pilot landing on aircraft carriers has given him a unique skill set. He thinks nothing of towing a 45-foot powerboat to Florida “flying” along the highways, turnpikes and through tollbooths.

I don’t know if there’s a correlation between being handy with tools and towing trailers. I know that I’d feel a little dubious attempting such a mission, as I would climbing on a roof to repair shingles, power wash windows, or tile a bathroom, which Charlie recently did. He’s always doing something around the house.

I admire his skills and fearlessness in setting out to do work that he’s never done before. I’m more a house sitter.

My abilities are more visual and cerebral in nature. I’m talking spatial aptitude.   Give me twenty pieces of luggage, and I can fit them into a trunk of a car neatly – even a Mini Cooper - with enough room left to squeeze in a brief case.  I find this challenging and fun. It’s like a puzzle.

Professional movers have this knack. I witnessed one who packed my belongings in his 53-foot moving van. He called it the “prairie schooner.” The driver had three other deliveries of furniture and personal effects he was hauling cross-country already in place.

When he came to the house, he looked at my cartons, furnishings and the odd sized lots; then assessing those dimensions, he mentally measured the empty space inside the van with the pieces already packed in. You could just see, and hear, his mind work, figuring out what to put where as he was instructing his assistant.

The van’s cab is the size of a small motel room – full-size sleeping bunk, mini-frig and a computer. The mover/driver scans all inventory data then prints it out. Mine was quite lengthy - reams and reams of stuff.

The moving experience exemplified the ancient Chinese dissection puzzle known as a “tangram.” 

It’s really an ingenious creation, consisting of seven flat geometric shapes:  five triangles –two small, two large and one medium size, plus a small square and a parallelogram, which are put together to form abstract or representational shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape given as an outline or silhouette format using all seven pieces made of plastic, cardboard or other materials, which may not overlap.

Fitted properly together the seven pieces form a large square. There is a mathematical relationship as well:  the two large triangles equal half of the large square; thus, the remaining five pieces, fitted together equal the other half of the large square’s area.

The tangram is simple, yet thought provoking, used in elementary schools to teach fractions and simple geometry. But there are other uses of the tangram that can illustrate how adults think outside of the box.  The tangram can be used in communication or in conflict-resolution exercises. It’s a tool with many applications.

An amazing illustration of using tools is the recent discovery of an invertebrate species, the veined octopus that uses “the split halves of a coconut shell for shelter.” It actually drags each half individually across the sea floor, and creates a “spherical hiding place.”

BP could learn a lesson.