Your Own Home Repairs: Do You Dare?
by Marjorie Dorfman

Do you think you can save money by fixing things around the house yourself? lf you can, more power to you. If you can't, join the unhandy club and read on.

It all started when I was a mere teen. I was attempting to sew the hem on a pleated skirt while seated on my bed and watching television. My mother had told me she would take care of it and that it would be difficult to do because of the pleats, but of course, I didn’t believe her. (Like Mark Twain said about his father, when I was fourteen I thought my mother was the dumbest woman in the world. It wasn’t until I passed my adolescence that I appreciated how much she had learned in those last six or seven years!) I pinned the edges of the skirt as neatly as I could. Then while Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright were chasing some bad men across the border of sanity, I proceeded to knit one and purl two even though I wasn’t knitting. It took most of the evening for me to finish, long after Hoss and Little Joe found the bad guys and closed down the Ponderosa for the night. I took my time; I wanted each stitch to be perfect.

Well, I should add that my room as kid was at the foot of the stairs and with my door open I could see anyone coming up the stairs. My mother was almost at the foot of the landing and I had just finished.I was so proud. I wanted to show her what I had done. I called to her.

"Look Ma," I said, holding up the skirt to show her my new hem. Only I couldn’t hold it up, not by itself anyway. You see, I had pinned and sewn the skirt to both the bedspread and the sheets underneath. I might add that my mother almost fell over backwards down the stairs and did not stop laughing for a week. After that, she fixed the skirt for me and I fell into adulthood.

You would have thought I would have learned that I cannot sew. Perhaps I did, but that did not mean that I couldn’t screw up other things as well. Many years later, I thought I could save myself some money by polyurethaning the parquet floor in the dining room of my first apartment. It was a small area and I thought I could handle it. I bought all the stuff; the brushes, the paint thinner, the polyurethane; all the accouterments to a professional job with the elimination of one minor variable: a professional. I set about to the task at hand, enthusiastic and empowered by a positive attitude.

I was so proud of myself because it really looked like I was going to make it; that is, until I needed my house keys and found myself stranded into a wet corner because I hadn’t considered drying time and forgot that my keys were ten feet away from any place a human hand could reach them. I had to do the section between the dining room table and the kitchen all over again, only to have it happen a second time because I left some supplies that I needed on the dining room table. I’d still be doing that floor to this day it if I hadn’t finally given up and called in a contractor to finish the job.(Of course, it ended up costing me twice as much.)

Do you think of a nail as something on the tip of your finger? When you hear about a Molly, do you think of that sweet girl you went to high school with? Does a screwdriver conjure images of a cocktail party? If so, then you are like me and should be the last soul on earth to attempt your own home repairs. It should be illegal for people like us to do so. And yet, like Christopher Columbus’s perseverance against the world being flat, we are driven to explore regions beyond which our thumbs should not dare. My house has become a brave new world where the inept have inherited the earth. I have been trying to fix things, despite recent admonitions that the entire situation is hazardous to my own health.

That was twelve years ago and I thought I had learned. I bought a new house and hired a contractor and spent a fortune on making it look as beautiful as I could afford. But a small bathroom on the first floor had wall-paper that made me itch whenever I looked at it. I decided to change it myself rather than bother my very busy boy-friend who lived in another state or call in a contractor for what he would certainly have considered to be a small job. I picked out the paper; an old fashioned white with a design they called a faux-tin motif. I bought the paper and the glue and the rollers and came home ready to begin.

It took a week-end to get the paper up. Part of me knew I was asking for trouble by defying the gods in such a disgraceful manner. It was almost like calling the Titanic unsinkable. It took me two weeks to get the ubiquitous glue that slid like an oil slick off my eye-lids, out of my hair and armpits. But I didn’t care if I was sticky. I had done it, and I had done it myself. I took a nap after I finished because I was too tired for words, and it was only when I awoke and looked at the paper again that my nightmare began. At a distance, everything looked fine; the edges were even and well attached to the glue. But closer scrutiny revealed that the design on the edges did not match! Alas, the fate of one who does not check the lot numbers on wallpaper. The rolls were similar but not the same. On one the design was bordered by a line; on the other two lines. One square contained an inner star, the other a circle. The whole room was a vicious hangover waiting to happen.

Can you guess what I did? That’s right. I called a contractor, went back to Home Depot and bought some more paper. This time I checked the lot numbers. Did I save any money? What do you think?

The morale of the story is that Oscar Wilde was right. There is only one sin and that is stupidity. If you can’t do it, what makes you think that trying to will help? If you don’t understand this logic, you should return with me to the screwdriver cocktail party where we will meet my friend, Molly, and we’ll all go for a manicure!

Did you know . . .

Copyright 2002