“Drops dripped” is said to be the shortest sentence in the 1,215-page nonesuch that is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I have been reading, avidly yet sporadically, for well over a year. “Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored,” the paragraph continues. What does this have to do with home improvement projects and repair?
Someone snored? Well, that would be me (vis-à-vis the popular Bob Vila compulsion), but straight to the point: Drops dripped, and apparently had done so for years, beneath the kitchen sink until the raised floorboards rotted through and the trash can assumed an impossible slant, along with the Comet, sponges, not-yet-recycled batteries, light bulbs, shoe polish, floor polish, lemon scent dish soap, twine, baskets within baskets and random scraps of domestic detritus all of which skirted the trash can into the dark.
As the household’s de facto Mr. Fix-It, I said I’d get right on it. With another 200 pages of War and Peace under my tool belt, I cleared the mess, crawled beneath the sink and settled in like a sausage with a small pillow and flashlight — no, not to read, but to study the matter in comfort. Ah, yes, drops continued to drip, straight through, I discovered, a rusted-out metal-flanged tailpiece. Afterward I reconnoitered the rotted-out floor board situation and took precise measurements. Guided by detailed notes and sketches, I procured the now-plastic tailpiece at my local True Value hardware store and the eighth-inch particle board I thought I needed at Lowe’s.
I didn’t panic during this, the initial repair phase; rather, I addressed coolly the various problems with an eye toward logical, expedient solutions. I acted in a manner befitting any vaguely competent Mr. Fix-It who expects positive results commensurate with the requisite mental (and physical) input which, for crying out loud, could not possibly add up to much.
Back in the kitchen, quiet talk went on. This would be the mumbled observations by family members regarding my snail’s-pace progress, and my own muffled retorts regarding the anguish I endured on their behalf — thanks to various devilish setbacks the magnitude of which they simply wouldn’t understand, though you can bet your Stanley Powerlock measuring tape Bob Vilas would.
It wasn’t long before I started to crack under the pressure. “We’re saving hundreds not calling a plumber!” I cried. “And your point?” my wife responded, somewhat icily, I thought.
OK. I had installed the new plastic tailpiece — instructional the positioning of a washer notwithstanding — and tightened the daylights out of everything under the kitchen sink there was to tighten, clockwise or otherwise. Still, drops dripped, albeit at a molasses-like pace, into the cats’ water bowel that I had positioned next to my pillow. The big saw in Aisle 49 was “down” when I purchased the particle board at Lowe’s, forcing me to use my own Sears Craftsman circular that had last seen a new blade in the mid-’70s. It’s true the final pieces were a bit off, the board too thin. “Frustration is the compost from which the mushrooms of creativity grow,” I said, mostly to the dog who was eyeing me from his own water bowl a safe distance away.
I drove back to my local True Value to buy their best glue, which turned out to “stick and cure” underwater. “It’s not like I need a snorkel,” I told the clerk, who didn’t laugh, even when a co-worker burst through the front door to announce that someone in a van had just hit an “old Volvo” parked in the hardware store lot. Mine was the only car there.
The old Volvo and I hobbled home. I went inside, turned on the faucet, and crawled beneath the sink with my flashlight, pillow and glue. But drops no longer dripped. I’m still not sure why. I wrote it off to one of those home improvement miracles you hear so much about.
My wife said, “Look, get a crowbar and sledge hammer or whatever and beat the fender thing and that other piece back into place, and then pop in a few new bulbs. I mean, how hard could it be?”
I said I’d get right on it. NJC
Cort Smith is a freelance writer and former newspaper and magazine editor. He lives in Holmdel.