Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Even an anti-handyman can be helpful sometimes

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I was lying on the couch in our den the other day trying to store up enough energy to cut the lawn when the phone rang.

It was our neighbour, Yvonne, and she desperately needed to speak with my wife, She Who Must Not Be Named, who happened to be out for coffee with a friend. What with being a crusading newspaper columnist, I sensed something was wrong. "Is something wrong?" I asked Yvonne.

"Yes, there is," she sighed. "Our sump pump isn't working and there's a pool of water spreading in the basement."

Utilizing my amazing powers of perception, I sensed the time had come for me to step up to the plate.

"Would you like me to come and take a look?" I asked.

There was a pause in the conversation, much like the way Charlie Brown paused in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Lucy demanded to know whether he felt she should portray the Christmas Queen in the school pageant.

After a few moments, Yvonne finally replied: "Um, OK, I guess so."

If I am going to be truthful, I understand her hesitation. I have a well-earned reputation for being the opposite of handy. I am essentially the "anti-handyman." If, for example, I found myself in a room with a handy person, there would be a massive explosion, like when matter and anti-matter collide in an episode of Star Trek.

The problem is, I learned how to fix things from my dad, who followed three manly rules for confronting broken items, namely:

1) Frown at the problem to indicate you are taking it seriously.

2) Give the problem a swift kick, slap or shake, especially if the problem is a broken TV set or a vending machine that has taken your money but refuses to dispense a delicious cold beverage or salty snack item.

3) Wrap the problem in several feet of duct tape, even if the problem is emitting sparks or spewing flames.

In contrast, my wife takes pride in her ability to repair rogue household items. She owns -- prepare to turn green with envy -- her own toolbox and a complete set of tools.

Getting back to our story, after slipping into my flip-flops, I bravely strolled down to our neighbour's house, marched into her basement and implemented Step 1 by frowning at the pool of water spreading slowly across the floor.

I did my best to furrow my manly brow. "Your sump pump isn't working," I finally stated in the kind of concerned but capable voice I believe a professional plumber would have employed in this situation.

Yvonne gave me a confused look. "Thanks, Doug," she said. "I think we had that part figured out."

The next thing I did was go and stare at her electrical fuses, because I vaguely recalled seeing someone do that on one of those home-repair reality TV shows.

"Yes, your fuses look fine to me," I muttered, even though I wasn't entirely sure how to tell the difference between a good fuse and one that has gone to the Big Fuse Box in the Sky.

At this point, I knelt down beside the puddle and unplugged the sump pump, then plugged it back in. I did this over and over. Then I looked up with manly pity at Yvonne and her daughter and her house guests, who were wearing pajamas and expressions of grave concern.

Finally, I did what any right-thinking guy would do as a last resort -- I got a flashlight and shined it directly on the sump pump to let it know I was no longer kidding around.

As I stood there in the puddle, brandishing the flashlight menacingly, my wife arrived and, after listening to my professional explanation, foolishly suggested someone might want to call a plumber.

Naturally, that's what Yvonne did, and she chatted with the plumber on the phone for several minutes.

"What does the plumber think?" I finally grunted.

Yvonne covered the phone with one hand and whispered: "He thinks you should give the pipe a shake."

"Seriously?" I groaned, rolling my eyes to convey my professional contempt for this suggestion.

"That's what he says," Yvonne insisted. "Give it a shake."

So that's what I did. I stretched out one hand, grasped the sump pump pipe the way a farmer would grasp the neck of a doomed chicken, and gave it a vigorous shake. Instantly, the sump pump sprang to life and sucked up the puddle. I stood up and heroically dried my hands on my golf shirt. "I believe my work here is done," I sniffed, before marching upstairs.

I'm not sure what my wife and neighbour think, but I'll bet my dad and Charlie Brown would have been proud.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2014 A2

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