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I try … fixing


This past week I made it my mission to fix some of the broken things in my house — stuff I’d been living with or working around, despite the inconvenience.

Things started off very well. I’d purchased a replacement screen for my son’s Acer laptop, the absolute center of my young gamer’s life. Something had struck the screen somehow — maybe it was flung there in a fit of gaming frustration? — and the flinger was instantly remorseful. I made him live with it for several weeks because the suffering, I thought, was instructive. But then the screen came and I decided to relent.

Paying to repair the screen would have been a few hundred dollars for a computer that was sort of a bargain buy originally. Replacing the whole computer would have made more sense than that, and I was not really in a position to do that. By chance, I’d looked up replacement screens and watched a few online videos about how to install them. I was astonished by what I saw. It looked … easy.

Replacing a screen means popping off the frame around it, removing four tiny screws (by the way, I stripped one of them, so this is the last screen replacement), and disconnecting a thing that’s connected to a wire and then taped (with seemingly ordinary clear tape) securely into place.

As my son watched (which was perfect — no one wants her heroism to go unnoticed), I did all of these steps, stumbling only on the reconnection of the thing. The thing was supposed to snap easily into place, but it took me a dozen attempts, while peering through my reading glasses, to make the connection.

When I screwed everything back together and snapped the plastic frame back into place, I hit the power button and, voila — it worked! What’s more, because I’d replaced a matte screen with a glossy one, it looked amazing for gaming. I was tempted to zap a few aliens myself.

The feeling of being a fixer was incomparable. I never thought I’d be able to fix a computer, but it was unbelievably easy.

Harder? The toilet seat. It was time to replace both of my toilet seats, and I figured I’d kick that project into gear, because after all, they’re just toilet seats, and I was an advanced repairperson, following my digital foray.

My upstairs toilet seat was hard to install because one of the bolts was on quite tightly and was very corroded, but again, I did it — the thing I didn’t know I could do. Unfortunately, the downstairs toilet seat was installed by the Incredible Hulk, and both bolts refused to budge, so the old seat remains.

I went a little fixing crazy at this point. Over the weekend I found myself with needle in hand, ready to sew up a rip in a pair of polka-dotted underwear. But then I took a good look at the faded colors, the sprung elastic and a few other minuscule rips and runs, and I gave myself a shake. This is not the Great Depression, and some things aren’t worth the effort. I had about fifty pairs of unripped replacements upstairs in a drawer.

More critical to my day-to-day life were two things I could not fix on my own. My refrigerator had been busted for a long time, and my family had been living out of two tiny dorm fridges for months. With videos and resetting instructions and a renewed confidence, I did what I could to get it going, but my efforts fell short.

Coincidentally this week, my furnace went on the fritz. It’s an older model — about 30 years — and I know it’s on borrowed time. As with the fridge, I worked a bit on the settings at the digital thermostat. It’s a complicated thing, like a monitor from a space shuttle, and it blinks error messages and codes that suggest there’s something I can do to make things right.

I started at the thermostat with a manual in hand, and I examined the unit in the basement. While I found that I could get the gas furnace going temporarily by flipping a little switch that made the flame hop up, the unit never stayed on for more than an hour.

This called for a professional, and we have a family friend who does this kind of thing for corporate clients. He came over and figured out the furnace — a faulty part, something called the SSU switch (no idea what that stands for), needed replacing — and after a trip to a store and that $10 part, the furnace was once again humming.

As our friend was leaving, we chanced to ask if he would pretty please look at the fridge. A few hours with a blow dryer did the trick, and, long story short, now we’re buying gallon-sized milk again like rich people.

What I learned from my week of fixing is that the activity is hit or miss. There are things I can do and things I can’t — and things that are worth doing and things that aren’t. Fixing things requires an understanding of our limitations. Sometimes it also requires a willingness to take a chance, and a knowledge that the best of our efforts may not work, or may do more harm than good.

An attempt to fix a thing could be the act that finishes it. That’s OK for a toilet seat (especially if you have a spare toilet), but it’s not the best idea for a major home appliance.

When fixing, I found, it’s important to know your limitations, but also to believe that you can do more than you realize.


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