Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.06.05
Stanstead, Quebec


Pity the unhandyman

Recently, I had a friend at the house to help me put up some drywall, and by "help me" I mean I actually helped him as he did all the work, and by that I mean I just sort of held the drywall in place while he did everything else.

At one point, I managed to get myself into the higher position where a screw was needed. My "assistant" handed me his power drill and a screw and said, "Just put one right there."

I immediately broke out into screw sweat. After having watched him effortlessly drive screws into the plaster and lath with that satisfying "Zzzzft!" I watched mine as it wobbled and wiggled - after first falling to the ground - before finally sinking into the wall, not with a confident thunk but more of a sigh of resignation.

"You have to slow down at the end otherwise it can split the lath underneath," my "colleague" said patiently and handed me another screw.

He didn't laugh, didn't roll his eyes or make any comments. As "helpers" go, he's the best. But there are few things more emasculating than mishandling power tools in front of another man.

I actually said, "Gee thanks, Dad," which was pretty defensive and not very generous of me. I mean, the man had let me handle his tool, for goodness sake!

Normally, I stay away from power tools. In fact, I'm under unofficial house orders to do so. I am generally considered the anti-repairman. Even the kids sneer at my un-handiness:

"Hey, this cupboard door won't shut anymore."

"That's because Dad 'fixed' it."

I don't recall when my children started talking with quotation marks around their words but sarcastic remarks from 10-year-olds about one's fixitability are hard to take, even if they are true.

Let's stroll through the house, shall we?

Here's the dripping bathroom faucet that now turns backwards, meaning that if you instinctively turn it the normal way to shut it off, you get a torrent of water and a potentially wet crotch.

Here is the basketball hoop that I attached to the roof of the garage, only to be ripped down last summer by an overzealous slam-dunk. I put it back up two weekends ago, managing to install the hoop upside-down in the process.

Here were the holes in the wall and raw plaster, evidence of successive toilet paper holders that had been yanked away from the wall, again possibly due to overzealous slam-dunks, but I don't really want to know. The mess has since been plastered over by my "associate" who knows what he's doing and doesn't ask questions.

Did I mention the cupboards?

Here is my toolbox, given to me by Deb, perhaps as a half-serious joke, like the nose-hair trimmer she gave me this past Christmas ("Ha-ha. A nose-hair trimmer. Funny. Why, is there a problem?").

In this box are various leftover parts from do-it-yourself assembly kits, miniature eyeglass repair kits bought from ex-cons at our front door, sundry tools, and batteries. Lots of batteries: pretty much the only thing in the toolbox that is ever put to practical use. Except the hammer; if it's broken, I like to whack it.

Here is my one power tool: a cordless drill that lies unused because the charger shorted out when the house caught on fire. (I swear I had nothing to do with it.)

As long as my worth as a man isn't being questioned, I usually don't mind being unhandy or being told to keep my tinkering ways to myself. I have plenty of friends who are willing to do the small repairs for me in exchange for a six-pack and indentured service. And if I ask them nicely, they'll call me "Buddy" or "Mac" or "Chief" as I pass them tools and learn how to use words like "lath."

In fact, I told Deb the other day that I'm learning quite a lot just by watching other people do repairs.

"Don't even think about it," she said.