Jim Austin's Vermonter at Large
Jim Austin
Jim Austin
is a freelance writer from Putney, Vermont.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 01.27.05


It's a Guy Thing

Every once and a while I get all home-handymanish.

Women get broody and want babies, men get toolish and want to install hanging ceilings in the basement. It happens every winter when a man just can't stomach another rerun of NYPD Blue.

Most of the reason for the new ceiling was so I could buy a laser level. The new generation of laser levels cost over a hundred bucks but, as I explained to Ruth, my concupiscent goddess, a hanging ceiling is a complicated game and requires complicated instruments.

I also needed a bevy of ancillary tools and equipment before I made the move to the ceiling department at Home Depot.

By the time I was ready to go I could have had the ceiling installed by the same guy that did the Sistine Chapel. In any case, I had answered the call of instinct peculiar to my gender and was progressing famously.

The hanging ceiling is a strange and wonderful invention thanks to the engineers at Armstrong. They developed a grid system that seems very shaky at first but which, when assembled, becomes rigid and strong.

That's the theory anyway.

After a few false starts including a near blinding incident with my new laser I pretty much had things under control. I had all but one run of the grid up and almost all of the panels. The panels incidentally are 2 x 2 squares that are attractive and fit perfectly into the grid system. Individually, they are very light. However, forty of them weigh quite a bit.

I was setting in the second to last panel when disaster struck. If you are a male human you probably know the lovely warm feeling of accomplishment that you get when a job is just about completed. You look over the project and think to yourself: I wish this would never end. I could do hanging ceilings forever.

And… maybe I could start up a hanging ceiling installation business. "Jim's Ceilin -- they always rise to the occasion."

This is when the home handyman must be alert for impending doom. With that thought wafting around in the atmosphere the entire ceiling fell to the floor leaving me on my stepladder holding that second to last panel and staring at a smoking ruin.

I don't know how long I stood there, mouth agape and panel at the ready before the cruelty of the situation kicked in and the cursing began. The whore of Babylon would have blushed at the content of my rant but no doubt would have admired the duration. The feeling I experienced was of utter despair mixed with dread. It centered in the pit of the stomach and writhed like a fat serpent. It was the same feeling you get when you hear the following:

"Bush has carried Ohio."

"I missed my period and I'm never late."

"OK, Omar, it's your turn to strap on the bomb."

"Are you free Monday for the audit?"

"Let's check that prostate ,shall we?"

Or almost any mail that starts "We regret to inform you…"

Every piece of the grid was now bent and every panel had a corner knocked off. Up in smoke went my dreams of a hanging ceiling business to be replaced by a desire to beat the crap out of the idiot who designed this system.

It seems that the little wires that hold the grid to the ceiling joists had failed. I was left with the choice of buying more gridwork and panels and starting over or sitting in front of my new laser with the beam trained on the part of the brain that controls memory, hoping to burn away the cells containing details of this atrocity.

An hour later Ruth turned off the laser and told me to grow up.

As a final humiliation I totally copped out and employed the last resort of the home handyman.

I read the instructions. I feel so dirty.