How to Think Like a Handy Maniac: Have a Plan B

The Handy Maniac can be a hard one to figure out. Just when you think you’re thinking like water – or like him – he zags.

The street we live on in Brooklyn is one year into a two-year major infrastructure project that entails re-routing of all electric and gas lines in order to add a new sewer line to prevent sewage from going into the Gowanus canal at the end of our block. A valid cause. But one that has meant constant construction outside our house. After awhile you don’t even hear it. You get used to walking around the obstacle course on the sidewalk and seeing the notices on your front door alerting you to some new disruption.  Last week we had a notice stating our water would be shut off as a “test” for four hours the next morning.

I set my alarm and get up early to get my shower in. I urge HM to hurry up because I don’t trust that they won’t turn it off earlier than promised. I am really on top of this.  I am Boy-Scouting it.

Suddenly I hear the sound of the washing machine. Has HM really started a load of laundry just minutes before the water is to be shut off?

This is absolutely something I would do: Try to squeeze in one last thing before a deadline. I can hear what he’d say if I had been the one to do this: REALLY? YOU HAD TO WASH YOUR DAINTIES NOW? YOU COULDN’T WAIT FOUR HOURS?

I feel the way a hunter must feel when the prey is in the sites.  I lay in wait and as he gets out of the shower I say, ever-so casually: “You’re really running a load of laundry right now?” He is so busted.

He doesn’t miss a beat: ‘What if they turn the water off and the pipe cracks and we are out of water for THREE-AND-A-HALF DAYS?  WHAT’S YOUR PLAN B? ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN B!”

I can feel one forming but it doesn’t involve water.

After HM has headed to work I find pots of water around the house. One on the stove. One on the back porch. All part of Plan B, I realize. He has a back-up plan to boil water. And to flush the toilet.

Before he left, he told me: “Don’t flush the toilet until you hear the water go back on.”

I nodded but hours later I realize I am not sure what he meant. I don’t flush, but I keep trying the bathroom sink. It sputters loudly. Brown water rushes out. Then it stops. I try the kitchen. Same thing. Oh, well. I guess I’ll just know when the water is back on because it will start working again.

I head out and when I return home later, HM greets me with the news that he had to spend an hour dis-assembling and cleaning out the bathroom and kitchen faucet aerators (the screens at the end of the faucet)  because they were already filled with rust.

Remarkably, none of this is said in all caps.  He simply tells me: “Whenever the water is turned off, go to the highest, biggest faucet in the house and let it run to clean out the pipes.” In our case, this is the upstairs bathtub.

So why hasn’t he LECTURED me about it? I realize on reflection, that it is because it was something he didn’t expect me to know. Therefore, he can simply tell me. HM gets RILED UP when he thinks you should have been able to FIGURE IT OUT. Or when it involves something you DO WRONG EVERY DAY, like fold a wet towel.  It is lazy thinking that he objects to.

The whole episode reminded me that the Handy Maniac is teaching more than How-to. It is a philosophy of life. “I want people to PROBLEM SOLVE.”

HM'S Guide to Always Having  a PLAN B

Appreciate Murphy’s Law.  Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Or HM’s Law: “MURPHY WAS AN OPTIMIST.” If you expect that things will go wrong, you won’t be so freaked out when they do.

Don’t panic.  There are always solutions. Sure, some of them may involve calling in an expert or pulling the trigger on an unavoidable major purchase (e.g. that washing machine quick fix won’t work, or the boiler is really busted.)  But if your last drill bit breaks, do you sit there crying? Or do you go to Home Depot?

Be creative.  Take a minute and think of the options. HM gives a recent example. He was hanging an antique door and had to create a deep mortise for a door pull, but didn't have a  router on the job. So instead he used a paddle bit, made multiple plunge-bore holes and then cleaned it up with a chisel (see below). Why? Because it saved overall time by avoiding a round-trip to his shop to get the faster tool. The other example he gives is  shopping. “Say I forgot to bring one of the screws I’m replacing so I don’t know the right size. Or I lost my measurements for a shelf. I’m at the store. Time is important, WEIGH THE OPTIONS. It’s not that expensive to buy your 3 most likely sized screws in small quantity. Or a piece of wood I know is too long, but at least won’t be too short. Going back to the store three times during a job will frustrate you and you'll run out of gas. As a homeowner, your time might be free; patience is not. Spend an extra 5 bucks and get a range of options. Then you'll have it onhand for the next job -- or you can return the unused items later.” Or, I suggest, call someone at the job to tell you the right size. “NOW YOU’RE THINKIN’.”

No router? Punch-drill the mortise and clean up with a chisel. There is more than one way to get a job done.

No router? Punch-drill the mortise and clean up with a chisel. There is more than one way to get a job done.

Why not buy all three options if you are at the store and don't have the measurements.

Why not buy all three options if you are at the store and don't have the measurements.

Be patient. HM claims he is much more patient than I am. I agree, in the sense that I am ready to quit when a tedious paint stripping job goes wrong. He will see it through -- but not without a LOT OF CUSSING. Does that count as patience?

Hmm. This could be a good philosophy for life, not just home repair: HAVING A PLAN B IS PART OF PLAN A.