Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Other Man

I don't know when it happened. When we first moved into our house over 20 years ago, I was gung ho to fix up, spruce up, paint up every little thing that needed work. Leaky sink? No worries, I'm on it! Grubby bathroom? I'll slap on a fresh coat this weekend!  Sticky cabinet? Just let me get my tools! It was like a giant erector set that just needed tweaking. And speaking for myself, there are few things more satisfying than having a problem you can actually solve, and then seeing the results immediately. Not to mention any occasion to use a ratchet.

But somewhere along the way the magic faded. Partially it was a lack of time: the kids were growing up and there were lots more fun activities to do. Partially it was that the problems were no longer so simple to fix: it was beyond just putting in a new washer to stop the drip, it required a whole new faucet. And partially it was just lack of interest as the house became more like a pair of well-worn jeans: sure there were some small holes (literally), but it was comfortable, and I convinced myself they added character. It was a corollary to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." More like, "if it ain't broke too bad, do I have to fix it?"

My wife, on the other hand, had a different point of view. She saw the problems for what they were: problems. I could file away the leak in the kitchen as a minor inconvenience, not look up to see the stain on the ceiling or step lively over the broken front walk. But she knew better: they all needed to be fixed, both for us and for future generations. She pointed them out nicely, politely, insistently, but I waved it all off. Sure, I said, I'll get to it when I have a minute. Translation: leave me alone, there are important naps to take.

She also took into account the other unspoken part of the equation, namely that the issues had exceeded my limited abilities. I actually like fixing stuff, but the skills I bring to the table are rudimentary. We both recall (she with gusto, I less so) incidences in our first home. In one, I tried to replace a lighting fixture; in the other, clean out the trap in a slop sink in the basement. Both seemed to be simple jobs, ones I could handle and save the need and expense of an electrician or plumber. In both instances, things went horribly awry, with sparks in one case and floods in the other. Several thousand dollars later order was restored, but a lesson had been learned.

And so as the punch list increased, she took matters into her own hands. Taping her considerable network, she began to look for another man. She eventually connected with Vinny, and arranged a walkthrough. He cast a critical eye on the items that needed attention... the plumbing issues, the hole in the chimney, the noisy fan... and pointed out others that also needed help. He told her the things we needed to get, like some new tiles and a faucet. And when we got the wrong stuff, he shook his head at us sadly like we had screwed up our homework, then went out and got the right stuff himself. Other than having to work around schedules... his, not ours, I should point out...all got fixed toot sweet.

And the price? Not the money paid to Vinny, but the charge to me for stringing things along way past when they should have been dealt with? She trotted out her wish list of other non-critical improvements that I had waved off. The small fence, the discolored spot on the ceiling, the cracked grout in the shower? All done. Like the others, he did them effortlessly, so that they look as they should, as opposed to how they would look if, well, I did them.

Vinny has become the other man not just in my wife's life, but mine as well. He's taken the pressure off of me, and truth be told, done what I should have done. But I'm good with that. Now, if you live near us, I suspect your next call will be to us to get Vinny's number. But don't bother. We are not the jealous type, but he's ours.


Marc Wollin of Bedford had the nickname in college of "Handy," because he liked to fix things. Sadly, he's outgrown that. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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