elecIt’s dry. It’s cold, and it’s dry. We’re regularly delivering defibrillator-strength jolts to one another. Touched the dog the other day and it sounded like a ladyfinger cracker went off. Got his attention, too. I wanted to apologize, but perhaps it’s better if they think that’s one of your powers. Didn’t know I could do that, eh? Keep that in mind the next time you’re harking up something on the good rug.

A fine weekend, with all the requisite duties and pleasures. Friday night I was going through some backups, and lo: the original Interior Desecrators site, intact. Since the book is no longer in print, I might as well put it back up. But it’s so old. It’s so 2001. It needs to be reworked and resized for the modern age. Or maybe it doesn’t. 

Look for it later this week, in all its 2001 glory. 


My wife asked me to fix the garage door this weekend. By some definition, it’s broken. 

It works fine, more or less, except it stops going up and it stops going down. I found a workaround: just hold the button down until the door completes its journey. Since it’s not the door I use, my wife found her own work-around: send me down to the garage to hold the button down until the door closes after she’s come home. I could either continue to do this forever, or fix it. 

So I said I would do that forever. Why not? I end each day checking to see if the garage doors are closed; no problem doing it a little earlier. Save me some time at night’s end, for that matter. Somehow it always takes 7 minutes to get from sofa to bed; this would cut it to six. Or I could sync the clocks so I gain a minute by the time I get upstairs. What’s that, hon? You want me to fix it? Of course.

I’m not that hopeless, but this confounded me. Most of the things I can fix have no moving parts. For example: periodically I “fix” the television by changing it from channel 4 to channel 3, thereby letting all the pent-up satellite programming gush forth. Now and then I “fix” the internet by connecting to it. These things I generally do after sending others out of the room, so my reputation for mysterious powers remains intact. (See also, Dog, Electrical Burst, Reaction to) But garage doors are balky things, and they’re usually working, or they’re not. This state of half-working was confusing. But I’m the Male, so I must know something. 

Actually, I do. The problems with the door usually had to do with the sensors, or Anti-Child Crushing Mechanism. If anything breaks the beam, the door stops. If the beam is not dead on, the door doesn’t work. So I adjusted the sensor, got a green light, and figured that was it. 

I should back up: the previous attempt to “fix” it consisted of getting a new battery for the remote. Of course, once I figured the sensor was out of alignment, I realized the old battery was fine, which meant fishing through the coffee grounds for the battery. The remote worked -

I should back up a bit more. The remote was a universal remote, which was purchased to replace the one that stopped working. Why? In retrospect, it probably worked just fine. It’s a circuit board that gets used two times a day. I don’t think it was burned out by overuse. It was probably the unaligned sensor.  Run a level three diagnostic! Reconfigure the array! Modulate the frequencies! Or just push it around until the lights go green.

So now we have a nice new remote – and a backup battery! – but the door still misbehaves. I  went down to fix it this afternoon. Temperature: two. As in thirty-below-freezing. Pushed the button, held it; the door went down. Pushed the button, held it; the door went up and HOLY CROW. For the first time I saw the sensor move as the door rattled up, but this time it was almost ripped out of the wall. Picture someone standing up on tiptoe and straining to stand higher with the point of a knife pressing against the underside of their chin: okay okay OKAY OKAY 

I pushed it back into place, ran the door down, and discovered something: the end of a cotter pin that’s been there for nine years had managed to turn itself around 90 degrees so it plucked the edge of the sensor bracket as it travelled up. For a moment I felt like a prison warden discovering a six-mile tunnel dug with spoons and thimbles -  you have to admire the effort, the ingenuity, the sheer determination. The pin was trying to escape. Day after day, year after year, it had been trying to pull itself out – but like escapees who run into a brick foundation from an old building razed decades before (why didn’t you tell us, Pops? I didn’t know! There was never anything there, not even when I came here in ’21!) it hadn’t counted on the sensor bracket giving the game away.

I bent it back, pushed the button. The door did not go up all the way. I pushed it again. The door did not go down all the way. I looked at the sensor: both wires had snapped off. When? Today? Last month? Who knew. 

In the car. Off to the hardware store. Bought 2 feet of wire, which was 18 inches more than I needed, but you know how these things go. No one ever ended a job thinking “that went very well, but dammit, I have 21 cents worth of wire left over.”  Stripped off the plastic sheath, wove the wires together, connected it to the sensor. 

I pressed the button. It went up. Ripped the sensor out of the wall.

The cotter pin had turned itself around. Clearly, I was up against a foe of considerable resourcefulness. I realigned the sensor: nothing. Now it didn’t work. At all. I went inside, because I could not feel my hands, and swore at my extremities until the hot blast of oaths restored the flow of blood. Went back to take a look: the wires had been ripped out again . Well. I stripped the plastic, wove them together, duct taped it, and ran it up. It worked. Ran it down. It worked. 

 did the sensible thing, and quit before I caused any more damage. I expect the pin with push everything out of alignment again tomorrow, but ah, for one brief, shining moment, I’d fixed it. 

Later today: Matchbook of the Week; Max Payne; the 1948 AM weekend lineup, and of course the Evening Commercial Break. 


46 Responses to Monday, Jan. 26

  1. danup says:

    Interior Desecrators is out of print? When did that happen?

  2. Teemo says:

    “but ah, for one brief, shining moment, I’d fixed it.”

    Truly a great feeling, eh?

  3. TIm Windsor says:

    Desecrations is out of print? My local indy bookstore has a stack of three – in paperback! – sitting right by the register. Saw them yesterday.

    “Take Your Change in Withering Dismissals of a Previous Era’s Decorating Styles!!”


  4. Ray says:

    I, too, had to “fix” our garage door this week, also the wife’s side. There must be a Murphy’s-type law that says the wife’s door will crap out before the husband’s, oh, ninety percent of the time.

  5. Bryan says:

    Hi James:
    I didn’t realize Interior Desecrations was out of print. I’m glad I own a copy. It’s got one of my favorite Lileks gags in it. There’s that shot of a godawful bedroom done all in 70′s-era brown and you say something like, “I bet this is the room they put Solzhenitsyn in on his first night in America. They probably found him the next morning sleeping in the woodshed.”
    Or something like that. Anyway, it always cracks me up.

  6. Mxymaster says:

    I wish I could have the Dr. House of home repair around for these kinds of things, minus the endless stream of snarky comments. Just:

    “Toilet sounds like it’s always running? Okay, it could be a crack in the flush valve or the water line being too low in the flush valve or a needed adjustment to the float or a loose flapper or a leak from the tank bolts or [fill in all other things I haven't run across]. Here’s what we do….”

    Nobody likes a know-it-all, but at least I’d make just one trip to the Home Depot.

  7. GoHskrs says:

    Must have been the weekend for North American garage door opener malfunctions. My 12-year-old “professional” opener (I could tell, because the shaft connecting the opener to the header was one solid piece of steel – not likely they sell those at Lowe’s) gave up the ghost this weekend as well. Pressing the Big Button resulted in a lot of grinding noises, but no actual door movement.

    Of course, it would be too easy for the old opener’s safety (anti-child-crushing) sensors to work with a new opener, wouldn’t it? I didn’t do it, but it was sooooo tempting to install the sensors 1 foot apart on the garage ceiling, gazing longingly into one another’s eyes for eternity.

    Unfortunately, we have eagle-eyed home inspectors here in Ohio, and they would have busted me on that for sure. That, and the fact that once your garage door crushes a child, you lose the tax deduction in future year, made me do the right thing. 8^)

  8. Gibbering Madness says:

    For the record: I loved Interior Desecrations. But I’ll bet it made many people uncomfortable. Why? Because it was poking fun at things which came after the Exalted Enlightenment of the Late 1960s. We’re is allowed to make fun of advertisements and recipes from the 1930s-1950s – ho ho, those quaint, ignorant, provincial premodern folk.

    People and things from the 1970s? But… but they were modern! A little dated now, perhaps, but they’re like us! Not like those stuffy “Ozzie and Harriet” types, man! The author is just being reactionary!

  9. GoHskrs says:

    And of course by “future year”, I meant “future years” … {sigh}

  10. jjd says:

    Never trust a cotter pin.

  11. rafinlay says:

    And you had the duct tape right there in your hand and coulda wrapped that rebellious cotter pin until it suffocated. Duct tape uber alles, you know.

  12. rafinlay says:

    After all, the cotter pin was moving, and it shouldn’t.

  13. Gibbering Madness says:

    I expect the pin with push everything out of alignment again tomorrow

    Will tomorrow update be entitled “Welcome Back, Cotter”?

  14. Duane says:

    I’ve had Interior Desecrations on my Christmas list for a few years now, and finally got a copy this year, so they are apparently still available from Amazon. (It was a great year for books this Christmas. I wound up with a stack almost two feet high. Richard Stark, Lawrence Block, Mark Evanier’s biography of Jack Kirby, and tons more. Hooray!)

    For my birthday–Gastroanomalies!


  15. Lars Walker says:

    Interior Desecrations is my favorite of your books. Also the way I discovered this site, through a blog link. What makes it even better is that the house I bought a few years ago was last redecorated in the ID period. So whenever I look at my awful wallpaper, I think of that book.

    Redecorate it myself? That would take money.

  16. Moishe3rd says:

    Very nice.
    As a Professional, Licensed, Whiz Bang Experienced Remodeling Contractor, I would normally spout off – “Hey James – you should’ve called me. I coulda fixed that for ya…”
    I think not.
    Not only would I have duplicated the exact same process you did, I would have ended up probably not charging you because I left the stupid thing there in the exact same condition you described…
    You are a True Professional, James.
    Good job!

  17. No One of Consequence says:

    I had a similar experience, not with a garage door opener, but with a bread machine. We’ve had this machine for years and years, and it’s primary purpose these days is to make pizza dough once a week. Well, last week, it finally gave up. I could hear the motor spinning, but the paddle wasn’t turning.

    When I pulled it apart, I found a nut had come loose, and the drive belt had fallen off. I replaced, retightend, and lo! the paddle spun to life again…

    …until yesterday. Three quarters of the way through mixing, the paddle stopped again. Hopefully, your repair will last longer.

  18. [...] Adventures in garage-door repair, with James Lileks: I pushed it back into place, ran the door down, and discovered something: the end of a cotter pin that’s been there for nine years had managed to turn itself around 90 degrees so it plucked the edge of the sensor bracket as it travelled up. For a moment I felt like a prison warden discovering a six-mile tunnel dug with spoons and thimbles – you have to admire the effort, the ingenuity, the sheer determination. The pin was trying to escape. Day after day, year after year, it had been trying to pull itself out – but like escapees who run into a brick foundation from an old building razed decades before (why didn’t you tell us, Pops? I didn’t know! There was never anything there, not even when I came here in ’21!) it hadn’t counted on the sensor bracket giving the game away. [...]

  19. I had that issue of Spiderman. Traded it for Daredevil #3 (back when he wore the yellow with red vest). Bad deal on my part.

    Our opener went kaput the week before Christmas, along with, the power window in my truck, and our 6 year old dryer. Expensive week.

    And I did use the new Anti-child crushing sensors, even though everyone told me the old ones would work. Stringing that wire was the longest part of the job. Only bad part was that new code rotaing technology will not work with the built-in remote in our 2000 Maxima. Well I guess that will prompt another new vehicle purchase. Can’t have that!

  20. Mr. Lion says:

    Back when I was a kid, we had this fail-safe method for avoiding garage door accidents that was entirely cotter pin proof: Make sure nothing is under the door before you press the button.

    Ah, for simpler times.

  21. definitemaybe says:

    Duct tape’s stickiness won’t last forever especially in extreme weather conditions which is like 90% of the time. Keep an eye on the duct tape my friend!

  22. James says:

    I’ve always hated auto garage-door openers. They always sound like they are going to break down (even when new). Too many big wobbly pieces, too Rube Goldberg-esque.

    I anxiously await the day when garage doors will become intrinsic parts of home design, with a split horizontal partion and the bottom section dissappearing into the ground, the upper portion moving seamlessly upwards to vanish into the structure of the building itself. And landing lights. There must be landing lights so that everyday your return home is like Starbuck returning to the Battlestar Galactica.

    ….probably should keep the leftoever 16 inches of wire though.

  23. KCSteve says:

    We also had the ever-indulgent wife’s garage door opener fail recently.

    Since our garage is a bit small and has a vent running semi-randomly across the ceiling I wound up having to call in a professional to put in the original one near 20 years ago.

    Figuring the job hadn’t gotten any easier I called in a pro again (Google for ‘Handyman Matters’ in your area). Took him over three hours but less cursing than the original guy.

    New one came with anti-crush sensors. I have since learned not to hit the button as I pass in. If I do the door moves about three inches before my trailing foot breaks the sacred beam.

    Rather than mess with duct tape, why not simply bend the cotter pin over further so it can’t reach the sensor? It can look like an M as easily as a T.

    The new opener is also rolling code and it works with the built-in transmitter in my 2000 mini van. I had to do an extra step in the process is all (managed to find the instructions online). First you train the car to imitate the official remote, then you use the opener’s ‘Learn’ button to teach it that it’s dealing with a stupid old non-rolling opener. Might be worth a try. Just hit the ‘learn’ button on the opener and then keep hitting the car’s button until the opener reacts or you get bored.

  24. Our garage door only opens properly when it’s 20 degrees or warmer. Makes parking from November-April a big pain. I’d try to fix it but I would prefer doing so when the weather is warmer than 20 degrees.

  25. swschrad says:

    cotter pin… get out the vise grips, or pump pliers, and bend those silly ends over all the way around the shaft. won’t spour grabby little Gollum fingers again. we loves the sensors, don’ts we? fie, and die.

    I’d have bought the whole spool of wire, frankly. I can always use it someplace. never anything good in the junkbox, because it always gets used.

  26. Kim says:

    No way is Interior Desecrations out of print! Blasphemy!

    This is what I did for Christmas one year:

    All three Lileks books (Gallery of Regrettable Food, Interior Desecrations and Mommy Knows Worst) and a box of “retro” candy from the appropriate decade all wrapped up in a basket as a retro gift.

    The hit of the family party!

    I still recommend it for anyone looking to give a gift to someone who appreciates “the good old days”!

  27. js says:

    That was an awesome story!

  28. James says:

    “No way is Interior Desecrations out of print! Blasphemy!”

    Does this mean you will be posting entire thing on-line for free? A “Thanks to all my fans” kind of thing?

    Please please please

  29. House of Mayhem says:

    I’ve been visiting your site for 9 years now, and I have to say this is one of the funniest things you have ever written! And that’s saying something!

  30. Spud says:

    How bad of a Spidey foe is Electro when all you need is a water-spray bottle to defeat him? That’s what was disappointing about the third Spiderman movie, when Venom was defeated by clanging bells. All Spiderman has to do now is bring his alarm clock with him.

    Here in Mayberry-land we’re getting the occasional days of shocking touches, but not like up where you are at. Gave my wife an electric kiss the other day – tingly!. Lately I will treat my cat by wetting my hands under the faucet before petting him.

  31. DryOwlTacos says:

    Interior Desecrations online? [OliverTwist]Can I have some more, please?[/OliverTwist]

    Although it would be difficult to recreate the total soda-through-the-nose-computer-monitor-splattering guffaw induced by the Giant Cat Butts, I would like to try. Please?

  32. roger h (bgbear) says:

    OK, I am not giving anything away that I like retro stuff or like many of you, I would not have encountered lileks.com in the first place.

    However, retro also includes the erotica of the past and quite a bit of it is charming by today’s standards, and I usually like it as well.

    However, much of it is as raunchy as anything you’ll see produced today and I am mixed in enjoyment. Why I bring it up is that many people on-line post Euro pron from the 70s and the one thing that cracks me up every time I encounter it is that the “sets” look just like the rooms in Interior Desecrators. You almost suspect that after the designer magazine shoots, they picked up extra cash by renting the rooms to the adult entertainment industry.

  33. Inger says:

    Hi Lileks!

    Quick clarification requested:
    Does your garage door truly have an “Anti-Child Crushing Mechanism”, or, like mine, have an “Anti-Child-Crushing Mechanism”?

    Certainly not one to pick nits with a professional writer, I nonetheless am confused which is which, assuming that the mechanism is to counter crushing a child, and not anti-child, and is designed to crush them..


  34. nightfly says:

    Interesting…. so you will be mocking the home decorating of the past with the Internet design of the past. Well played, Mr. Lileks.

  35. Lileks says:

    You’re right; it was late, and my eyes did not catch the ambiguity. It is indeed a mechanism that is anti-child, and hence crushes them at the least provocation. ;)

  36. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – speaking of interior desecrations… was doing some research a while back on the defeo killings that got the whole amityville horror ball rolling…

    this site has pictures of this old amityville how in all its 1970s glory. can’t imagine why anyone would be driven to murder in that veritible palace…

    oh wait….

    oh yeah, i can totally see why…

  37. C Barr says:


    When no one’s looking, bend thaqt cotter pin’s legs up around his ears, then blast him with a torch for about 30 seconds. You’ll have no more trouble.

    But for God’s sake, no waterboarding.

    P.S. A soldering iron will do in a pinch.

  38. swschrad says:

    then I guess you need to burn the machine, it’s evil.

    these days, though, you have to get two propane or MAPP torches, and rub their flames together, to use as a fire starter.

  39. My attorney brother was one of the lawyers representing the garage door manufacturers in the mid-80s after a few children were indeed crushed by doors. He told me that it was the most miserable case he’d ever been involved with, because no matter the outcome of the case, children were dead.

    He also encouraged me to check the doors for safety often, and I do.

    Sorry if I brought the mood down.

  40. I meant to mention that the upshot of those court cases was that all new garage door openers now have the electric eye safety device.

  41. KellyO says:

    I still remember the night I first clicked on the original “Interior Desecrators” site and greedily devoured it, as quickly as one can when one is choking with laughter. I bought the book–I’ve bought all the books!–but even more so than the Gallery of Regrettable Food, I believe that it was never better than in the online experience. There’s something about clicking, seeing, and scrolling to read that has no substitute in turning pages. You have no idea how happy I will be to see the site again.

  42. Davydd says:

    I have a garage door that will stop half way up and sometimes half way down. The fix is simple. Wait for the temperature to warm up again. It only does it when it goes below zero.

  43. Betsy says:

    Cotter Pin was my favorite Doozer on Fraggle Rock. I can’t imagine that any of her kin would be so troublesome.

  44. Gina says:

    ID out of print?? Oh, that is just not right. :-(

    I remember the Christmas it was one of my gifts — best gift of the year, at that. I sat on my grandmother’s sofa and howled over it. One of my favorite Christmas memories of all time. (Probably one of my relatives’ weirdest Christmas memories of all time. “We always knew there was something odd about her . . .”)

  45. Seattle_Dave says:

    My mom was an interior designer in the ’70s, so Interior Desecrations was an abvious gift for her. And I think it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given her. She LOVED it. She leafed through it, commenting on every page: “My God. I remember that wallpaper.” “Oh! I cannot BELIEVE we actually thought those looked good.” “We DID put mirrors everywhere, didn’t we?” “Oh…ugh!”

  46. Maddy says:

    I’m delighted to hear you plan to re-post the original Interior Desecrators Site! It is still to date the best thing I ever saw on the internet, and it made me laugh so hard I might have lost my job, had we not already been told of the layoffs, at Amazon.com customer service.

    I own the book, but I gotta say the site was better. My (hardcover) copy has lots of poor images (as if the printing was mis-aligned) and it seemed to me that some of the editing lost a little of the funny.

    I still delight people with the book, and I still read your site often, because of how much I enjoyed that original site.

    With much affection for your writing and images (great to see you on Shorpy!),


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