It’s not that I can’t do electrical work. I just know how it would end. Finger in the outlet, body parallel to the ground, skeleton blinking on and off, smell of burnt hair and fabric, superpowers. But I know how to isolate a problem. I know that if one outlet doesn’t seem to work, you press the RESET BUTTON to test it. Or the TEST button to reset it. Either. Both. If that doesn’t work, then what you’re plugging in might not be working, so you test the outlet with something you know works, like a string of Christmas lights. Of course, if those don’t work, then it could mean the Christmas lights are burned out, so you take them to an outlet you know works, and try them there. They work! Great. So we’ve narrowed it down.
What was I doing again?
Oh. Right. Well: the electrical system of the Oak Island Water Feature has been dicey for a while. If you recall the tale, the contractor installed a preposterous amount of outlets and conduits and whatnot. There are eight outlets. Six appear to be dead. When I plug the main pump into one I know is live, it doesn’t work, which suggests the pump is dead, except that eventually it comes on. Now, I’m no expect, but if there’s one thing I know about electricity, it’s not one of those eventual things. The wires don’t have to warm up for the juice to get through. The undependable quality of the pump I ascribe to a short in the plug. But that is the least of my problems. Having cleaned out the tank, I need to replace the lights that no longer work. But are the lights out, or the light fixtures corroded beyond use?
This means swapping bulbs out until you have an answer, then putting the bulb in a plastic bag, labeling it “TANK BULBS” with a Sharpie, driving to Home Depot, and discovering you left the bag at home on the counter. Well, it was . . . this kind. So you get that, and some other bulbs, and some replacement lights that are cheap and plastic, but they’re going to be buried behind hostas, and the whole issue of “Cost” and “expense” are weighing on your mind because it’s apparent the house is going to need some ruinously expensive foundation work, and this means another year of bleeding ducats to keep this place standing. What. Was. I. Thinking.
Oh, I know what I was thinking; grand house, magnificent site, a perfect place for my daughter to grow up, and I don’t regret any of it. Anyway. While I was standing in the aisle debating which lights to get, two young ladies were debating which solar lights to get. A clerk was helping, inasmuch as he was reassuring them the lights would work fine. I had to contribute. Random acts of kindness. Said my experience with solar was consistently disappointing. The light was weak, it died quickly, was undependable. I don’t know what came over me. Clerk looks at me: you I need like a hole in the head, Jack. Thanks.
“We can’t put in wires,” said one of the young women, “because the landlord won’t let us. We just want to have a light under the tree that goes up in the tree.”
So the clerk showed them a spotlight which will paint the bark with about 47 photons, total, if the sun has been shining all day and is also in nova mode. I made a great show of being interested in my bulb options, then moved off.
Went to garden to get a planting box. Wife wants to make a vegetable garden on the garage roof. (Don’t ask. I’d have to explain.) (Okay, okay. Garage is on the ground floor. House is up the hill. We can walk on the roof.) (Oh, there’s more: roof was leaking a few years ago, so we had someone foam it with waterproof gunk, and it’s cracked and ripped and looks awful, but who cares about the aesthetics of their garage roof, right? Except that you see it when you walk up to the house, so I need to call the contractor tomorrow and ask him to take a look at his handiwork.) She bought one planting box, but wanted another, so I got one, and bags of dirt, and shoved it to the checkout line. The fellow takes all my lightbulbs, puts them in a special bag so they’re not broken, beeps everything.
“Swipe your card, and hit cancel when it asks for your pin,” he says. There’s a sticker on the pad that says “HIT CANCEL FOR PIN.”
It’s been like this for at least six years. Probably more. The system was set up to demand a PIN for credit and debit, or it was written to ask for PIN no matter what, then accept CANCEL when someone used credit. In other words, the counterintuitive CANCEL command is part of completing the transaction. Every clerk has to say this every time to every customer. I wonder if the person responsible for this programming fubar ever goes to Home Depot, sees his handiwork, and feels a hot flush of shame. Or a smirk of satisfaction because he hated the client.
I push the cart through the doors, setting off the security system. They wave me through. Everyone sets off the security system. It’s their way of saying goodbye.
Load everything in the car. Start the engine. Realize that he didn’t put the bag of light bulbs in my cart. Go back. Get bag. He hands it to me like it was my fault. Maybe it was. I’m not good with electricity. I walk through the door, set off the security system, turn around, they wave me on. See, if you don’t stop and look confused, that’s when they get suspicious.
Then it’s Target, Cub Foods, People’s State Intoxicant Distribution Node #23 Southwest Sector, and home. I check the lights: I bought the wrong ones. Of course. Well, I had to go back for cedar chips the next day anyway.
Because every year I have to dump 27 bags of cedar chips around the garden area to keep the weeds down. The weeds come up anyway. Life will find a way, as Professor Jeff Goldblum taught us.
I fix all the low-voltage lighting along the back fence and in the patio area. Half don’t work . I remember: sometimes when the lights come on, it trips the breaker. Go downstairs, flip the switch. It works. I note five lights are out. I have three spare bulbs. Well, that’s another trip.
I would pour a drink of ice-cold Apple-infused Stoli if I’d had it in the fridge, but I haven’t, because that’s warm-weather stuff. And it was rainy. Clouds with imminent drama:
Let’s not and say we did.
I said that to my daughter the other day, and she didn’t get what I meant. “It means, let’s not do it, but say that we did.”
“It was clever in the Seventies.”
“You’re old. And weird.”
Uh huh. Well, up on Sunday; put together the planting boxes. Used the cordless drill, from the Makita Tork-les collection. The drillbit’s probably old. It’s not like I do a lot of drilling, but it’s probably dull. Still, you’d think “wood” wouldn’t be that much of a challenge. Took me 45 minutes to do the first one, and 10 minutes to do the second. The screws aren’t exactly flush on the first one, but you know what? I’ll sleep at night nonetheless. Feeling full of handyman confidence, I decided to troubleshoot the lights on the front of the house. Plugged in the transformer ZZZZZAP! oh right. That’s the bad outlet I need replaced. Remembered that I ran an extension around to the back of the house. Plugged that one in.
So . . . all the lights are burned out.
No, silly goose. The timer on the transformer is off. Reset it, advance it, wait for the click: nothing comes on. Hmm.
So . . . the transformer is burned out.
No, you idiot, that’s the outlet that blows the circuit breaker. Go downstairs. Reset. Go back to the transformer. Turn it on.
Nothing. So . . . hold on, there’s a solution: plug in the transformer to the outlet in the front I use for Christmas lights.
Nothing. So . . . the transformer’s burned. No, that can’t be. Get the Christmas lights. Plug them in.
Nothing. So, the outlet’s dead. No, wait: it worked a while ago. Maybe it’s the Christmas lights. Plug them in the outlet by the back door. They work.
Which means the front outlet is hosed, the side outlet is dicey, AND the transformer’s probably dead, which I would know if I ran 40 feet of extension cord to the side to test it that way. Which I didn’t do, because I had to go back to Home Depot to get the bulbs I forgot and some mulch.
The only bags of mulch left had been opened slightly and exposed to rain, so all the wood and absorbed its daily minimum requirement of water, and all the bags now weighed about 40 pounds. Drove home. Dragged the bags up the steps, dumped them off, went inside, looked around the house to see if there was anyone around. My mother-in-law was sleeping on the sofa.
Went upstairs, watched two FAIL compilations on YouTube, felt better, then laid down for a nap.
Woke. Microwaved a vindaloo from Trader Joe’s. The instructions said “Stir the lamb gently,” and I thought: maybe some Ravel?
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