By David R. Stookey
Copyright 2016 David R. Stookey
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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I guess you could just call me a born helper. All my life I’ve felt the calling; folks in dire need of my knowledgeable help or friendly advice. My specialties are lawn care and home improvement projects, but I consider myself an expert in a wide variety of topics. I often reflect upon all the good that I’ve done for our neighborhood over the years, and for the genuine feeling of accomplishment that I’ve instilled in several of my less capable neighbors.
As I proudly surveyed my own yard I noticed Bill Hoffman, my neighbor to the south, trudging out of his shed with a toolbox. A project! I quickly propped my rake on the ol’ wheelbarrow and fairly sprinted. It looked like Bill must’ve suddenly turned his ankle. At the very moment he spotted me jogging towards him, he grimaced in pain. He grunted “How’s it goin’, Ed?” through clenched teeth, so I could tell the pain must have been pretty rough.
“Fine,” I answered, nodding at his toolbox. “Workin’ on a new project?”
He looked at the toolbox in his hand as though seeing it for the first time. “Project? Naw. Just makin’ a few minor repairs. Nothin’ I can’t handle.”
I felt slightly offended. I had helped Bill with several projects, and I knew he relied on me to do things the right way. Today, however, I got the sense that he wanted to go it alone.
“Well,” I warned. “Just remember – even a minor repair can lead to big problems if you’re not careful. Remember the leaky toilet?”
Bill spat “I sure as hell do!” somewhat bitterly, I thought. After all, if I hadn’t been there to help we probably wouldn’t have discovered that weakened pipe. Despite Bill’s protests, I had insisted that we re-tighten all of the fittings after fixing a minor problem with his toilet. The last one I tightened had sheared, spraying water all over their new bathroom and making quite a mess. But imagine how bad it could have been if that weak pipe had twisted with no one at home! Bill’s wife just couldn’t grasp this simple concept, however, and claimed that we should have left it alone. I suspected that this emasculating experience must have driven Bill to attempt this next project, whatever it was, on his own. After all, a man should be the king of his castle!
Independence aside, I knew that Bill needed my help now more than ever. With his husbandly reputation on the line, this was no time to fail. I trailed behind him to the back of his house. He jumped when he realized that I’d followed him.
“Really, Ed. I’ve got this. I appreciate the help, but this is an easy one.” He grabbed an extension ladder from inside the garage and positioned it squarely against the house. Now I could see his objective. Two of the gutter brackets had loosened, allowing the end of the gutter to droop away from the roof.
“Oh, I know you’ve got it. I just figured I’d hold the ol’ ladder for you. Don’t need any broken necks!” He looked at me with resignation. He knew I couldn’t let him fail. I chuckled to myself as he shoved several nails in the corner of his mouth like a seasoned veteran and grabbed the hammer. The gesture looked almost comical on a guy who had obviously worked a desk job his entire life. As he climbed up the ladder I took a more careful look. I knew an amateur like Bill could easily miss an important detail. Sure, the repair appeared simple enough. But a true handyman always needs to ask himself, “what else might need fixing?”
I didn’t need to search for long. My practiced eye picked up the next trouble-spot almost instantly. The drooping gutter had put undue stress on the downspout, and that was also in danger of pulling away from its bracket. From his angle on the back wall of the house, Bill couldn’t see the downspout around the side. Lucky for him I stuck around!
“Bill? Better tighten up that downspout bracket first. If you pull on the gutter, the whole shebang’ll rip right off the house.”
“It’s OK, Ed. I’ll just tack these in place first. Only take a second.”
“I’m tellin’ you, Bill. If that gutter even twitches, the whole downspout’ll rip off. It only has the one bracket at the top!”
Bill sighed, as though forced to reason with someone mentally inferior. “It’ll hold, Ed. It’s held up this long in some pretty fierce wind. A few more seconds won’t hurt.”
I could not believe that he would ignore my valuable advice. “I’m tellin’ you Bill, just lean around and tap another nail or two in the downspout bracket. Only take a second.”
I knew he would ultimately give in to reason, so I started to nudge the base of the ladder towards the corner of the house. Apparently, he decided to ignore my suggestion and had started to position a nail in one of the gutter brackets.
“Jesus!” he yelled, dropping the hammer and flailing wildly for purchase of any kind. I marveled at how panicky some folks get when they’re about to fall. One moment he looked like Audie Murphy climbing bravely through enemy fire to take out a bunker; the next he looked like a terrified clown, spastically grabbing and teetering. Hopefully, this would serve as a good lesson for him. The top of a tall ladder is no place to fool around!
He finally snagged the gutter itself with one wild grab, but lost his footing in the process. As his weight fell fully on the gutter, the brackets popped off the eaves along the back of the house one by one. I noticed with some satisfaction that the downspout had pulled free, too. The downspout landed on his SUV in the driveway with a scraping crash, while Bill rode the gutter as it peeled off the eaves into the hedges next to his deck. He tumbled as he landed, but the fall could have been much, much worse. As the last bracket yanked free, the end of the gutter smashed through the large bay window overlooking the deck. I could hear frightened shouts from his family inside.
Bill stood up and wheeled on me, wild-eyed. “What the hell did you jerk the ladder for?”
Perhaps it is a consequence of the perceived “manliness” of home repair, but I’ve noticed a desperate need of the amateur handyman to assign blame to anyone else for any wrongdoing. Of course no man wants to appear foolish or incompetent. Because I’m confident in my own abilities, however, I find that I don’t mind bearing the burden of these misdirected accusations. I simply weather them in stride, allowing the amateur handyman to heal his damaged ego. Also, I’ve never been financially charged for these frequent mishaps, which leads me to believe that the “real” culprits know exactly where the blame belongs!
“Sorry, Bill. I thought you were going to fix that downspout first.”
“No! No, Ed! You wanted to fix the downspout first.”
“Well, just look at it now. That’s why I wanted you to go for the downspout first.”
Bill stomped around the house to survey the additional damage. He grabbed his head when he saw the hood and roof of his SUV. “I think you better just get the hell out of here, Ed.” He angrily kicked his toolbox on the way by, scattering several of the tools in the grass.
“You don’t want those to get rusty, Bill. That’s a nice set of…”
Bill just glared at me. His wife ran out on the deck, and they began to yell at each other. I heard my own name mentioned more than once.
I shrugged and wandered back to my own yard. I felt pretty bad about how this project ended. We had worked so well together in the past! I glanced at his rock garden fountain that we’d built last spring. The fountain no longer worked, and the neglected little pond reeked with the growth of algae and nasty weeds all over the surface. I guess that one could have gone better. Beyond that stood his tool shed, leaning precariously to one side. Some degree of blame for that one certainly belonged to me. We had started the shed three years ago; our first project together. Bill had planned to waste a great deal of time with an elaborate foundation, but I talked him out of it. The clay soil may have been a little less stable than I thought. Oh well. You can’t be right about everything.
I could see my other neighbor, Tom Bilsky, as I crossed back to my yard. Tom had the hood off of his garden tractor, and he slowly plodded towards his garage for tools. “Hey, Tom!” I called.
I could have sworn that Tom heard me, but he continued around the corner. If anything, it looked like he walked even faster as I called him. I just knew Tom could use some expert help!
Other titles by David R. Stookey
Bad at Math
The Last Survivor
Punch and Parry
Dead Man’s Shoes
A Curse Eternal – The Tragic Account of the Flying Dutchman
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