The hero in the romance novel you just finished was your ideal. His 100 percent cotton shirt and satin shorts were barely able to contain his magnificently supple muscles. He was sensitive, yet assertive, intellectual yet into real estate, with a good voice, hairy chest, impeccable manners and callus-free size 9 1/2D feet.
But your hero's best feature was none of these. What attracted you (and the heroine) most was that the guy could fix stuff! He replaced the damsel's watchband, took the squeak out of her car door, fixed her broken purse strap and repaired her stuck zipper. All in the same afternoon!
The guy was amazing.
And so you start fantasizing that the man you married was a little handier around the house. It would be nice if he knew which end of a lawn mower to push. Or perhaps your spouse wears loafers because he never learned to tie knots. Worse yet, he may be mechanically inclined but may prefer to sit around the house all day Sunday doing crossword puzzles rather than repainting the tangerine room.
But have you really considered what the other extreme is like? Consider the following scenario, which occurred recently in our household:
We were about to go out the door to the last showing of the movie we had been trying to see for three weeks. I rushed downstairs to take the white clothes out of the dryer while my wife warmed up the car. The dryer had unexpectedly stopped on the scorch cycle: Lint on the bottom of the dryer ignited, fusing together seven different wires (of only five different colors) before exhausting itself, fortunately without taking the house with it.
In your house, you might at this point choose one of three alternatives:
(1) Ignore it and go to the movies in slightly damp underwear.
(2) Hang the clothes in the basement and get out the hair dryer.
(3) Panic and call in an appliance repair person who fixes it in 1 1/2 hours for what he insists is a bargain (and about $50 more than you paid for it).
In our household, however, there was only one avenue to follow:
I asked my wife of four months to assist me and my colorblind eyes in splicing together the dryer's nervous system. We began around 9 and finished around midnight. It was the one night that week that all the kids were occupied elsewhere.
Perverse, is it not? Let me give you some insights into what it would be like to be married to a CF (compulsive fixer) like the guy in that novel. (I have restricted the discussion here to the male CF, since CFness seems to be sex-linked, kind of like baldness, although less pleasant.)
*A little knowledge can be a terrible thing in the hands of a CF. It gnaws at him. The CF believes he can fix anything and that no one will fix anything as well as he. (I even tinker with things on the rare occasions when I do break down and get something fixed by a professional, often necessitating a return to the shop. Like the time the shop set the idle speed on my lawn mower a little too fast for my taste and I proceeded to poke a hole in the gas tank while I was adjusting the speed setting. It cost $45 to replace the tank. The original repair cost $25.)
*Compulsive Fixers do not sleep in past 7:30 a.m. except on weekdays. My wife could not believe this since we were habitually the last guests to eat breakfast at the lodge where we honeymooned. I was deluding her. The first Saturday we returned I shook her awake at dawn and told her to dress for sawdust. The honeymoon was over. There were 5,000 things to do. Five thousand! She humored me, but by afternoon she was on her knees -- belt sanding one of the upstairs bedroom floors so we could refinish it. (CFs are too cheap to rent the appropriate tool -- like a drum sander -- when they already have a belt sander that will do the job, albeit at a considerably slower pace.)
*CFs do not know how to relax. They spend all their spare time either getting a part to fix something, thinking about getting a part to fix something or in actual repair mode. On the way out to dinner, you stop by the hardware store to get the floor finish you need. The clerks know you by name.
Or while visiting your in-laws for the first time, you disembowel your car's instrument panel in 15-degree weather trying to locate a recalcitrant signal flasher (thereby causing dinner to be cold and your wife to suffer frostbite while holding the flashlight). This is the first time she leaned over, between shivers, and whispered in my ear, "You really know how to show a girl a good time." Now she says it routinely on our weekly trips to Hechinger's.
*People are always asking CFs to help them fix something, or borrowing their vast array of tools. We usually get a knock on the door, asking if the ladder is free, just when my wife has convinced me to stay in bed until 8 a.m.
If this were not bad enough, compulsive fixers only have one type of friend: other CFs. They get together and talk about their collections of spare parts. If you go out to dinner with them, you will be the only one without grease under your fingernails.
It is hoped that these illustrations will enable you to control yourself when you are around that CF at the office with the Swiss Army knife dangling suggestively from his belt. When you talk to that mechanically inept spouse of yours at dinner tonight, remember that he will not be thinking about how to replace the garbage disposal, or what is on sale at the paint store.
And do not forget that you have been spared the heartbreak of knowing that you have transmitted CFness to your children. I inherited mine from my father, although it did not manifest itself until years later when I had to start paying for my own car and house repairs.
CFness has apparently spread to my children. My oldest son just dragged home a rusted remnant of a go-cart frame: three different size tires, no steering wheel, stripped axle threads and no engine.
He says he'll have it running in a week.