Kozlowski: Handyman of the house

By Mark Kozlowski

Perhaps the most chronically heartbreaking assumption is the assumption that devices in your… Perhaps the most chronically heartbreaking assumption is the assumption that devices in your life will actually work.

We expect a lot out of our technology­­ — both simple and complex. We expect our computers to be fast and not crash, we expect our dryers to work, and we even get annoyed when the most important, yet simplest tool — the No. 2 pencil — breaks. This expectation is so ingrained that instead of doing a little dance of victory in praise of the marvels of technology every time our computer works, we do nothing. Instead of reflecting upon the folly of mankind, or the imperfectability of nature every time Windows crashes, we wail, gnash our teeth, and secretly wish we could give our computer a Viking funeral right then and there.

Speaking of billowing flames, my latest experience with non-working technology occurred at a very special someone’s apartment just over a week ago. The pilot light in her oven had gone out, and I, in full prince-charming ode, was going to try to fix it.

Now, even in our post-macho era, men are expected to know how to do these kinds of things. Even if we haven’t seen this particular piece of equipment before, even if all the gas appliances we’ve looked at were piezoelectric, even if we haven’t looked very closely at a piezoelectric appliance, even if we can’t build a cardboard box — never mind build our way out of one — we men are expected to have some kind of amazing mechanical aptitude. Or at least that’s what we think people expect, and what we secretly expect of ourselves. This is why some men don’t read directions. It isn’t stupid. It’s a point of pride.

Well, I had already racked up strike one by looking at the directions. I then proceeded to try to light the oven, which was really difficult considering that I presumed the pilot light was in the oven’s back-left corner, next to a “thingy” painted red. The matches also had an unfortunate tendency to burn a bit quickly. I had to be nimble and quick, never mind the limbo stick.

About 15 matches later, we still had no luck. It wasn’t clear as to whether gas was entering the oven, and any smell of gas was more than masked by the sulfurous smell of matches. We tried again, but by this time, it was a little unnerving to be working around natural gas. As much as I’d love to be an astronaut, lighting an oven improperly is considered perhaps the worst way of reaching near-earth orbit. It also raises eyebrows around campus if yours have been singed off.

So, I did something even more embarrassing than look at the directions on the oven. I called my dad. Now, it isn’t that dear old dad was going to chortle at me for having to offer some advice. He offers advice all the time. Everyone needs a hobby. And yet, it’s always a little embarrassing to tell your old man that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Well, guess what? 30 minutes on the phone, and another 15 matches later, we were still stuck with the same problem.

So, a few days later, with the assistance of the landlord, the pilot light is relit. I am not on hand for the occasion, but I hear even the mechanic had trouble lighting it. That was the good news. The bad news was when I looked at the relit light it became clear that it was nowhere near where I thought it was. The directions had lied! I knew I shouldn’t have read them.

So, what have we learned from all this? First and foremost, when you get an apartment, familiarize yourself with your appliances when they are in working order. Not all of them might be reparable, and you don’t necessarily want to, say, take apart your fridge only to find you can’t put it back together. However, some things to know would be where the stove pilot lights are located, how to shut off water to your sinks, what your refrigerator compressor sounds like, which light bulbs are used in the house and where, and how your doors and windows lock. Not only does this enable you to fix something simple when it goes wrong, it enables you to recognize when something has gone wrong. It might also save you a lot of self-kicking in good time. You have a perfect right to expect that the major things in your apartment will work, but know what you are expecting.

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