OrdinaryTimes 1.41-Meh-Chanical

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I am not what anyone would call mechanical. Well, not in any traditional sense. It took me about five years to figure out how to change the oil in a car, and even then, not entirely reliably. I can often select the right key to fit the backdoor lock, but only because I’ve color-coded the keys. I feel as though I’ve almost mastered the flathead screwdriver and am doing some kindergarten-level practice bouts with the mysterious Phillips head model. I prefer Vise-Grip® pliers, even though they sometimes maul the nut head.

Last weekend the master bathroom towel rack fell into the tub all by itself. It had taken up this annoying habit ever since the property manager ‘managed’ to yank it off the wall while he was mangling the blistered ceiling joint just above it. I gamely put it back up, but it seemed to have lost its will to hang, and has clattered like Fibber Magee’s closet opening into that huge soaking tub at inconvenient intervals since. I’d had it.

Fetching my mastered flathead screwdriver, I leaned into the chore only to learn that I’d need to retrace my steps two flights down into the basement for a Phillips model I barely know where to hold onto. The remarkably small right mounting bracket looked like it had been chewed by wolverines, so I figured I’d just buy a replacement. It fit into my jeans’ coin pocket. I’d loosened the two restraining four inch bolts, spring-loaded winged drywall nuts clattering down between the walls to be found by some future generation. Make that one mounting bracket and two winged drywall nuts.

Eric the hardware man always greets me like the Village Idiot I am because I’m a member of that class of customer that pretty much guarantees serial purchases, and I’m usually too embarrassed to return the failed guess purchase for refund or replacement. I have a basement filled with manifestations of bright ideas; stuff that, while not exactly like what I’d intended to replace, might have worked. They rarely work, and never on the first try. My idea that I might be able to actually buy a replacement towel rack bracket were quickly dashed. Eric says they aren’t a standard part and there’s no telling what brand of rack it might be; branding would distract from the apparent flawlessness of the terribly flawed design of the rack. I returned home dashed, empty handed when I’d expected the kind of salvation only the purchase of a tin towel rack mounting bracket could ever provide.

Home to consider the mechanical more deeply. Us intuitive mechanics do a lot of considering, hoping for an Archimedes-quality flash of insight that might allow the immaculate resolution of what the less intuitive consider a simple first-order problem. We deploy philosophy, not necessarily first, but eventually because mechanical success usually depends upon who you know, and us intuitives know ourselves best. So we try, though we inevitably fail, to transform the difficulty into some second-order difficulty, one amenable to linguistic or philosophical resolution. I guess this stage is more universally acknowledged as simply sleeping on it.

But I’m not merely dozing on the job. These deep philosophical draughts drive an active imagination, and much reconsideration. Perhaps I’ve mischaracterized the nature of the problem; though the left mounting bracket does not look like weasels have gnawed on it, who’s to say they were a matched pair to begin with? Maybe the gnaw marks don’t matter. Perhaps the spontaneous failure has another root cause. As a philosopher, I don’t really believe in root causes, but as a posing mechanic, I can always pretend as if one might exist. Maybe the mounting bracket’s not the problem at all. This would be a convenient conclusion because I cannot buy for love or money a replacement mounting bracket, so if I can reframe the difficulty into a form that might be resolved with readily attainable materials, success might yet be stalking me.

I conclude that perhaps the mounting bracket had been mounted too tightly, leaving inadequate space for that absurd little set screw in the bottom of the wall-ends of the rack to gain purchase behind the mounting bracket. Tightening too tight is a common intuitive mechanic’s mistake, and the owner is, if the work he’s left here is any indication, a seriously intuitive mechanic. Maybe even more than I am. I feel revived.

I flee to the hardware store the next day and buy four brand new bolts with winged drywall nuts, figuring that buying twice as many as I need might save another trip back to the hardware store. Why didn’t I just get some new nuts? Oh, those aren’t standard sizes, either, and the one questionable mounting bracket was held on with two different sizes of bolts, neither of which had the proper-sized replacement winged nuts at the hardware store. Once I’m back home, I let the bolts and nuts sit next to the downed rack for a few days as I more deeply consider the consequential surgery. I could not be certain I’d philosophized the proper resolution, so I turned that grand strategy over and over and over in my head over the best part of last week.

Finally, on Friday, I gathered together four screwdrivers, two each, flathead and Phillips head just in case, and set to work. Of course I managed to fit the mounting bracket on upside down the first time, but the little wings had not terminally expanded yet, so I recovered with what seemed to me almost mechanical ease. The whole operation took less than an hour, tightening the two screws, but not too tight, then finding that weird Allen wrench that fit the tiny set screw, gently tightening that rack into place. It looks perfect now, though I have not yet trusted it to hold a towel. I do not want to know if it’s gonna fail again, and just having it hang there seems a sweet enough success for now. Perhaps its purpose never was to hang towels. The tub edge works perfectly fine for that utilitarian purpose. The chrome rack, insubstantial in all but appearance, is the modern-day equivalent of a five point mounted stag head, demonstrating both affluence and a mystical mechanical flair. I mean, it just hangs there, usually.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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