Handyman by
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Prompted By Home Repair

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Lots of tools, sometimes hard to remember where they are

James Taylor described himself metaphorically as a handyman.  I’m the real thing.  In our house, I do all kinds of small repairs, make things, and perform other odd jobs.

James Taylor described himself metaphorically as a handyman.  I’m the real thing.

My rule for plumbing jobs is that I estimate before I take anything apart how many trips I will need to make to the hardware store.  Call that number “n”.  Then when I actually start the job, I invariably find that the actual number of trips is at least n+1.  I can repair leaky faucets, replace faucets, clear drains.  When I married June, I soon learned that her ex could not repair anything.  In November of 2005, after I had been kicked out of my house by my then-wife and before June and I were able to get married, she was having a last Thanksgiving dinner with her ex-husband and their kids, and I stayed at my brother’s house.  I told them about June’s ex having to call a plumber to clear their clogged garbage disposal.  A few minutes later, my sister-in-law came to me and asked if I could clear their disposal, which she had managed to fill with potato peels.  At least I earned my Thanksgiving dinner that year.

In a previous story, I talked about my being a “putter-together” – I love putting things together.  Our neighbors know that I am always available to cut lumber on my table saw, assemble furniture, paint a mailbox post, whatever they need done.  I have many tools, as you might be able to tell from the photo above.  Here at home, I hang pictures, install towel rods, and whatever other “honey-do” jobs I am asked to handle.

I am not afraid to do electrical work and can replace a switch or an outlet.  To replace a lighting fixture, I trip the breaker beforehand, some other jobs I do hot.  Last year’s major project was replacing our home security system with a Nest system (which I love, by the way).  I replaced all the door sensors and installed the Nest doorbell camera, but had a licensed electrician install all of the smoke/carbon dioxide alarms, mainly because a lot of the work was done at the level of our 11-foot ceilings and June would not let me work that high from a ladder.

The doorbell camera job was an interesting one.  I took off the old doorbell but discovered that the mounting holes for the new unit did not match the holes for the old one.  I pulled out my drill and a carbide bit and started trying to drill new holes, only to discover that half an hour of drilling into the brick only made a hole about an eighth of an inch deep.  I went to the local Ace Hardware and was advised that I needed to rent a hammer drill.  The rental was $35 but the holes then took about fifteen seconds to drill.

Major construction is another matter.  June decided early in 2020 that she wanted to “remodel” the kitchen.  That job quickly morphed into a huge project of completely gutting our present kitchen, all the cabinets, all the appliances, a monumental undertaking.  The job was made even more difficult when the designer who was working for the cabinet supply company turned out to be a total nut job and was eventually fired.  As a result, the job that was supposed to be finished before Thanksgiving of 2020 has yet to really even start and we have had all of the appliances in our sunroom for a year now.  The cabinets, which are being made of solid cherry, should be done in a couple more months and our installer will then schedule us for job completion.

June, by the way, is an excellent designer.  Part of the problem with the designer employed by the cabinet supplier was that he simply would not listen to what June wanted.  She has designed and handled, usually long-distance, remodeling projects on three condos on Kaua’i, a condo in SLO, the house she bought for our daughter in Durham, and what was her dad’s house in Nashville, as well as this job here in our house.  She is simply amazing and could probably have made a living as an interior decorator, had she not insisted on getting an AB, an MBA, a JD, and a BS in nursing.


Profile photo of Jeff Gerken Jeff Gerken

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You are a VERY useful person to have around, Jeff. Wish you lived closer to me! I have several jobs for you right now! We called our electrician before the pandemic, but he hasn’t come yet (to be fair, he had a hip replaced, and ours is a very small job). I am impressed by all that you can do! I think it is great that you estimate and plan before you begin a project.

    I don’t blame you for firing the kitchen designer. Listening to the client should be the MOST important aspect of the job. Good luck getting it finished. Hope you and June both love it when it’s done.

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      We (meaning June) did not fire the designer, the cabinet company fired him. This is the premier supplier of custom-built cabinets in this area, and the designers treatment of us was an embarrassment for them. He had similar problems with other clients, it would appear.

  2. Wonderful Jeff!
    Do you think June would like me borrow you for awhile?

  3. John Shutkin says:

    As someone who knows and respects his limits in the DIY area — and calls in experts accordingly — I really appreciate your skills as a true “handyman.” I am particularly in awe of your willingness to take on electrical work, as I just assume that any attempt by me to do so would be fatal. Literally.

    And that great picture of you makes clear that you have not only the know-how, but the tools, to back it up. Indeed, I am reminded of the famous R. Crumb underground comic character, Mr. Natural, whose mantra was “Get the right tool for the job!”

    Just one cavil, Jeff. I suddenly realized (I’m in the slow group) that you use song titles for your story titles. Very apt ones, but, as Suzy’s unappointed lawyer, I must request you respect her right of primogeniture in this area and cease and desist. For my sake. Simply put, I can only deal with — and hum — one earworm a week from Retro.

  4. Marian says:

    What a great team you and June make, Jeff! Although I don’t see how you manage with such a drawn-out kitchen remodel. Dick brought a lot of tools with him when we bought and moved into our house, which definitely is useful. I find them very difficult to use with my thin hands and tiny wrists, but I’m great at pulling wires and caulking tiny areas with my pinky. Wish there was a transporter to beam you to California for some handyman work!

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      We still have our existing kitchen intact. When the time comes to start the project, the contractor will move the refrigerator out to the garage. June has many boxes in the FROG (finished room over garage) for the dishes, etc. And we can always put a microwave on a table somewhere, or go out to eat.

  5. Mister Ed says:

    Great story, Jeff. And a wonderful picture of your workshop. I have a simpler formula than your “N” trips approach. Every home project is an opportunity to increase my tool collection by one.

  6. Suzy says:

    Love the picture of you in your workshop. That is certainly an impressive collection of tools that you have! It’s great that you are so handy, and that you can even do electrical jobs hot. As others have indicated, there is a demand for your services, if only you lived nearby. You could have another career as the traveling Retro handyman!

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Jeff. You are quite impressive. Wish I lived near you when we had our old house. And thanks for the James Taylor!

  8. Khati Hendry says:

    That workshop picture is priceless, and is worth at least a thousand words. Every year I am more in awe of what the engineering mind can accomplish. I don’t have it, but you do, and how lucky for everyone you have helped!

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