M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Monday, June 10, 2002  

Back when we quit renting and bought a house, my main objection—heck, my only objection—was the fact that if something broke, it was going to be our responsibility to get it fixed. If, for example, one day the bathtub spontaneously filled up with noisome black sludge, it was our problem. No more calling the manager, having her track down the super, trying to schedule a time when the super could come by and take a look at it and go, “hmm” and then disappear for three weeks from the world of men, only to eventually return with a bucket and a flashlight, whereupon he would disappear into the bathroom, his presence betrayed only by a disembodied torrent of cursing, at the end of which period he would stalk wordlessly out the door, leaving us to discover the bathtub sludge level two inches higher than at the time of his arrival, forcing us to again call the building manager, who would tell us that her records show the problem was fixed. No, the days of that kind of convenience were over.

But if you’re thinking about buying a house and holding off because you won’t know what to do if your furnace shuts down in the middle of an arctic winter night, don’t worry. It’s amazing how quickly you figure things out when you wake up to discover that your cats, in a desperate search for warmth, have climbed into your pajamas with you.

For instance, I never used to understand the mechanics of a toilet. I knew the names of the parts you can see without taking the lid off the tank, but my entire repertoire of toilet-fixing procedures consisted of a) jiggling the handle and b) calling the building manager. Now I’m an expert. If I had to build a toilet from scratch, I could probably do it. I know how the water in the tank…I mean the water in the bowl…okay, I have no idea how those two things are connected, but I know it’s bad if the flappy thing doesn’t close.

Our house was built over a half-century ago, so it has a few idiosyncrasies. Everything always takes longer to fix than I think it will, because I always run into something I didn’t expect. Electrical projects are particularly dodgy, because the house was built in a time when, if you asked somebody about ground wire, you got a handful of copper filings.

Think about it.

The upshot is that after almost nine years of living in this house, it can still surprise me every once in a while. Like it did this weekend, when the bathroom door abruptly stopped closing. The latch would get to within about a foot of the strikeplate, and the outer edge of the door on the hinge side, the part between the hinges, would abruptly bump against the jamb. People were peeing with the door open all weekend, and I think some of them resented my camping out in the hallway with a camera. On the other hand, I just got a rare excuse to use the word “strikeplate.”

I think what happened is that the door has warped a bit. This is odd because my dad just helped me install an exhaust fan in the bathroom a few months ago. By “helped” I mean that my dad did the work, and by “install” I mean that I handed him tools, but the fact remains that all the moisture that used to stay in there cracking our paint and loosening our wallpaper isn’t a problem any more. It never occurred to us that that same moisture was apparently helping the door maintain its shape, and removing it would eventually result in the loss of said door’s full functionality.

Clearly this situation is untenable, and not just because film is expensive. It is possible to force the door shut, but before it thumps home the hinges pull away from the doorframe in a most threatening manner. The message is clear: “keep this up and six screws are going to rip themselves and a cubic foot of wood out of this doorframe, stripping themselves in the process.” And then where will I be? Patiently explaining to every one of our guests that “The bathroom door is right up against the wall in there—just pick it up and sort of prop it against the frame.” Eventually the flow of guests will drop off, but we’ll still have to deal with the problem of resale value.

Neither of the two obvious alternatives—grinding off part of the door or grinding off part of the jamb—appealed to me. Either one would leave me with a stripe of bare wood to deal with and a bunch of sawdust to clean up. And there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t have to do it again in six months, and again, until our bathroom door was a swinging, upended U-shape with a paper-thin inner edge.

Instead, I hit on a novel solution: adding a third hinge between the existing two, where the door hits the jamb. That’ll force the door back into shape and prevent the problem from recurring. Assuming I do it right, which is by no means guaranteed.

I’ll still have some sawdust to clean up, but I’m usually much more cheerful about cleaning up messes that I’ve made in the course of being clever.

This is the kind of thing that would take a lot of landlords a few months to fix, but I’m already on top of it. It almost makes up for having to get my lightbulbs from the store instead of the hallway.

posted by M. Giant 4:12 PM 0 comments


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