Walking Disaster Handyman Blues


As some of you that read this blog know, I lost my handyman position at the building I work at a few months ago, because I couldn’t get some cheap tiles my boss bought to lay down right on an uneven concrete floor. There were other things he alluded to: loose doorknobs, screws that weren’t driven in flush, you get the picture. But people still ask me to do things in their homes. I think that’s one of the real reasons, he couldn’t handle that people asked me instead of him, the boss.

I must admit though, that he did have some valid criticisms. I’m good with my hands, and very good at figuring out how things work and go together, but sometimes tools and or materials just won’t cooperate with me.

Not long after I lost the job, and was re-assigned as a doorman on a less than desirable shift, I was standing in front of the building helping unload someone’s car when another tenant, a retired university professor who taught Shakespeare or something came up the block pushing his little red walker. He was trying to get my attention but I was too busy. I noticed he had a really ugly canvas perched on the handles of his walker.

He went in the lobby and sat down.

When I was done, I came in to help him on the elevator with his new piece of art. It was a 2X3 canvas of two weird looking smiling horses, one blue with red splotches on its body and the other one pink and yellow. It was meant to look like Chagall but was more like something out of Beanie and Cecil.





“Look Xavier! I saw a man putting this out on the sidewalk, I asked him for it and he gave it to me! Isn’t it a wonderful painting?”

“Sure, Professor, it’s lovely.”

I gathered that “the man” who was putting it on the sidewalk was a porter and the painting was garbage, but you know what they say about one mans trash.

“Xavier, when you have time do you think you can come up and hang it for me?”

“Of course, Professor, of course.”

A couple of days later I came to work a few minutes early, and before changing into my doorman’s uniform got a Phillips head screwdriver, a couple of small screws and some picture wire and went up to the Professor’s apartment.

The painting was done on a store-bought pre-stretched canvas and was not framed. I was just going to screw the two screws into the stretchers and wrap some wire around them, the painting didn’t weigh much. I turned it over, measured a foot down on either side, marked it, and started to position the screws. As I did the first screw, the screwdriver slipped and I poked a hole through the canvas. A small hole, but a hole nevertheless. Wow, I really am a lousy handyman, I thought. I pushed the damaged canvas back into the hole, you could only see it from up close, and with the Professor’s eyesight I didn’t think he would notice. I hung up the painting on the wall the Professor had indicated and he was very happy.

The other day I was braising some chicken in a large saucepan in preparation for roasting it. I was also organizing the recyclables, as my wife is prone to throwing the paper in with the plastic, glass and metal. The apartment door is right by the kitchen, and I like to multitask. In between turning over the chicken I first got all the paper together, and took it out into the hall, carefully throwing the deadbolt so I didn’t get locked out in my t-shirt and underwear. I live on the top floor, and there are no other apartments on my floor, so I feel very comfortable going out in the hall in my drawers.

I did the bottles and plastic next, then the black garbage bag. The chicken was browning nicely. I spotted something I’d forgotten, opened the door and reached for the black bag to add it. I did not throw the bolt, using my foot to keep the door from closing. I reached a little too far and I heard the latch click shut behind me.

Now I was locked out, in my underwear, with chicken on the stove on high heat. I went up to the roof to see if there was any way of climbing down to an open window like Spiderman. Danusia would be home any minute, I thought. It was past four and she said she’d be home by four. But I could smell that chicken.

Eventually I bit the bullet and went downstairs to our friends the Turkish health food store guys. I called the landlord’s store across the street and they said to come over and get the keys. I ran across Broadway in my blue boxer shorts, nobody stared. One of the kids from the store came with me with the keys, we tried them all and none worked. It was time for the fire department.

They came in two minutes, and I was really surprised. It took one of them less than a second to pop the door open with a very large crowbar with a flat head. After getting my name they turned and left without a word. I yelled “thanks!” at their retreating backs.

The latch was sheared off, but the deadbolt worked.

Yesterday I went and bought a new $65 Marks mortise lock, the same kind that was on the door. I’ve installed dozens of these, and it usually takes five minutes.


I pulled out the old lock, put in the new one, put the doorknobs and plates back on, and was ready to screw in the cylinder. It wouldn’t go. I kept trying, wasting almost 20 minutes. By now I’m drenched in sweat despite having the AC on. I pull everything apart and see if the threads on the lock are defective. The cylinder goes right I, it’s an alignment problem.

This time I don’t tighten anything up until I get the cylinder to catch. I should have done that in the first place.

I did manage to hang a chandelier we bought for $10 the day before though, and only got zapped twice while doing it.Image

About xaviertrevino

I like to write, take things apart and put them back together. Also our cat Snookie, turtles, and my lovely wife Danusia.
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11 Responses to Walking Disaster Handyman Blues

  1. janetgzinn says:

    As someone who is proud of getting a screw in right, I’m impressed by all you can do. And, of course, the more you can do, the more you can make mistakes. I like that it doesn’t stop you.

  2. Vicki says:

    Great story Xavier! Once, in Rochdale, my mom thought my dads camera ( plugged in to recharge I guess) was smoking, so she called the fire department. Like ten firemen showed up in full gear. It was pretty hysterical. They just unplugged it. How was the chicken?

  3. Caroline says:

    I adore these insights into my old ‘hood!

  4. Susan Breen says:

    For what it’s worth, I tried to retweet this and it said there was a technical error. But I got it!

  5. Maureen Rice (Flanagan) says:

    Lol..typical FDNY response…great piece!

  6. lindabee says:

    As usual, I was right there with you the whole time! Even smelled the chicken. (I imagined it to have something tomato-y in it……did it?)

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