Fix-it Guy Returns

August 9, 1998
  I am Fix-it Guy, hear me roar! Again.

This new house is a big one -- more than 3,000 square feet -- and the central air conditioning unit isn't quite powerful enough to shove cold air into the further reaches, so it gets a bit temperate over in the north wing. My office is there, but since I have a window AC unit it's not a problem. Also, our guest room is at that end, but it's primarily reserved for in-laws who don't visit often and we'd like to keep it that way, so that's not a problem either. What is a problem is that Zoe's room is out there, too, and we don't want our little girl sweltering as she sleeps. So today was ceiling fan day. This, of course, meant problems.

Regular readers here may be familiar with the black cloud of home improvement that follows me around. It seems that just about any project I tackle multiplies exponentially in difficulty, often through my own ineptitude but just as often through just plain weirdness. What should be simple isn't. For example, recall if you will the ceiling fan debacle at the old house, where there was a live wire in the outlet box even after I'd turned the power off, said live wire jolting both myself and the electrician I ultimately called in to rescue me. Weird. Once we'd ironed out the power issues I finished the job by tearing a giant hole in the plaster and had to camoflage it with a ceiling medallion. Me. That job was an unusual double shot, where we had elements of both weirdness and ineptitude, but it's a good illustration of what happens when I break out the toolbelt. In short, things tend to go wrong.

When Beth brought home a pair of ceiling fans for me to install in Zoe's room and the guest room, I thought "Piece of cake." How hard could this be? I did three of these at the old house, and by the time I got to the third one I'd gotten it down to enough of a science that most of the problems I encountered were minor and, yes, even expected. I'm an old hand at this, I know what I'm doing by now. Cake, baby. Uh huh.

I started -- and finished -- in Zoe's room. I confidently climbed the stepladder to take the old fixture down, expecting to simply bolt the fan assembly in, hook up the wires, and call it macaroni. Instead, I pulled the old fixture and found an outlet box the likes of which I've never seen before, either in my own experience or in my hundreds of hours of home improvement TV viewing. Where your normal outlet box is maybe four inches square and two inches deep, this one was eight inches square and nine inches deep. Hiding behind the fixture cover was this huge, gaping expanse of nothingness. Totally empty, just the two wires trailing down from the top. There was no way to mount a fan on that box. Having learned from past experience that there's no shame in calling on expertise, I headed over to the hardware store for professional advice. They had no idea what I was talking about; they'd never heard of anything like it. Weird crops up once again.

You'd think I'd have learned by now, come to expect these complications, but no, I'm always surprised by them. Fortunately, I have plenty of experience in adjusting when my projects go south, so adjust I did. After some hemming and hawing, I came to the conclusion that my 20-minute, 1 screwdriver job had evolved into an all day project requiring power tools, building supplies, a flashlight, a ladder, a ruler and level, excursions into the attic space and, of course, the requisite blue streak of swearing.

To make a long story not quite so long, what I ultimately had to do was... Go into the attic, scoop out enough of the blown-in fiberglass insulation to expose the off-world outlet box, knock it out of the ceiling, put in a new joist spanning the space so I'd have something to mount the new box on, mount and wire the new box, cut drywall to fit the gaping hole in the ceiling and then cut a hole in that to expose the new box, screw the drywall into place, and mount and wire the fan. Sounds complicated, doesn't it? Oh, you don't have the full picture yet. Add to the misery index the fact that it was 100+ degrees outside, which made it 120+ in the attic. Then add to that the fact that I was crawling around in, and scooping particles into the air of, fiberglass insulation.

It's nasty stuff. Spun glass in thread form, fiberglass insulation gets into everything: your eyes, your mouth, your nose, your lungs, your skin. You don't feel it so much when you're working -- and sweating -- in it, but boy, do you feel it later. Like now. My legs, arms, hands, neck and stomach all feel like they have thousands of tiny shards of glass sticking out and catching on everything they touch...and it should feel that way, because that's exactly what it is. My lungs are full of crud, it's tickling the back of my throat, making my nose itch, and my eyes burn. I think I've even got some in my crotch, and believe me, that's a picnic you don't want to be invited to. It's a low-grade miserable, torturous feeling, and it's going to last a few more days until the particles have a chance to work their way out...or in.

Bottom line, though, I got the damned fan up and it's working. I'll have to take it down again because I was rushing to get finished so we could put Zoe to bed (I didn't finish until 9 pm) and I didn't have time to tape and mud the drywall patch, but that shouldn't be too hard. (Notice how I don't learn from experience.) And miserable and grumpy though I was by the time I finished, Zoe made it all worthwhile.

When it was all over she came toddling in, looked up at the fan, looked at me, cracked a huge smile and said...

"Daddy! Yaaayyyy!!!" And clapped.

It doesn't get any better than that. Ever.

Copyright © 1998
Chuck Atkins