9. Mr. Fix-It

9. Mr. Fix-It

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


Mr. Fix-It

Prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent.

~Author Unknown

My father took pride in his home repair skills. “I never pay someone to fix something that I can fix myself,” he’d boast. Never mind that Mr. Fix-It’s repairs usually resulted in fire, flooding, or any number of biblical disasters. No wonder my mother taped the phone number of every repairman in town to our refrigerator.

Undeterred by any challenge, as long as he had ample spackle, wood putty, or electrical tape, he’d routinely lumber down to his workshop every Friday afternoon.

Shoving Best of the Ventures into his eight-track machine, he’d stuff tools into his waistband, consult one of his Popular Mechanics magazines from Shop-Rite (“One volume free for every twenty dollars worth of groceries!”), and proceed to spend the entire weekend on a thirty-minute project.

Meanwhile, Mom would consult the front of the refrigerator for the inevitable call to a repairman.

So, I was alarmed when I returned from summer camp to a warning from my sister not to use the bathroom. I winced as a week’s worth of refusal to use outdoor latrines knotted my insides.

“Whaddya mean, we can’t use the bathroom?”

“Oh, you can use it alright.”

“Then, what…?” I wondered, casting a wary glance around me.

Hmm, didn’t see any scorch marks. Ever since he set the hallway on fire after dropping his cigarette into a bucket of turpentine, Dad was extremely careful with flammables.

Neither did I see any wacky paint schemes. He was still living down the grief he got when, after painting our house bright yellow and black, we became known as the bumblebee family.

No, nothing looked any more amiss than usual.

So, what could it be? Racking my brain for an explanation, my eyes drifted to my feet, and I suddenly remembered. A couple of weeks ago, my father had backed his truck into our driveway a few hours earlier than normal. Hoping he’d brought something home from McDonald’s, we rushed outside. He threw us a wave as he leapt from the cab and dropped the tailgate.

“Look what I got,” he said.

Piled in the bed of his truck were three large rolls of different-colored shag carpet. He grabbed the gold one and tossed it to the ground.

“You know that new Holiday Inn they’re building?”

We silently stared as gold was joined by blue and green.

“Well, they’re just throwing this stuff away.”

Even at thirteen, I didn’t believe that he had just found them in the garbage. Like wood paneling, lava lamps and aluminum Christmas trees, shag carpet was trés chic in the sixties. I couldn’t imagine anyone getting rid of one roll, let alone three.

Even though Mom looked suspicious, she didn’t protest. I think she just wanted some of the glitz that only a Holiday Inn could bring.

That night, my father schemed about how he was going to use his newfound fortune. Sketching floor plans on the back of a pizza box, he paced the living room, tape measure in hand. Finally, he hauled the green roll in through the front door. Grabbing his pizza box, he disappeared to the cellar. Minutes later, he reemerged with a carpet knife, yardstick, hammer, and plastic jar of little black tacks.

He sat on the wooden floor and pulled the roll toward him. Quickly consulting his sketch, he flipped the rug on its side. After smoothing out a length, he set the yardstick across its fibers. I figured he was going to cut a piece to run up the staircase.

Heedless of the damage to the wood underneath, he drew the knife toward him. After a foot, he made another cut at a right angle to it. When finished, he held up a perfect square.

“Ain’t that something?”

Thinking he was only making a test piece, I told him it looked great.

Grinning, he promptly nailed the test piece to the floor. Beaming happily at the little island of shag adrift in the living room, he called Mom.

“Whaddya think?”

She looked doubtful. “You’re going to put more down, aren’t you?”

“Betcher sweet bippy,” he said, cutting another square. Then he began to whistle that innocuous little tune of his that had no name.

His transformation to Dr. Frankenstein of Interior Design was nearly complete.

He was true to his word. The lonely little square was joined by a couple hundred of its friends. In short order, what was once a hardwood floor became a sea of green.

Flushed with success, the mad doctor next decided to cloak our stairs in a shaggy swath of green. Each evening, he quickly inhaled dinner and then proceeded to wail away on our stairs like Geppetto on speed. Before we knew it, shag carpet snaked a hairy finger upstairs, stopping only at our bedrooms.

As he concluded his march to the second floor, we breathed with relief. The green carpet was gone. Maybe the master decorator was finished.

Sadly, we were wrong.

Proclaiming our sleeping quarters in desperate need of a facelift, he selected gold for our bedrooms. For the next three nights, he roared through each of our bedrooms, methodically laying a mantle of cheesy gold adjacent to our firehouse-red beds made of particle wood.

By the time he was finished, the living room, stairs, and our bedrooms were cloaked in carpet that only the rich could afford. Surely we’d raised the value of our home by thousands, he declared.

“Yep,” he grinned while scratching his back with a dinner fork, “nothing says classy like shag.”

For the next few days, everything remained quiet. Thankfully, Dad worked a lot of overtime and was too tired when he stepped through the door to further violate our home. Like a neglected relative, the roll of blue carpet remained on the porch.

We thought we were safe, but no one noticed our father eyeballing the carpet. Or the time he spent in the bathroom creating more sketches on grocery bags.

Preoccupied with keeping raccoons from stealing my underwear and trying to whittle something edible, I gave little thought to our Summer of Shag while at camp. After all, once my mother forbade shagging of the kitchen, there were no rooms left to assault.

So, my sister’s caution took me by surprise when I returned. Overcome by a need to see what he’d done, I pushed her aside. Steeling myself, I pushed the door open. It was as I feared. The bathtub and toilet were covered in blue shag carpet like some freak mutant strain of synthetic kudzu.

“Hey, son!” my father called from the backyard. “Can you come give me a hand?”

Oh… no.

The pool.

~Kenneth C. Lynch

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