Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations

I did it again.

I couldn't help myself.  I always, always think I'm going to get smarter.  And I never do.  I can't.  I'm a guy.  And this is, well, it's just a guy thing.

Allow me to explain.  I'd been having what any living, breathing writer would consider a really terrific week on the job.   My new Berger-Mitry mystery, The Shimmering Blond Sister, was officially released on Tuesday.  It's an actual book now.  I can actually hold it in my hands.  Believe me, it doesn't matter how many books you write -- the thrill of holding your new book in your own two hands never goes away.  And people seem to like this one a lot.  Amazon e-mailed a list of their Top Ten new releases of the week for mysteries and thrillers to all of their crime fiction customers all over the world and The Shimmering Blond Sister was on the list, right there next to new books by John Le Carre and Elmore Leonard.  I was thrilled, needless to say.

And that's when I got into trouble.  I got cocky.  This is a guy thing, like I said.  I call it World Beater Syndrome.  It's not real complicated.  We're not real complicated.  Simply put, whenever things go super well for us on the job we get such a boost of confidence that we start to think that we're good at things that, hello, we're really not good at.

This can be a dangerous thing.  Some guys, for instance, suddenly think they are irresistible to comely, leggy younger women who happen not to be their wife.  If they're lucky, they just make total fools out of themselves.  If they're unlucky, they blow up their whole marriage.  Some guys suddenly delude themselves into thinking they actually understand the ins and outs of the stock market.  They decide they can manage their own investment portfolio on-line just as well as that so-called professional can.  What they manage to do is blow up their entire retirement nest egg in about seven minutes.

Me?  I delude myself into thinking that I'm handy -- and blow up my house.

I'm not handy.  I've never been handy.  My father was.  He could fix anything.  A toaster.  A car.  He could do wiring, plumbing, carpentry, you name it.  Some fathers take great pleasure in patiently, lovingly passing on what they know to their little boy.  My father wasn't like that.  Any time I showed the slightest interest in anything remotely mechanical -- like, say, what he was doing under the hood of the car -- he would bark, "Get away from here!" He did this because he wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer when I grew up.  He did NOT want me to be somebody who worked with his hands and got all greasy.  His greatest fear was that I would develop a fascination for the inner workings of engines and grow up to become a car mechanic.  I got even with him though.  I sat in my room and read books all day and grew up to become a writer. Hah!

I'm a cretin when it comes to fixing things around my house.  I know this about myself.  Except for when, well, see above re: World Beater Syndrome.  A clogged drain.  This time it was a clogged drain.  The sink in our upstairs bathroom had been draining real slooooowly for the past few weeks.   My shaving soap is the culprit.  And it's usually not a big deal.  All I have to do is take a plunger to it and I bring up a fist-sized blob of ooze that's straight out of the movie Alien and all is well again.  Except not this time.  This time I plunged and I plunged and nothing came up except stinky air.  Since we live in a 200-year-old house with old pipes it is not considered smart to use anything like Drano because it's just as liable to eat its way through the pipe as it is the clog.  So I'd been kind of muttering about this nagging, stubborn clog for weeks and feeling just real helpless and useless and unmanly.

Until, pow, I had a good week on the job and suddenly decided to hitch up my jeans, stick out my chest and take a snake to the clog.   I was gentle.  Really, I was.  I was careful.  Really, I was.  Didn't matter.  I still poked a dime-sized hole right on through the drain pipe and sent water and ooze gushing all over the floor.  "I'm sure it wasn't anything you did," Diana said kindly.  "That pipe must have been ready to go."

Lew the Plumber was nice enough to fit me in the very next morning.  Lew the Plumber, whose actual name is Arthur Lewis, is one of Old Lyme's truly great characters.  He is not only a licensed, practicing plumber but also a licensed, practicing hypno-therapist, a world class philosopher and a memoirist.  Lew has, to date, committed 150 pages of his life story to paper.  He is now up to the year 1978.  Anyhow, Lew took one look at the mess I'd wrought and said, "I'm sure it wasn't anything you did.  That pipe was ready to go."  He was even kind enough to show me how corroded it was after he'd taken all of the sections of drain pipe apart.   Didn't matter.  I'm a cretin and I know it.  Still, as my handyman disasters go, this one wasn't too bad.  He did clear the clog.  And we do have a nice new non-corroded drain pipe.  And it only cost me two hours of a plumber's time, plus parts -- which is to say more than my last royalty check but less than my next advance.

You would think I learned a valuable lesson this time:  A man's gotta know his limitations.  And I do know them.  This won't happen ever again. I swear it won't.

Except it will.  Because I don't learn.  I never learn.  It's a guy thing.

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