I wouldn’t call myself a handyman. I Google and YouTube my way through most every project. Yet, with the purchase of our home three years ago, I’ve had to get my hands dirty on more than one occasion. Today, I fought with our kitchen faucet, bloodied two knuckles, took a trip to Lowes for the proper tool, then spent three hours fighting and squirming in a tight, uncomfortable space.
I never thought about my hands as a kid. They were just there, things on the end of my arms that helped me do everything. As a teenager, I realized my hands could play music, draw comics, and comfort people. But, when I compared them to my father’s, my hands were soft and smooth. I remember shaking my father’s hand my Junior year of High School and thinking, “these are hands that know work.” I envied those rough, calloused hands. Somehow I felt my smooth hands condemned me to a sissy existence. My father never made a big point of my smooth, soft hands; but I did, and I hated them for it.
As I aged, I took on jobs using my hands to cook food in college and clean offices and schools during graduate school. Slowly my hands aged. My knuckles started getting cracked and rough around 28. I felt I was properly maturing my hands.
I also used my hands to make a living. I, at my core, am an old-school cartoonist and illustrator. I put pen to paper. I brush away the crumbs of eraser. My nails get black with ink. I worry about injuring my hands. I never worried about hurting them in all my youth.
After years of working and not moisturizing I have hands like my father’s. Rough, proven hands. Yet, our son doesn’t like my rough hands. Neither does my wife. They are hard and uncomfortable. Why am I suddenly wishing I had hands like my seventeen year old self?
Today I used my hands to replace our old kitchen faucet. It was a frustrating experience. More than once I uttered curses as nuts failed to loosen, and inversely, failed to tighten. I bruised my drawing index finger. I cut my knuckles. I, in my frustration, thought of the person who built our home, and I cursed their work.
Kristin and I have done a few projects on our home in the last few years. Each time we end up wondering what the builders of our home were thinking. Our house was built 9 years ago on a lot that once housed a small home. We were told by a neighbor the small house burned down. A local construction contractor decided to build a new house on the lot. I learned from someone related to that contractor our home was sort of a “learn new things” project. We’ve encountered several…teachable moments.
Our kitchen faucet has been a problem from day one. Like most problems one doesn’t want to deal with right away, we got used to it. It would leak. The detachable head wouldn’t reattach properly. A ring of calcified water and dirt would form easily around the base. It was ugly. Yet, we just sighed and put off doing anything with it. A fence, carbon monoxide detectors, painting, and finishing a portion of our basement took precedent. Last week we could ignore it no longer, the pressure control ring broke off and it became a wild thing spraying water everywhere, it had to go.
I struggled replacing the old with the new in that tight space under the sink. I am not a small man. I have old shoulder problems from High School that flared up as I awkwardly tried to loosen nuts and screws. I cursed and cursed. Those words did nothing productive and they reminded me of my own faults. What would the person who installed this not-so-perfect faucet think of me cursing their work? Would it make a difference?
Maybe they went on from that project saying, “I won’t do it that way again.” Or maybe they didn’t think twice about it. Either way, best practices were not enforced. But the faucet had worked, more or less, for almost a decade, and I was the poor sap replacing it.
The whole wet, nasty process reminds me of creative projects I have had to work on. Sometimes at work I get an InDesign file and wonder what in the world the designer was thinking. What are these naming conventions (or lack thereof)? Why are these paragraphs styled but not those? What are these unused layers even doing in the final product?
It’s easy to judge the work of other people when you are responsible to add to it or use it to create something new. It’s much harder to realize I do the same thing with my projects. Someone else may be cursing my naming conventions and hidden layers. At some level, being pragmatic means passing off our imperfect solutions to someone else who needs to find a new way to make it work.
I judged my hands by my father’s. I judged the installer of our faucet by their confusing work. I judge the files I work with at my day job. Yet, we are destined to rough edges and rough hands. The rough things aren’t meant to be celebrated, rather, they are a testament to work done imperfectly in a world of imperfections. My rough hands, the shoddy faucet installation, the nuances of an InDesign document, they are all a crumb trail, telling others where we went, and often, warning them not to follow.