We could afford the brownstone house only if we rented out part of it, and then it was still a stretch. The house was liveable, but it was, after all, 100 years old. Something always needed to be fixed or patched or painted or installed. We did not have excess money to pay someone for maintenance and repairs if I could do them, but my fancy Ivy League education had not prepared me to be a handyman.

I did what an Ivy Leaguer ought to do; in those days before YouTube, I bought how-to books, several of which, especially one put out by Reader’s Digest, were quite helpful. I tightened hinges attached to not-totally-reliable door jambs; installed door locks; changed washers in faucets; caulked bathtubs; repaired leaky toilets; hung closet poles; put up bookcases; and even installed windows. Our budget, not surprisingly, did not have a large allotment for furniture, so I finished and refinished wooden tables and chairs. I learned two important lessons from these efforts. First, by the time I finished a project, I knew how it to do, if not correctly, better than I had. The question was whether I would remember when or if I ever did a similar project.

Second, I learned the importance of a good hardware store. One was a few minutes’ walk from my house. I was there frequently looking for a flathead screw a little shorter than the ones I had or an angle bracket, spackle or a toggle bolt, shellac or an N battery. They always seemed to have it. In addition, the staff was a fount of knowledge. I would explain some house problem, and they would suggest a solution or find some device or equipment I was not familiar with that would be exactly what I needed.

I learned that this was not the only hardware store like that. I went to stores near my place of work at lunchtime or in other places in my travels around New York, and all seemed incredibly helpful. I was concerned when the building housing my local hardware store was sold, and the Germanic-sounding elderly couple (no doubt younger than my present age) sold the business. Happily, it was bought and moved across the complicated intersection (it is called Seven Corners for a reason) where it continued to give excellent service for several more decades. Eventually it closed, though, leaving me bereft but not as bereft as its long-time employees, some of whom were in tears in its last days. This complicated my home-improvement life as I had to seek out more distant establishments, but I managed.

I had gained much handyman experience living in a 100-year-old Brooklyn brownstone, so I felt confident in being able to install a bidet-like thing in the top-floor bathroom of the Brooklyn house. My previous handyman experience had taught me an important rule of thumb. So, I looked the device over, examined the instructions, and calculated that it should take no more than an hour for the job. Then I said to myself, “So it will take you two.”

The basic idea is to disconnect piping that allows water to flow into the toilet tank and then install a T-shaped metal device into the opening to the tank. The water is hooked up to the bottom of this connection, which allows the tank to fill, and the bidet is connected to the other side of the connector with a supplied flexible hose. A knob on the bidet, when opened, allows water to flow on command to the bidet permitting it to do its business.

But the original water connection to the tank on the upstairs toilet was a rigid tube cut exactly the right length. The new supplied connector that I had to thread onto the toilet tank was almost two inches in length. The original rigid tube would no longer fit, and the bidet kit supplied only one flexible hose. Off to the new hardware store which had opened in the neighborhood after the demise of the longlasting one. This was a trip I was reluctant to make because this is the only hardware store I have frequented that regularly disappoints me. It too often does not have what I consider the most basic things that such a business should carry. Even so I went there, and I was surprised that it had the flexible hose I needed. I finished fifteen minutes beyond the 2-hr time limit and considered myself a plumbing whiz.

(continued June 28)

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