As I have told you in previous posts, I live in a wonderful 110 year old house (old for California) with original plumbing and wiring. Since I do like to make, fix, and tinker with things, I apply this convenient urge to my house—convenient because most contemporary builders are used to being guided by modern codes, and 110 years ago, there were not such things. Therefore my house is a giant puzzle, of great importance to Marian and me.
Usually when “fixing” part of it, I go through a period of great frustration, and then extreme happiness when I succeed. Is this some mental disease, that I enjoy pain because I know I will feel good when it stops? Am I the possessor of some kind of masochistic personality disorder? I do not worry, because it only applies when I am working on a very hard problem or am in a seriously annoying situation—and it feels so good when I escape.
Minor example: Our relatively ancient washing machine finally needed replacing, not only because too many parts were failing, but it was using an embarrassing amount of water, energy, etc, and not getting clothes very clean. So we bought a new super-efficient one. But as often happens to us, new appliances, pieces of furniture, and other household objects are larger than the old ones, because new houses often have larger rooms in them , and people seem to like big things with lots of features (can you believe the ad here?—from MoMA, for God’s sake— only approximately $8,000— click on the red version—tasty, huh?). So I had to move the plumbing for the washing machine to a different location.
The excitement of working with 110 year old steel pipe is that it thoroughly rusted, so that it is much more fragile than new pipe, and is usually rusted solid to things such as elbows, tees, couplings, shut-off valves, and other such devices. When taking it apart, it may unscrew (good), or the pipe may break (bad). In an old house, where the pipes wander randomly through the structure, a pipe that has twisted in two inside the structure can be very bad news.
When I began to take the old pipe apart, I instantly found that it was thoroughly rusted together. So I got a larger wrench and pulled harder. I began with the valves, and sure enough, the nipples (short pieces of threaded pipe) twisted into pieces of rust, barely visible from the elbow that was next in line. Since I could not get the wrench on the fragment of nipple, I twisted the elbow, and sure enough, the longer pieces of pipe it connected to also twisted into two pieces. I then followed one of the pipe assemblies further into the structure, becoming more and more worried, until finally one section cleanly unscrewed from the next—victory, I could put a new piece of pipe on it and rebuild the assembly as I wanted it to be.
But the other pipe assembly was more resistant. I became more and more depressed as I piled up pieces of rusted pipe, and as I began to have to work within wall structure. I finally accepted the fact that I might have to do some major wall surgery, which might take days. But just as I accepted defeat, A length of pipe not only unscrewed within the wall, but in a location where I could push a new piece into the into the wall and attached coupling and happily tighten it up. Within a very few minutes I passed from utter defeat to complete victory. That is one of the finest feelings available to the human (give or take minor things like sex, food, and good weather).
That was yesterday and I am still high today. So the answer to “The Joy of Fixing”, is dependent upon a high degree of challenge followed by success? Not exactly a huge insight, and I certainly knew that from experience in everything from professional work to interpersonal relations, But somehow, I had never directly connected it to my love of doing things like repairing 110 year old plumbing.