The other day, as I was returning from a garbage-toting trip to the backyard, I noticed that one of wife Brenda’s backyard Halloween decorations, a little rubber bat, had dropped on the ground and ended up half-buried in the leaves. Being the thoughtful guy that I am, I picked the thing up.
As I walked in the door, I saw Brenda heading my way. So, while I had her attention and her bat, I flipped the little fella her way, underhanded, so it would fall in a gentle arc and give her plenty of time to make the easy basket catch.
Just when the bat reached its highest point, just when Brenda should have been positioning her hands to make the routine grab, neurons deep in the emergency part of her brain sent out a Red Alert. Brenda’s feet started churning and backpedaling and making that bongo noise that Fred Flintsone makes when he runs in place. There was a lot of motion and a lot of energy at work hereway more than Brenda’s socky little feet could transfer to the no-wax kitchen vinyl. So Brenda got airborne and smacked her arm into a bar stool on the way to her window-rattling butt landing.
Now, this was not funny to me at the time. I swear it never occurred to me that the bat would scare Brenda. All I could think about was how this bat-flipping could result in life-changing consequences, contusions, lacerations, fractures and festering hatred. Brenda does not drop a complaint easily. To this day, she’s still mad about the fact that, 35 years ago, her little sister got the last lei at the airport in Hawaii.
But Brenda came up laughing instead of swinging. Lucky for me, too, because Brenda is a formidable woman. She earned my undying respect and the right to be my wife by rotating the rubber on our ’72 Mercury Monterey, by herself, using one lousy bumper jack and an undersized tire tool.
The repercussions of one little screw-up can be all out of proportion to the screw-up itself. For instance, a few months ago, some friends hired me to inspect the house they were buying. The house had very few problems, but there was the matter of the improperly wired ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). For those of you who don’t know, GFCIs are those outlets with the Test and Reset buttons on them; they ought to be in bathrooms and kitchens and basically any other place that might get wet. The idea is that if you’re unfortunate enough to drop a hair dryer or radio into the tub, the GFCI will turn off the electricity before it has a chance to put your heart into that useless quivering mode known as V-fib. Another swell feature is that GFCIs are so cheap and so easy to install that a whole lot of people just pick up a handful at the hardware store and put them in on weekends when they’re fulla beer and trying to watch the football game.
Apparently, this had happened at my friends’ house. The handy owner had miswired the things, even though there are only three wires on a GFCI. These particular GFCIs had been wired so that they would not trip in the event of an emergency. My friends asked the seller to get an electrician to fix the things. No problem, he said. Will do.
When I went back a couple of weeks later for the final walk-through, it turned out that the handy homeowner had “fixed” the GFCIs himself: He had rewired them so that when you pushed the test buttons, they would appear to trip but would actually still be live. He saved 50 bucks by not hiring an electrician but created a system of deadly booby traps in the process. This goofy screw-up almost wrecked this house sale. My friends said their contract called for a licensed electrician to do the work. The homeowner said he wouldn’t pay for an electrician, but he’d fix the things himself. Tempers flared. Some quick and deft work from the Realtor saved the deal. Barely.
Two lessons here: Warn your wife before you throw a bat at her; and, for cryin’ out loud, hire an electrician when you need to. Some things just aren’t worth the trouble they bring down.
Walter Jowers can be reached at Walter.Jowers@nashville.com.