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MAN OF THE HOUSE : The kid speaks geek

November 14, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

I have bedroom doors to repaint by Christmas, but I keep getting interrupted by petty emergencies. One day, the wireless Internet goes kaput. The next day, the underlighting in the kitchen. It just confirms what I've long suspected. All houses are a little haunted.

Those girlish screams you hear from the street, like a baby-sitter being tortured? That's me trying to fix the wireless Internet. The help message I got when the DSL line went down was complete gibberish. Tell me, do I look like a Caltech geek?

OK, so maybe just a little. From what I understand, my mom smoked a lot of cigars while pregnant, and my head never really fully developed. So though I look the part, I'm about as geeky as Mariah Carey.

"I hate calling AT&T, I just hate it," says Posh, who is not hateful by nature. She is just ground down by automated answering services and listening to the snorting sounds I make when I eat. Thirty years of listening to me eat would take the life out of any saint, even her.

In fairness, I used to be really good at home repair. I could install a ceiling fan or even a three-way wall switch. You're really not in the big leagues of home repair unless you understand the vagaries of the three-way wall switch -- that cuts off this and this hot-wires that. Wiring a three-way switch is the home repair equivalent of a towering 500-foot home run.

In the past 20 years, I learned to pour footings for decks, cut bathroom tile, plumb a pedestal sink. If something could be squeezed, crimped or caulked, I was your guy. My favorite color? Duct tape.

To this day, I believe that working with your hands is a form of therapy. A callus is not as good as a scar, but it is a proud badge nonetheless -- a suburban man's Purple Heart. Turning a wrench doesn't help only the hands, it exercises the tendons all the way to the neck. I was never so fit as the summer I spent swinging an 8-pound sledge in the backyard, clearing it of rock. It was like a physics experiment: As the yard became softer, I became more firm. Something about transference.

For some reason, I don't get the same buzz from putting in a new DVD player, wrapped in wires up to my elbows, trapped in more spaghetti than the Borgias.

For me, a DVD installation becomes some sort of S&M ritual. Midway through, I look just ridiculous. It is all pain, no pleasure. Lots of yelping.

We had to buy a new DVD player recently, the old one having conked out when the little guy used it one day to warm his Pop-Tarts. Or maybe it was frozen waffles, doesn't matter. All I know is that what showed up on the screen when he slid the pastry into the DVD tray was far better than that Bruckheimer flick "G-Force." I still can't believe I spent 20 bucks on that disaster. About 20 minutes in, the theater began to feel like an internment camp. Children clung to their mothers. Ushers wept. Everybody wanted out.

Anyway, we now have this new DVD player, and it sits in a corner, in its box, awaiting installation. I would rather have a camera in my colon than install that DVD. Posh agreed to give it a try in lieu of the horseplay she usually agrees to on my birthday. Fair enough. Birthday sex for tech support.

"This player supports USB device with FAT12, FAT16, or FAT32 format only," the directions say.

There are problems with the noun-verb agreement in that direction, but that's the least of our worries. Seriously, if you are an engineer working on manuals, the last thing you want to do is appear lucid. Ideally, directions should be a form of pig Latin. Or a Yiddish version of Japanese.

"Select 'Yes: Digital Output,' if you connect an audio component using a digital coaxial/HDMI cord." Yeah, I got your HDMI cord right here, pal.

Our only hope these days is that our 6-year-old is pretty techie. He seems to figure things out by pressing buttons until he gets just what he wants with a remote control. He is focused and almost painfully patient. I've started to have doubts that he's got any Irish in him at all.

Me, if I employ the same methodology -- hitting different buttons in hopes of a solution -- I end up launching ballistic missiles from a submarine near the North Pole. Oops -- there goes Vladivostok. Yikes -- was that Paris?

No worries. In life, problems come and go, like Kelsey Grammer sitcoms. Besides, Posh and the little guy will figure out things. When they do, "it will be legendary," to quote the great Bill Walton, one of my favorite Americans.

That guy's always had a nice way with words.


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