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by Wayne Scheer

My wife has learned to accept that I'm helpless when it comes to fixing things around the house. Helpless may not be the right word. Scared comes closer.

People say it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness. I say it's better to bump into things than risk setting your pants on fire. That happened to my Uncle Arthur, according to family legend. He tried fixing the pilot light on the furnace when his trousers went ablaze. It explains why he and Aunt Ethel never had children.

When a window in my house won't open or a faucet drips, I don't repair the window frame or replace the washer. After all, I heard of load-bearing walls. What about load-bearing windows? The whole house could come apart if I start fooling with it.

There's no way I'm going to mess with anything involving plumbing or electricity either. Statistics show that the number one cause of house fires is stupidity. I don't know an AC from a DC, and I'm smart enough to keep it that way.

Plumbing and electricity work by magic as far as I'm concerned. People tell me, "Read a how-to book, look at a video. You're smart enough to understand how these things work." Maybe. The jury is still out on the basic assumption. But I say, "When I see a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat, I don't want to know how it's done. There isn't enough magic in our lives as is."

When you're afraid to do something, a good rationalization is your best defense. I learned that from my dad.

I come from a proud line of men for whom a toolbox holds a butter knife and a hammer. "If it can't be tightened with a knife or loosened with a hammer," my father would say, "Call Mr. Boykin." Mr. Boykin was the super in our apartment building in Brooklyn. A small wiry man, he wore a tool belt as proudly as a young doctor wears a stethoscope.

"Better to change a fuse than curse in front of the children," I once heard him tell my dad.

My father disagreed. "A good curse not only makes you feel better, but it increases the child's vocabulary." Who could argue with such logic?

With an "abracadabra!" Mr. Boykin would change the fuse, and turn night into day. Some children would go to magic shows to be amazed. I watched Mr. B fix running toilets or install ceiling fans.

Still, I never developed the urge to do it myself.

Although I never once saw Mr. B's pants catch on fire, I'm taking no chances.