My wife and I have been married almost 24 years, and together almost 30. It's hard to keep a secret from a woman that long.
To do so, you probably have to keep the secret from yourself. That, or she has to wish real hard that you're something other than what you are.
I come from a long tradition of men who were incapable around the house. Whenever something would go wrong in my grandfather's house, he'd say two things consecutively: "I don't know anything about it!" And, "Call the man!" But that was OK, cause my grandfather was a big time steel executive. He didn't need to go grubbing around under his sink.
My dad's entire tool chest consisted of a pair of tin snips, a hammer and a few wrenches that he kept in a Pringles can. But he was an ad exec. Why should he know how to snake a drain?
Maybe it's because I've surrounded myself with handier friends than my male ancestors. Or maybe it's because I worked maintenance on a golf course during college and in the course of keeping mowers mowing and sprinklers watering, learned the difference between a socket wrench (shinier) and a pipe wrench (heavier). Whatever the reason, I've aimed just a little higher than my forbears as a fix-it man. For instance, I have a big black box full of tools: ratchets and screwdrivers.
Now, I don't try to fix the furnace or the water heater when they go down. After waving a lighter around to see if I can get the pilot light to miraculously catch, I call the man.
And whenever anything goes wrong that can wait a few weeks, I call the woman—my sister-in-law Jeni, will fix anything in my house if I fetch the materials she asks for and keep her supplied with Coors Light and wry commentary.
And I mow my little lawn like it's Augusta National.
And somehow through all of the above I have apparently managed to conceal from my wife my big insecurity around my handiness as it relates to my manliness.
Monday evening was the big reveal.
On Monday evening something rare happened—something urgent broke, that I believed I could fix myself. Specifically, the goddamn spice cabinet door ripped off the bottom hinge again, right during dinner prep and cocktail hour, the piece of shit.
And this is when my wife—and my daughter, a budding young feminist trying to learn what lights the male pilot light—learned something about me.
Before I could even have a look at the damage, my wife said, "We need a handyman to fix that. I'm going to call Igor."
Igor is our Ukrainian neighbor.
Ukrainians are a very capable people, and Igor is very Ukrainian.
Igor has a garage so full of tools that he can barely walk through it. He is a hoarder of competence.
Igor can fix anything, and sometimes he fixes people's cars, in the alley.
Igor has been inside my broken dishwasher and has cut a lock off a gate after we lost the key. "Make a spare key," he instructed us.
Igor will not take money.
I do not want Igor to come and fix my spice cabinet door, and I say so.
"Why not?" my wife asks.
"For the same reason that I hid upstairs in the bedroom when Igor worked on our dishwasher," I say.
"Why was that?" she asks. I look into her eyes and, astonished, find that they are not just trying to goad me into admitting something embarrassing that she already knows.
She really wants to know why I don't want her to call Igor. Because she really doesn't know. So I guess I'll actually have to tell her.
"Because it makes me feel badly as a man," I hear myself telling her (and my daughter, who is listening with great interest). "I don't mind having a handyman, but I'd rather that handyman not be my neighbor."
I cannot believe that 24 years of seeing me get agitated every time I hired anyone besides my beloved sister-in-law to fix something around the house has not taught her that I have some issues around being a helpless fuckwit around the house. Based on my Everybody-Already-Knows-Everything Theory of Communication, my wife must have a lot invested in seeing me as being above such traditional male insecurities. Well, I guess my 1970s feminist mother also had a lot invested in the same thing. I have done my best.
And speaking of theories—and back to the kitchen Monday night—I then advanced a grand one: That no matter how evolved he may be, every man in our lives, if he was honest, would at least admit to not wanting his handyman, who naturally sees him as a nebbish, to be the same person as his neighbor, whom he wants to know him as a helpful mensch.
As I used the paring knife my wife was cooking with to shave chunks off a pencil to wedge into the ragged holes to make the wood screws bite again, these two women sat there scoffing and shaking their heads at my ridiculous male pride. As I turned the screws into the holes and successfully re-secured the cabinet door for another three months until it falls off again, I declared that a man reaches a certain age when he stops trying to pretend he's as liberated and enlightened as he wants to be. Quoting another man—namely Popeye the Sailor Man—he admits without pride or protest, "I yam what I yam."
And at this stage in life, it seems to this middle-aged man, the truth is more constructive to everyone involved than more aspirational pretending.
"Do me a favor, Babe," I said as I closed my big black tool box. "Next time you see Igor, tell him if he ever has any trouble with his cabinets, I'm happy to have a look."
I was playing it off with humor, but I was bursting with pride.