“A Successful Collection of Failures”

Sample Stories

Home Improvements

Some time ago, I read a humorous excerpt regarding an accident. An insurance company quoted a driver from a police report in which the driver stated, “In an attempt to kill a fly, I drove into a telephone pole.” I found the above statement funny because it created a picture of a madman driving ferociously towards a fly with the intent of squishing it between the front bumper of his car and the telephone pole.

My mental picture of this scene is not far from the unnecessary vigour with which some people attack insects. I’m sure most of us have experienced the fear of losing a prized possession as someone else flails around yielding any item within arm’s reach that could be used as a weapon for insect eradication. In some cases the bug is annoying, but in other cases it is just there.

One of our family’s infamous make-work projects began with the simple and unassuming act of my father attempting to kill a fly. It was buzzing against the bathroom window one fall day in 1948. The window had been carefully constructed high in the wall behind the sink. To reach the pest in the far corner of the window, Dad opted to extend his reach by standing on the toilet. The plan was simple: step up onto our rock solid American Standard toilet, squish the fly that was bugging him, then go for a cup of coffee and enjoy the afternoon with his family. This was not to be. With his first heartfelt swing, Dad slipped. As he twisted to regain his balance, he pushed the toilet seat downward and to the side and split the cheap thing in two places. His initial reaction was simply to buy a new one. Although the price of a new toilet seat was much greater than that of a flyswatter, it seemed that Dad was content to absorb the cost of the new acquisition. In just over two hours, Dad had purchased, unwrapped, and installed a splendid new toilet seat. He was thrilled with the new seat because it had a “shiny pearl finish” and represented the latest in toilet seat technology.

The house had been constructed in 1928. The bathroom was replete with hot water radiator, wall-hung sink with standard taps, claw-foot bathtub with separate hot and cold faucets—all in the company of painted walls, linoleum floor, and an aged toilet, which unfortunately boasted a seat with a shiny pearl finish that looked, “just a tad out of place.”

Within two days, a decision was made to purchase a new toilet. Dad called, explained, and negotiated a contract with a plumber to install a toilet to match the new seat (with the shiny pearl finish). After installation, the plumber pointed out that the sink just to the left of our new toilet (or to the right, from the seated position) now appeared “just a tad out of place.” He went on to explain that, for a small extension to the contract, he would be pleased to install a shiny new sink with state-of-the-art taps next to our slick new toilet. The new toilet seat with the shiny pearl finish had somehow led to a new toilet and a new sink.

Later, in the midst of admiring the shiny new toilet and its complementary new sink, our helpful plumber suggested a new radiator. It would be narrower and taller and would distribute heat more efficiently. For yet another extension to the original contract, he would be pleased to install the radiator. Eventually, plans were made for a full renovation, including a new—and more efficient—radiator, new tub and shower, new flooring, new wall tile, a built-in medicine cabinet, and fresh paint. Throughout the construction, we reflected upon how small incidents could lead to bigger things—even before the invention of power tools. For a time we contemplated keeping the newly renovated state-of-the-art bathroom locked and out of sight for fear that the rest of the house would look “just a tad out of place.”

Dad’s new American Standard became...don’t kill bugs.

There is always an opportunity to change when something is broken—especially for people.

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