The ants invaded my kitchen in L.A. a few days ago. I was just standing there and peeling a grapefruit when I looked down at the counter next to the sink to behold a sight that inspired a jolt of panic. Ants were marching out of a small crack in the grout between a couple tiles next to the faucet. Within a minute, they became a full-fledged swarm, searching for food, water, or who-knows-what, but staying in the general vicinity of the counter. Luckily, I was prepared with a few liquid-bait ant traps from an infestation the previous year, and I quickly set them up. Within a day, the miniscule demons disappeared, having taken the bait, returned to their nest, and poisoned their brethren. I had banished the pests and regained control of the counter.
My triumph over the ants aside, I am the antithesis of Mr. Fix-it. Yes, I’m handy with a random fact, a bon mot, a turn of the phrase, a quip. And I do know a few things about the care and maintenance of the human body. Sure, I can reboot a computer when its screen freezes. I can replace a fuse when it blows, after first carefully switching off the circuit breaker. I can even check the oil in my car or, under duress, change a flat tire if I have a spare and the proper tools. But I’d rather have experts on the case.
When a tire blows, I prefer to call AAA, and if I need to replace a battery, I rely on a mechanic or a friend with some mechanical skills. When I’m illin’, I see a medical professional. When the electricity in the place goes off or the pilot light in the heater goes out, I need PG&E to come and take care of business. When my computer repeatedly crashes or the WiFi malfunctions, I sensibly reach out to tech support. And when the toilet backs up or the pipes leak, you can bet a can of Drano and a gold-plated monkey wrench that I’m going to seek the acumen of a reputable plumber.
The idea of being a do-it-yourself handyman, aided by product manuals, scores of how-to videos on YouTube, and other online research, seems like a good and cost-conscious way to go until you try it. In my experience, it frequently becomes an invitation to screw up something important and actually exacerbate whatever problem is bedeviling you. That’s why I’m generally inclined to leave repairs and maintenance, major and minor, to the professionals. Of course, that can bring up an entirely different set of issues — primary among them for me, the challenge of scheduling.
We’ve all grappled with the ridiculous window of time demanded by PG&E or the cable company for service on a given day — a stretch of hours that will invariably tie you up for way too long and often screw with any business you might have to do away from home. It’s a kind of clock tyranny. When it comes to emergency assistance, a AAA tow-truck is far more reliable than a gas company rep coming by to relight your heater or the cable guy restoring your connection.
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE CLIPPINGS
There are other sorts of professional consultation that might be required around the house — and I mean around the house. Given that there’s a considerably sized yard at my L.A. place, with trees and blooming plants that I have neither the time nor the green thumb to properly maintain, I am reliant on landscapers. Like most of the neighbors, I have gardeners come by a couple times a month to remove unsightly underbrush, trim rampant overgrowth, and eliminate weeds gone wild. The lawn care is welcome and necessary, and the crew is good at it. If only I could convince them to refrain from showing up at ungodly hours of the morning when any night-owl worth his eye-mask and ear plugs is trying to sleep in. I guess a bi-monthly, dream-killing sonic plague of mowers and leaf blowers at 9 a.m. is a part of the cost of a well-manicured property.
When something crucial needs to be done and I can’t do the job properly, I’ll be at the mercy of whoever I hire. Generally I’ve been lucky in that regard, getting good work at acceptable prices. And occasionally, as with the ant infestation, I am able to take care of business. Look out, insects! I am your master! Unless you happen to be roaches, wasps, or deadly tsetse flies. Now that I think about it, I better keep the exterminator’s number handy.
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on “Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast,” via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube, and “The Mark Thompson Show” on KGO radio. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster