8 Things I Fixed in This Broken Year

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A cat sits in a bathroom sink looking up at the camera
When fixing things around the house, it's always good to have a helper.  (All photos by Gabe Meline)

While the country hovered in semi-reopened limbo throughout 2021, it seemed like the only news coming in was bad. Trump supporters raiding the Capitol. The delta variants summertime surge. The Supreme Court dismantling Roe v. Wade. Elon Musk-worshipping, MLM-in-sheep's-clothing bros spending millions in climate-destroying crypto for proof that they own a .jpg and heralding it as the future of art.

You can’t really fix the world’s big problems on your own. But you can fix the small stuff in your life. Having somehow graduated from my youthful indiscretions to the rank of Official Suburban Dad, I found a sense of accomplishment in home repair in 2021—and was reminded of some bigger lessons along the way.

a chrome-plated nickel faucet

The Bathroom Faucet
It was around early January when I heard something dripping in the bathroom. What with an attempted coup by domestic terrorists led by an impeached president on my mind, I put off investigating it. A few days later, the hardwood floor around our sink had buckled and warped, so I finally replaced the seals inside the faucet—an easy, 10-minute job. Replacing the floorboards took five hours.

Lesson: Fix the problem before it gets progressively worse and destroys everything. (This is a helpful tip for democracy, too.)


the inside of a Yamaha stereo receiver, showing wires and transformers

A Stereo Receiver
It’s one of the most common problems for stereo equipment: sound only coming out of one channel. Our speaker wires run beneath the floorboards, so while trying to isolate the issue, I crawled under the house. Turns out the wires were fine, but down there in the tiny crawlspace among the dirt and nails and bones, I realized that after being cooped up inside for the past 18 months, the most exciting place in the house is actually under the house.

Lesson: Explore. See what's around you. Dont get in a rut.

twin SU carburetors attached to a vintage volvo engine

The Carburetor on a B18 Engine
Ten years ago I bought a 1964 Volvo that had a Weber conversion—basically, a cheap replacement carburetor for the car’s original twin SU carburetors, which are tricky to maintain but have a dedicated fan club. One such fan was Robin Jackson, an import-auto mentor of mine. Robin always told me I should rip out the Weber and put in some SUs, and after he died in June at age 88, I did just that, in tribute. The two-week job was tedious, complex and maddening, but Robin was right: the engine runs like a dream now.

Lesson: Listen to your elders. They’ve been there, they know.

a rope-and-pulley contraption attached to a yellow screen door

The Screen Door
In March, as the weather warmed up, I finally installed a screen door I bought from Craigslist. After painting it and hanging it, the question arose: should I install spring-loaded hinges or a hydraulic door closer? Instead, remembering a fun trick I learned from my friend Josh, I rigged up a series of eyelets, pulleys, rope and a large fishing weight. Voilà: the screen door closes by gravity.

Lesson: Be resourceful. You dont have to rely on fancy stuff to do what the laws of nature do already.

a canon scanner from 2010

An Old Scanner
Our scanner is over 10 years old and Canon stopped supporting it, and if you couldn’t tell by now, I like to keep old things running. When a system update rendered its software useless, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. So I searched around and found some Web 1.0 site run by lovable scanner nerds. They sold me a cheap driver for it, and I’m back in business scanning really important stuff.

Lesson: If the official dealer won’t help you, remember that everybody’s got a guy.

the plumbing underneath a kitchen sink, with a garbage disposal

The Garbage Disposal
Imagine my surprise when I noticed the garbage disposal we’ve had for just seven years wasn’t only broken—it was leaking out of the bottom, water dripping all around the reset button. Meaning that the engine, and the wiring, were saturated. Yeah, no. One hour and a trip to the hardware store later, I pulled all the plumbing apart and installed a new garbage disposal.

Lesson: Sometimes you gotta just cut your losses, man. Dont electrocute yourself trying to be a hero.

a close-up of a golf bag, showing a broken leather handle

A Golf Bag
I golf exactly once a year, and always with my dad. I am also terrible at golf, so when both the handle and zipper ripped out on my classy 1960s golf bag, I wasn’t in a rush to take care of it. But then this sad thing happened in the pandemic—maybe it happened to you, too—where I over-acclimated to being isolated, and even accidentally stopped calling the people I love. So, the other night, I sawed and drilled some plywood and used locking nuts to fix the handle, and sewed the zipper back together, and I’m ready to go suck at golf again while hanging out for a few hours with my dad.

Lesson: Call your folks. Check in with friends. Hang out with people you love.

a large boiler with pilot light assembly

The Hydronic Boiler
This fall brought the usual pilot-lighting ritual, and despite multiple attempts involving every trick known to man, the hydronic boiler simply would not fire up. Sheepishly, I called a repairman, and even more sheepishly, I watched as he followed the same exact steps I had followed... and got the damn thing to light on the first try! It was humiliating, and it cost me $90.

Lesson: Before giving up, knock it on the side, blow on it, and keep trying. Don't be embarrassed if you can't get it right the first time. Take breaks. Cut yourself some slack in this nonsense-addled year. Theres always 2022.