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Man versus house: I repair something, then fix something else. The payoff? These ribs

Man versus house: I repair something, then fix something else. The payoff? These ribs
For the chores I do, they pay me in pork roasts and ribs. That's enough. (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

More and more, Esquire magazine disappointments me, joining movies, pop music, the NFL, the DMV and casinos as American institutions that have completely let me down.

Do I complain? Of course, I complain.

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It’s no secret, at least to neighbors, that I lead a life of noisy desperation. At middle age, I possess a quiet dignity, spoiled only by frequent spurts of frustration and defeat.

Indeed, I’m our cul-de-sac’s angry French despot. The castle is crumbling, the empire fading before my very eyes. In the latest major fiasco, the air-conditioning condenser conked out … 4 grand. Trust me, there is nothing grand about spending that kind of coin on anything besides Paris.

In inspecting the rooftop unit, I found a soft spot in the shingles – dry rot or termites?

And it seems I’ll never get to that new kitchen faucet. The old faucet has a swollen prostate, which interferes with ferocity and flow. At least that’s my early diagnosis. It’s not till you get deep into a new patient that you ever really know.

Thing is, I wake every weekend to the thought of mixing fun with obligation, and obligation always wins.

The other day, I was busy not fixing the bathroom sink -- but really trying, you know, really pouring my heart into it -- and my wife, Cleopatra, was in the next room napping, so I couldn’t curse at the drain I was trying to fix.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to repair your house without cursing? Cursing is the main tool in my toolbox. You could take away all the other tools, and without a little cursing, you will never accomplish anything. In fact, you may well make things worse.

I had to pause at one point to visit my buddy, Paul, so I could curse a little, in his garage man cave. An hour later, I returned home refreshed, as if having played a nice game of badminton.

It was an emergency situation, the bathroom. The sink stopper had clunked down, permanently closed, so some idiot (probably me) had yanked it out by his fingernails and placed it to the side.

This was fine, except there was nothing to catch the meds, toothpaste caps, tweezers, car keys and anything else that dropped in the sink. Like strawberry jam, great gobs of my daughter’s auburn hair filled the P-shaped drain pipe that leads to…well, actually, I don’t know.

I fussed and I wiggled and I contorted under the sink. At this stage of my life, home repair has really replaced sex for me, and I’m not complaining. When it is over, the feelings of fatigue are very much the same. Then I sleep a deep sleep.

But you should see the new front yard I put in, thick with new flowers and landscape lighting and drip irrigation, all done by hand, over various weekends, on a patch of lunar landscape riddled with rocks and weeds.

My main goal: To install the kind of yard where the dogs would be proud to pee. And I think I accomplished that.

Then I replaced the under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen, which had fried two years ago, and I paused long enough to finally assemble the barbecue smoker I got for Christmas. Big and substantial, like an old locomotive. Like me, I guess.

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(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

This new smoker makes me so happy I bought it flowers.


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Every dad needs a barbecue smoker; it should almost be a law. You know how when you get married or have kids, you think: “Now I’ll always have company… now I’ll always have someone around who makes me smile,” and it doesn’t quite pan out that way?

Well, with a smoker it does. This thing makes me so happy I bought it flowers.

Suddenly, I seem to have adopted the values of my Italian wife, in that I have a need to overfeed family. I buy twice as much food as necessary, and I spend too much time making feasts – sometimes days.

With the smoker, you cook under low heat, one oak log at a time. Patience has always been my strong suit, and smoking anything takes eight hours -- ironically, the same amount of time it takes me to repair a sink.

The smoker leaves me feeling so much better. If I don’t burn down the neighborhood, it may be the best thing that has ever happened to me.

It was a Christmas gift from the lovely and patient older daughter and her boyfriend, Finn. This smoker is hot, solid proof that if you wait long enough, your children will start to give back.

Takes a while -- like brisket, like ribs. But when they do?

Magic, I tell you. Pure magic.

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