In which I go to the hardware store (twice)


I’m every time surprised at how easily flummoxed I am by objects in the real world.

Rain gutters. The whole front of our house has them, except for one stretch which has been eroding a trench in the flowerbed. Easy, right?

It looks so seductively simple in the hardware store: this piece fits into that piece, these brackets snap onto the ends, it’s like a big Lego puzzle that you screw onto the side of the house. No problem.

But then you get the pieces home and find out that because of the steep slope which is the front lawn, there’s no safe place to put a ladder to reach one end of the house. And once that’s solved — by awkwardly leaning out a balcony from which you can just reach (but not see) where the end bracket needs to get screwed on, but not with the power drill, because the screwhole is deep inside the gutter leaving no room for the drill, so you have to do it by drilling it in first without the bracket, then backing it out, then holding a screwdriver bit with a pair of pliers to actually attach the bracket, but not before dropping the screw twice, once because the fact that you’re screwing something with the screw pointed towards your head instead of the more traditional way throws off the “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” mnemomic you memorized years ago, and once because screwing something backwards with a pair of pliers is just damn inconvenient, necessitating two long trips through the house and outside to dig through the grass to retrieve the screw, finally wising up and bringing the whole box up with you, after which you no longer drop any more screws) — once that’s solved, I say, and you’re making good progress towards the other end of the roof which you can reach, you notice that the only way to do so is by leaning the ladder against the spot where the gutter needs to go. Which is fine until the last piece needs to go up, and the only way to reach the place where the gutter needs to go is to put the ladder where the gutter needs to go, at which point you can no longer put the gutter there because the ladder is in the way. You seriously consider climbing up onto the roof, kicking the ladder away, screwing the gutter in place, and jumping. The fact that the roof is too hot to touch dissuades you from this plan, which is probably a good thing, so you rig up something equally unsafe which (again) involves driving in a screw which you can’t see and which you can only reach backwards. At least this time when you drop the screw it just falls into the gutter instead of all the way to the lawn.

By this point what had started out as a clear, sunny day is starting to look like you might be needing this rain gutter to be finished up pretty soon, so with a glance towards the rapidly accumulating pile of power tools on the lawn, you start hurrying, by which I of course mean “screwing up”.

All that’s left is to bring the gutter around the corner, where you’re planning to have it join up with an existing downspout. Fine, but the existing gutter is round PVC pipe, while the stuff you found at the hardware store is square PVC pipe, which means that your problems are now not only annoying but also cliché.

So you pull out your trusty dremel tool, cut a square hole in the side of the existing round gutter, screw in the corner piece (which you have to drive back to the hardware store to get) and put it all together, creating a solution which you’re quite happy with until you step back a bit and see that it’ll work just fine, so long as the water is willing to run uphill. A little bit. Your wife has just chosen this exact point in time to come outside to observe your progress. She goes back inside.

So you pull that out again, spend some time mixing plastic epoxy and experimenting with various ways to stick the bit you cut out of the old gutter back where it used to be, and then just sit down and stare at the thing for a while while that dries. A few minutes experimentation and careful eyeballing reveals that, while there’s no way for you to get the square pipe into the round hole, it’s just possible that you can fit the round pipe into a square one — so if you pull the existing round downspout off the house and replace it with one that matches the new gutter, you’ll be able to feed a short angle of the old pipe into a y-joint in the new one. You don’t have a y-joint, and neither does the hardware store, so again with the dremel. Thank god for dremel.

You’re a little overcautious about measurements, what with all the odd angles involved, so you wind up having to cut one piece shorter in half-inch increments four or five times before it all looks like it’s going to fit together — but eventually you’ve got all the pieces plausibly attached to one another, and you’re ready to remove the brackets that were holding the old downspout onto the house so you can put the new brackets that fit the new downspout where they were. Except that now that you look at it, it turns out the goddamn people who installed the goddamn old downspout chose to use fancy screws that are neither phillips nor flathead, nor even hex heads, but goddamn squares. You have phillips bits and flathead bits and even (as a result of an earlier adventure in housecraft) a fair collection of hex bits, but no square ones. You didn’t even know there were square ones.

The fifth flathead bit you try happens to be the right size to fit the square at a diagonal, though, so you can use it to extract the square-head screws with a minimum of skipping and scar damage to the siding. The square-head screws achieve an impressive trajectory towards the adjacent woods, if I do say so myself. I’ll probably step on them in my bare feet one of these days. And the new brackets attach to the house without incident. They come off the house pretty easily, too, once you realize that you’ve forgotten to actually put in the pipe they were supposed to hold. Then they go back on again. And then you have a new rain gutter.

Well, I do, anyway; I don’t know about your roof.

Next, I’m going to try building some shelves in the pantry.