Viewpoint by Janice Lindsay


By Janice Lindsay
(Photo Janice Lindsay, Photo Submitted)

Sound the alarm. Or not.

Uh, oh. We had a crack in our downstairs bathtub.

Correction: I thought we had a crack in the bathtub. I could see and feel a thin jagged ridge around the inside back end of the tub, outlined by a pale orange soap build-up that I couldn’t remove with regular washing.

Recognizing the potential for serious water damage, we stopped using the tub and switched to the upstairs tub. We began to search for someone who repairs bathtubs.

Meanwhile, the manager of a handyperson company came to power-wash our house, and I asked her to take a look at the tub.

Darcy leaned into the tub and studied the crack. She was not alarmed.

“I don’t think you have a crack,” she said, and began to scrub. She’s a strong scrubber – all that handyperson muscle – and suddenly, no more crack. There never was a crack, just a spot where soapy water settles due to an oddity in the configuration of the tub.

Darcy was kind. She never hinted at what she must have been thinking: “You are one stupid customer.”

She explained that, with a real crack, if you pressed on one side, you’d see a little cliff. “But,” she added reassuringly, “call me if you fall through the tub into the basement.”

I felt a little foolish, but without apology. I’ve accepted the fact that I will never know everything a person should know to successfully manage a house.

For instance, shortly after we moved into this particular house, we were awakened one night by a clamorous buzzing alarm. In the cellar, we discovered the switch that turned it off. The housing inspector had told us what that switch was for. Neither of us could remember. It turned out to be the septic system alarm. Our previous house had city water and sewerage. What did we know about septic systems? It further turned out that there was nothing wrong with the septic system, only something wrong with the alarm. How could we know that sometimes an alarm is not cause for alarm?

On the other hand – also after we moved into this particular house – we frequently heard “Boom!” a sudden explosion like a sonic boom. We didn’t realize it was coming from inside the house. Then the oil burner quit. The service man explained that the “sonic booms” were the sound of the furnace misfiring. We’d never heard of such a thing. Our previous house had electric heat. What did we know about furnaces? How would we know that sometimes we should be alarmed even when there is no alarm?

We replaced a beat-up porcelain sink with a new stainless steel one – again, in this particular house. The stainless steel seemed to take on many little scratches in a very short time. I was alarmed, and we asked the plumber to take a look. I explained, “When we turn the light on over the sink, we can see all these scratches.” His solution: “Don’t turn the light on.”

The lady at the sink company explained that stainless steel sinks acquire a “patina” over time. “Patina” apparently refers to so many little scratches that you can’t distinguish any particular scratch from any other particular scratch. The sink lady was not alarmed.

Running a house is a lot like living a life. We’re all sojourners in a complex and confusing world. We have no idea what we’ll need to know until we need to know it. The most important thing to remember is this: Whatever happens, somebody knows how to handle it. Don’t be alarmed.