My blog I've ignored for 2 years while attending the Brandcenter
You can learn a lot about someone when you live in his house, even if he’s not living with you.
This post is a story about a utility room.
Don’t call it a laundry room because it’s not a laundry room. Yes, there is a washing machine and a dryer. And yes, laundry is deposited there. It travels down a chute from the third floor, that if my sons ever discovered existed would increase my parenting challenge from “tremendous” to “Oh fuck me.” The dirty clothes are collected and sorted into piles of colors and whites, towels and sheets. They are then washed, dried, folded and placed into white plastic laundry hampers to be Sherpa’d back upstairs and delivered to their assigned rooms.
But this is not a laundry room.
It’s a utility room.
There is a workbench, homemade, that stretches along the back wall. The legs are sturdy, and the table is durable. It looks like you could rest a car engine on it. I wouldn’t be shocked if at one time it had. Behind the workbench and covering the back wall is a pegboard. Tools hang perfectly along this wall each with their own designated space as if there was no other possible place in the universe a hacksaw should hang.
When he built this wall, I wonder if anyone would have asked him what would happen when he needed to add a new tool to his collection? I imagine he would have chuckled for a moment followed by a dismissive shake of the head; then would explain he already owned all the tools that he would ever need.
He was right.
Along the wall, the tools wait in a state of hibernation. Waiting for the moment when their owner would call on them. When he did, they would perform admirably, and their reward would be a proper cleaning and returned to their rightful place. They’d get a playful wink from their owner as a way of saying “Attaboy,” and they would hang a little straighter, a little prouder, basking in the envy of the other tools on the wall.
Above the workbench and attached to the pegboard wall are shelves. These shelves hold clear glass jars containing nails, screws, bolts, and washers each separated into their collection depending on size and quantity. The jars are from a different era when condiments still came in small glass containers and not the plastic tubes that clog my refrigerator door today.
The labels are gone, meticulously scrapped off, but the metal lids still portray their former contents proudly.
Where once was Morton’s Salad Dressing is now filled with small rusty nails from an old paper box that had fallen apart years ago. Gone is the creamy Skippy peanut butter but in its place, various hooks await a chance to prove their strength. Long gone are the Gerber baby food and Maxwell house coffee, now they are the resting place for every size and shape screw someone might ever need.
It’s easy to look at these dusty jars and wonder why someone would keep such a collection. Little pieces of this and that stuffed into recycled containers that sit and take up space.
That is until the time comes when you need a nail, screw or hook of a particular size. Then you reach up and pluck one of those glass jars off the shelf and turn the lid. It gives a slight pop, as it tastes fresh air for the first time in decades. You empty the jar onto the homemade workbench and sift through the assortment. Your eyes widen as you pick one up and examine it a little closer. A smile creeps across your face as you realize somewhere someone much smarter than you might be giving you an “I told you so” looks.
I don’t pretend to be “handy.” In fact, I don’t put either the “handy” nor “man” in the word handyman. But, maybe that’s because I’ve never had a utility room. One where the answer to most household problems is laying patiently in front of me. Waiting for me to notice it. A place where someone who isn’t handy can start off small. Slowly, at first attempting the easiest of fixes. And because now that I have the right tools and I found the perfect size screw inside an old Planter’s Peanuts jar my confidence begins to build.
That’s why this is a utility room. It’s room to do laundry and store your tools, but it is also a place to fix things. Back when it was important to know how to fix stuff. Back when the solution to something breaking wasn’t to throw it away and buy a new one.
Not when you could take it downstairs to the utility room and tinker with it. Spend a few moments to figure out its ailment and cure. Whether it was time or resources, the builder of this room wasn’t fond of waste. It’s not how he lived, and he didn’t have the patience for those that embraced waste. I’m sure he had many quiet chuckles to himself as he brought broken appliances and other people’s “garbage” back from the dead.
Over time he became known around the neighborhood as the neighbor to reach out to when something broke. He’d take it downstairs and rest it on his workbench where he would examine it and figure out what made it “tick” (or why it wasn’t ticking). And, if it were possible to save it, he would. He didn’t do this for money or praise but because he loved fixing things, because it was neighborly and because he had a heck of a utility room.
est. 2013, curated by the Hour After Happy Hour Writing Workshop
Design | Publishing | Photography | Art
Mr. Fenske is a professor at VCU Brandcenter in Richmond VA. The site is an extension of his efforts in the classroom, except for the cartoons, which seem to grow out of some disaffection he feels with the world. Thank you for visiting. © Mark Fenske
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