Personal Essays


Mr. Can’t Fix It

To the unhandy, a broken appliance offers an opportunity to prove one’s mettle—and finally break the plastic wrap on that toolbox. A stay-at-home dad calls in reinforcements.

Last week our dryer broke and a repairman came to fix it. I always get intimidated when a repairman comes around. It’s terribly emasculating. A big, burly guy enters my home and fixes things that, if I were a real man, I’d be fixing myself. Most of the time, repairmen don’t know what to make of me, as if being a stay-at-home dad who wears arty glasses frames and doesn’t fix things were some indecipherable puzzle.

It’s all very awkward.

Thus, in preparation for the dryer repairman’s visit, I decided to take apart my toaster oven. I figured that if the repairman saw me attempting to fix something he’d be less inclined to think of me as a nancy boy, and in turn I wouldn’t feel nearly as self-conscious about being a stay-at-home dad who wears arty glasses frames and doesn’t fix things. Besides, my wife had been complaining about how the toaster oven wasn’t heating consistently. I hadn’t the slightest clue how to fix it, but still, in a way, I was killing two birds with one stone. Or something. Thus I carefully unscrewed a few of the appliance’s screw thingies, removed its front door part, and waited for the repairman to show up.

The dryer company had given an eight-hour window for the repairman’s arrival. By lunchtime he had yet to arrive and I was hungry and really wanted a sandwich. Unfortunately, the only bread we had was near stale and I knew it wouldn’t taste good unless it was toasted. But it was too large a risk to take. If the repairman showed up after I had reassembled the toaster oven, then taking it apart would have been a complete waste of time.

So I decided to forgo a sandwich, and instead periodically dipped my fingers into a jar of peanut butter. It wasn’t as satisfying as a sandwich, but given where I was in my thought process, it seemed a completely adequate alternative. As luck would have it, though, it turned out to be a completely unnecessary alternative because the repairman didn’t pull up to the house until long after lunchtime had ended.

He was no bigger or burlier than any other repairmen I’ve encountered, but all the same, he was way bigger and burlier than I was. It was hard to tell how impressed he was by me trying to fix my toaster oven. In fact, I’m not sure he even noticed at all. When he entered he walked right by the appliance and gave no inkling that he was aware that it was without its screw thingies and front door part.

As I led him to the dryer in the basement, I pointed at things with my screwdriver in an effort to lend me a sense of gravitas.

“Be careful not to get any of your equipment caught on our Whole Foods ‘Better Bags’ hanging along the stairwell.”


“Let me move this stack of old New Yorkers out of the way.”


“And here’s the dryer. Next to my powder blue polo, which I have set out to dry.”


Because of me the chances of my son becoming a Mr. Fix It-type were slim to none. Another generation of Monks nancy boys was in the offing.

Unfortunately, all my screwdriver pointing seemed to have no affect on the repairman. Crestfallen, I left him to his work and went back to the kitchen to pretend to fix my toaster oven. Putting it back together wasn’t nearly as easy as taking it apart. I had inadvertently gotten peanut butter on the screw thingies, which made them difficult to screw, and the front door part stubbornly refused to latch on correctly. It was almost as if the thing had something against me.

I could feel myself getting huffy.

While standing there chewing myself out, my seven-year-old son wandered into the kitchen and asked what I was doing. Seeing his bewildered expression, I couldn’t help but feel that I was failing him. Because of me the chances of him becoming a Mr. Fix It-type were slim to none. Another generation of Monks nancy boys was in the offing.

“I’m fixing the toaster oven,” I told him.

“I didn’t know it was broken,” he said.

“Well, it is now.”

“How come?”

“Why don’t you leave Daddy alone for a bit and go play in your room.”


When the repairman returned from the basement he handed me a list of parts that needed to be ordered to fix the dryer. I thanked him for his work and carefully set the list next to the still disassembled toaster oven in hopes that he would notice I was trying to fix it.

“Broken toaster oven? “ he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “The motherfucker won’t heat up.”

For the next second or two we just stood there in silence. I noticed a tattoo of a cross on his massive forearm. My F-bomb had clearly taken him by surprise. I assumed that sort of language was commonplace with big, burly Mr. Fix It-types, but apparently I was wrong.

“Well, I should be going now,” he said.

“Yes, thank you, of course,” I stuttered.

He told me that the dryer parts would arrive in the mail in six to eight days, and that he would return after that to install them. He then quietly gathered his things and readied himself to leave.

I gave him a big tip on his way out the door. Not sure why. Maybe it was an attempt to cover up my embarrassment. Or maybe it was to show him that even though it was clear I couldn’t fix my way out of a reusable Whole Foods Better Bag, I was still all man and appreciated his hard, manly work. Plus I once read somewhere that real men gave big tips.

The repairman thanked me, smiled, and left my house as fast as he could.

As it turns out, it was a good move giving him the extra cash, because for the life of me I can’t figure out how to put my toaster oven back together, and I’m hoping he’ll be willing to give it a look-see when he returns.