Zen (and Rage), As the Pipe Wrench Turns

You’d think that after almost 9 years of this, I’d be used to the aggravations that are just a part of the price of admission when you’re remodeling something. And for the most part, I think I really am: I can deal with the dust, and the crazily loud and 4.5 on-the-richter-scale vibrations of the sawzall chewing away at studs and joists. I can skate blithely through the unexpected discovery of water-damaged, rotting structural members (though why, with a house that was built in the 1950’s, it should be unexpected, is probably quite silly). I’m getting better at figuring out how to (inhale, annnnnnd,) exhale my way through my frustration when I’m perfectly ready to make plumbing fixture, lighting, and tile selections and my contractor/husband Tim insists that it’s too soon, even though the demolition is done and he’s ready to start plumbing and electrical work, so we need to know what the fixtures are going to be so the rough-in work can go in the right spots. Whatever.

So, it’s actually mildly surprising to me that I still haven’t “yogi-minded” my way around one thing: Tim’s lack of patience and outsized temper when things don’t go smoothly. Take the past 2 days for example: he’s been working on plumbing, which isn’t anything new to him. Plumbing was one of the first trades he learned decades ago. However, and I say this with nothing but love and respect and the knowledge that I would never *actually* throw those imagined daggers at him: he is sometimes tragically disorganized. This is often the major factor that ends up sending him over the edge of seeming sanity and into a screaming, cursing stratosphere of apoplexy. It’s really, really hard not to go there with him.

I mean, I *get* it. Anger is sometimes therapeutic. I’m actually a fairly accomplished practitioner of it myself. Maybe I haven’t developed the proper coping mechanism because I was out of the house working for so much of his earlier toil on this renovation, so I just wasn’t buffeted and bounced around by it as often as I am now that my office just happens to share an adjoining wall with the bathroom being remodeled. But for Pete’s sake. Things are going to go wrong. I know this. How on earth does the guy who’s been doing this stuff for 40 years NOT know this, and how has he not learned to employ mitigation strategies?

Starting, for example, with organizing his stuff, and Just. Keeping it. Organized. I name that because here’s how the scenes usually go down: something goes a little sideways, let’s say, he needs to re-do a plumbing joint to change it from a 90-degree to a 45-degree angle. He’s not happy about having to torch the existing joint to liquefy the solder and pull it apart. I’ll give him that. Then, for whatever crazy reason, the joint’s a little stubborn and he can’t get it separated. The frustration builds. He starts yelling and cursing. He storms out, looking for a different wrench. He comes back with one that isn’t right for the job, which he discovers through another barrage of yelling and cursing. He goes back for another one. The fury builds and the f-bombs fly. He shout-asks me to come in to help, which I’m happy to do if it will make this stop. I torch the joint while he pulls. After more cursing and force, it flies apart and one end of the newly separated joint springs out and burns my finger, but I’m fine and grateful that at least it’s done. I go back into my office thinking the worst is over.

Then, before he or the pipe have had enough time to cool down, he starts looking for the 45-degree joint, which, if he has one, is in a box with all his other miscellaneous plumbing fittings and supplies. Just a box. Not a box with smaller boxes or divided sections into which one could group similar small parts, but a box where everything is swimming around together, and, as Karma would have it, very definitely conspiring and abetting the disappearance of the sought-after 45-degree joint. More foul words and threats against humanity are unleashed like a mythic Hydra as he loudly dumps the entire contents of the box onto the floor and starts wildly sifting through it as if he’s a member of the bomb squad looking for wire cutters and there are 20 seconds left until detonation. With clear malice aforethought, that evil little piece of copper eludes him.

So many of these meltdowns would never get traction if things were in places where he knew they’d be, and he could find them when he needed them. The right wrench. The 45-degree joint (which, about 10 minutes later, materialized, in a clear plastic bag, in plain sight, on the floor onto which it and its brethren had been dumped). And while he’s coming unglued, 9 feet away through the wall between my office and the bathroom, it’s REALLY HARD for me to concentrate and get anything done. I do what feels like an appreciable job of “keeping calm and carrying on,” until I don’t.

I should stop right here and explain that this is always the fatal point in my decision tree. What I *should* do: quietly pack my laptop, notepad, phone, and thermal coffee mug, and slip out the door and down the hill to So-G (our local coffee roaster) for some serenity. What I do instead:  calmly offer a suggestion that perhaps when he’s this crazed, it affects his ability to think clearly. Suddenly, I’m transformed from helpful wife into the object of his fury, and with him now directing his ire straight at me, my own team of Piss-a-trons (who’ve been stealthily organizing in the build-up leading up to now) see their opening, and leap into action, all flaming word-swords and rusty-tipped verbal jabs.

After a brief and very heated exchange, he quiets down for long enough to get through the issue, and without a whole lot of additional drama, it’s done. Just like that. Poof. All fury evaporated. The plumbing parts get tossed back into their magic box to await the next episode of As the Pipe Wrench Turns, with any thought of “how this might be avoided in the future” as nonexistent as fingernails on a snake.

As for me, I can still marvel at his abilities and appreciate what they’ve yielded. As a bonus, I’ve also now galvanized my awareness about that fatal point in my decision tree. Let’s see how I do with that knowledge next time (because as sure as the sun will rise, there *will* be a next time. It might even be tomorrow).

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