Living in a gated little community of condominiums in Pompano Beach, I often have the chance to chat with my neighbors, who sometimes meet me walking my dog, Dudley, on the grounds. Those charming neighbors make a fuss over Duds and have made us feel right at home here and lucky to be in such a welcoming environment.
The past week, though, I have started something unintentionally that I am sure is going to catch up with me. My next-door neighbor, Molly, knocked on my door last Tuesday to see if I could help her install the filter to her air conditioner. Of course, I panicked, because if there is anyone more inept than I at dealing with mechanical fixes of any kind, that person remains successfully hidden from my view. Anything more complicated than changing a light bulb requires a set of directions for me with plenty of visual illustrations and a possible video. All my friends know this and continue over the years to use my mechanical fumbling as comic material.
Not wanting to appear unwilling at least to help her, I followed Molly to her apartment, where there was another neighbor, Sandy, standing with a new filter ready to be installed. Both women looked at me as though I were a doctor bringing a serum to eradicate some kind of horrible plague in their village. The pressure was on as I prayed silently for a little miracle. I noticed a tray with a spring load, that I opened to reveal the only place the filter might fit. Handing me the filter, Sandy looked like a nurse giving the surgeon just the right scalpel to save the patient’s life. I asked Molly to hold open the door to the tray as I slipped the new filter in before allowing the door to snap shut. She thanked me profusely as I left to return to my own apartment. Suddenly I knew how a football player felt after making the winning touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter. That analogy may seem exaggerated, but for me this was big stuff, worthy of a prize of some sort and an interview on the TV evening news. If that had been the end of it, I’d probably be better off now, but that was not the end.
Molly’s next-door neighbor on the other side is Harvey, a quiet but friendly fellow in his late seventies, who had evidently talked with Molly about my having helped her. Knocking on my door last Thursday in an uncharacteristic panic, Harvey asked me if I might be able to fix something in his den. Again, wanting to be as helpful as possible, I went to Harvey’s where in his den, he handed me his TV remote, a look of utter despair on his face as he said, “I think it’s dead. Can you fix it?” You have to understand that I’m not used to that kind of pressure to fix anything, as just about everyone else I know is pretty much on to me as a person who is just this side of knowing the difference between a wrench and a screwdriver. I turned the remote over to remove the battery cover and noticed that the batteries seemed loose, so I pushed them in tightly and put back the cover, asking Harvey for a piece of cellophane tape to secure it. The remote worked just fine as Harvey’s look of admiration made me feel both proud and afraid.
It seems I have unintentionally bamboozled the people in my building into believing I can actually fix things. This is unprecedented in my experience as someone who has never even changed a tire. Now each time I greet one of my neighbors, I wait nervously for a request to repair or install something else. My dreams are haunted by statements and questions from quizzical faces. “Hi, John. Ya know, my fridge is on the fritz, and I was hoping ya might come over to look at it.” I hear imaginary knocks on my door, followed by, “Hey John! My car wouldn’t start this morning, and I really need to get to work. Can you check it out for me?” Word of my having helped those two people could spread like dandelions on a front lawn unless I do something, like put up a poster with my picture on it in the lobby with the message, WARNING! THIS MAN IS A FRAUD. ONLY PURE LUCK CAN ALLOW HIM TO FIX ANYTHING. As someone who can hardly use a can-opener, I’m bound to be exposed eventually. It’s very unlikely that those first two lucky breaks could be followed by a third, so the loving looks of admiration I’ve been enjoying the past week from neighbors could change to tittering and hand-covered mouths. Any minute there will be a knock on my door to tell me that someone’s oven is broken. Talk about a case of mistaken identity! JB