Making Things Better

If I had a bumper sticker, it would read “Making Things Better, One Screw-up at a Time,” which I admit isn’t much of a sticker. I also like “Be Kind, Rewind,” but then half the population wouldn’t get the reference to Blockbuster Video, and I am already fast becoming an anachronism. No need to rush it.

This week some commonplace but important things fell apart in my attempt to make them better. “Better,” of course, is a relative term, although I believe any serious adult with the slightest bit of technical or handyman experience would have done the same. That is, my attempts to improve things were perfectly logical, laudable, even. To wit, installing Norton Anti-Virus software with VPN on my iMac desktop computer and an older Dell laptop that is so heavy I need a pack mule to carry it anywhere. Both had been performing like a sloppy drunk, which is to say not at all. Things had gotten so bad I suspected a virus.

What happened as a result of the installation? The iMac has gotten into the habit of telling me there isn’t any Internet access when I know perfectly well there is. It also cuts out whenever it feels like it and then chastises me when I restart the thing for not shutting down “properly.” I love that. The machine tells me I am acting improperly. Can’t wait for Klaus Schwab and his Davos minions to implant chips in all of our brains. You know, to make our lives “better” through artificial intelligence.

Then I noticed that the “Clean Me” light on my Breville espresso machine turned on. Being a responsible owner and coffee lover (I used to bring bags of coffee beans into the US from Guatemala), I cleaned it with the recommended sodium carbonate tablet, flushed the system with clean water, turned it back on for a creamy cup of espresso, and voilá, now it doesn’t work at all. It just purrs like a sick cat in the corner without any water coming out. Ever the adventurous type, I started taking it apart bit by bit after watching a repair video about solenoids on YouTube. You can’t fool me.

The problem now is that I can’t remove the final screw on the back panel to get at the solenoid. The only thing I can think of is that the product designer/engineer was Elastigirl from The Incredibles. Who else could reach a screw that is impossible to get to? Finally, I gave up and went down the street to a coffee shop for a cappuccino. They were very nice to me. They may see a lot of me from now on.

You may deride this as a first-world problem, but I assure you that without a cappuccino each morning my body shuts down and I am worthless. If that doesn’t earn your sympathy, just know that you are turning your back not just on a poor man with an addiction but a congenital defect as well.

How so? you ask. I’ll put it this way. Add the following to the computer and espresso machine fiascos: a BMW key fob that I mangled with a file in an attempt to replace the battery; a Honda motorcycle gas tank that I chipped trying to detail it with flames; and relieving a painful ear infection by popping 400 mg pills of Ibuprofen prescribed to me in the Bronx ten years ago. Granted, not all of these incidents happened this week. In fact, I haven’t had the Nighthawk 750 for years, but I took the Ibuprofen just two days ago. Yes, I know about old prescriptions, but when the pain is so bad you want to rip your ear off, who has time to go to urgent care?

Trying to make things better is embedded in my genetic code. It’s not my fault that most of the time I lack one or all of the following: (1) the proper tools, (2) enough time, (3) capital. But I make up for my lack in those areas with creativity. Perhaps the best example of this is what I call my “leprechaun coat.”

One day I noticed a silk blazer in a men’s store window. I went in, tried it on, and loved the fit. Ask anyone who knows about men’s fashion and they’ll tell you it’s all about fit. The problem was it had been on display in the window for so long in the same position that it had developed a streak from the sunlight across one of the shoulders. I figured I could live with it since I bought the blazer for pennies on the dollar.

After a while, though, I got tired of hiding the streak and decided to remove it. I sought out dry cleaners, tailors, fabric manufacturers. No one could help me. Then I got the bright idea to go to a place that did industrial dyeing. We actually had one within walking distance of the house. When I explained what I wanted the guy looked at me, the blazer, and then back at me. He told me they could do it but that the industrial dye process might ruin the silk. “No matter,” I said. “Let’s give it a whirl.”

So we gave it a whirl. The blazer came back shrunk, as stiff as papier-mâché, and green. I tried it on but it barely fit. I looked like an usher or an extra from The Wizard of Oz. So, in the end I paid more than what the blazer would have cost new and wasted countless hours obsessed over getting the streak out.

The lesson to be learned here? Stop making things better. You’ll be a lot happier in the long run. Now I just have to find an espresso machine repairman.

“Too Much Monkey Business,” (1956) by Chuck Berry.

Image credits: feature by Josh D. Gallery photos by Charles Deluvio, Benjamin Rascoe, Ed Hardie, Dan Cristian Pădureț. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”


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