Although financially in red, managing the vacation rental and vacationing there with a little bit of home repairs are interesting diversions. To me, a career researcher, any repair or maintenance work around the unit becomes a small research project. The problem is well-defined more often than not. The solution, if not known already, is researched on Internet or in YouTube. The method and tools are identified. Home Depot and Loews, whose business model relies on customers like me, are open long hours, with welcoming persons at entrance and willing staff inside to show where to find stuff and/or offer a pointer or two on how to do repairs or maintenance. After one or more tries and several trips to the hardware stores, the problems are fixed, in majority of the cases.
There is a joy of being an occasional handyperson. It can be relaxing too if the tools are right, care is taken to be safe and reduce injury or stress, and frequent breaks are taken. Seeing a repair fixing a vexing problem, a good painting job brightening up the doors and the walls, and a careful caulking job fixing the unsightly moldy cracks in the joints can be satisfying. It may also bring in a bonus of inventing a new method or an apparatus.
The caulking project in our Kissimmee unit was one such example. I used an old small cushion to sit on or kneel down to protect the precious knees of a marathon runner. The Boston Marathon soft sandals provided cushions for other parts of the body that came in direct contact with the hard floor. Caulking could be messy. The mess was minimized with preplanning, but it still lingered in my subconscious mind, all the way to the plane back to Calgary. On the positive side, I noted my caulking lines were smoother than the ones made by hired handypersons. Over the years, I came to conclude that some jobs that require finesse and patience are better suited for handyperson homeowners, who care more and have more time.
At one point during caulking the shower floor, with the bathroom fan providing background music, I felt a touch of romance being confined in a cosy cubic shower, enclosed by the sliding door, three room walls, and the ceiling. A Tagore love song 'Dakbona dakbona, emon kore bairey theke dakbona?Pari jodi antorey tar dak pathabo (Call I will not you from outside? instead I shall send a call from heart)' soon filled the shower. The reflections off the walls and the ceiling in the shower made my voice sound more sonorous and voluminous than in a larger room, making me feel as though I was in a recording studio. I recalled buying a pair of Bose floor speakers in the early eighties for my Calgary home that reflect sound off the walls to reproduce concert hall-like feeling at home. Dr Amar Bose, a Bengali born in USA of a Bengali freedom fighter and an American school teacher, was the inventor and owner of a multibillion dollar company that is the best in its class. It is interesting to note that reflecting sounds have been making non-singers sing in showers for ages, but it took one Bose to invent the Direct Reflecting speaker technology.
Encouraged by the caulking success in one bathroom, I moved to the next with more confidence. After caulking, I changed the shower heads and spout diverters. I had difficulty fixing a loose wood panel that acted as a cover for a non-existent drawer in the bathroom counter top and one that guests used extra force to pull out thinking it was a real drawer. It required squeezing my body under the sink, lying on my back cushioned with a pillow, and struggling while screwing in the cover to the counter, with not much space to work in.
The most difficult job for me was to replace or fix a leaky water valve outside that was attached to a garden or pool-side hose. Finding the main water shut-off valve hidden inside underground boxes (convenient shelters for reptiles) outside the building, buying a 2-feet long --- long to avoid being bitten by creatures --- tee handle to turn it one quarter of a full turn, and opening the valve to examine the seals, all challenged my skills and risk-taking threshold. Guests would be coming in a few days and we could not afford disastrous water damage inside, wife warned repeatedly. I was successful in loosening one nut in the rusted valve, but did not want to take a chance on the other that proved to be recalcitrant to wrenching. I had to give up in fear of doing more damage than before, reluctantly settling on plan B, which was to call a plumber. I tightened the loosened nut and son opened the water shut-off valve. He came back and commented that the valve was visibly leaking less water than before. Encouraged, I tightened it a bit more. And voila! No more leaking or dripping, proving again that 'Luck is on the side of those who try.'
After all these were done, I celebrated lying on the newly purchased lounge chair, sipping Florida orange juice, and feeling romantic, watching the dark clouds collecting in the western sky; listening to mild growling of thunders; watching tree branches dancing with the wind; and feeling tiny drops of God's gift from heaven on my bare warm arms. Wife, pleased once again with husband's handyman successes, implored to enjoy the new lounge longer and served dinner outside. Fish was on the plate, but it was not hilsha. Buttermilk substituted for the taste of whole milk, as the saying goes in both Bengals.
On 14 September, 2015, in the United Airlines plane back to Calgary, I was musing about my handyman experiences in Kissimmee, in-between reading a book 'Where Good Ideas Come From' by Steven Johnson. The plane was flying at 10000 metres in a turbulence-free sky, the pilot announced. The stewardess sold me a box of tapas (a snack of an assortment of Spanish dishes, including olives, salsa, hummus, and cheese) and served me a free glass of Florida orange juice. I could feel she was surveying me longer than she should. I thought of the brim hat, bought from Machu Picchu (Peru) after running the Inca Trail Marathon in 2012, I was wearing. 'Or was she profiling me for my skin tone?' I thought annoyingly. 'Are you a real Sherpa?' she finally asked. Surprised with her strange question, I followed her eyes to my left chest. There I read SHERPA on my burgundy fleece shirt. 'No,' I replied. She then came to know that I had bought the shirt from Namche Bazaar, Nepal, after completing the Mount Everest Marathon, on my way to running marathons in all continents. I felt I had to tell her all those details to make my case in case she still was profiling me. Her eyes widened and jaw dropped in apparent admiration, as she slowly moved to serve the row behind. After a while, turning back, she offered me another glass of orange juice, when one glass per person was the rule.
After finishing the tapas and the drinks, and being buoyed by the stewardess's appreciation, I felt a touch of 'intellectual romance', the kind I feel in some Monday mornings at work, when no one is around and I am in an 'inventive' mood. The subconscious caulking problem surfaced. I tried to come up with a gadget that would make the caulking less messy and more effective. I acted out, moving my index finger, what I had done during caulking in our unit and how it could be improved upon. I could see from the corner of my right eye the person across the aisle sneaking a look at me from the corner of his left eye. Unbothered and unembarrassed, I continued to explore and analyze a few ideas. Soon a light bulb went off! No, not the one below the carry-on luggage bin above my head. The other one that is associated with inventing. I sketched a potential solution on the napkin the stewardess had served with the orange juice, covering it with the left palm so as not to permit the nosy neighbour sneak an idea-stealing look. I assumed he had figured out by then, after seeing me writing down something on a napkin following deep thinking, that I was more likely to be creative than crazy.
The invention in the plane while vacationing reminded me of another invention (patent pending) I had made in Nice, France, on way to running Paris Marathon in 2012, while watching the advancing and retreating waves on a French Riviera beach.
The caulking solution, if patented and marketed, may change the colour of the profit line of the rental unit from red to green. That would energize this part-time handyman engineer to do more. The invention, for sure, would not have happened, if I was not hands-on in Kissimmee. Interestingly, many of my work-related inventions also resulted from hands-on involvement in the laboratory as an experimenter and exploring unexpected results. Being a handyman at home or while on vacation exposes me to more problems that offer more opportunities for inventions. After all, good ideas are place-neutral; they come from offices, labs, homes, and even in a plane cruising at an altitude higher than the Mount Everest.
'Could it be the tapas (Spanish dish)?' I wondered rather facetiously about the trigger for the caulking invention. The masterpieces by Spanish giants: Picasso, Dali, Goya, El Greco, Miro, Gaudi (architect), Ortiz, and many others, I marvelled at the myriad museums all over Spain, after completing the Barcelona Marathon in 2009, flashed through my mind. Linking tapas with creative works is a far-fetched, conjectural connection, I reasoned. But linking fish with creativity is reasonable in light of the research reported in the NY Times which considers fish a 'brain food'. Hilsha fish should be even a better 'brain food', as it is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids that may lower cholesterol, protect against brain diseases like Alzheimer's, dementia, and aging-related gradual memory loss, according to some research. Normally, a food that is good for health is at odds with taste buds. Hilsha is a delectable exception. No other fish can compete with its transcendent taste!
The thought of a dish of fresh Chandpur hilsha cooked with eggplant --- the way mother used to do at Matlab village in the monsoon months in the late fifties --- made this Bishnupur Bengali's mouth water in the United Airlines' flight at 10000 metres, in 2015. (The End)
Tapan Chakrabarty, a seven-continent marathon finisher, an inventor and an
innovator, writes from Calgary, Canada