Knob Problems

Last week, daughter Jess got stuck in the ladies' room at an unnamed restaurant. While the rest of our little lunch party watched the TVs and waited for the burgers, my little girl was pounding on the bathroom door, demanding to be set free. She was getting tense, and was considering using her tae kwon do skills to kick the door down, when a kindly diner freed her. This was lucky for her, and lucky for the guilty door. Because if she'd gotten started kicking, she wouldn't have quit until something gave.

Over the weekend, wife Brenda accompanied Jess into the same bathroom so they could recreate the event and find out what went wrong. Their conclusion: Getting out of the ladies' room is real easy if you'll just turn the doorknob.

My fellow homeowners could learn something from this. For instance, a couple of years ago, a customer called me during the evening relaxation hours and launched into a hateful screed about how her dishwasher didn't work, how I said it did, and what did she pay me for if not to make reliable predictions about dishwasher breakdowns.

Well, I started out by reminding her that we home-inspection guys don't guarantee that things will work for a certain length of time, and that Lloyd's of London used to be in that business, but they went broke trying. I went on to say that if I could predict the future, I'd move to Vegas and make some real money.

After I listened to a little more of her yelling, I tried to help. "What does this dishwasher do?" I asked.

"It just clicks when I open the door," she whined. "Then when I close the door and set the dial to 'Wash,' nothing happens."

So I asked her, "Are you in the kitchen right now?" Turned out she was. I said, "Open the dishwasher door. Do you hear the clicking?" Yep, she says. "Wait for the clicking to stop," I told her, "then close the door." She complied.

"Now," I said, "Why don't you try pushing that dial in?"

The phone erupted with the sounds of dish-washing and the curses of an angry woman. She said I should have told her how to make the thing work earlier in the conversation.

Well, first of all, I didn't know what would happen until I'd gone through the step-by-step routine. Second, if you can't toy with an angry flat-earth type who's cut into your Barcalounger time, who can you toy with?

A few months ago, when my computer display went all wacky, I figured the problem was the monitor. But when I plugged the monitor into another computer, it worked fine. After many hours, I traced the problem back to the mouse, and I got busy removing mouse drivers, loading new mouse drivers, and reconfiguring mouse settings. Eventually, I restored my whole Windows setup. The mouse was still causing random events on my display. So I went paranoid and scanned for viruses.

Sometime past 11 o'clock that night, I got around to checking the mouse cable. It was just a little bit loose. I pushed it in all the way, and everything was just fine.

Doctors have a phrase for this kind of thing: If you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

In the world of home-owning, this breaks down into a few simple rules and corollaries.

Rule: It's probably the cord. If it's not the cord, it's the switch.

Corollary: When you think about it, almost every machine, creature, and plant are made up chiefly of cords and switches.

Rule: The thing most recently repaired is the thing most likely to break.

Corollary: As soon as you walk out of a doctor's office, your chances of getting sick skyrocket.

Rule: Almost everything that breaks is either very new or very old.

Corollary: Things that are neither very new nor very old tend to do exactly what they did yesterday.

Rule: Nothing ever breaks at a good time.

Corollary: Everything involving a leak will happen when you're out of town. Everything involving fire will happen when you're asleep.

Rule: Almost everything that goes wrong can be traced back to something you did, or didn't do, yourself.

Corollary: The more obvious this becomes, the stronger the denial.