Wednesday, February 5, 2014


It's a question I get asked all the time but I'm not always sure what it means. “What do Ocracoke's year-round residents do here in the winter?” “What do I do here in the winter?” “What is there for a visitor to do here in the winter?” These are all possible interpretations of the question.

First of all, people who have the contrivance to be elsewhere usually avail themselves thereof. My son, f'rinstance is off at college. Would I trade places with him? Twist my arm! My wife has taken our 7-year-old daughter and gone to spend a week in Columbus, Ohio where, even though it's miserably cold, they at least have snow to play around in (to say nothing of museums, bars, movie theatres and shopping malls.) Of all the family, it's just yours truly and our 15-year-old left to hold down the fort.

So let me tell you about today. My day here on Ocracoke only two days after the groundhog assured us six more weeks of this misery. I was dreaming away on the king-sized tempurpedic which I had all to myself when my alarm brought me rudely back into the harsh here-and-now. I could easily have rolled over and slept two or three more hours but I had to wake up my tenth grader and get her off to school.
This usually involves at least three rounds of negotiations finally culminating in death threats (but I no longer take them all that seriously).

After a breakfast of her home-made granola and yogurt along with two cups of coffee and a fistfull of meds (the joys of old age!), we rushed out the door and hopped on the golf cart (yeah, I've got one – if you can't lick 'em, join 'em – you're not going to get there any faster than the golf cart in front of you even if you're in a Ferrari!). Half way to the school we were both cold and wishing we'd brought the van.

Back at home I threw on a down vest and watch cap and took a brisk walk down to the docks to check on my vessels. Returning to the front yard, I noticed that the wind had blown over our recycling container so I walked over to pick it up and that put me in full view of our back screen porch whose door has been ripped to shreds by our cat. There were other tasks on my mental “to do” list, but it occurred to me that I bought some “pet resistant” screen at Lowe's three years ago for this very issue and never got around to replacing the screen.

Amazingly, I happened to remember where I'd put the screen (in the corner of my wife's office, where else?) so I went to get it along with the necessary tools. I methodically gathered together everything I'd need for the job. It seems like half the time I spend on any task is actually wasted in searching for a tool (like a pencil for Pete's sake!) which, as often as not, is behind my ear. I quickly saw that, in order to remove the aluminum molding that holds the screen, I would need a Philips screw driver. In my tool shed I was readily able to locate an assortment of screw drivers but the only Philips was a cordless drill bit and the drill, of course, was not in the shop. I'd left it on my boat. Or was it the other boat? Maybe my car? The one my wife drove to Ohio!

So I got on the golf cart and went down to the boat. I knew I had at least one Philips screw driver in the drawer that my cruising friend Bill calls “the place for everything.” That's in response to my telling him that my motto is “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Eureka! I found two Philips screw drivers and brought them both back to the house. But before I could remove the aluminum trim, I had to remove a rusted steel turnbuckle – one of those long gadgets that you have to turn once in a while to keep the bottom of the door from scraping the floor when it closes. It was too rusty to turn so I made a mental note to buy a new one at the hardware store.

After removing molding, trim and torn screen, I measured and cut the new screen. Then I hopped onto the golf card for a quick run to the hardware store for nails and the new turnbuckle. Of course they had what I needed but the turnbuckle, which I had expected to cost $2.50 or maybe $3.00 was $8.49 plus tax! “Outrageous!” I complained to Jim Piland, the unflappable clerk. “I'll go clean up my old one and put it right back.”

Back in my shop, I carefully placed the rusted turnbuckle in the vise on my work bench. Then I applied a liberal shot of “P.B. Blaster” to it (as well as to my vest and pants – that stuff really squirts!).
Then I clamped on the vise grips and gave it a hefty turn. “Snap!” So much for that thrifty idea.
A few minutes later in the hardware store Jim Piland rang up my purchase of a new turnbuckle with an inscrutable Budhistic smile.

On the way home it was time to pick up my girl for lunch. As we sat across the table from each other eating our soup and crackers it wasn't much like a scene from Ozzie & Harriet. She was feverishly texting on her phone while I read an article in the New Yorker. All too soon it was time to run her back to school. God forbid she should walk or bike the quarter mile jaunt down Back Road. Hard for me to understand since, like all members of my generation, I as a kid had to walk two and a half miles to school in the snow (up hill both going and coming!) but I digress...

Invariably when I take on a project like this screen replacement, there will be one tool or piece of material which I know I own but can't seem to locate and without which, of course, the job simply can't be done. After a long and futile search I always end up going to the hardware store to get a new such item. Then, when I finish using it, I carefully put it away – right next to the original item! In fact, in all my prior screen replacements, the needed item has been the little grooved roller thingy that presses the strip of rubber into the aluminum molding to secure the edges of the screen. Not this time. I remembered exactly where to find the tool. All three of them!

If my wife were here, no doubt we'd have had this conversation:

Wife: Rob, where are you?
Me: Out on the screened porch.
Wife: What are you doing?
Me: Replacing the screen on the door where the cat tore it up.
Wife: How long will that take?
Me: Probably about an hour.

And in a perfect universe it probably would only take an hour. But it's not a perfect universe; it's Ocracoke in the winter time. My house. My tools. Me doing the job. So what if, with one thing and another, I don't finish it until suppertime? There's nowhere in particular I need to be or anything in particular I have to do before some time in April when the place starts to come alive again.


Gary said...

Well, I'm spending MY winter enjoying other people's blogspots, and, I might add, enjoying them immensely!

Banjo Duster said...

The next time you have to free up some rusted doodad you'll learn to let it soak a good while before applying the vise grips. Spray it or dip it, then let it rest for 24 hours before snapping it in half. Works for me.