Christmas and manliness do not go together.  Although I feel the stir of an authentic display of manliness, my own efforts are more of the faux, or modest variety.  Certainly they can’t compare with UFC fighting, for example, which is pretty manly…for a game.

As we prepared for Christmas I had two projects to finish that might have made Tim Allen proud: repair the downstairs toilet for easy guest access, and assemble the Christmas ping pong table we bought for the family.

The toilet hasn’t worked for some time.  Having replaced the handle three times already, which are cheap and keep breaking because the flapper is a little sticky, I decided to replace the entire flapper flushing mechanism.  The day before Christmas.

Let me back up.  Finding the ping pong table had been something of a coup.  We found it on a particularly enchanted evening out Christmas shopping.  Although we had waited until almost the last minute, everything turned out that night.  Parking places opened up for us.  We got a seat for dinner without waiting.  People were friendly and filled with the Christmas spirit.  And we found the very last ping pong table, and I mean the one that was on sale.  Two lovely people from Target were just able to squeeze it into the back seat of our Impala.  As we drove away, Peaches and Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing” came on.  We cranked up the radio and shook our groove things as best we could while driving.  It was magical.

Since it was a surprise, I tried to sneak the table into the basement.  I managed to wrestle it out of the car by myself.  Employing a combination of clunking it end over end and sliding, I managed to get it to the basement without assistance.  But not without a cost.  My back had been bothering me for a couple of weeks.  Excruciating muscle spasms wrack my right side.  If I hold my breath and stop moving, the pain goes away in a matter of seconds.  Navigating the basement stairs, I took up a position underneath, allowing gravity to do the work, while I was there for simple braking.  This seemed to aggravate my back problem.

Ok, back to the toilet.  When I lowered myself to the ground in the bathroom to loosen the nuts that secure the tank, a spasm buckled me.  As I lay on the hard floor, waiting to catch my breath, it was clear that I should not get up until the job was done.  So, from the bathroom floor I called to my wife.  I directed her from below as she straddled me to wield the large slot screw driver from above.  My wife removed the tank and I replaced the flapper from the floor.  Although the old gasket didn’t quite fit the new piece, I thought it should seal if we just tightened it down enough.  So we tightened it good.  Then we added water to the tank and waited breathlessly (partly from anticipation, partly from pain) to see if it would hold water.  It did not.  We tightened some more.  I wiped off the water from before and waited to see if more would trickle.  Trickle it did.  We emptied the tank, closed the door and put up a sign for the party: “Out of order.”

Time was running out; Christmas Eve was upon us, and there were many things still to do.  There was no time to recover from my bathroom defeat.  Down to the basement I went to “assemble” the ping pong table.   Ping pong tables on sale for $99 don’t come with very good assembly instructions.  Normally, this doesn’t matter, because I don’t like following the instructions.  But it would have been handy to know that the “slots” on the brackets that hold the legs had to the point in the same direction.  That way the legs fold in the same direction, so that the table folds up and can be moved easily on its casters.  Having struggled through the process for some time, modifying here and there because of mis-aligned brackets holding the table quarters together, I decided the table would be stationary.  That way I wouldn’t have to disassemble and reassemble just to give it a superfluous folding functionality.  Since folding was recommended in order to stand the table up and I had not assembled it in that fashion, I decided to stand it up in halves.  Then I’d add the stabilizer bars that keep the halves together once they were upside right.

Half of the table is heavy.  Somehow I managed to flip the first half up.  As I struggled to flip up the next one, the half that was already up collapsed.  I finished getting the second one up before tending to the first that had collapsed.  As I returned to the collapsed half, the second one promptly crashed to the ground as well.

Assuming the loud crashes had given away the surprise, and not sure how I would finish the job, I enlisted the help of everyone in the house.  Six of us were just able to get both halves up and hold them up while I attached the brackets I should have attached earlier.  Then I sat in a chair in some discomfort and watched the first game of ping pong played on our new ping pong table.

Real manliness is not much appreciated these days.  Harvard professor, Harvey Mansfield, wrote a book entitled Manliness a few years ago; it was vehemently attacked.  It’s not that Mansfield is an extremist.  In an interview, he was asked if one could be manly and favor gun control.  Mansfield said one could, noting that guns are less manly than swords.  Paint gun manliness is more my speed.



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