It was one of my father's favorite metaphors.
You know the type. Not the epithets that are daily pulled out of the closet, but the type that are saved for very special occasions. Like the young man who rode the family mule to town and forgot where he had hitched it.
The problem is that I had no idea what it meant when I was growing up. Until today.
Last night, I restricted myself to finishing up my daily steps on the upper terrace because I am nursing a broken rib. (The genesis of that condition is the topic of another essay.) I was in mid-course when I felt the immediate need of a toilet. Fortunately, one was at hand.
The only enclosed room on the upper terrace is the utility room where the clothes washer, a shower, a toilet, and a sink reside. I suspect John Stuart Mills would concede that the combination would qualify as an appropriate example of utilitarianism. But I only required the services of two of the elements -- the toilet and then the sink.
When I got to the sink portion of my exercise, I twisted on the water -- and nothing happened. I moved the lever in each direction. Nothing.
I do not often use that room. In fact, other than to retrieve the squeegee to clean the solar panels, I have not been in the room for a couple of years. But I do know that the grit and mineral content in our water often clogs the little filters at the end of the water pipe.
So, I fetched a wrench and removed the filter. That did not help. There was still no water. I checked that both valves below the sink were in the proper position and moved both of them to each possible position. Nothing.
That left one possibility. Something was mechanically wrong with the faucet itself. It needed to be replaced. So I thought.
Omar told me the faucet has been broken for at least two years. That surprised me because no one had mentioned it to me. Not that I should be surprised. Until I discover that something is broken, it remains broken. It is just the way of the household.
Omar's father-in-law, Pancho, has repaired several things around the house -- always for a reasonable price. I asked Omar to have him come to the house today. And he did.
He went through each of the diagnostic steps I had tried last night. Because Omar was assisting him, I returned briefly to my bed because my rib had started hurting again.
In about five minutes, Pancho asked me to come upstairs to look at the completed job. Omar left with a can of WD40 and some tools that gave the impression of a task well-done.
Pancho showed me how the faucet worked. Regulating the temperature was easy. By pushing backward and forward on the lever. But I already knew that. I was wondering why I was getting such a detailed tutorial. And then I found out.
Instead of using the temperature lever to push the faucet to the right and start the flow of water (as is the case for the kitchen faucet), Pancho grasped the round portion and pushed it to the right. It worked perfectly.
What went unsaid between us (other than Pancho's knowing, but subtle, smile) was that the faucet was working perfectly last night. Omar and I had just forgotten how to operate it.
To save our blushes, Pancho had gone through a number of dismantling steps to give the impression that he had fixed what had not needed to be fixed. And no one even hinted at the updated Emperor's New Clothes scenario.
There is an old Russian joke from the days of the Evil Empire where a worker says: "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work." The difference today was that I pretended Pancho had fixed the faucet and he pretended to have done something for his usual fix-it fee. An amount that would not buy a two-person McDonald's meal, let alone put change in my pocket.
I could draw a moral from all this that the lack of uniformity in faucets here was the root cause of the pay-off. It wasn't. I am just getting older and I tend to forget things. And usually things that do not much matter.
But I finally did discover what Dad meant when he would refer to some poor soul as being dumber than a faucet.
Today that was me.