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Faucets, flats and fuses

(Lynn Hummel is on vacation this week. This is a reprint of one of his columns that originally ran in April 1982.)

The other night I got myself comfortably tucked into bed and prepared to drop off into peaceful slumber. It was quiet, I was tired and within two minutes I expected I'd be snoring. Then I heard a short, sharp, clear sound from the direction of the bathroom. About five seconds later there was another just like it. A dripping faucet.

What is it about a dripping faucet? I have slept through thunderstorms that were reported to sound like bombing raids. Trees were torn down and roofs were ripped off houses. Other nights I have never heard a sound as freight trains and grain trucks roared through at quarter hour intervals within a half block of where I slept. Crying babies, sirens, barking dogs and, often, alarm clocks have failed to disturb my rest. But a dripping faucet has a fiendish effect. Sleep is impossible. After all, the most inhuman punishment ever devised is not bamboo shoots under fingernails, the rack, Russian roulette, a separate horse tied to each limb or hot coals on the bottoms of feet. The most demonic is the Chinese water torture. Just one drop on the forehead every few minutes and eventually the mind of the victim snaps. The splash is harmless, but the anticipation of the next one pushes even the strong willed over the edge.

So the anticipation of the next drip guaranteed that I would not sleep a wink until the faucet was turned all the way off. I forced myself out of that warm bed and staggered through the dark hall. I may have been in a fog, but I thought, "The dripping faucet is one of the top four mechanical curses of mankind." Let me list the other three and see if you agree.

Next is the broken shoelace. Shoelaces always break when you're in a big hurry. There is never a spare lace anywhere near. And when you splice it, the knot is always on the wrong side of the hole you're trying to pull it through. I've only had one pair of unbreakable shoelaces ever. They were so tough that when my tail pipe bracket broke and my tail pipe (Chevrolet in case you're wondering) was dragging, I took the laces out of my shoes, tied them together, crawled under my car and secured the tail pipe. Those laces were so indestructible, they outlasted the shoes they came with. Those were the only pair of shoelaces in the world that wouldn't break. But it seems I've lost them.

The flat tire is a spirit breaker. When I worked in a service station, checking tires was part of the service, along with washing windshields, checking oil, checking battery water, filling gas and saying, "Hi -- nice day today." Today, at a "full service" station, you will get about two of those services from that list of six. For "self service" all they need is a guy at the cash register. But back to tires. They are much better than they used to be, so the flat tire is relatively uncommon. As a matter of fact, you may not even know where the spare tire is on your three-year-old car. But when you get a flat, you'll wish you knew -- because you'll be in a hurry, you'll be wearing a white shirt and clean suit (even if you only wear that uniform once a year or to weddings and funerals), the spare will be dirty and the weather will be cold or rainy. There is never a convenient time for a flat tire. I was hurrying to a dance with a date in December a decade or so ago when a front tire went flat. This girl was a real sweetheart -- she timed me while I changed the tire. She must have decided she preferred faster company, because that was our last date.

The fuse will punish you. Fuses always blow when something important is cooking, freezing or in need of light. The well-organized house always has spare fuses, but does yours? Neither does ours. How would you handle this: you're packing your car and rushing out for a trip. You have to go 150 miles that night and you have just over two hours to get there. Just before you're about to walk out the door, a fuse blows and your refrigerator becomes dark and silent. There are no spares in the house. We jumped into the car, drove 150 miles than called Reliable Bud -- he not only has a lifetime supply of fuses, but he can see in the dark. Thanks Bud. We owe you. Come on over for an ice cube some time.

The list could be extended to include the tangled fishing line, the leaky hip boot and the Rubik's Cube. But I'll stop without further comment. I'm afraid I'd break your heart.