Ravings of a Fix-It Man

I once worked as a part-time maintenance person for a hotel. You never know from where inspiration will come.

by Darryl Branning

The Broken Fix-It Man

The full-time fix-it man was married to the owner's sister. He used to walk around the parking lot with one foot twisted sideways like an open car door, dimmed eyes thrusting at the ground in front of him, tool belt deflating his pants. There was always a glimpse of his large, upholstered seat.

He believed everything that republicans and conservative talk show hosts told him, and he repeated it like gospel, or the instructions for assembling a toilet.

He took an extra day off once for an out of town of revival. He came back talking about a guy who wasn't a faith healer, but how his wife didn't need glasses anymore.

I had heard many times how belief in God had saved his life after he was smashed under a tree. He believed all homosexuals were pedophiles and all women needed male supervision.

He had to come in one Sunday to fix a burst water pipe. I was using a shopvac to suck up water when I noticed his pants were lower that usual. I began to wonder if the only thing holding them up was his faith in God.
So I said a prayer for his pants.

Gravity Well

Toilets are a top priority in motel maintenance. Fortunately, they are simple pieces of equipment; all that is absolutely necessary is gravity. It makes me wonder why it took five thousand years for civilizations to begin using indoor plumbing. Without gravity--well, it cost NASA 10 million dollars to make a toilet work without gravity.

Being a fix-it man teaches you that everything has to have a cause. I know what gravity does for the cause of modern plumbing, but I never knew what caused gravity. I decided to ask some of the guests about it.

Dr. Science has a simple explanation. "The Universe sucks," he says, and mutters about the black-hole in his grandmother's kitchen that swallowed his doctoral thesis. I try to tell him about the Universe and the miracle of indoor plumbing, but he is more interested that I fix his toilet.

Beakman says, "I'm glad you asked that question," and involves fruits of various sizes to explain how every object in the Universe is attracted to every other object. He claims that Newton discovered apple scented shampoo and suggests that we get the little bottles, because the foil packets always break open inside his luggage.

I don't think either of those learned gentlemen could make it as a fix-it man--when I ask them why objects are attracted to each other they tell me it's because of gravity.


It was moving fast
faster then I was walking
when it passed me by.

I stopped to watch befuddled
by this step, step, leap
step, leap, step.

It was Pearl gray
eight legs and multilple eyes
running low across
sticky black asphalt in a
strange hopping motion, leap, leap

What had I been doing?
walking along, thinking,
thoughts intruded
watching surprised
when it leapt into the air

Floating away on an invisible thread.


They had a pool and a hot-tub. Every morning I would go to work thinking that I could never use a public hot-tub again.

I had to test chemicals in the water and use a long-handled brush to scrub away the greasy ring that formed just above the waterline. We changed the water once a week. More often when something particularly disgusting was found floating in it.

I remember coming in one morning to discover that someone had made a mistake in the whirlpool. I could smell it--all brown and sticky. It grasped at me like some apparition from a witches' caldron. I donned industrial strength rubber-gloves and tied a wet towel over my nose. Wielding a long-handled brush I scrubbed and flushed the system with water and strong cleaners--four times over. Then I took the filters to a car wash to blast out the shit.

Every time I finished cleaning the tub I added seasonings to the steaming water: fresh chlorine for the burning aroma, pH balancer to help tenderize the flesh, de-foaming agents to keep scum from forming on the top, and clarifying agents to keep the broth from becoming too thick. I would use my long-handled brush to stir the bubbles, and then set the whirlpool to simmer, waiting for its main ingredient.

After that I went around and re-attached beaded lifelines to shiny plastic levers so people could flush away unpleasantness.


I used to take things apart when I was young. Flashlights were my favorite. You can unscrew the top and take out the batteries--that part is easy--but you can also pop out the reflector that holds the bulb. When you're six years old that's a big deal. I used to take them all apart and leave them in the bottom of the tool drawer. My dad would find them and call me in so he could show how they went back together.

So I learned how things worked by taking them apart. I took apart pens and bicycles and bakery scales and lawn mowers. Sometimes I could put them back together--except the lawn mowers.

There are a lot of things that will come apart if you can find the right piece to unscrew, or pop out, or jiggle just right. Ideas are like that, except the parts are just more ideas. Anything material, solid or fluid--that you can touch or not, is made of something smaller, and that smaller is made of something even smaller until the smallness is too much to measure.

Ideas are like that too. Sometimes they explode with a brilliant flash, like when an atom comes apart, leaving nothing but wasteland and killing energy behind; sometimes they come apart like a flashlight, and if you don't break or lose any of the parts you can put in new batteries and put it back together to illuminate.

Vacuum Cleaner Entrails

Maid Seven came up to me one day, panicked because her vacuum had slurped up an electrical cord. It hadn't been working properly lately, and now it made funny sounds and refused to do any work. I sent her back to keep an eye on the vacuum so it wouldn't eat anything else, and then took a few moments to gather up my tools. I brought every tool I thought I might need.

When I arrived at the room, Maid Seven was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching the vacuum with wild, fear-filled eyes. I told her it was a simple operation and everything would be all right. She didn't seem reassured.

I examined the patient closely, used various tools to do some exploratory surgery. Maid Seven held the patient while I opened it.

I carefully turned the patient over and laid it down. After tugging on each end of the cord I took firm hold of both ends at once and pulled it out slowly, watching closely as the cord unwrapped itself from the rotating brush.

To wrap, I ran a routine checkup. The bag was almost full, just as I had suspected. I showed Maid Seven how to check the bag while I put in a new one. Finding nothing else wrong I closed the upper cavity.

Maid Seven promised to take better care of her vacuum in the future. I gave her my beeper number and went back to my toilets.

Strange Attracters

If you want to be one with the Universe--become a painter.

I found out one day that the Universe is expanding, inflating like an endless balloon that will never inflate too much. I was painting, and thinking, when I got an emergency toilet call; toilets are always emergencies.

The chain had come off the handle. When that happens a troubled guest will push the handle and wonder why nothing happens. I reconnected the chain and demonstrated the results of my wondrous fix-it skill.

As I watched the water swirl down into the sewer it occurred to me that something must be wrong with the Universe. If every object in the Universe is attracted to every other object, then why is the Universe expanding?

"It's a Secret"

I got the latest scientific news about gravity from a seven-year-old prodigy named Donny. He keeps flushing the toilet so he can watch it drain--dumping in various objects to watch them swirl around. He can't figure out how to flush his dad's best pair of sneakers--but he knows about gravity.

I can tell from the flashlight parts in his father's suitcase that he's going to be a fix-it man when he grows up. His parents will probably blame it on me.