Rube … Goldberg, That Is

If John Ottina, the late, truly great husband of Mary’s Cousin Mollie, is peering down on us today, he’s got to be looking like he swallowed some bad pasta as he says to the angel next to him:

“Mollie gave all my favorite power tools to that guy?”

“Not to worry,” his fellow angel will reassure John. “It simply means he’ll be joining us shortly, and then the tools will pass into more deserving hands.”


Yes, Shop Boy is about to attempt a rare solo building project at the studio. And Satan’s probably licking his chops, too. See, there is this 10-foot stack of flat files in one of the rooms we occupy, six five-drawer cabinets altogether, and it’s long been Shop Boy’s dream to take four cabinets, place them side by side, and build a top and a base so that the whole unit would become not only a place to store paper but a clean workbench for packaging deliveries and trimming out the fancier papers for envelope linings or whatever.

I’m also a bit tired of the high-wire act it takes to fetch stuff from drawers at the top of the current stack.

Anyway, my usual ringers — Mary’s dad Wayne and brother-in-law Tom — are inconveniently, ahem, unavailable this weekend, when the deed needs to be done. So, here I go.

By any measure, the assignment should be a snap. Build a base with two-by-fours to raise the cabinets to a comfortable working height, then cut the top from thick plywood and add quarter-round as a finishing border and an edge to keep it from sliding off the top of the cabinets. Piece of cake.

For somebody else.

Heck, Shop Boy is not completely un-handy. And I’m quite clever in spots.

True story: About Mary and Shop Boy’s third week in Baltimore, we had just settled down to a nice dinner when a racket arose in the breezeway.  We pulled back the curtain of the large dining room window to be greeted by a large, squealing mama rat on its hind legs, its front paws stretched out across the glass before us as if to say, “Help me!”

Did I mention it was Shop Boy’s idea to move to Baltimore?

As we clearly were not about to gather it up in our arms, the rat at last turned and ran beneath an old rain guard that the previous owner had placed against the base of the house to ward off basement leakage. Obviously her babies were in there.


Mary: “Oh, my god … you’ve got to get that thing out of there.”

Shop Boy: “But it’s full of rats! I ain’t going near that thing.”

I convinced her that it was foolhardy to go confront the rodents at night and promised I’d clear the furry family the next morning. Shop Boy was pretty bummed when the next morning actually arrived — oh, just for a minute or two. But by then I’d thought about a way I could  lift the rain guard without being physically present when the rats bolted.

Do it from the air.

As Shop Boy cannot yet fly (I’m working on it … sheesh), I would need to rig something that could reach down into the breezeway from a second-story window and hold the rain guard aloft to send the message that perhaps the rats weren’t welcome.

Broom handle (check), bungee cord (check), screw-in ceiling hook (check), one-by-two edging board (check), chain (check), rope (check), duct tape (natch). So here I am, hanging out a second-story window, dangling this fishing pole contraption, Mary’s laughter echoing from the first floor.

Now we were making so much noise that Katharine, our beloved former neighbor, came to the breezeway to find out what these two nutburgers were up to now. From about a foot away from the rats’ hideout, she leaned in to witness the action. Heck, she’d once had a rat run up her bare arm from inside a trash can. This was nothing.

Soon, she was laughing at the sight of the Shop Boy Airborne Ultrasonic Load Lifter (Patent Pending) as loud as Mary was.


I’d show them. On the first try, Shop Boy hooked the rain guard and, yanking on this whatchamacallit thingy in my hands, gradually lifted the whole thing off the ground. Katharine didn’t even flinch. Man, she was ice.

No matter. The rats were long gone. Must have slipped away in the night. It was almost disappointing.

Still, victory was in the air. Mary laughed, but my trick worked. And now, whenever Shop Boy looks over a complex problem and says he has an idea for hooking up … something … to get the job done, Mary has to at least listen.

Which is why all of John Ottina’s fancy tools scare me a bit. As long as Shop Boy’s employing some crazy, jury-rigged, Rube Goldberg contraption, you can excuse the occasional crooked corner. Now, no more excuses.

Dang. How do I fake this?

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