Dave Barry

Dave Barry: Don’t even think you can do a DIY project

This is the second of three excerpts from the book ‘Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster)’ by Dave Barry, to be released by Putnam today.

The do-it-yourself tip I got from Johnny Carson:

When I was younger and stupider, I used to do things myself. I owned a wide array of power tools. I read home handyperson magazines and tackled many ambitious do-it-yourself projects. I built shelves; I installed paneling; I screened in a porch; I even made a desk. At first, my projects did not work out so well, but over time, as I gained experience, they continued to come out horribly wrong. People never said: “Is this a new desk?” They said: “What the hell HAPPENED here?”

Because the truth is that no matter what the handyperson magazines say, it takes a certain talent to be a successful do-it-yourselfer, and I do not have that talent. Many people do not. In fact, most people do not. My authority for that statement is the late Johnny Carson. Back in the 1980s, when I was getting started in my writing career, I wrote a humor book about do-it-yourself home repair, and by a semi-miraculous stroke of luck I wound up promoting it on the Tonight Show. I was on for seven minutes at the end of the show, and it went pretty well because I was being interviewed by Johnny Carson, who could make any guest appear spontaneously funny, including Hitler. When we were done and the band was playing, Carson lit a cigarette, then leaned toward me, and this is what he said, in our only off-air communication: “I used to try to do do-it-yourself projects. (Pause.) You can’t do [bleep] yourself.”

I do not relate this anecdote to let you know that I had a funny personal moment with Johnny Carson and you did not (you LOSER). I relate this anecdote because Johnny Carson was making an important point, which is that the entire massive do-it-yourself industry is built on a LIE; namely, that you can in fact do it yourself.

The worst offender is Home Depot. This is the giant store chain that runs TV commercials in which eager, attractive young couples, assisted by helpful smiling Home Depot employees, look excitedly at tile samples or pieces of wood and then — approximately eight seconds later, after a brief scene in which they are wielding paintbrushes or drilling a hole while wearing safety glasses — they’re standing happily in a brand-new modern kitchen that they did entirely themselves.

Really, Home Depot? That has not been my experience with your store. I do not see attractive couples there, eager to tackle major projects. I see beaten-down people whose houses are broken, glumly pushing huge orange carts down endless aisles and standing in utter bafflement in front of vast, daunting displays of house parts they do not understand, knowing in their hearts that whichever one they pick, it probably won’t work.

You know how drug commercials on TV are required to have disclaimers, so that after they tell you how great the drug is, they tell you it can have negative side effects such as death? I think they should require disclaimers like that on Home Depot commercials. At the end, when they’re showing the happy couple in their new do-it-yourself kitchen, an announcer would say: “These people are actors. They are not capable of operating an espresso machine, let alone building this kitchen. This was done by contractors with trucks.”

I’d like to see somebody open a chain of stores called “Reality Hardware.” When homeowners wanted to tackle a home-improvement project, they’d go to Reality Hardware and discuss it with a knowledgeable employee, who would talk them through it.

HOMEOWNER: I want to install a ceiling fan.

EMPLOYEE: Really?

HOMEOWNER: Yes.

EMPLOYEE: You want to install a machine with long, sharp blades whirling at high speeds directly over the heads of live human beings?

HOMEOWNER: Well, yes.

EMPLOYEE: I see. And do you have any particular expertise in this area? Any training in the field of ceiling fan installation?

HOMEOWNER: Um, no, not in ceiling fan installation per se.

EMPLOYEE: In what, then?

HOMEOWNER: I’m a dentist.

EMPLOYEE: I see. And would you be comfortable having a professional ceiling fan installer give you a root canal?

HOMEOWNER: Well, no. But that’s a diff-...

EMPLOYEE: I’d like you to take a look at this photograph of a recent “do-it-yourself” ceiling fan installation.

HOMEOWNER: My God. Is that...

EMPLOYEE: Yes. His hand. It landed eight feet away.

HOMEOWNER: I think I’ll hire a professional.

EMPLOYEE: Yes. With a truck.

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