The design problem solver

Julie, my wife — a.k.a. The Boss — went to a friend’s workshop one recent Saturday morning and returned with a freshly sawed and sanded wood plank. There was a heavy-duty Velcro strip across the front and screws halfway into the wood.

“Will you help me hang this?” The Boss asked. I was on the couch, still in my pajamas and watching some vintage Schwarzenegger on Netflix — which is exactly the brainless violent action stuff I click on when I finally get to control the remote for a change.

“Yes, dear,” I said, using one of the two essential phrases my “father-in-law elect” had told me to practice the morning before Julie’s and my wedding.

She stood there, sighed, then said, “Oh God. I hate Schwarzenegger.”

“His performance is actually much more subtle and nuanced than people give him credit for,” I yelled over the booming surround sound of machine guns and explosions. Her hatred of Arnold is something that has always confused me since they are both terminators in their own ways.  (Could that be the reason?)

I opted not to use “Terminator” for my pet nickname but instead chose The Boss since Julie is from South Jersey where Bruce Springsteen is a patron saint and calling your wife “The Boss” is actually a compliment.

“Can we go hang this now?” The Boss said. Although I’d hoped to finish the Governator flick — this time it was “The Running Man,” if you’re keeping track — I used the second phrase my father-in-law elect told me to practice on our wedding morning.

“Whatever you say,” I said and peeled myself off the leather, picking myself out of what I call the “Archie Bunker indent,” that sweet spot on the couch that sinks because you sit in the same place every single time.

I dared not ask her what the plank was for at first, just where she would like it hung. Above the bed, as it turns out. And so I hopped onto the bed and held the plank against the wall while she watched from a few feet away directing me: “A little to the right. The left side is higher than the right.”

Julie is a designer by trade. She might correct me for saying that because her title is “Associate Creative Director.” I know the title well because I’ve practiced. No one told me to practice this one, but The Boss sometimes tests me to make sure I listen to her about her job.

“Do you even know what my job is at work?” she might ask.

“Associate creative director,” I say, feigning shock she’d dare ask me. Luckily most times she doesn’t ask me what I think it means to associatively creative direct. If she does, I say, “I know it means you manage people who design stuff.”

Once, I asked her to describe what exactly she does for my own understanding. She replied, “I solve problems.”

“You mean problems in a design?” I asked.

“All design is solving problems,” she replied.

Or, in my case, all things I design are a problem.

The best thing I ever designed was a fully-functional model of the inner workings of the human ear for my sixth-grade science fair. My father was the one who really designed it and built it — you know the way parents design and build all science fair projects — but I got the credit for it so I’ll say I designed it.

The truth can come out now, because it’s too late for Corpus Christi School officials to take back that sixth-grade diploma or whatever it is they give you at the end of sixth grade, if they even give you anything, those selfish bastards.

Most things I actually designed myself didn’t end up as good as the model ear that my father sweated over late into the night. There was the first go-kart that had wheels that didn’t spin. And a second whose wheels would spin but had no steering. I don’t only lack design ability but execution of design as well.

The handy gene skipped me, the same way the “good-at-math” gene skipped me. I was a disgrace to my family, who were people who could do long division and also build things. I had uncles who made houses with stone and wood, and my father can repair cars. When he opens the hood of a vehicle he actually knows what the stuff inside does, unlike me who might just stand there and say, “I think the carburetor is fried.” (I know carburetors are mostly obsolete these days, but only because he mentioned that to me the other day).

I did put up shelves, but needed a half-dozen extra holes to find the studs in the wall. I’m still pretty sure I missed them and The Boss has been asking me how long until they collapse.

It makes sense someone like me ends up with someone like Julie, if only so she can “fix problems” in the design of the apartment. Some which I never knew existed, which brings me back to the plank of wood.

I finally got the nerve to ask her, coyly, what the plank was for, avoiding eye contact the way a teenager would ask someone to the prom. Turns out it was to hang a Turkish rug she received as a gift. She designed the whole contraption to hang it, because it was too heavy to just tack into the wall and she didn’t want to damage the rug by putting holes in it. Go figure.

And this whole time, I didn’t realize we had a rug problem. Julie realized there are no rugs or carpets anywhere in the entire apartment so we needed one on the wall. Brilliant!

There was only one flaw in her design plans — that she was prepared to rely on me to screw the plank into the wall. “Remember what happened to the shelves,” I said as I was about to screw some more holes into the sheetrock.

“Wait,” she said. “Let’s wait awhile and rethink this.”

Sometimes a boss’ biggest design problem is her husband. And as I’m married to a problem solver, well, my days are numbered.

“Yes, dear,” I said.

Follow Mark on Twitter, @marklungariello.

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