Ever get that feeling that no matter how hard you work, you aren’t getting anywhere? My family have been going through a tough time lately with health issues, job demands, car problems, breaking appliances, a mystery slime mold that invaded our air handler, and even so much rain that the ground got soggy enough for trees to just fall over randomly.
It’s been a lot of work keeping up with all of this. No matter how much effort we put in it seems we keep sliding slowly backwards. At one point I told a friend it seemed we were running in place. Then things got worse and it felt like we were sprinting in place. Full out, 110% effort, leave it all on the track, sprinting. In place.
So last week I decided to take drastic action. I went on Amazon and found the items I needed to execute my plan. They arrived yesterday and I went to bed happy thinking that I would wake up and strike a blow for progress. Today would be the day I step out from over the involuntary treadmill and make up some of the ground we’ve lost over the last few months.
To understand the magnitude of the plan you need to know that we’ve been living in this house since June of 2003. At the time I knew I wanted to leave Bank of America and needed to buy a house while I still had the benefit of a 10-year work history with a single employer. We did what any first-time homeowners would do in 2003: we bought a McMansion.
Oh, it’s not the ostentatious type of McMansion that is out of place for the neighborhood. And our neighborhood was built slowly over 20 years by a variety of builders so it’s pretty eclectic with a wide variety of sizes and styles of home. Pretty much every house is out of place for the neighborhood. But we do enjoy that one element all McMansions share – it’s all about appearance. From the outside and for many of the features inside such as the extensive use of molding and chair rails in the dining room, at first glance it all looks very nice. But look closer or peel back the facade and you can see all the corners that were cut in construction.
One such case is that the double doors that open onto the laundry nook in the upstairs hallway are hung crooked. The right-hand door is mostly straight, level at the top and fits the frame. The left-hand door tilts down to the right so that the space at the top of the frame grows gradually wider as you move toward the center and the tops of the two doors do not line up.
Visually it’s a bit annoying but it’s the functionality that really bothers me. The doors don’t have working knobs and when closed they are held in place by spring-loaded steel balls that push up into an indented striker plate in the upper frame. Or at least the right hand door does. The left-hand door pretty much just swings free and tends to do so in reaction to the negative air pressure generated whenever an exterior door is opened downstairs. Buddy, our scarediest cat, can slip one paw under the door and can open it up by himself when he needs a place to hide.
After taking a beating for months by every conceivable thing that could bust, get sick, break down, or otherwise go wrong, I figured it was time to hit one of the stretch goals I’d been saving up. After more than a decade of the door spontaneously swinging open to block the hallway, and of cats exploding out of the laundry nook when we turned on the washer, finally fixing that goddamn door seemed like just the project to give us a mark in the win column for a change.
I had looked at every possible solution short of reframing and rehanging the doors and had decided that a metal striker plate and a really strong neodymium magnet would do the trick. And now, thanks to Amazon, I had these in my possession. Last night I went to sleep knowing that victory was in my grasp. When I woke up I was going to turn back the tidal wave of sewage that had been flooding our lives.
Here’s what actually happened.
I grabbed a chair and a screwdriver and set out to remove the spring-ball at the top of the door. I figured there should be enough of a recess there that I could insert the magnet without too much additional countersinking. With luck I’d need no countersinking at all since the magnet plate was about the same size as the spring-ball plate.
When I removed the spring-ball, I was surprised to discover it is housed in a cylinder that is about 2 inches deep. There’s actually a nice sized well hole in the top of the door to accommodate it. This might mean the screws in the magnet plate would have nothing solid on which to bite and I’d have to relocate the whole thing. That would mean chiseling out a whole new mortise for the magnet. Crap.
As I was pondering this, I looked at the spring-ball unit in my hand and happened to notice some screw threads on the cylinder. I did a virtual facepalm and looked again. Then, still stunned, I did an actual facepalm. After all this time, could it really be that easy?
It took some effort to get the cylinder to move but I finally managed to turn it inside of the mounting plate. Then it began to turn quite easily and after about five turns I had raised it a few sixteenths of an inch. I closed the door, held the spring ball up to the top edge and eyeballed it. The gap had almost been eliminated. I gave it a few more turns and tried again. Looked good so I reinserted the cylinder into the door and screwed the plate down.
When I compared the two doors the ball in the left door engaged with its striker plate with about the same force as the right-hand door. I had fixed it in one try.
I had been suffering for 12 years from the “if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like it needs a nail” syndrome. I had understood the geometry and physics of the problem and I know just enough carpentry to appreciate the magnitude of effort required to rehang the door. The only solution that made sense was to fix the latch instead of the door. Given the size of the gap, nothing seemed like the right solution but I can Rube Goldberg with the best of them.
I had put off the problem all this time because I was sure that any solution would be either ineffective or a really big project. I had decided to go with the magnet because I’d lowered my standards for “effective” to include solving only the problem of the door spontaneously swinging open and figured the cat deserves his hiding place. Even if it means scaring a few years off my or my wife’s lives now and then.
But what I didn’t know anything about was the door latch hardware involved. In hindsight it makes perfect sense that it would be adjustable since few doors are hung perfectly straight. I’d even looked briefly at the spring-ball early on but I’d always assumed it was like all the other builder-grade crap we’d found in the house over the years and that, like most of that other stuff, our only option would be to replace it.
Of course I didn’t tell my wife about any of this. She knew I was planning to fix the door and, like me, she had understood for over a decade that doing so would require a momentous feat of engineering. This is why it had been allowed to remain on the honey-do list for so long. And because it had been such a long-standing problem, she took it as the victory I’d meant it to be. With one act of defiance we regained some of the precious ground we’d been losing to entropy over these recent months. That I had executed this minor miracle of engineering in under 5 minutes didn’t hurt my reputation any either.
Tonight we celebrate. She’ll be enjoying some of Raffaldini’s Montepulciano Riserva that we picked up from the winery last weekend. I’ll be quietly melting down under the weight of a severe attack of impostor syndrome. Ah, these are the good times.