Alienated from Home

Here recently, the hot water hose leading to my washing machine split open and sprayed down our laundry room, which had also functioned as a catch-all room where we placed things we couldn’t afford to think about at present. Of course, this happened on a day after we had a strange sleet-thunderstorm, so I couldn’t venture out, not on these Little Rock roads, and go get replacement hoses until the following day. Instead, I spent my time pulling everything I could from the laundry room and setting it to dry in various spreads across the house. Of course, the wife was off in a cabin with a friend of hers, celebrating said friend’s birthday, and I got to enjoy the chore all by myself.

The following day, I went to Kraftco, the city’s Kabbah of home repair around which DIYers march in praise—or something like that. It’s an old store, staffed by old men who write up their tickets by hand. You don’t try to find something on your own. You tell or show someone, and they take you to the right place, usually some nondescript box of exactly what you need. I got my hoses, went back, and attached them, only to discover, after the room had a bit of time to dry out, that my shut-off valves were a wee bit leaky. This has been a staple of home repair around here. The previous owner bragged, upon our purchase of the house, that she had had all the plumbing replaced with brand new pipes and hoses and valves when she bought the place—twenty years ago. Invariably, any time that I have had to work on something, be it trade out the guts of a faucet or replace the wax seal on a toilet, I’ve had to install new shut-off valves just because these have been open for twenty years and are a bit corroded on the inside. So I marched myself back up to Kraftco. I bought new valves. I soldered in said valves, though it was a tight spot for soldering; however, I had previously, for another project, invested in all the requisite equipment and been taught the basics by one of my brothers-in-law, and all was good.

Now, typically, when I’ve faced plumbing issues around here, I’ve reacted rather badly. See, I am by nature a cheapskate and will do everything I can to avoid parting with the kind of money it takes to hire even an amateur plumber. However, I am not enamored of the puzzle of home repair and just want things fixed now, dammit—doesn’t the universe realize that I’ve got better things to do than crawling around under the house looking for some leak? I had fully intended to spend that day snowed in and reading, but instead I was pulling sodden things out of the laundry room and hoping that the dryer and deep freeze, which also got a soaking, were not too terribly harmed.

But I had a thought while dealing with all of this. You see, Marx wrote eloquently about the alienation of labor. A worker in a factory might be responsible for doing something as rote as drilling holes into a little circle of metal. Bit of metal comes down the pike, you drill a hole and pass it on. That’s it. You have no idea really what role you play in the larger scheme of things. You’re not making anything. You’re just pulling the handle on that drill press, and that’s all. You are thus alienated from the product of your labor and from the act of producing itself.

And it occurred to me that, in much the same way, we in our modern, capitalist societies are alienated from our very homes. We don’t understand of what they are made. We don’t know how to fix them when something goes wrong. Instead, we have to call a specialist when the light switch won’t work or the toilet keeps running all night. All we know about our homes is how to keep our stuff in them.

And so I have made a commitment to myself to approach home repair with the knowledge that being able to do something myself is part and parcel of the struggle against alienation, the struggle for liberation. Every little bit I can learn only serves to make me more at home in this amazing world of ours. Besides, there is a special kind of joy that wells up in you when you succeed admirably in something a little outside your comfort zone. These days, I barely bat an eye at getting another academic book review published, but soldering in those shut off valves—man, I lived off that glorious feeling for a day or two. Joy, joy, joy.


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