Old dog, no new tricks

March 4, 2011

By Pat Detmer

In the fall of 1989, back when Harry Met Sally and Taylor Swift was about 3 months old, and probably around the same time that construction workers were leaving empty beer cans in the crawl spaces of our home that we would only find years later, someone affixed a garage door opener to the wall.

Pat Detmer

He placed it on the left side of the door jamb between the laundry room and the garage, precisely 59 inches from the floor. There was a single button on this control. Raised one-half inch above the surface of the apparatus, it was round and smooth and the size of a nickel. For more than 20 years, when leaving the house via car, I entered the garage, turned slightly to my left, and with my right hand and without looking, pushed that button.

Recently the garage door failed, as these things do after a couple of useful decades. It didn’t fail in a catastrophic manner. It was more benign than that, like a little game of “Can I get in my house today?” roulette. I had maybe a 60/40 chance that it would open after I pushed the control in the car, and I often needed to stop directly in front of it and hold the button down while spewing a string of colorful expletives — that or just drive right through it, a thought that occurred to me more than once. So we had new and reliable machinery installed and, as part of the process, a new opener as well.

This opener was installed 54 inches from the floor and is the size of an electrical faceplate. On it are three wide buttons stacked on top of each other, two of which are still a complete mystery to me, and one of which — the actual opener — I manage to hit only half the time.

It’s been two or three months now, and I still haven’t managed to get the hang of it. I hit the top button most. I think it’s supposed to lock something, because it has a little lock icon on it. I think that the next one down controls a lights, but I’m not sure about that. All I know is that the bottom one will let me out, and the bottom one is lower than it used to be and is close to unfinished wood, which means I’ve also impaled myself multiple times and managed to take a splinter under a fingernail, reminding me why bamboo shoots under the nail remain the preferred and cheapest form of torture worldwide.

But you know, give me another 20 years, and I may get the hang of it.

You can reach Pat Detmer — who is probably trying to get out of her house this very minute — through patdetmer.com.

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