The pull tab on the zipper of my winter coat broke last month. Tired of having my unzippable coat transformed into a downy cape by the relentless cold wind that blows off the lake here in Cleveland until sometime in June, I tried to reattach the pull with wire, but the wire frayed and cut me every time I zipped or unzipped. Next I tried threading a large paper clip into the zipper slider. This worked for a while, but then the end of the paperclip started to poke out and snag my scarf and sweater and even other people’s garments that the coat happened to brush up against in closets. I began looking in mail-order catalogs for a replacement.
The coat is maybe 15 years old at this point, but it’s still perfectly good: lots of big pockets, very warm, and none of the ones in the catalogs looked any better, or if they did they cost 300 or 400 bucks and I couldn’t even try them on. Then this morning the answer came to me in a flash. Duct tape! It may be the cliche solution to all home repair projects, but sometimes it really works. I carefully covered my paperclip in bright blue duct tape, and now it’s safe and zippy and I’m happy again.
Another thing that’s been bothering me lately has been the toilet on the third floor, which I’m sure is running, but nobody else notices it. I’ve tried all the tricks I know of to make it stop, short of turning off the water to it, but it still periodically runs, but only when I can hear it. No, duct tape won’t help here; I’ve already thought of that. I know I will eventually have to call the plumber, but I keep forgetting. Actually I keep remembering it’ll cost me $75 to call in the plumber. So I figure I’ll just wait until something else breaks and have the plumber come and fix both things. I think about this every time I go to use the upstairs bathroom. I’m sure I’m the only one who does, and this is my burden to bear.
Other people have other problems that nag them. Silly little things that they while away their hours, days, and lives worrying about, and often never solving. Sometimes the problems have obvious solutions but people just don’t have the money or time to take care of them. Sometimes they are complicated and the solution is unknown, and many things must be tried. Often there are many threads that must be unraveled by pointy paper clips to untangle the problem.
Can a man ever truly be considered great, or become great if he spends significant parts of his day worrying about his zipper or the toilet running? The answer is probably yes. I’m sure even Einstein sometimes had a broken zipper or shoelace or a dent in his car or a broken step or a handle on the door that didn’t close properly. Perhaps he worried about those things, or maybe part of his greatness was that he was able to ignore them, he was so caught up in the really cosmic world-changing problems of science that constantly occupied his mind.
Perhaps my mind is just like Einstein’s in that I am always obsessing over something. It keeps me from sleeping, it keeps me from eating properly, it causes me to forget to pick up my kid from music lessons, or buy milk on the way home. But in Einstein’s case he was obsessing over the unified theory of gravity and electromagnetism, whereas I am obsessing over the toilet running. If only I had a bigger problem to obsess over, perhaps someday people might remember me, too. The Unified Theory of Running Toilets and Broken Zippers? I’m not sure this is a treatise that many people would read.
But maybe I’m wrong. The truth is, not many people ever read Einstein’s work, either. Everybody knows who he is and that he had some big important thoughts, but only a handful of scientists really understand, or claim to understand what they were, and have any real use for them. On the other hand, there are millions of people with broken toilets and zippers who might be interested in my wisdom. Perhaps I am misjudging the impact of my insights. It could be that the answer of paper clips and duct tape is something that will resonate with the masses and save millions of perfectly good coats and jackets from having to be thrown in the trash or given to Goodwill.
This, in turn, will cause millions of bums to freeze to death and thousands of stores to lose business because people won’t be buying replacements. My simple treatise could cause a precipitous drop in the Gross Domestic Product. A new recession as well as great suffering among the poor would be sure to follow. I’d better shelve this idea for now. I’ve got enough to worry about trying to figure out what to do about the new leak in the porch roof.