“Did You Actually Do That?”


“Did You Actually Do That?”

By Wendell Abern

Dear Readers,

Good friends sometimes question the veracity of some of my columns. They cannot believe that I am as inept as I claim to be. Or that I have this phenomenal ability to take a terrible situation and make it worse.

Every time I write one of these columns, I usually get a call from a friend, asking, “Did you actually do that?”

They don’t get it: I don’t get it. I don’t “get” anything at all.

I cannot fix something that breaks. I cannot put things together. To me, the entire world of repair is written in a foreign language. I have no idea what a cam is. Or a lug. The phrase, “Allen wrench,” terrifies me. And I consider all screwdrivers to be my enemies.

And here is a secret I’ve revealed only to a few close Chicago friends: Whenever I get depressed and need a good laugh, I saunter over to Lowe’s and Home Depot and compare the number of packages boasting, “Easily assembled.” That always gives me a good chuckle. Depression quashed. At my last visit, Lowe’s won hands-down, 37-26.

This is all by way of recounting a recent experience with a beautiful gift given to me by a friend.

The gift: a trio of miniature replicas of cow sculptures.

“Predictable. And that’s just the beginning.” Photo by Karen Gonzalez.

Years ago, when I still lived in Chicago, the city encouraged many artists and painters to create life-sized sculptures of cows. I never found out whose idea this was, but they soon became a cause célèbre, and a great tourist attraction.

They were everywhere … gorgeous cow-sized sculptures, superbly painted, all over downtown; on almost every corner; on esplanades in front of major buildings, and soon in every neighborhood and in most of the suburbs, These life-sized sculptures were, literally, museum pieces.

Which brings me to my latest escapade.

A few years ago, a good friend gave me three beautiful miniatures of three of these cows. They were perhaps six inches long, in vivid acrylic colors, meticulously applied. These replicas were made of a very delicate kind of glass, perhaps porcelain.

It took me only one week to break the leg off of one of them.

Usually, whenever I engineer some calamity, I call my neighbor, Rob, who can fix anything.

But these were very unique gifts. I wasn’t going to seek anyone’s help, not even Rob’s, until I gave it a crack.

Quickly, I resorted to my standard solution to all problems … a cup of coffee. Then I grabbed my tube of Gorilla Glue and sat down to re-attach the one-inch broken leg.

I took a sip of coffee, and as I placed the mug on my kitchen counter, I dropped the leg, breaking it again, this time into two equal pieces.

I picked them up, a cow’s calf in one hand and his thigh in another. Before I could re-attach the leg, I had to glue the two pieces together. I squeezed the Gorilla Glue onto the tiny calf.

Keeping my life-long streak alive, I squeezed it onto his hoof instead of the broken end.

I didn’t even notice it until I brought the hoof and  thigh together. Something looked weird. That’s when I realized the hoof was sticking out of the cow’s thigh.

I panicked. Could I separate them, then bring them back together properly, without breaking anything? Carefully, I pried  them apart. Success! But could I remove the Gorilla Glue from the cow’s hoof?

I went to the kitchen, ran a little water and a drop of Dawn dishwater liquid over a sponge, then gently dabbed at the glue on the hoof. It was working! The glue hadn’t hardened yet!

In celebration, I poured myself another cup of coffee.

Then, delicately, I pressed the calf and thigh together, gently rubbed off the glue residue and held them in place for a good thirty seconds. Now all I had to do was get the repaired leg onto the cow’s body.

But when I reached down to pick up the leg piece, I discovered my coffee mug was stuck to my hand.

I pulled, then pulled harder, but couldn’t yank the mug away. I took a table knife and tried to wedge the blade between my hand and the coffee handle, but by now the glue had really hardened.

Time to call Rob. Rob lives right across the street; he has helped me countless times, all of them accompanied by well-deserved guffaws and unbelieving head-shakes.

Frantic, I called. Rob picked up the phone and said, “Now what’d you do?” Ah, the beauty of Caller ID.

“You’re not going to believe it,” I said.

“Try me.”

“I have a coffee mug growing out of my right hand.”

“You have a what?”

         “Rob, it’s too hard to explain. Can you come over?”

Rob came right away, lugging his toolbox. It took him five minutes to stop laughing, then ten minutes to pry the coffee mug away from my hand. He then re-attached the broken leg. He went home giggling and shaking his head.

The cow now sits on a glass shelf, between the other two. When this column runs, I expect at least three phone calls, asking, “Did you actually do that?”

And yes, I did.

Cantankerously Yours,

Wendell Abern

Wendell can be reached at dendyabern@gmail.com.