How many Polish Math Professors
doug shaw
does it take to change a light bulb?

So Laurel's sister is over six feet tall. Taller than me, and probably stronger than me. I was at her house for a baby shower last weekend. The night before consisted of her, Laurel, and their mother sitting on the sofa, as I was typing away at my computer instead of being properly social, much as I am doing now. She was complaining to Laurel about a light fixture over her bed that had burnt out, with a bulb that was impossible to replace, because the fixture could not be removed from the ceiling. It was attached by a thingie that was supposed to unscrew, but was stuck fast. Both she and the Lapmom had tried and failed to remove it.. My mother-in-law suggested, half-kiddingly, "Why not ask Doug to try? He's a MAN." Lapsis rolled her eyes.

The eye-roll did it, of course. I was engrossed in my computer, much as I am now, and had no desire to attempt to solve a hardware problem, particularly since it would be humiliating if I failed, but I had no other option. I had to at least try, or I would be pleading guilty to the charge of "unmanly".

So I asked permission to climb on her bed, and she said "Yes, but you won't be able to fix it. Believe me." A sentence like that once sent me on a hitchhiking trip up the coast of Norway to Narvik, but that is a tale for another time. So I climbed on her bed and confronted my adversary. The light fixture was a hemisphere of glass, with a small nipple at the end which had to be unscrewed. It was not quite out of my reach, but was uncomfortably high. I reached up to unscrew the thingie, and my fingers just slid around it. No matter how much mighty force I applied, I could not get a grip. It didn't jut out like an aroused nipple, it just kind of bulged slightly, like a smallish flaccid one.

I asked if they had any rubber pads like the ones banks give you for free to make it easier to open jelly jars without getting a man to help.

"I tried that. They are in the kitchen," Lapsis said.

"Have you tried -"

"The wrench is in the basement. That didn't work either. You can't grip it."

At this point I realized that I was going to lose this battle, but having asked where the rubber pad was, I couldn't give up without trying and failing. As I got the rubber pad, a gaudy thing with pictures of pink roses, I mentally rehearsed what witty thing I would say after the inevitable failure. I do that.

The only way to get strong force on the screw-top was to push, and you wind up pushing up which is the opposite direction that you want the screw to go. You want to turn the nipple-like thing counterclockwise and down, but the only way to get leverage was to push up. And the harder and harder I tried to turn it, the more upward force I was giving it. And my arm was starting to hurt from reaching up. And I was sure they were mentally rehearsing what emasculating thing they could say when I returned to the living room, holding a limp useless pink object.

"You have to push up in order to do anything, and that prevents the screw from turning!" I complained.

"I told you it was impossible," said Lapsis.

I let my hand drop to rest. I had been trying to apply as much man-force as possible to the problem, and that was not working. Upper body strength is not one of my main talents. So, I thought, what are my main talents? Telling self-depreciating stories about myself of course. But that wouldn't help in this situation. No matter what witty thing I said to the glass globe, it was not going to move. What else... Ah, I have a second talent! Modesty and politeness prohibit me from going into it here, but suffice it to say that it would not have helped in this situation.

But I have a third, infrequently used talent. Before I got into spending my days reading bad books, watching television, banging away at the internet, and biting Mikumi, I'd occasionally had cause to use my Intellect. Brain the size of a planet and all that. What if I tried to THINK my way through this?

Counterclockwise and down, right? Instead of applying Manly Force counterclockwise, why not work on DOWN? So I gently twisted the bulbous outcropping, not worrying about the force of the twist as much as pulling down. Gently twisting, and slight pulling. I didn't get anywhere with this approach, and actually what I was doing looked a lot like the beginnings of the second talent I alluded to earlier. Seriously.

Arm down again. "Impossible, I say!" I yelled out just to amuse the natives in the other room.

More Thinking. I reached up bare-handed and tried to really get to know the nipple. I touched it all over, moving my fingers up and around where I couldn't see... looking for anything to help me. If you were watching and started to get aroused at the visual, I would not have blamed you. "If only I had a wheelbarrow" said Westley. No wheelbarrow, just a nipple on a globe, almost perfectly flush. Almost. Almost. A small, little, gap.

I put the rubber in my hand, and this time tried to press the little gap - if I had a fingernail I would have put it in there, but instead I had to use the pad of the index finger of my Polack Paw. And twist and twist, squeezing as hard as I could, all the while working on DOWN. And.. it budged.

"I really don't think I'm going to get anywhere" I called out- setting up the joke, because now I knew it was a matter of time. A big effort, another slight budge. A really big effort - shooting pains in my hand and lower back sending warning signals - and another slight budge. Another one - the lower back starting to compose an ultimatum - and the globe surrendered itself to me. "Have your way with me, intellect-boy, you have passed the test that others failed. You get to fuck the princess. You get to carry Islington's Key. You get to drink your next Coke from the Holy Grail. Take me, you brainy beast! You crawl on four legs, walk on two, and need a cane at the end but before then you get to use your third in my magic..." sorry. You get the idea.

When I walked back into the living room, Clotho, Lapsis and Atropos didn't even look up at me. I handed the globe and the nipple-topped screw to Lapsis. "Here."

The three gazed at me as if I had just done an impossible magic trick. Lapmom actually was shaking her head from side to side in a dumbfounded take. I actually was offended at how surprised they were. "How did you do that?" asked Lapsis.

I resisted the urge to put any Austin Powers in my voice. "I'm a man," I explained manlyly, and went off to get a Sprite. Not just any Sprite. The Sprite of the Triumphant.

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© Douglas J. Shaw,  2005