Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery






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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


One-Way Screwed

I had a very fun day last week. I had the task of putting a new air conditioner in our bedroom, which, up to this point, had lacked one, which meant that sleeping there was often somewhat like sleeping in a convection oven. (Full disclosure: I probably don't have a gripe coming, as the air conditioner was given to us by some friends of ours for absolutely nothing and even dropped it off at our apartment. Now that I think about it, that probably didn't warrent a "full disclosure", but I've never had occasion to use that phrase, and I was really keen to work it in somewhere.)

Putting in an air conditioner isn't that huge a deal, really. The worst part, usually, is hauling it down (or up) from wherever you've stashed it during the wonderful, wonderful months when you don't need the fucking thing. But this was a little different than the usual instalation ballet. Because I was putting this one in a window where we hadn't had an air conditioner before--and because we live in New York City, where people spot-weld their beds to the floor to prevent someone stealing them--I had to, before I put the unit in, remove the window guards.

The theory behind window guards, I guess, is that it stops people who want to go through the incredibly difficult burglary method of shimmying up to a second-floor window, sitting on the ledge until they pry the thing open, and then finding a way to take your couch back out the same window. I guess they're also supposed to stop children from being thrown out the window by a pissed-off babysitter. They're really ugly things (the window-guards, not babysitters) that mostly serve to make you feel like you live in Beirut. And they're installed, invariably, with one-way screws.

I don't get one-way screws. If a burglar is slick enough to sit on my window ledge with a screwdriver and remove four standard screws without being caught, he's a good enough thief to not be even remotely interested in anything I've got for him to steal. The only real purpose I see to one-way screws is maybe a cooperative cross-over deal with pharmaceutical companies to bolster the need for high-blood-pressure medications among American males. If you've never seen one of these little fuckers, they are, basically, a standard slotted screw with a tiny little skateboard ramp on each side, so that a regular screwdriver can put one in, but can't take it out.

Actually, fucking nothing can take it out.

The first time I installed an air conditioner, years ago, I basically ended up ripping the goddamn window guards out, Hulk-style, because I got so fucking frustrated. I didn't want to do that this time, so I asked my landlord, and he said he just bought the proper tool. An amazing concept. So I went to my neighborhood hardware store. After a quick, fruitless search in the aisles, I asked the cashier for help, figuring that she wouldn't know what the hell I was talking about and fully expecting a half-hour search through the entire store for some obscure tool.

Instead, she reached right below the counter and handed me what was basically a screwdriver, but with a flat
end, from which protrude a couple of nubs. She had a smile on her face as she handed it to me, which should have tipped me off to the hours of misery in my future. But I'm stupid, so I just pulled out my debit card. She smirked even more as she said, "Now, there's no refunds on these." I thought, "Wow, do I look like the type of scumbag who'll buy a tool, use it for twenty minutes and then try to return it like a bridesmaid dress?" Again, I'm stupid.

The fucking thing was, of course, utterly ineffective. Looking at it, and looking at the screws, I had to wonder how the hell the thing is even supposed to work. It doesn't fit into a groove or anything. It looks kind of like it's supposed to nudge the screw loose or something. I don't know. Really, the only use for the tool was to smack myself in the head with it until I didn't care that the window guards were still in.

I thought maybe I'd picked the wrong size remover. (There are apparently more than one size of these fucking screws.) I went to a better hardware store, where the clerk--who clearly didn't enjoy working with inferior beings who don't have the Home Depot catalogue memorized--slapped into my hand a specialized bit that I could use with my drill. I fairly danced back to the subway, so incredibly relieved that I was going to have no more trouble with the screws.

The bit was, naturally, kind of useless. I don't know if, again, the bit was meant for a different size screw or if my screws were just too stripped from my earlier manual attempts or if the whole thing is some sort of Skinner-esque study of male rage. I tried, as patiently as I could, to line the goddamn bit up with the screw perfectly. I pressed with all of my unimpressive might. The only time the bit moved the screws at all was when I lost my temper and just pounded the goddamn thing into the screw repeatedly.

In the end, I had to use a pair of vice grips, which didn't really fit into the space where the screws were. I moved the screws about a fifth of a turn at a time and took about an hour and a half to get all four of the fuckers out. I'm seriously considering leaving teaching and starting a nonprofit to lobby congress to outlaw one-way screws. Anyway, whatever the effort, I got the job done.

And then my wife came home and suggested that the air conditioner would work better if it was in the other window.

Oh my god - this was me yesterday with a hammer and chisel. I was 2 seconds away from Hulking the thing out when I realized I was subletting. I Googled the damn things, ran across your blog, and am now going to go out and just buy a pair of vicegrips and sweat my way through it. Thank you.
I live to serve, anonymous.
Buy a dremel instead, use the cut off wheel to cut a groove in the screw head. And bada bing its a normal flat had again. Also works great with rounded off bold heads.

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