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Handyman Letter - March 15, 2001


1) Television dreams... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Our everlasting appreciation to sites and publications that have recently
linked to, listed or featured NH

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!



I have always been a big-time TV watcher. One of my earliest memories is standing in my playpen watching "Howdy Doody" on the old black-and-white. As a youth I did everything in front of the TV... eat, do homework, sleep... everything! To me, the television set was not a distraction but a friend... a noisy, ever-changing view of a world I would not have otherwise known. Like peeking through a window with no chance of getting caught!

Things have changed so much in both the real and the TV worlds since my "Howdy" days. "Leave It To Beaver" has given way to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". "Bonanza" has given way to "Friends". "Batman" and "Superman" have yielded their superheroism to the superheroine "Dark Angel". The old jungle tales of Frank Buck's "Bring 'Em Back Alive" have given way to live births and graphic videos of animal attacks!

The television I grew up with was a sanitized version of the real world. Sociologists and psychologists have often spoken with scorn towards the early family shows because they represented a world that didn't exist. The stereotypical Cleavers of "Leave It To Beaver" were not demographically correct, either then or now. Statistics concerning working moms, incest and abusive fathers are now brought out as examples of why such shows were dangerous misrepresentations of reality. You shouldn't let children (or adults, for that matter) be exposed to such obvious brainwashing! Who ever heard of a two-parent, two-child functional family? Flowers on the table for every meal, everyone having breakfast... together... while all dressed perfectly. Right!

Fast forward to today. Families have not totally disappeared from television, but their homes are more "real". There is discord, conflict... and the happy ending is often missing. People die, have their dreams shattered and sometimes suffer unspeakable horror at the hands of those who are closest. Even the definition of family has been blurred... any room with more than one person in it seems to be considered a family today!

Though the underlying premise of the early television family has changed, one reality has not. Even the most graphic representation of reality is still that... a representation. Throughout all time humans have used symbols to depict a view of the world. From cave drawings to digital graphics, the power of the artist's message to inspire and teach has not changed. But what is being taught today... and for what reason? To sell soap? To sell a philosophy?

Don't get me wrong... I still enjoy television. The technical skill, special effects and the multitalented people I am fortunate to see perform still occasionally send shivers down my spine. I cast no aspersions and pass no judgments on the content, the authors or the producers. Frankly, I don't think they are even in total control of their products. The control comes from without... the ratings and money that follows them is the true producer... and censor.

Back to the beginning... there will always be a place in my heart for vintage television. It was and is (thank God for syndication)... a safe haven and ultimate escape. For me, television takes me to another place... not where I live, but a world where the impossible is possible and the unreal becomes real. I have no interest in seeing real life... I live that every day. Give me phony monsters and problems that can be solved. Anytime.




Dear NH,

A week ago I had some ceramic tile installed on my entry hall and kitchen floors. It looks great, but the grout isn't the right color except when it's wet.

The grout I bought at Home Depot and which the workmen used is "Custom Building Products Polyblend" sanded grout. It is supposed to be dark tan. But the grout looks
chalky-white unless it's wet, when it looks exactly the right color. I scrubbed it and wiped a small section with vinegar, but when dry the grout remains very white.
Any suggestions? Thanks,

SM from Irvine, California


I can only speculate that the sample displayed with the grout was incorrect or that the grout package was mismarked. Have you talked to the folks at Home Depot about this? It's worth a try! I have found the company to be very customer-oriented and perhaps they can give you some assistance.

Most colored grouts look different when wet. Interestingly enough, the darker the grout... the darker it looks when wet. A rule of thumb with grouts is that the color of the grout BEFORE you mix it (while it is still dry) will be the color after it is set. Look at the leftover grout (if you have any) and compare the color to the finished job... you will most likely find a close color match. If the color on the outside of the package is radically different from the color of the dry grout, you have even MORE ammo to get some sort of help from HD.

There are a couple of things you can do to change the color of the grout. The first is to apply a clear grout sealer. In my experience, clear sealers can tend to slightly darken grouts. Of course, this effect varies so I can't guarantee the effect on your grout. I would suggest mixing up a small batch of grout, let it set and then experiment with a sealer. The products are not prohibitively expensive.

Another option is to use a grout stain or colorant. These products, originally designed for sprucing up old grout, are available in a wide range of colors. After following the manufacturer's surface prep instructions, the product is either brushed on or applied with a special roller. Read the label, because there may be a waiting period before the product can be applied to new grout. These products are very durable and should look great for many years!


Dear NH,

We've purchased a storage shed "kit" but I'm not sure what type of floor I want to put in. Seems as if putting in a plywood floor would cause problems later, since we plan to store some mowers, trimmers, etc and may have oil/gas leaks ruin the floor. We have considered using stone or some other paving material instead. Do you have any suggestions or comments?



Oil and gas will also stain most other flooring materials you may use, too. If I were you, I would consider the advantages of a raised deck. It not only provides a solid surface for the shed but also reduces moisture within the shed... thus a little more protection for your tools! A raised deck will also give the shed a longer life regardless of the material it is made from... long term ground contact is not good for anything metal and most woods (except for treated woods, of course).

Use all pressure treated products for the deck, including the plywood. Basic deck construction is really easy and there are a zillion books on the topic. Plus if you have never built a deck before, it is a very satisfying project! If you decide to build it at ground level, keep the moisture down by putting a plastic vapor barrier under the deck.

Second, to protect the floor you can coat the plywood with a oil and gas-resistant paint. Better yet... if you expect a real mess... put a second "throw-away" layer of plywood over the first with just a few screws to keep it in place. When it gets too disgusting to bear, just take up the yucky plywood and install a new layer!



Dear NH,

We recently had a professional tell us that there was calcium build up in our toilet, the part letting the water flow from the tank to the bowl. They used "acid " that was left in for over an hour to loosen and remove this. My question is do you know of any "natural" or more environmentally sound way of loosening this that we could use without calling in a professional?

TC from Hagerstown, MD


Though the thought of "acid" may make you cringe, once it exits your home and enters the sewage highway, it becomes so dilute as to be inconsequential, even in a septic tank. The problem in using a very weak, "natural" acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, is that it can take forever to get any results, especially if the calcium deposits are heavy. I must comment, though, that the acid they used was not extremely strong. Really strong acids, such as muriatic acid, can dissolve calcium deposits in seconds. However, it also will eat away at the porcelain!


Dear NH,

We are trying to remove vinyl wall covering from our kitchen walls. In some spots, it came off with ease, but there are other spots where we cannot get a scraper between the vinyl and the plaster. We tried using a wallpaper remover, but it has no effect on the laminated surface of the vinyl. We also used a heat gun to soften the adhesive, but it's not making it much easier. What can we do, short of ripping the whole wall down, to remove the vinyl?



Some vinyl wallpapers can be very difficult to remove. The reason is that the surface of the vinyl is nonporous. This is fabulous in kitchens and bathrooms... vinyl's resistance to water and chemicals allows it to be cleaned and, with some heavy vinyls, scrubbed!

Alas, this quality is a two-edged sword, especially when wallpaper removal time arrives. The same nonporous quality you valued earlier becomes a curse! Many vinyl papers are called "strippable", meaning you can lift a corner and the vinyl will easily pull apart from a lighter paper backing. The backing is porous and application of wallpaper stripper makes cleanup a snap. There are unfortunately some papers, like yours, that will not pull off without a little gentle assistance.

In a nutshell, you need to perforate the surface of the vinyl to allow the stripping chemical to get through it. This can be accomplished in two ways. You can purchase a special tool designed for this job, called the Paper Tiger ( I had to look the name up... I had a mental "skip" and became fixated on the name "Wallpaper Weasel" but, after some reflection realized that was probably some wallpaperer's nickname!) This device, available at virtually all paint stores, perforates the paper in random patterns as you roll it over the wall surface.

The second, less high-tech but effective method is to use a stiff wire brush and scratch through the surface of the vinyl. Be careful not do dig too deep or you may have more wall repairs to do later!

With either method, you may have to soak the face of the vinyl a number of times for the stripper to work. Be patient and you'll eventually be rewarded!



6) "PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA?"... NH's readers speak out!

Dear NH,

(Regarding your last message,) denial can get us through events that are just too painful to grasp all at once. I liked your essay a lot and agreed with your thoughts. Denial has been my friend while my soul adjusted to a painful reality that was just too much to take in all at once. As I gradually adjust, denial slips away and I take in events in smaller bites, rather than the enormity all at once.

Thanks for an interesting newsletter. I like your special mix.



Thanks for writing and for reading my essay.

Not being a trained professional psychologist (though I have a degree in the field) I have not been conditioned to think in a linear way towards much of anything human! I firmly believe that most human behavior is survival-related... based on the individual's view of what needs to be survived!

Denial is just one way a person has to cushion the impact of unpleasant events he is either the victim of or the cause of. Please... don't misunderstand and think that I would exonerate or make excuses for the pain this behavior may have on others. I also believe that a person is responsible for their behavior, even if it is borne of self-preservation. Thus, a "third-person" (such as me or you) can both understand why someone would behave in a certain (perhaps antisocial) way but, at the same time and without any hypocrisy or contradiction, also condemn the negative (or praise the positive) RESULTS of the behavior. Behavior has two faces... the intent and the result. They stand separately and thinking people should make the distinction between the two in evaluating any person's actions.



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