DIY During Quarantine. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Plenty

By Martha Ann Overland

Maybe your garbage disposal is broken or the fridge is slowly dying. Because of the coronavirus lockdown, you can’t easily call a professional. But you have a hammer and you have YouTube, so what could go wrong?

We asked listeners that question, and they said plenty!

Vicki Novikoff Barnhart of Galveston, Texas, had a problem that was driving her to the point of madness. Her microwave oven was beeping loudly nonstop, 24 hours a day. Because it was built in, it wasn’t possible to just unplug it.

A friend suggested she turn off the circuit breaker to the microwave. But it was mounted outside up high and would require taking the back off, which she figured was too dangerous. A different friend said to hit the microwave with a hammer. That just seemed like a great way to get electrocuted.

So the beeping went on. Day after day after day.

“I wanted to get a gun and shoot it,” she says, “but I didn’t have a gun.”

After living like this for six weeks, Barnhart finally got a repairman to come to the house to install a new microwave. He put the old one out on the curb, promising that someone would happily take it away.

He was right. A few days later, Barnhart was outside and heard a familiar sound. “I knew it was my microwave and it was at a neighbor’s house,” she says. “And then a full day later, I was out there and it was still on and it was still beeping!”

Barnhart recently was on her neighborhood posting site and saw these words: “Does anybody hear that beeping and do you know what it is?”

A perfect quarantine match

It was a quiet Sunday night in lockdown when Sophia Hsu of Brooklyn, N.Y., heard a crash and expletives coming from the bathroom. Hsu ran downstairs to find her husband standing next to the sink, now dangling off the wall.

Her husband, who’s over 6 feet tall and says he has trouble turning around in small spaces, had “hip-checked” (ran into) the sink.

Hsu says he “wrecked the sink, the underlying pipes and my good weekend mood.”

Hsu, the handy one in the family, opened up her toolbox. She lacked the right wrench, but using common sense and lessons from her father, she reattached the sink and all the pipes, and now it drains perfectly.

Theirs is a perfect quarantine match.

“He breaks things,” Hsu says. “I fix them.”

Water everywhere

For Megan Glasscock of Pensacola, Fla., the recent national toilet paper shortage inspired her to install a bidet with her mother.

“I read the instructions,” Glasscock says. “I said, ‘Aah, 20 minutes — this will be a breeze.’ “

“Mind you, Megan knows nothing about plumbing,” says her mother, Cheryl Glasscock.

The pair knew enough, though, to turn the water to the toilet off before getting started. After hours of struggling to install the bidet, which included a trip to the hardware store for a part, they called it quits for the night.

They turned the water back on.

“That’s when the nightmare began,” Megan says. The bathroom started flooding, and now this time the water wouldn’t turn off.

Cheryl rushed outside to cut off the main water supply to the house. But in the dark, she couldn’t find the valve. She reached down and started turning a wheel. That’s when water began bubbling up from the ground.

Now both the bathroom and the yard were flooding. Water was everywhere. Buckets were no match.

Eventually the local water company arrived. They were dumbstruck at the destruction they found. They pumped out the yard and replaced the water meter that Cheryl had destroyed when she somehow disconnected the water meter from the water line.

After the mess was cleaned up and tears were dried, mother and daughter installed the bidet, this time following instructions on YouTube. That’s key, the Glasscocks say.

They are now the proud owners of a bidet, just as toilet paper is back on the shelves!

Good walls make good neighbors

Kenneth McNay of Morrisville, N.C., also decided to use the shutdown to take on a DIY project. “I noticed that the retaining wall between my and my neighbor’s townhomes was sagging in the center.”

He removed all the stones, leveled the ground with paving stones, rock and sand and then put everything back straight. He felt rather proud of the finished job.

McNay’s neighbor, however, was not happy. She wanted a professional to do it. The neighbor was also worried about the safety warnings on the bags of stone and sand, which McNay found really puzzling.

“During the next weekend, she completely reversed my work, taking away all the stones, taking all the sand and gravel out and then putting it all back with a sag in the middle,” McNay says.

What did McNay’s neighbor do with the paving, gravel and sand that he had so carefully installed during the pandemic, when we are all supposed to be practicing social distancing and keeping surfaces clean?

She returned them all to his porch in zip-lock bags.

Playing ‘Death Stranding,’ Even In Isolation, You’re Not Alone

by Adam Frank

If you were looking for a good reason to escape reality, the last six weeks of global COVID meltdown definitely fit the bill. And while pretending your dog is a sports heroor your family a famous work of art work for some, for many people only video games offer the much needed ticket out of their heads. Looking for that kind of release a week after the lockdowns began, I started playing Death Stranding, the new game by famed director Hideo Kojima. What I found there, however, was so much better than escape.

Remarkably strange and complex, Kojima’s game is an extended meditation on death, solitude and connection. More than just another big-studio video game, Death Stranding turns out to be a work of art perfectly synchronized to our new pandemic life.

Like many other games, Death Stranding begins in a post-apocalyptic America. The main character, Sam Porter Bridges, is even played by The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus. Early in the game, Sam is tasked with knitting the nation back together by bringing new networking technology to the isolated human settlements that dot the landscape. It’s Sam’s estranged mother — who is also the last president of the United States — who gives him this task (and who, for some delightfully weird reason, is played by Lindsey Wagner, the star of the ’70s TV show The Bionic Woman). Just before dying, Sam’s mom also reveals his quest can only end with the rescue of Amelie, his sister. Amelie was sent on a similar journey three years earlier, and now she’s being held hostage by terrorists resisting the reunification of the country.

On the surface, this might sound like any of the hundreds of dystopian stories that clutter our culture these days. But in the hands of someone with vision, any story can transcend its genre to become something more, and Hideo Kojima is definitely an artist with vision. He’s seen by many as a true auteur of game design — think Stanley Kubrick or Quentin Tarantino with a PlayStation.

Kojima’s famous Metal Gear Solid series invented an entirely new class of game where players could use stealth and strategy rather than just blasting their way through challenges. More importantly, Kojima brought deeply felt cinematic sensibilities to video games, weaving thoughtfully crafted stories seamlessly into gameplay. With Death StrandingKojima wanted, once again, to create a new kind of game that would be a vehicle for exploring the biggest themes about being human in a divided society. Then, in a remarkable and unexpected synchronization of art and reality, those themes just happened to be the ones that matter most for our collective COVID journey.

You spend a lot of time alone in Death Stranding. In this broken world, Sam is a “porter,” whose dangerous work mostly involves bringing supplies to desperate people. (That narrative alone links the game to so many of our COVID situations.) But as you trek over fractured landscapes, weighed down by hundred pounds of cargo, the game lets you find connections and assistance. One of the most remarkable aspects of Death Stranding is the way other players appear. This is absolutely a single player game, but as you make your way across its rough terrain, you’ll find the imprint of these others: There are ropes and ladders for climbing steep cliffs and bridges laid down for crossing swift rivers. All of these were created by other players working through their own versions of the game. They left these aids for you, in your own journey, just as you can provide aid for them.

… even though you are alone as you travel, there are always others out there just like you, facing the same challenges and leaving signs that none of us are alone.

And just like our strange new reality, what you’re often alone with on your journey through the game is the fear of death. Of course, most every video game presents players with the possibility of death, after which comes the familiar “respawn” (minus some game goodies or experience points or whatever).

But it’s death itself that comprises the central tension in the game. The apocalypse in Death Stranding began with the discovery of the Beach, a parallel reality which is nothing less than the land of the dead (or one location there). State-sized explosions called “voidouts,” resulting from direct contact between the living and dead, are what left America in its fractured state. Then came the BTs (Beached Things), dangerous spirits of the dead who inhabit the wastelands between human settlements. There they wait, ready to drag living travelers down through black, liquid depths to the other side.

I’ve played more than my fair share of games that traverse the underworld, but that’s not what’s happening with Death Stranding. Kojima is exploring a particular, and particularly mythic vision of the interplay of death and life in this game. That’s what makes the Beach and the BT’s simultaneously strange, beautiful and terrifying. It’s also also what connects the story to the lives we inhabit now standing that much closer to our mortality

Great art often works on the level of myth. Not myth in the sense of stories that never happened, but Joseph Campbell’s sense of stories that are always happening. So, it may look like Death Stranding is about Sam trying to unite America, but really America is just a stand-in for all of us. It’s our condition as human beings to be broken and separated, making our own journey in the shadow of death. But it is also our condition to seek and find connection in spite of it all.

That is the landscape Kojima wants us, through Sam, to explore and gain greater vision from. And that’s how Death Stranding teaches in the way Karen Armstrong meant when she wrote, in A Short History of Myth, that a myth “is essentially a guide; it tells us what we must do to live more richly.” And that, finally, is what Kojima meant when he wrote, “Through your experience playing the game, I hope you’ll come to understand the true importance of forging connections with others”

Many times, I came away from my time in Death Stranding quietly reflective about the ways we build bridges to each other even in peril and isolation. And in these difficult weeks, that experience was so much better than just a few hours of escape.