Doni’s Cautionary Tale No 4: It Takes a Facebook Village …

Single women's conversations have changed since I was unmarried in my 30s. Back then, my single friends and I asked lots of questions as we discussed available guys.

Is he cute? Is he romantic? Is he smart? Does he have good hygiene? What's his story?

... And other questions.

Now, although my single women friends and I still have long conversations about men, there's a new line of questioning:

Does he do plumbing? How much does he charge? Is he reliable? Do you feel safe with him? What's his phone number?

A good handyman's phone number is so coveted that I know one woman who strictly guards her No. 1 handyman's identity to the point where she won't even tell us his first name. For some crazy reason, she's afraid her handyman will leave her for another woman.

That's OK. I've become fairly handy myself. I have fixed rain gutters and re-directed downspouts (that were previously - horribly - pointed toward my home's crawl space). I have even used my reciprocating saw to trim branches.

The power rush is pretty heady.

I've collected a nice array of other tools, too. Many I've found at elderly women's yard sales after their guys pass on, and leave behind decades' worth of tools in which many widows have no interest.

I have used my newly purchased garage-sale table saw to cut cedar planks for barbecuing. I do sanding and painting and simple repairs. I have taken welding classes, and keep a blow torch for creme brulee. No wimpy mini kitchen torch for me.

However, I'm intimidated by two things: electricity, and high places.

But never fear, because when it comes to home repairs and construction projects, when there's something I can't tackle, I call upon a group of four handymen. Not all at once, of course. But having four names at the ready ensures that at least one will be available in an emergency: Bob, Cory, Mike or young Roy.

Even so, lately I have found more and more DIY home-repair advice from my Facebook friends. I know I can post my question or problem on Facebook and within minutes I will have answers and solutions. No brag, but with 4,557 friends, I know that among all those people, someone will have the answer. Yes, sometimes the result is so many answers that I'm at a loss which one to choose.  But that's a nice problem to have.

So it was with my recent plight of the broken light bulb. Yes, I've removed broken bulbs from lamps. That's easy. Just unplug the light, take a thick towel and unscrew the bulb.

But this particular broken bulb was one of those super tiny numbers, broken and stuck inside one of three hanging pendant lights in my kitchen.

Because I'd called upon one of my handymen last month to install a dimmer switch in my dining room, I'd recalled how he'd only turned off the light switch, not the power to the house.

Good enough for a handyman, good enough for me, right?

Not for an electricity scaredy cat.

So I posted my admittedly "stupid" broken-light bulb question on Facebook. I received, as of this writing, 56 answers.  Behold, a sample of serious and humorous Facebook-friend replies:

Phil FountainUse a potato instead of pliers!

Karin LightfootMake sure no one flips the switch while you have those pliers in the socket

Jon Lewis You could always be like me and just curse the darkness.

Santiago Sosa Call Caltrans, then u can have 30 people standing around telling u how to go about it! Lol!

Jim Farmer The hot wire should be switched BUT!! they could have switched the neutral which would leave the hot wire charged. without a voltage tester I would turn the power off.

Joe Paramo Pliers with insulated handles will work with switch off.

Don Rowlett OSHA answer: circuit breaker. As an honorary member of the guy club though you could get away with flipping the switch off. Just remember the rednecks famous last words: Hey y'all, hold my beer and watch this!

Sean Moore Turn power off. Cut a raw potato in half. Push against it and rotate counter clockwise.

James Drummond Potato is a good idea, those older places can be hot at the fixture due to old outdated but still to code methods. At the very least you want to run a camcorder;)

Mckee Dwayne A carrot is your best bet or just call me.

Pat Inns Just flip off the circuit, unscrew the broken light bulb, put a new light bulb back in, turn circuit back on. Then go and reset the time on your clocks.

JR Dickson Pay attention to Jim Farmer above. As he said, there are situations where the socket could still be hot with the switch off. Best to turn breaker off.

Colin Peacock Doni...Doni are you still there?

Jenny Hart Boren Note to self--take a sharpie and write down (directly on the panel) which breakers turn off which lights and sockets…This works best with two people and a cell phone.

John Balma I'm so glad you asked publicly. I've had a broken bulb in a track light for ages, completely afraid to touch it with anything.

Don Williams Rubber kitchen gloves will also help.

Richard Malotky I say just stick your tongue up there and get it over with  … safety is overrated : )

Susan Crandell Just don't stand in a puddle of water.

Patricia Carlson Agree - the potato always works. Oh, & when you replace the bulb try a little olive oil on the metal for easier take-out next time.

LaRue S. Rocha Say a prayer first then turn the power off

Frajer Luke Or just enjoy candle light;  it's romantic.

Bob Luckin Sometimes allowing the darkness to prevail is a good thing.

Goody Goodyband No, just turn off at the switch. Off is off! However, if you're worried about someone else in the house accidentally turning on the light....lock it out by taping the switch in the "off" position. The potato works. Needle nose pliers work. It's easy.

Mike Guyon Our daughter did it on her front porch light. Landed 3 ft away from the ladder on the ground . We turn it all the way off now.

Goody Goodyband Switch was left on!

Cynthia Coe Devine Nothing is a stupid question if you don't know the answer:-)

Larry Sparman Yes. Turn off power. Use a potato to unscrew broken bulb. I live right down the street, would help you if you want.

Don Bartholomew Turn off the circuit breaker for that circuit- be sure you turn off the right one. If in doubt turn off multiple circuit breakers to be sure. Getting zapped is no fun. Always use insulated tools when working on electrical circuits (i.e. rubber coated handles).

By the time I finished reading the comments - combined with a few messages on my phone and email - I was pretty sure I would play it safe and turn off the power at the breaker outside.

My first thought was that anything with the word "kitchen" would do the trick. Not so.

I knew this because I kept the pendant light switch on, while I ran back and forth between the kitchen and the breaker box to see if I'd flipped the right switch.

As long as one light was still lighted, I knew I hadn't found the correct switch. (I had another burned out bulb, in addition to the broken one.)

Finally, I located toward the bottom of the switches a second of two switches labeled "lighting", and that did the trick. All three lights off.

Next, the potato, which so many people had recommended, and I was looking forward to trying. It did seem a fine way to keep from touching broken glass. For the occasion, I'd bought a plain russet potato, and trimmed it to fit up inside the pendant.

I wrapped the potato in a towel and gently pushed the spud onto the shard of broken bulb. I turned, as if unscrewing a light bulb. A shower of potato shavings fell down from the light, into a pile on the counter. The broken bulb stayed stuck.

Plan B. I then put on rubber gloves, grabbed the towel and reached up into the light until I could grab the broken bulb, and turned gently. It worked! Out came the bulb!

Piece of potato beside the tiny broken light bulb.

I got two new bulbs and, for good measure, at the suggestion of a Facebook friend, dabbed some olive oil around each light bulb base. I screwed in both bulbs. I went outside and flipped the "lighting" breaker switch back on.

Inside the kitchen, I flipped the wall switch. A trio of working lights!

I felt so proud of myself, as I stood there ... and took in the scent of hash browns in olive oil. And the sight of three working lights.

There's no shame in admitting that apparently, it does take a village to change a light bulb.

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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17 Responses

  1. ehaneystuart says:

    Hilarious, Doni, and so true. No home repair is ever simple (must be one of those "Murphy's Laws"), requiring a minimum of two trips to he hardware store. I'd give you my handyman's name but….

  2. CoachBob says:

    I wanna know if Doc. Malotky learned his tongue trick in med school?

  3. ajac37 says:

    Bob??? BOB!!!???? YOU STOLE MY BOB??? I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since I introduced you. Sigh!!

    And I must say, Jon Lewis never disappoints with his answers.

    • Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

      Adrienne, yes, it's true, I've been seeing your Bob for repairs. But don't worry, he still loves you best. 🙂 (Thanks for sharing him with me. 😉

  4. Who'd have thought that Facebook would become such a rich resource?

    As a parent, access to ALL my kids' friends (and their parents) makes it a mighty useful tool for locating my kids (in town and around the world) and seeing what they're up to and getting them to check in. Ain't technology grand? 🙂

    • Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

      Yes, Erin, technology IS grand. And I know that like you, when we have kids in far flung places, Skype keeps us connected. I'm so grateful.

  5. ajac37 says:

    Love Skype! Daughter Skypped (and which part of speech is that?!) me the other day. I asked where she was, to which she replied, "Oh, I'm in the airport at Kuala Lumpur waiting for my flight to Perth." And the world grows smaller, and smaller and smaller. Haven't decided yet if that's a good thing or a bad thing. . . . not that it would make any difference.

  6. so funny! I have been known to be a bit handy, back in the days when I had time to do that sort of thing and yes, I have used a potato to remove a broken light bulb. I have also just used my fingers to remove one. I did not turn off the electricity and voila…I am still on the planet!

  7. rmv says:

    you could have called me? oh well. 🙁

    • Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

      Oh, Rex, you're so generous, but you're very busy, too. I know you would have helped if I'd called. Thank you! (p.s. the garage door you fixed is still working fine!)

  8. CoachBob says:

    I just 'hate' it when women fight over me. Just hate it:-)

  9. KarenCal says:

    I will brag about Coach Bob, he is always on time, smells good, is neat and tidy, and he gets the job done. Plus he is fun to talk with!

    • ajac37 says:

      Karen, you are absolutely right in your assessment of Coach Bob. He is doing a job for me that he promised would be done before Thanksgiving . . . he just neglected to tell me which year! LOL!!

  10. I think that you are a great lady Doni and this was a great story to share. Your welcome to call my handyman anytime you need help. Trust me he does a great job and you will really like him.

  11. EasternCounty says:

    A friend discovered that her husband was a child molester. She immediately started divorce proceedings, and the agreement was that he could have their extensive art collection as long as she got all the power tools and hand tools.

  12. Ronald Chiodo says:

    Well, my dad was an electrician, and I took notes growing up. There came a time that I was working on a wall switch. No need to throw the breaker. I’m told that the electricity went in through my metal watch band and came out my elbow. Wife tells me I took it like a man. I don’t quite remember. Turns out the switch was working fine and I proved it. Apparently I’m a hands on kind of guy.

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