By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I have always been interested in current events except when it comes to electrical work. That’s because I am afraid a current will zap me in the event I tried to perform some mundane task like replacing a fuse, in which case I would either be eulogized with the words "ashes to ashes" or, even worse, get hit with a whopper of an electric bill.
So I was pleasantly surprised – but not shocked – when I recently passed a test from an electrician who showed me how to do simple repairs without burning the house down.
I required his services because I couldn’t answer this question: How many homeowners does it take to change a light bulb? Most people would say it takes only one – unless, of course, the homeowner is yours truly. Then I would need the help of a professional.
Not only couldn’t I change the bulb in one of the two lights outside the front door, but I couldn’t replace the fixture in the hallway or figure out how to rewire the microwave without ending up like charred meatloaf.
That’s why I called Shawn Krueger, owner of Luminaire Electric on Long Island, N.Y. Krueger came over for an estimate, quickly ascertained that I’m not the brightest guy on the circuit and said he would send over one of his best men, Jose Lucero, who not only would solve my problems but would give me a crash course in Light Bulb Changing 101.
At 8 a.m. the following Saturday, Lucero was at the front door, which I didn’t realize at first because the doorbell doesn’t work.
"Basically," Lucero said as he started to replace the fixture in the hallway, "electrical work isn’t that hard."
"It is for me," I told him. "Maybe I’m not wired right."
Lucero, who kindly ignored the remark, said that the first rule is to turn off the power where you’re working.
"I’m usually asleep at the switch, but even I know that," I replied. "It’s the rest of it that has me baffled."
I explained that I was actually able to change a light bulb in the fixture but couldn’t get the cover back on because the screw wouldn’t fully attach to the threaded stem, which was loose and couldn’t be tightened. This wasn’t surprising since the fixture was old and corroded (like me) and needed (unlike me, I hope) to be replaced.
This necessitated undoing the wires, which I figured would be my undoing.
"All you have to remember," Lucero said, "is that the white wire is neutral and the black one is for the power. In the middle is the ground."
"So we’ve reached a middle ground," I said.
Lucero also ignored this remark and – after turning off the power, of course – showed me how to disconnect the old wires and connect the ones in the new fixture, which my wife bought after I couldn’t get the cover back on the old one.
She also bought new outside lights. In one of the old ones, which also were corroded, the bulb had broken off and couldn’t be removed without either a screwdriver or a pair of pliers. Owing to my fear of being electrocuted, which would have made my hair stand on end even more than it does now, I let Lucero do it.
Then I got brave and asked if I could try to connect one of the new fixtures. "Sure," Lucero said. "Just make sure you attach the right wires."
It took a while – if I had charged myself by the hour, I couldn’t have afforded it – but I finally managed to get everything hooked up. Then came the test. I flicked the switch. The light Lucero changed went on. Mine didn’t.
"You didn’t attach the wires tightly enough," Lucero said when he examined my work, "but at least you connected the right ones."
Lucero, who is only 23 but already a seasoned pro, gave me a passing grade. I didn’t want to push my luck, so I let him fix the microwave by putting a new fuse in the fuse box.
I still may be a dim bulb, but now, at least, I know how to change one.
Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima