My father had a brown jumpsuit that he put on whenever he wanted to work on something in the house or garden. Over the years, the jumpsuit became tattered and shrank with repeated washing until it was so short in its legs as to look more like plus fours. But my father loved it and refused to replace it. The thing made him look ridiculous. Once, when a new school friend of mine visited, he spotted my father working in the garden in his jumpsuit, smoking a pipe.
“Who’s that?” my friend hesitated.
“Who?” I asked.
Perhaps because he looked so ridiculous, my father reliably did stupid things when he wore his jumpsuit. On my sister’s eighth birthday, when there were many little girls milling around our pool, he saw nothing wrong with walking around in his brown jumpsuit, looking like an off-duty clown. When I got bored and began to tease my sister and her friends, my father marched into the pool area to see what the commotion was about.
“Hey!” he howled and stabbed at the air with his cigar while he advanced on me. “If you—”
With that, he misjudged the edge of the pool and toppled into it like a felled tree.
“Who’s that?” one of the girls asked when he surfaced.
While this was a mere misstep, the same cannot be said of the day he quite literally painted himself into a corner. We heard him calling from his new study.
“What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked as she surveyed the scene.
“I didn’t see,” my father replied sheepishly.
He stood in the only unpainted spot of the new hardwood floor at the far end of the room. He looked particularly forlorn in his silly jumpsuit.
“This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done,” my mother declared. After a moment she added, “Including the time you fell out of that tree because you’d sawn off the branch you were sitting on.”
“I know,” my father sighed. “I get distracted.”
“Well,” my mother said as she lit a cigarette, “you’ll have plenty of time to focus now. I’ll toss you a book.”
For us, the jumpsuit spelled trouble. Whenever something had to get done, my father disappeared to go put it on. Once he had it on, there was no limit to how bad things could get. It was a little like Clark Kent stepping into a telephone booth to become Superman, but with the opposite outcome. One day, a few years after the painting incident, my father managed to outdo himself. My mother complained that the rinsing sink in the scullery had become blocked.
“Dammit,” my father muttered. “Did you have to fill it halfway before you decided to tell me?”
“It’s a scullery,” my mother called after him as he went off to get into his jumpsuit.
“What idiot designed this?” he complained a few minutes later as he lay on his back under the sink, fumbling with a spanner to loosen the jamb nut that secured the gasket. He’d explained that he planned to drain the water from the sink by uncoupling the pipes below it, but it wasn’t clear to the rest of us what this would achieve.
“It’s going to come down in your face,” my mother remarked and lit a cigarette.
For her, it was home theatre. In fact, we had all gathered around, partly to cheer my father on and partly so that we wouldn’t miss out on whatever happened next.
“I’m not that stupid,” he said through clenched teeth.
Sure enough, he loosened the nut, got out of the way, and pulled the pipe free. The dirty water from the sink above drained into a bucket and relatively little spilled onto the floor.
“There,” he said in triumph as he got up, holding the reeking bucket. “See?”
“What next?” my mother asked.
“One step at a time,” my father said and glared at her over his glasses. “First we dump this.”
In a fluid movement, he emptied the bucket into the sink.