All the DIY-ers out there will undoubtedly recognize aspects, if not all, of this story. It is the true-life account of our little chore last night: replacing a bare light bulb in the bathroom ceiling (made of plaster, brick, and cement) with a real light fixture.

It also involves “easy instructions,” which should give a clue of what’s to come.

On with the tale!

DIY Disasters

This did not actually happen.


First order of business: get the cover off the hole in the ceiling. One screw holding it, great.

Discover that the screw is painted in place. <grumble>

Three screwdrivers, two climbs up and down the ladder, and five minutes later, break the screw free.

Discover that the screw is stripped. <swear>

Spend five minutes ascertaining that even though it’s stripped, it won’t come out.

Grab cover and yank the damn thing off the ceiling, causing a small shower of plaster on my head as the screw explodes out of its hole. Hear screw ping and bounce somewhere in the bathroom. Figure I’ll find it later.

Detach live and neutral wires from the harness in the ceiling. Tuck the ground wire back up into the hole. Get the other two nicely arranged to slip through the central opening of the light fixture’s mounting bracket.

Climb off ladder, put down screwdriver, grab bracket and pencil, climb back up ladder.

Establish where the mounting bracket will go. Mark holes. Climb down ladder. Get out drill, bits, ear muffs, and goggles. Note that last time I used this drill, I had younger eyes. Now that my near vision is shot to hell, I have to wear the goggles over reading glasses. Fun. Climb back up ladder.

Drill pilot holes. Clean and easy.

Swap out 3 mm bit for 6 mm. Drill 20 mm of a 30 mm hole. Stop dead.

Push all my weight against the drill which I am holding above shoulder level. Watch the effort widen the base of the hole while s.l.o.w.l.y deepening it. Stop twice to rest arms and breathe. Get hole to 26 mm. Stop so dead that I’m pretty sure I’ve hit a rock.

Stare accusingly at my drill, which looks like this:

Bosch drill

Wish it looked like this:

Boss drill

Climb down ladder. Move to other side. Climb up ladder.

Drill the second hole. Sweat, swear, grunt, probably pop a blood vessel, but get the damn thing 30 mm deep. WHEW.

Recall that somewhere in the house is a new drill bit. Climb down ladder. Locate. Swap out, climb up ladder, try again with the first hole.

After a solid two minutes of heart-attack inducing overhead effort, get it to 28 mm. Good enough. The plastic drywall anchor will stick out, but we can cut off the tip.

Spit plaster dust out of mouth. Decide shirt is a lost cause.

Insert anchors, put bracket in place, start sinking screws. No problem with the easy hole. The other one…is now too wide. The screw just spins the anchor in place.


Climb down ladder, prepare to swap out drill bits to drill a 7 mm hole for the larger anchor bolt size. My wife Maria says wait, maybe we can jury rig this. She takes a simple anchor bolt — the plastic sleeve kind for the tiniest screws — cuts it lengthwise, and wraps it around the base of the original anchor bolt.

Works like a charm. Damn.

Screw mounting bracket in place.

WHEW. Step one done!

Climb down ladder. Pick up light fixture, which is different than any I’ve done before. It has a rectangular plastic box holding the bulb and wiring snug against the glass plate. I need to take off a little plastic cover at one end of this box, push the live and neutral wires through the tiny openings for them, screw down the little bolts that hold them in place, replace the plastic cover, screw it down with the World’s Smallest Screws, then slip the fixture onto the mounting bracket and screw it in place with the World’s Second Smallest Screws. Easy!


(Climb back up ladder.)

This is physically impossible given that the rectangular box is fastened to the bottom of the fixture, which has sides an inch high, and once I’ve got the wires in place, the whole thing is so close to the ceiling (and blocked by the raised sides) that I would need a screwdriver approximately 1 cm in length to screw down the posts holding the wires. Not to mention eyesight that I lost somewhere around the age of ten.

Spend approximately 20 minutes trying to figure out how the hell this can be done.

Maria suggests using another wiring harness and additional wire to lengthen the overall wire length. Where can we get more wire? From the original bulb that was hanging there!

Climb down the ladder.

Maria tries to unscrew the bulb’s base to get the wiring out. Can’t do it. Hands it to me and turns to do something else. I take wire clippers and clip the damn things. She turns back and says, “How did you get them out??” I consider bullshitting, but admit the truth.

Realize I have no wire strippers.

Learn that I suck at stripping wire with clippers.

Learn that my wife is really good at it. (How?? She never does it!)

Wire up the harness and get everything placed in the light fixture while it’s resting on the kitchen counter. Even then, it’s a freaking nightmare requiring five hands, three tools, and a live animal sacrifice to the electronics goddess. It’s also a miracle that neither of the World’s Smallest Screws for that plastic cover were lost. Wonder how the hell anyone was supposed to do that up on a ladder while holding the light in one hand and having one remaining hand to press a wire in place and simultaneously screw down the post. And then somehow get that plastic cover on with the itty bitty screws? Who designed this thing, an alien?

Finger hands

The kind of hands necessary to install this light as described in the instructions.

Take jury-rigged light to the bathroom. Climb ladder. Realize I am over fifty.

Holding light in one hand, use other hand to poke ceiling wires into the other end of the harness. Accept screwdriver from helpful wife. Screw the holding posts down. Push light into place on mounting bracket. Trade screwdrivers with wife. Accept the World’s Second Smallest Screws, which are of course just large enough to require a different screwdriver. Hold light in place with one hand while miraculously not dropping a screw with the other. Get it put in.

Climb down ladder. Move to other side of light.

Climb up ladder. Screw in final screw.

Climb down ladder. Think longingly of a fairy who would come in, waft me off to a spa, clean me up, and put me to bed. I am covered in dust from drilling and completely exhausted.

“Shall we see if it works?” Maria says.

Nod numbly. Lean on ladder while Maria trips merrily down the hall to the fuse box, flips the circuit breaker, trots back to the bathroom, and snaps on the light.

Squint against what is now the brightest light in the entire house. On the one hand, it works. On the other hand, I might get a sunburn while peeing in here. Maybe I should have gotten one a tad less bright?

Envision taking this light down and putting up a different one.

Say, “It’s perfect.”

Total time installing the “simple” light fixture (“just drill two holes, mount the bracket, plug in the wires, and go!”): >2 hours.

Rooms covered in DIY debris in the process: bathroom, hallway, kitchen.

Time to clean up: 30 minutes.

Still waiting for that fairy.

About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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12 Responses to DIY

  1. Patti says:

    Wiping tears from my eyes while catching my breath from laughing so hard. Been there, don’t ever want to go there again. Thank goodness I wasn’t drinking anything.

    • Right? We’ve all been there. I don’t want to go there again, either!

      My mom said, “Why didn’t you hire a professional?” Because I’m reserving the professional for the plumbing…

  2. Annie Robinson says:

    Oh that’s definitely painful – although there were small triumphs achieved along the way to a fully lit bathroom 🚽 ✅🌈❤️
    Well done -and there must be some writers’ copy in there somewhere…

  3. Genesis says:

    Couldn’t agree more! Instructions are too often asinine, not to mention how many things are designed in the first place, in which case I always mumble to myself ‘another something designed by a man’

    An advice from a trained wife…….

    train smarty-pants-wearing wife to stand by handing you on demand all the tools and paraphernalia you need to avoid most of the climbing up and down the ladder and also to be ready holding the running vacuum cleaner tube next to where you are drilling to catch the dust before it rains down on you and the floor. If some still ends up on the floor, it’s her fault. Also, in order to ease your suffering, tell her that next time she is to promise you a reward for your hard work like a shoulder massage or your favourite dessert.

  4. Lisa Shaw says:

    If it involves plumbing or electricity, I always hire a pro. 😄 But I sure do admire your determination, your tool stock, and your teamwork with your wife. 😉

  5. Melanie H says:

    I feel ya! Home remodeling diy style is like this every time I do something! Good luck with rest of the project, can’t wait to see finished product! It’ll be worth the aches and pains and swearing, trust me!

    • Thanks, Melanie! We’re in the midst of a total redecoration, and wow are we learning on a steep curve. Latest lesson: drill holes for mounting bracket for new wall lights BEFORE painting wall. Ah well, it keeps our brains young, right?

  6. Cathy says:

    Thank you for that very amusing story, so visual! Like Patti I was almost crying with laughter.

  7. rlf1957 says:

    Thank you for providing reinforcement to our decision to use a professional to replace the bare bulbs hanging from every ceiling of our apartment in Leca da Palmeira! With no familiar junction boxes to hang the fixtures from I just know that my mess would 3x what you encountered or I’d drill into the wiring. Kudo’s for tackling this successfully!! Good luck with future projects.

    Btw, after finding your blog, I read your first book and enjoyed it very much.

    • I’m happy to oblige! Yes, there are definitely a few things to get used to as an American learning to live in Portugal. I’d never conceived of taking all of my light fixtures with me upon moving out, but that’s what they do here…and having now spent quite a few €€ on fixtures over the years, I see why. Ours would go with us, too. Except the one in the bathroom. That sucker is staying there forever.

      I’m delighted that you enjoyed The Caphenon! If the second book gave you pause due to the slower pace and romance, I’d recommend you jump back in at Book 6, Outcaste. It’s an action/adventure tale and a deep dive into the darker cracks of Alsean culture. The sequel, Resilience, is a classic space adventure with unique aliens and a hefty dose of psychology along the way.

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