Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Gremlins: My Old Friends

SAN DIEGO – Recently, a toilet in our home in the Southwest corner needed to have the handle mechanism replaced.

Unlike my father, who is good at just about any task, plumbing has never been one of my fortes. But I vowed to fix the problem.

When I was about four, I stayed with my aunt and uncle while my parents took my sister to see the doctor. Jessie and Alice Jewell lived on Fairview off of what is now the Baddour Parkway near the old LHS football stadium. Uncle Jessie was one of the better plumbers in Lebanon for years.

Somehow, I managed to lock myself in their bathroom. After a lengthy stay, my cousin, Shirley Jewell, now Mrs. Jay Smith, coaxed me into climbing out the window.Having that much problem with a bathroom then may have been the origination of my gremlins.


I believe in gremlins. Gremlins originated in RAF folklore during World War II as mischievous and mechanically oriented creatures. Some British folks believe the term came from the Old English “gremian,” meaning “to vex.”

Although I did not know it at the time, my gremlins began plaguing me when I was around nine. I had started mowing the lawns of J. Bill and Bessie Lee Frame and Fred and Ruby Cowan across the street as well as our yard.

On numerous occasions, the old rotary mower would balk when I yanked the power cord. I would fool with the choke, pull, and pull again to no avail. Finally, I would give up and call my father. He would come home from work, take one pull, and the mower would start.

It had to be gremlins.

In 1973 when I was the chief engineer on the “U.S.S. Hollister,” a World War II vintage destroyer with an engineering plant of mystifying and complex symbiosis, I became convinced gremlins really did exist.

I think my father had something to do with bringing gremlins into my world. Uncle Jessie of the great bathroom escape was his older brother. Then there were the old mower incidents.

Evap Gremlins

And when Jimmy Jewell came to visit us in Long Beach, I proudly took him for a tour of the “Hollister” engineering spaces, the underworld over which I ruled.

This quintessential automobile mechanic who once made a car out of two totaled ones, who had more knowledge of motors and mechanical systems than I would ever possess, climbed the ladders out of my realm, and commented, “I can’t believe you are in charge of something like this.”

He was right, of course. Now, I suspect his rightness again let loose the gremlins.

They first invaded my main distilling plant, or as we Navy engineers used to call them, the “evaps.”

The forward evaps were designed to turn seawater into fresh and boiler feed water at 720 gallons per hour. The after evaps were designed to generate 120 gallons per hour.

Shortly after my father’s visit, “Hollister” went to Hawaii. On the return to Long Beach, the temperamental forward evaps shut down. The little evaps huffed and puffed and miraculously started generating 200 gallons each hour.

This was enough to provide a small amount of boiler feed water, but the crew had to go on “water hours,” meaning no fresh water except for cooking and limited drinking for almost five days.

I was not very popular.

There was no rhyme or reason for the two evaporators not performing or performing far above their capacity.

“Gremlins,” I explained to my officers and chiefs.

Computer Gremlins

After I left the “Hollister,” the gremlins laid low until computers entered my world. The gremlins came back with a rush and have remained.

Accepting my computer expertise is just enough to get in trouble, I have a friend who puts things in order on a regular basis. Often, he shakes his head in wonder at how I have generated such bizarre conditions on my computer.

“Gremlins,” I tell him.

Now, the gremlins have possessed my toilet bowl. Resolved to triumph, I read instructions on toilet repair, went to Home Depot, and bought a repair kit.

Arriving at home, I flushed once before starting the repair. The toilet worked and has been working ever since. The repair kit is in our garage.


Watch out. They are proliferating.

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