Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Dad is SO Arab: The Jimmy Rig

For those who don't know me personally, my father is Arabic. He was born and raised in Iraq and moved to the USA permanently shortly before marrying my mother in the '70s. He is now a full-blown American citizen with no intentions of moving back to the Middle East. He's so American, he didn't even bother to teach my siblings and me Arabic growing up...for various reasons.

Thanks for that, Dad. (kidding. kinda.)

Anyway, throughout my childhood, I never thought of my dad as a foreigner. (I still don't think he has an Arabic accent, though the Mister disagrees with me on that.) I just thought he had funny quirks. I was never really all that embarrassed by my dad, I just kind of laughed it off. But now that I'm just a border away from his homeland and among his "cousins," I realize more and more that my dad's quirks aren't unique to him! He's got more in common with his cousins than I ever realized!

Allow me to explain one way I know my dad is Arab:

He loves the "jimmy rig." I'm not sure if this term was coined by Southerners, but Arabs have the market cornered on the jimmy rig. The jimmy rig, according to UrbanDictionary.com is defined as, "[fixing] something regardless of how it looks or how long it lasts. Using any materials that are available in a creative way to make something work."

Examples of the jimmy rig in Saudi Arabia: Did the leg of your sofa break? ...LOOK! I found half of a cinder block and a bit of a phone book! Just stick those under that bad boy and voila! Problem fixed. No need to buy a new chair.

*Speaking of cinder blocks: When a new house is being constructed, it's generally made entirely out of cinder blocks and concrete. BUT, instead of planning ahead and making sturdy openings for the pipes and other things that can easily be retro-fitted into a timber house, Saudi construction workers just cut a path through the blocks and concrete, stick the pipe/wiring in, and put brick fragments in the opening. It'll have a few layers of stucco on it eventually, so what does it matter?

*I found out the other day that if you own property in Saudi, you have to build a wall around it. So all houses have walls along the property lines. This also comes in handy for those families that like to keep their women hidden. The Saudis are a very private people. The only problem is, when the neighbors start building their house next door, and their top windows can peek over your privacy wall, you've got to make your wall taller. WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THIS PROBLEM COMING?! So what do the Saudis do? Certainly not extend their wall on all sides with building materials similar to what they already have used! That would be expensive, I'm sure. No, Saudis rig up a wall extension made of sheet metal and poles that are no where near the same color as the original walls. AND they only extend the wall closest to the offending neighbors' house.

*Thanks to the immense American presence here, just about all Saudi buildings have both 110 and 220 volt wiring. Only trouble is, the plugs look the same no matter the voltage. Hmm...there's got to be some way to indicate which plug is attached to which voltage...

(Masking tape and ink pen. There is no other solution.)

*Did you get into a fender bender and now your bumper is kind of hanging off? Well, I've got some clear packing tape and some sturdy cardboard. And this won't be a temporary fix. Nah, we'll leave that on there permanently...or until you get into another wreck.

Examples of the jimmy rigs from my father: When I was in college, I rear-ended somebody coming home from the beach. I took the car to the garage my insurance recommended and two weeks later I had a whole new front end. I was going on a road trip immediately after I got the car from the garage and, I kid you not, 2 hours down the road, my front left tire blew, knocking my fresh new bumper half off. I. was. PISSED.

I was going to need a new bumper, and this was going to make my insurance go up. But instead, my father used a wire coat hanger to stop my bumper from flapping. Anytime I got over 60 miles an hour it would sound like I was coming under heavy fire in 'Nam, and if you looked at it from the wrong angle you could see the wire ends sticking out from under the wheel well...but hey! Free fix!

*I needed a set of mailboxes for my classroom at home. You know the ones. They're basically slots that are large enough for a stack of 8.5x11'' paper to go into. Those suckers are expensive! I mentioned this conundrum to my dad and he sprang to action! He owns a flooring business, so he had a fair amount of scrap hardwood planks lying around. He rigged up a great set of 90 mail slots. Some were wider than others, and there were a lot of random nails sticking out, but I'll be darned if those bad boys weren't the envy of the other teachers on my hall.

(No seriously. Everyone fought over the mailboxes on the left when I announced I was leaving my old school. Notice the jimmy rigged piece of butcher paper I hot-glued over the rows of slots that weren't being used except as trash receptacles by my angels at home. It's hereditary, apparently.)

The most hilarious part of this jimmy rig though, was the WEIGHT! Hardwood is called hardwood for a reason. It's dense! I would estimate that these mailboxes weighed about 100 pounds. One time I needed some help moving them from one side of my classroom to the other, so my brother came to help. We couldn't get all the way across the room without laughing at the struggle we were having and the mental picture of our father stepping back like Michelangelo from the Pieta and admiring his two-ton work.

*My dad is a gardener. It's his zen. And nothing interrupts his zen and sends him into a rage like intruders into his garden. They make lots of things to ward off groundhogs, deer, rabbits and other agricultural raiders, but why spend your money on all that mess when you can rig up a scarecrow like THIS:

(Most people would use an "old shirt" and a "worn out" pair of jeans...but those are two terms that don't enter my dad's vocabulary. Bed sheets. Now THOSE can be sacrificed to the garden gods.)

This scarecrow is next to a shed my dad built himself out of some plywood and aluminum roofing sheets. It's not all that bad of a shed, and Daddy wanted to preserve the wood against rot, so he needed to paint it. Paint's expensive, but never fear! Daddy had a fix for that! A few years back we'd remodeled the house so we had some leftover paint. None of the half-filled cans of paint contained the same color, but dump them all together and you had a 3 gallon bucket of a convincing lavender/puce color. Yeah. That'll work. Slap it on.

There are SOO many more examples of my father's jimmy rigs: the wood blocks that serve as wall mounts for the surround sound in the living room, the scrap wood closet shelves, the home-made slingshot used to ward off squirrels from the bird feeder. More than I can list.

I poke fun, but I do love my father. His little Arab quirks have become more obvious to me since I've moved here, and there will be more entries like this to come, I'm sure. But at the end of the day, all these reminders of my father just make this place feel ever-so-slightly like home.

Vicariously yours,


  1. Amber, this madee laugh--a lot!! I can see Al doing all that stuff. Hopebypunallnare well. Aunt Suzy

  2. Amber, these stories are hilarious!!!! Gave me a great laugh tonight. :)