I was sitting here in my office at work, working on my resume as usual, when nature called. Fortunately I am right across the hall from the restroom, so I immediately got up to answer.
It was a number one kind of thing, so I used the urinal. Finishing up, I grasped the handle on the little slider of my zipper, stared absent-mindedly at the wall, and smoothly pulled. But instead of stopping at the top of the zipper, my hand kept right on going. Slightly startled, I heard a tiny metallic "ping" as something hit the floor.
Superficially, my pants looked safely zipped, but a moments examinaton revealed that the little slide was not there? Looking down I spotted it -- somehow it had run off the end of the zipper, and slipped from my fingers before I realized what was happening.
Fortunately, there was no one else in the room. I bent over to retrieve the slide. The zipper, unrestrained by the slide, and subjected to a shearing stress by my movement, unzipped, all by itself.
I quickly retreated to one of the stalls, where I could sit and deal with things in privacy. I considered my options. I could repair the zipper. I could brazen out the rest of the day. I could sit on the toilet until everyone left for the evening. I could make a quick dash for home and hope no one noticed -- I had no meetings today, and nothing very pressing except my finishing my resume.
The preferred option was repair, with sneaking out and going home running a close second. I carefully examined the slide, and discovered that it was suprisingly complex. It consisted of three separate pieces -- the slide body that forced the teeth of the zipper together, the tiny handle, and an even tinier piece of spring metal that held the handle in one of two positions. I worked patiently for about 10 minutes, but the slide steadfastly refused to go back on the zipper.
I was absorbed by the challenge of solving a complex problem, and began to think of it as one of those periodic creativity contests that engineering schools have: you are given a cardboard box, a bag of chewing gum, 5 rubber bands, two coathangers, and sugar cube. Your assignment is to get the sugar cube across a lake, intact. I examined everything I had in my pockets for their potential as tools and materials -- pocket knife, coins, keys, and other odds and ends. Not much. Supreme creativity would be required...
I discovered that with my knife I could spread the sides of the slide enough to get it back on the zipper. Unfortunately, once spread it was too loose to make the teeth mesh. It needed to be slipped on to the zipper, then squeezed back together. Finger strength alone was not enough. I examined the coins, keys, knife and other available odds and ends, emptied my mind, and waited for an inspiration.
No one was in the bathroom but me, and the silence grew. I heard no dim sounds of conversation in the halls over the whisper of the air conditioning. It occured to me that I could probably make it back to my office undetected. I stood, buttoned my pants, tightened my belt, and examined the result. Things weren't too bad -- the gaping zipper didn't show unless I made a wrong move. I quickly left the stall, stepped across the hall into my office, locked the door, and sat down. My partially completed resume stared at me from the computer screen.
But this was obviously not the time to think of that. I needed a proper tool to complete the repair. Pliers would be perfect, but I knew there were none in my office. Phil down the hall had a tool box,though...
My first thought was to improvise pliers from scissors. With a quick experiment, however, I concluded that using scissors could be dangerous. They didn't provide the leverage of pliers, so I would have to use a great deal of hand strength. They didn't have flat surfaces to bear the load reliably, so there was a very real possibility of a catastrophic slip. The consequences could be serious.
I next considered pounding the slide back into shape. Using a heavy tape dispenser as an anvil, and heavy scissors as a hammer, I tried tapping the slide closed. It didn't work -- the scissors were as bad a hammer as they were pliers.
A thorough search of the office, checking every drawer and shelf and cluttered surface, revealed nothing that I could coerce into a useful tool, and extended consideration of the problem convinced me that I couldn't hope to make repairs without something like a pair of pliers. I really needed pliers.
Phil's toolbox. A temporary repair could get me to Phil's office.
With a couple of safety pins I could make a completely adequate temporary repair. Once again I scoured my entire office, looking for a safety pin. There were none. However, I had probably a hundred colorful pushpins holding up papers on my walls. I considered sliding some backing material down the front of my pants -- a piece of a mouse pad cut to shape with scissors would be perfect -- and use the pushpins to hold the zipper in place. But of course the brightly colored plastic would stand out like a sore thumb. If I could remove the plastic, and just use the little metal spike, perhaps that would work, and be unobtrusive enough. Maybe I coulde even use it as a substitute for a safety pin -- after all, tailors use straight pins, not safety pins.
But pushpins are remarkably tough. I was contemplating dismantling a power cord and using electricity to melt the plastic off, when I remembered the little pins that the older Pentel mechanical pencils have stuck in the underside of the eraser, normally used for cleaning out stuck leads. I had several of those old pencils in a drawer!
Of course, these pins were far from a safety pin, or even a straight pin. In fact, they didn't even have a head -- just a tiny, very sharp, apparently chrome plated, spike. A thought of the pain one could inflict gave me a moments hesitation. But no matter -- I would just have to be careful. I wove two of the tiny glittering spikes through the stiff cloth of the fly. They were barely long enough, but they held!
I tightened my belt, and, breathing shallowly to reduce the strain on the fragile repair, stepped outside, and casually walked down the hall to Phil's office.
"Say Phil, could I borrow a pair of pliers."
Phil pulled out giant plumbers pliers, appropriate for repairing steam lines on a locomotive. "Sure!", he said cheerfully.
He pulled out a perfect pair of needle nose pliers. "Whatcha want to use it for?"
"I'm having a little problem with my zipper".
"Sorry I asked," he replied, with a troubled look. I grabbed the needle nose pliers, flashed a weak grin, and retreated to my office.
At last, a proper tool! Within two minutes the zipper worked perfectly.
I turned to my resume and wrote "Toolsmith with legendary ability to forge creative solutions to intractable problems" under the "Other Qualifications" section.