I was one of those obnoxious kids who coasted through his education by putting in virtually zero work, getting mostly Bs, some Cs, and the occasional fluke A. I remember one particular college final for an art history class that I habitually slept through. I never once cracked open the book until—this is true—a half-hour before the final. I studied my face off for those 30 minutes, and because it was all so fresh in my mind, I waltzed through the test. I think I got an 89.

This is a terrible way to live, but it's generally served me pretty well. Nowadays the only things I have to bother to learn are grownup-y things like how to shuffle debt around on different credit cards. So when my kitchen sink started shrieking, I was like, "I got this. Piece of cake. How hard can it be?"

To be fair, my kitchen sink wasn't exactly broken. But a loud, high-pitched whine would emit from the tap along with a medium-sized dribble of water. I'd turn on the tap and: "EEEEEEEEEEEEEE." It was ignorable, for the most part, but seemed easily fixable. A loose, vibrating washer, perhaps, or a connection that needed to be adjusted. When I fixed it, I imagined, I would also discover a simple way to increase the water flow.

So I turned, as I usually do, to the world's most valuable book: the 1986 edition of Reader's Digest's How to Do Just About Anything. I got it for free at the dump. In capsule-sized articles, this magnificent tome contains all the information you'll ever need to know, from first aid to insulating your house to how to make mayonnaise.

The article on "faucets" was a few paragraphs long. I read it... and didn't understand a fucking word. Was mine a "stem" faucet or a "single-lever" faucet? Uh... single lever. "When repair is needed," Reader's Digest advised, "a kit of replacement parts or a whole new cartridge must be purchased to fit the specific faucet. Detailed assembly instructions are included with the kits." In other words: "Yeah, we don't know how to fix your sink. Read the manual."

Since my house didn't come with a sink manual, and since I had no idea what style or brand of faucet it was, I tossed the worthless book aside, turned off the water beneath the sink, and dismantled the tap.

This was a mistake. Before long I had a small collection of tiny sink pieces rolling around on the kitchen counter. I didn't find a loose washer. I didn't see any parts I recognized. I couldn't figure out a way to put it back together that would eliminate the scream, or increase the flow of water. In fact, I couldn't figure out a way to put it back together, period.

It took a long time and a lot of curse words to reassemble that faucet. Every step was a stab in the dark: Does this thingy go here? Does that gewgaw go inside of that? It's "righty tighty," right? How much is this disaster going to cost me when the plumber shows up?

Eventually, I seemed to have all the pieces more or less together, without any parts left over. I twisted the water valve back on, lifted the tap, and...

No shriek. Quiet as a mouse.

Learning is so fucking easy, you guys.