What did you give your wife for Chanukah this year? I gave mine a migraine.

I mean, that’s not what I wanted to get her. I wanted to get her a small, satisfying home-improvement project. My wife is into tools, and she likes jigsaw puzzles, so if I put those two concepts together, like maybe a new house part that she has to figure out how to fit into our house with all the existing house parts, that would be the perfect present, right?

It was more about the gesture, I think.

Basically, I wanted to get a bathroom exhaust fan, for sholom bayis reasons.

And some guys just get their wives jewelry. Be more original, amirite?

Our house actually did come with an exhaust fan in the bathroom, but it usually doesn’t work. It’s just for show. Though it’s not actually nice to look at. I do sometimes take it down to clean it out because that works for all the other fans in the house, but the fan unit is this solid, 20-lb. metal cylinder that I can’t get into, because it was created in the ‘70s, before they realized that people might want to occasionally clean their fans.

But in the course of removing the old fan from its casing, what I’ve found was that there’s an outlet up there. In the casing. Two prongs. So I figured that all I have to do is buy a new fan, take it out of the casing it comes with, and put it up in the old casing, which is already professionally installed in the ceiling as far as I know. This project wouldn’t have even required my wife. I was going to surprise her by just suddenly having a working fan. But that didn’t happen, so now I’m telling myself that the present is the project.

The first problem I came across was that they don’t actually sell any fans that are the same dimensions as the old one. And we have a plaster ceiling in our bathroom, so I don’t want to cut into that to make the hole bigger. If you cut into plaster, in our experience, you have to add that room to the top of your list of ceilings you have to replace.

So I figured I should buy a fan that’s smaller than the old one. The one I bought was smaller but still rated correctly for our size bathroom, and it cost $15. I figured we can do this ourselves, and if we can’t, we’re out 15 bucks.

First I tried installing it alone, while my wife was at work. But the issue, from my professional standpoint, was that it wasn’t as simple as just plugging it in. The newer, smaller fan’s wire could not reach the outlet inside the older fan’s casing, nor did the newer fan have anywhere to sit if it did. So I said, “Okay, I guess I have to get the old casing out and put in the new casing.” But the old casing had an outlet attached to it, and electrical work is not my forte. My wife isn’t afraid to do simple electrical work, though. She says it has a lot to do with turning off the appropriate switches in the basement before you start playing with any wires, and trusting that the people around you won’t turn them. Which means, basically, that she trusts me more than I trust her. Or it could be that, as a dad, I’ve done that joke so many times where I touch exposed wiring and pretend to be fatally electrocuted that I am now scared to actually touch wiring.

So I quickly put everything back together before she came home, considered returning the new fan and pretending this had all never happened, but then I decided to give it to her anyway, so she could understand how I could be home all day and still be behind on my work.

My wife agreed that we had to replace the casing, but her issue was that the new casing was too small for the existing hole in the ceiling.

So I said, “Better too small than too big, right?”

And she said, “Not if we have attic weather coming into our bathroom through a hole all year.”

So I suppose at this point, my wife could have said, “Eh, you tried.” But she didn’t. She got to work looking for a fan that fit the dimensions that cost more than the amount I was going to spend without consulting her. And if your wife urges you to get a more expensive version of the gift you originally gave her, I guess that means she likes your gift idea. Right?

But then she looked at some pictures and said, “Wait. All these new casings vent out from the side. Our old one vents out from the top.” So we figured we should remove our old casing from the ceiling to see what it was venting into up there and whether we could adapt that to accommodate a casing that vents out to the side.

We then spent an hour trying to get the old casing down, and at some point while I was pulling it down, small pieces of plaster raining around me, I was wondering if maybe someone had put the whole thing in from above. (From the attic. Not from Shomayim.)

And then we finally got it out, and I realized that they almost definitely had put it in from above, because I look up and I see: the attic. And I know it’s the attic, because I see boxes. Boxes I recognize.

We were pretty surprised to see the attic. I guess that logic as well as all evidence from our past projects could have told us there was not a secret area between the upstairs ceiling and the floor of the attic that led to a vent in the side of the house that we had never seen from the outside. But I guess we were hoping.

And apparently, the stuff falling on me, which I’d thought was plaster, was Baruch Hashem mostly not. It was attic insulation. We have blown-in insulation up there, which is a kind of insulation where it looks like someone stuck an entire sofa through a wood chipper and blew the pieces into your attic. And they get everywhere. I’m always finding them on top of the boxes that I bring down, which makes no sense, because this stuff is all supposedly between the beams in the floor of the attic. And now also all over my bathroom.

I think bathroom fans supposed to have a hose or something, right? Is it supposed to just vent up at the floor above? I assume not, or apartment buildings would be a nightmare.

But everything in our house had just been blowing upward. Apparently, every time we turn the fan on, all the smells are getting blown up there, and all the shower fog, and the result is that all our insulation is just swirling around the attic. That might explain why I’m always finding insulation on top of the boxes.

But the point is that now we HAD to get a new fan. We were not putting the old one back in. And we definitely didn’t want to get something smaller than the hole, or we’d get a shower of couch-cushion stuffing blowing into the bathroom every time someone turned on the fan. Because new ones blow sideways!

But we did realize that we could buy something bigger than the hole, because we technically didn’t have to cut the hole and make it bigger. I just had to schlep the new casing up through the attic – which is a crawl-space at its highest point – along that single-file path that I have up there between the boxes, and make it to the far reaches of the attic, where it’s not a crawl space so much as it’s a shimmy space – for maybe a really skinny guy named Shimmy – where the roof is maybe six inches above the insulation, and where there IS no single file path ready-made for the last several feet because I figured it’s not tall enough for me to crawl there anyway. So for that last stretch, I have to move forward by constantly picking up huge boxes from in front of me and placing them behind me, which is not easy in a single-file crawlspace with a really low roof, and entails basically lying down and passing the boxes over myself toward my feet, while also being careful to keep the casing in front of me, as well as a construction light that is plugged in downstairs through an extension cord that I do not want to unplug by accident while passing boxes over myself. Because my wife shining a flashlight up through the hole into my face is not as helpful as she thinks. And then I get to lie down face first in the breath-in insulation and hope I didn’t forget to bring any of the tools I need to install the casing unless they’re small enough that my wife can throw them up to me through the hole. Like a tissue box. And once I’m done, I’m going to feed the wires through to my wife, who’s going to attach them and install the fan in the casing, despite that she usually has me be the one to reach the ceiling.

And my wife says that I’m hard to shop for.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.