by Ruby Samuels
If you walk through the unmarked door and narrow stairs of Brooklyn Commons on the first Wednesday of any month, you will find at least one pro bono fixer waiting for New York’s broken objects to arrive.
This is the Fixers’ Collective, a group of hobbyists who fix and repurpose the objects of everyday life. The group was founded in response to the Great Recession of 2008 by Tammy Pittman and David Mahfouda, enthusiasts who want to teach people how to fix things for themselves. Originally, the collective met in Proteus Gowanus, a now closed art space in Brooklyn, where it attracted fixers from the Maker movement and other subcultures organized around DIY and resource sharing agendas.
Now, the Fixers’ Collective meets once a month at Brooklyn Commons, a “movement-building space” where the wifi password is “compost” and the groups who meet there are often Marxist. They also meet monthly at Hack Manhattan, a makerspace on 14th street.
On this particular Wednesday, the only fixer present is Vincent Lai, a grocer by day who hopes to monetize his handy hobby soon. Vincent embodies his passion for repurposed materials via his Harry Potter-esque glasses, which are held together with plastic that he melted himself. His expected partner for the night (a college professor by day, Project Runway tech engineer by night and pro bono fixer in the wee hours) cancelled last minute.
From 7 to 9 pm we watch Vincent take apart the broken computer we’ve brought in, leaning in to examine every aspect of the gutted machine as others walked awkwardly into the room holding defunct devices. With a mixture of obscure technological terminology and dad jokes, Vincent gives everyone a sense that their objects are safe in his hands.
When a disheveled woman comes in with an antique plant-shaped lamp that she purchased at a yard sale 20 years ago, everyone watches in fascination as he tinkers with it for a few minutes, screws in a new socket and bulb and turns it on to fill the room with circulating rainbow polka dots. “The disco bulb is our tester,” he says with a grin.
Although we brought in a laptop that really needed fixing, it seems as though most of the people visiting this Wednesday have come more out of curiosity than urgency. One woman comes in with a super 8 camera that her parents found gathering dust in their garage; another man brought in an old light meant for an aquarium that he no longer uses.
Whatever the outcome for a device, being part of a late night fixing session is exciting. The idea that there are people out there who want to know how the things that we use every day work is hopeful. The fixers mission, as stated on their website, is to “increase material literacy in our community by fostering an ethic of creative caring toward the objects in our lives.”
With more creative caring comes more self-sufficiency, more art and less waste. Plus, who doesn’t want to meet someone whose face lights up when confronted with your broken computer?