Handy as I Wanna Be: A Novel with Tools!


Meet Vinnie Agita -- the Raging Bull of Home Repair, the Hunka-Hunka Handy Love, and all around Godfather of Do-It-Yourself-Soul. If you've ever had an uncontrollable urge to grout the bathroom tiles ... if you've ever said "don't call a plumber, honey -- let me handle this!"...then you'll see goggle-to-goggle with Vince Rause's outrageous alter ego in Handy As I Wanna Be.

Here are the hilarious and poignantly obsessive yearnings of a Handyman's Everyman, a humble guy who hasn't...

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Meet Vinnie Agita -- the Raging Bull of Home Repair, the Hunka-Hunka Handy Love, and all around Godfather of Do-It-Yourself-Soul. If you've ever had an uncontrollable urge to grout the bathroom tiles ... if you've ever said "don't call a plumber, honey -- let me handle this!"...then you'll see goggle-to-goggle with Vince Rause's outrageous alter ego in Handy As I Wanna Be.

Here are the hilarious and poignantly obsessive yearnings of a Handyman's Everyman, a humble guy who hasn't met a home repair project he didn't have to tackle. Vinnie Agita's tool-intensive tale is a marvel of handydom packed with excellent, practical home repair advice, which has prompted critics to proclaim, "It's riveting, magnetic -- will lock you in with the power of its viselike grip!"

Well, not really.

Vinnie is a man whose life revolves around two great passions: his bottomless love for his wife -- the luminously beautiful but increasingly irritable Angela -- and his tireless quest to push the limits of home repair to the ridiculous extreme. For Vinnie, handiness is no hobby -- it's a gestalt, a defining credo. In his own words, "It's the halogen worklamp that brightens the long dark night of the soul."

For Angie, it's more like a big, throbbing pain in the keister.

That's because misadventures plague Vinnie -- he is falsely arrested while trying to break into his own home (testing his new home security system); he innocently mistakes a holy man's ashes for Portland cement, and he takes out the neighbor's garden gnomes with a few misfires from a lethal nail gun.

Things finally come to a head on the day when longsuffering Angela returns from the hair salon to find her home nestledbeneath the bloated latex loins of a three-story inflatable chicken plundered from the Thanksgiving Day parade. At Angie's insistence, Vinnie consults a shrink, Dr. Nick, the one person who may help him get in touch with his wounded "inner handyman" and win back the woman he loves.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Clever in theory but clunky in execution, this patently contrived tale of an ill-fated amateur Mr. Fix-It could use some repair work of its own. Unemployed (but apparently fiscally secure), Vinnie Agita is an obsessive-compulsive stay-at-home with an expensive "handyman" habit. Attempting to improve a pneumatic nail gun, he instead demolishes a neighbor's treasured legion of concrete garden gnomes. His wife, Angie, resorts to tough love in an attempt to cure Vinnie's handymania. Banned from the hardware store, banished from the bedroom and sworn not to even think of fixing anything but the disfigured gnomes now in his basement, Vinnie seeks the help of psychotherapist Nicholas J. Ruffalfalo. But when Vinnie cons the doctor into letting him repair a small water stain on his office ceiling, his addiction goes out of control. The hijinks accumulate: Vinnie loses his memory and is captured by Robert Bly-esque "wild men of the woods," while his well-intentioned shrink takes refuge with the Superegomaniacs, a biker gang composed entirely of "renegade analysts." From power washers to belt sanders to the chemical arsenal of a termite exterminator, Rause's would-be burlesque seems designed to incorporate everything in the tool section of the Sears catalogue. Vinnie's first-person narration includes the nervously jokey guy-talk, and the gouts of mechanical detail, one expects of a real-life hardware boor. Straining for laughs, and obsessed with modern, middle-class, masculine foibles, these exploits include flashes of thigh-slapping brilliance, but most are no funnier than Hints from Heloise. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel about obsessive household handyman who drives his wife to distraction. Most women have to nag their husbands to fix the doorbell or replace a worn washer in the bathtub faucet, but there are sins of commission, too—and Vinnie Agita provides a casebook study of them. An all-weather tinkerer with his brains in his fingers, Vinnie's head has room for only two obsessions: his love for his wife Angie, and his never-ending improvement schemes. It can certainly make life easier to live with someone who knows how to stop a toilet tank from sweating, but now Vinnie's schemes are getting more and more grandiose, prompting him to tear up the entire back yard, for example, to see how far down the ugly concrete patio installed by the previous owner really goes. Later, he decides to test the security of his home in the most natural way he can imagine—by trying to break into it in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, he keeps his brainstorm a secret from Angie, who calls the cops and has him booked for prowling. Once she realizes her mistake, of course, she straightens things out with the law—but only on the condition that Vinnie seek professional help (and not for his carpentry, either). How can a real man like Vinnie be expected to get on a couch for 50 minutes a week without fixing the upholstery? Vinnie's shrink Nick Ruffalfalo quickly sees the shape of things and works out a novel scheme: he and Vinnie will renovate Nick's house together. Between wiring, plastering, painting, and sanding, Nick comes to know Vinnie pretty well, and by the time they're done Vinnie has traced the roots of his obsession as clearly as a circuit diagram. Will everything hold uponce they've finished their work together? Well, there's no guarantee like good workmanship. Good-natured fun, but a bit too cute for comfort: a clever idea that gets played out way before story's end.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671032845
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 6/28/1999
  • Pages: 278
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.77 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Table of Contents

Demolition Man
The Vision Thing
My Hardware Guy, Phil
Mrs. Plumpton's Gnomes
Raging Bull
Ohmm Sweet Ohmm
The Shaky Table
Breaking and Entering
Dr. Nick
Young, Handy, and in Love
Bizarro Vinnie
Vinnie Goes Macro
Regis the Mailman
Vinnie "The Tool" Agita
The Inkblot
The Miracle Worker
Farewell, Dino
A Night to Remember
Wild-Man Weekend
Beef Jerky
Vinnie's Inferno
Little Vinnies Everywhere
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First Chapter

Chapter Six: Ohmm Sweet Ohmm

One week later I stood at the bedroom window, watching glumly as a late-afternoon cloudburst unleashed its watery fury and turned my little backyard into a sodden bog of broken dreams.

"Another washout," said Angie, patting me gently on the back.

"The backyard's a quagmire," I said. "It's been raining all week. I'll never get to work on my backyard project. Damn El Niño."

"The sun will come out soon," Angie replied as she headed for the master bath.

"It's been so long since I did anything handy," I said, sighing.

"Fix the gnomes," she mumbled as she buttered up her toothbrush and scrubbed at her incisors.

Inwardly, I cringed. "I'd love to," I lied, "but I had to order a special high-tech gnome adhesive, and I can't start until it arrives."

Ange pulled the toothbrush from her mouth and shot me a warning scowl. "Remember our deal," she said. "No new handy projects until the backyard is finished."

"But, Ange," I protested, gesturing toward the rain.

"A deal is a deal," she said. "No new handy projects. Now get dressed, I don't want to be late for the party."

Ange was dragging me to the grand opening of a local New Age bookshop -- Ohmm Sweet Ohmm, it's called -- which is run by her cousin Gina. She didn't come out and say it, but I think she was hoping I'd find some inner peace, and maybe a less disruptive hobby, there among all the crystals and the incense and the spiritual wisdom of the ages. Being scandalously unhip to the New Age scene -- except for that beefy phone bill I've run up with the Psychic Friends Network -- I wasn't sure what I was getting into, so I sulked the whole time we were in the car.

But I h the man who microwaved the alternative holiday CD I brought to Uncle Mario's party last December."

"You can't prove that was me," I said, though of course it was. I cooked it good, and I gotta tell you, I savor the moment still -- watching through the little microwave window as A Very Druid Christmas rotated slowly, curling at the edges and steaming like a potato chip just out of the fryer.

"Sixteen bucks that CD cost me," carped Gina. "I'd just bought it that day."

"Oh, sorry," I commiserated, "and you only got to play it, what, twenty-seven times in a row?"

Gina scowled, then lifted a tiny bottle from the Aromatherapy rack and handed it to Angie.

"It's petunia oil," she said. "A natural tension reliever. Say there's a constant, grating, unavoidable irritation in your immediate environment. This stuff numbs the nerve ends and soothes away stress. I can get it to you in fifty-five-gallon drums."

Then Gina led Angie off to have her aura photographed, and I was left to browse. I listened to tapes of whales singing. I looked at books about angelic intercessions and ancient Navajo rites. There was a discussion on herbal remedies, some Reiki massage, some regression therapy, and a big silver plate of plump miniature weenies.

My first stop was at the Books of Wisdom table, where I saw featured works by Carl Jung, Lao-Tzu, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Black Elk, the famous medicine man of the Oglala Sioux.

"Can I help you?" asked a nice young neo-hippie, type clerk named Monica. I wasn't really looking to buy, but I figured, what the heck, a good book is always worth the money. "What have you got by the Amazing Kreskin?" I inquired.

Monica smiled and said she'd go check, but twenty minutes later she had not returned, so I decided to mingle. The place was packed with all sorts of interesting-looking people, and being a congenitally gregarious type, I tried to strike up relevant conversations with random passers-by.

"Hey," I'd offer, "how about that Shroud of Turin? Like to have some bath towels hold up that well, know what I'm saying?"

But that got me nowhere, so I walked over to the folks at the Miracle of Hemp booth and tried to break the ice with a joke.

"Hey," I cried, "have any of you guys heard about this new, simplified Eastern religion for people who can't handle the transcendent subtleties of Buddhism? It's called, 'Gee, I Can't Believe It's Not Buddha'!"

Ba-Da-Bing! Nothing.

Then a shapely priestess of the Wicca religion draped in sheer, gauzy robes happened by, and in what I thought was an inspired "Wayne's World" takeoff, I thrust my hips comically in her direction while shouting, "Feng-shui! Feng-shui!"

That's when the security guy started eyeballing me, so I decided to move along to the Near Death Experience exhibit, but as I walked toward the lecture hall I spotted a stairway leading down to what was clearly a small basement workshop.

I had a decision to make: To my left was documented evidence of spiritual immortality; to my right, a chance to fool with somebody else's tools.

Well, I figured, heaven can wait.

As it turned out, Gina's tool kit was skimpy, but she had a nice big worktable and plenty of storage space. What caught my eye, though, was the network of hairline cracks riddling the masonry foundation walls. Tiny cracks like these pose no structural danger, of course, but left unattended, they can give moisture and insects easy access to your home. So I decided, what with the new millennium and all, that I'd bury the hatchet with Gina and magnanimously fix all the cracks.

It's a simple job. First, you widen the crack with an old chisel or flat-bladed screwdriver, then you give the crack a stiff wire-brushing to chase out all the debris. When the prep work's done, you mix up a batch of patching mortar (ask at the hardware store for the right stuff for the job), moisten the crack with a little water, press some mortar into the crack, then smooth it over with a trowel.

Problem was, I was far from my trusty tools, and I had to make do with what Gina had on hand. I couldn't find a chisel, but I did dig up what looked like a petrified walrus tusk (probably an Inuit good-luck trinket), which performed quite nicely as a scraper, and an Iroquois headdress made from a porcupine pelt, with which I scrubbed the little crevasses clean. In minutes, all the cracks were gouged out and ready for mortar.

But a vigorous search of the storage area turned up no mortar whatsoever, and I was about to make a quick hardware store run, when I spotted, on the worktable, an ornate metal box filled with a gray, cementatious powder. I sifted the powder through my fingertips. It felt right. I mixed in a little water. The consistency looked good. I pulled a credit card from my wallet and used it as a putty knife to slather some of the paste into one of the cracks on the wall. It went on like a dream: good adhesion, excellent finish qualities.

So I set to work in earnest, and in less than half an hour, I had patched over most of the cracks. That's when the two monks in saffron robes came down the stairs. They walked to the worktable. They furiously glanced around.

"Wherever is the Baba?" asked the short one.

"On this I cannot say," replied the taller guy. "Here is the very spot exactly upon which I placed him."

I cleared my throat to let them know I was there. "I've been down here half an hour," I said. "Haven't seen your friend Bubba."

The monks turned to face me. They gasped when they saw the metal box in my hand. The short monk fainted. The tall one pointed at the box and began to shriek. "Stop immediately without delay! Whatever are you thinking in your mind to be doing such a thing!?"

"I'm sorry," I said. "Is this your mortar?"

"You are a blundering idiot without question!" cried the tall monk. "That is not mortar of any sort, certainly. It is the ashes of the Great Baba with which you are horribly plastering the wall!"

"Come again?"

"The Baba! Our spiritual leader whose ashes were to be enshrined today in this place of enlightenment where the faithful could revere him always. Now it is not possible to revere him at all, as you have reduced him to a very sad glob of pasty mud and pressed him so tightly into these tiny cracking places!!!"

I set down the mortar, shook the goo from my fingers, and gave the monk an apologetic shrug. "You wouldn't have a Kleenex?" I inquired.

The monk gasped in horror, then ran upstairs. Working frantically, I scooped as much of the Baba as I could out of the wall cracks and pressed him back into the pretty little box. Then I went upstairs, where I found the angry monk whispering to a glaring crowd of surly true believers, and tried to calm things down.

"Okay," I said, holding up the box, "the Baba is back in his final resting place. Most of him, anyway."

An ugly murmuring spread through the c rowd, and someone pointed at my lapel, where a small gray dollop of Baba resided. I scooped up the blob with a fingertip and scraped it into the box, wiped my finger on my pants, then gently placed the little casket on a nearby table, beside the Pyramid Power display. I'm sure everyone noticed, as I did, that the box was slowly leaking.

"Okay," I advised, "he's going to be a little soupy for a while, so I'd give him a good twenty-four hours to cure. But once he sets up," I said, "he's good for eternity."

The crowd began inching forward. The incensed monk was leading the way. "You have desecrated the memory of the Baba," he said.

"Hey, whoa, hold on there, folks," I pleaded. "Let's not forget, we are all one. We're all seekers of wisdom and peace. I mean, what would the Baba do if he was in your shoes?"

"What did he say?" asked someone in the crowd.

"He says he has Baba on his shoes!!" someone answered.

"Defiler!" someone shouted. "Ghoul!" cried someone else.

They were backing me into a corner now, cutting off all routes of escape, and I realized, as I hastily scanned the crowd, that they were arming themselves as they advanced. Some snatched heavy crystal balls from display racks. Others picked up ceremonial Apache tomahawks, or the long wooden-headed drumsticks Chinese sorcerers use to smack their big brass gongs. I retreated slowly, groping behind me as they backed me into a corner and up against the Aromatherapy rack.

Then an idea struck me. I whirled around and frantically searched the display case until I found an economy-size bottle of just what I needed. I screwed off the lid and doused the crowd with the fragrant liquid inside.

"Ewwwwww," someone complained, "what was that stuff?"

"That's petunia oil," I replied. "It soothes the spirit. So breathe deep. In no time, you people will all be your old, mellow, placid selves again, and we'll be able to talk this over sensibly."

There was silence, then a chorus of guffaws.

"Right," shouted someone in the back of the mob, "like we buy that aromatherapy bull for like a minute."

They laughed hilariously for a moment, then they continued their slow advance. I had to think clearly. Whatever was about to converge, would converge on me, and it would not be harmonic. My only chance was the time-tested tactic of diversion.

"Look!" I said, pointing to the rear of the room. "It's Yanni!"

The crowd gasped and turned as one, and in that split second I dashed past them like a church mouse scurrying along the baseboard; then I darted through a set of double doors and hauled ashes toward daylight.

The mob recovered quickly and gave chase, but thanks largely to the prominent gluteus maximus muscles that are the hereditary hallmark of the Agita clan, they were no match for me in the open field. I pulled away easily as I vaulted the serene Japanese sand garden and splashed through the miniature Zen reflection pool. Then I hotfooted it through the fire walkers' workshop, bolted out the back door, and sprinted straight home.

It was already dark when Angela walked in an hour later.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" she said. "Gina almost had a riot on her hands."

"I was just trying to help," I answered. "How was I supposed to know that was a holy man's cremated remains? I mean, they basically had him in an ashtray."

"You were trespassing in Gina's workshop," said Ange.

"I was doing her a favor."

"You were meddl ing where you didn't belong."

"Like I begged you to take me there."

"I should be able to take you places," she said. "And I shouldn't have to worry that you'll sneak off and start getting handy. This is just another case of these crazy handy impulses causing problems."

"That's an exaggeration."

"How about the Buttermans' party last month?" Angie said. "You got bored and disappeared for an hour?"

"They had paint crumbling from the old wainscoting in the bathroom," I said. "It could have been lead based, they have small kids...I saw a handy need."

"So you sanded it all down to bare wood and slapped on a fresh coat of primer...."

"Took me forty-five minutes, tops."

"But the paint wasn't old and it wasn't lead based, was it? It wasn't even flaking. It was crackled. An antiquing technique. The Buttermans paid a lot of money to have a decorative artist create that effect by hand."

"And you approve of that?" I asked.

"The Buttermans have excellent taste," said Angie.

"It's a perversion of handy values," I said, "this alarming trend toward intentionally making things look distressed and decrepit -- faux crackled paint, faux crumbling plaster, faux dingy woodwork. I mean, what's next, faux termite infestations? Faux leaky toilets?"

Ange crossed her arms and silently drummed her fingers on her forearms.

"I want you to call Gina and apologize," she said.

"Apologize?" I complained. "I was almost lynched."

"Are you going to call her?"

"Absolutely not," I said.

Angie's glare was withering.

"Well, let me sleep on it, okay?"

"Fine," said Ange, storming up the staircase, "but you aren't sleeping anywhere near me." Moments later, pillows, sheets, and blankets came tumbling down the steps.

"Sweet dreams!" she shouted as she slammed the bedroom door.

Wearily, I gathered up the bedclothes and trudged off to the den, but there I found Alphonse, my beloved cat, stretched out blissfully on the sofa in deep feline slumber. I poked his pudgy stomach, but he didn't rouse. I tapped him on the head. He only rolled to his side, stretched luxuriously, and began to softly snore.

I couldn't bear to disturb him, so I dragged myself off to the basement and bedded down on the lumpy old sofa over by the Maytag. But I knew I wouldn't sleep. I never sleep well when Ange isn't near me. I miss her soft heft on the mattress beside me; I miss the gentle heave of her sleeping body as she rolls lightly from side to side; I miss the cute little nasal clicks she emits, like the call of a baby dolphin, when the room air gets too dry....

Plus, I had to share the basement with that horrific throng of damaged gnomes, which were scattered across the floor like a battalion of diminutive war wounded, waiting for triage. I know they're just made of plaster, but seriously, some of those severed heads looked like they were really holding a grudge.

Copyright © 1999 by Vince Rause

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