Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Homo Ineptus

You're killing me here. ~ Bob Vila to a contractor breaking the bad news to him.

Hi, my name is John, and I am mechanically inept.

I am the guy that car companies put “OIL” on the dipstick for. I don't know a crosscut saw from a rip saw. For that matter, I don't know a crosscut saw from a chrome reverse ashtray. I can turn any 15 minute job into a four hour descent into Hell. If Homo Habilis was the “handy man”, I am Homo Ineptus, the klutzy man.

I try, Lord knows, I try. I read the directions to assemble that bookshelf over and over, yet somehow still manage to skip step 34, leaving a gaping Slot 12 into which should have gone Thingy F. Doors that should close smartly thanks to their Swedish adjustable hinges (as seen on This Old House), sag outward and a little to the right, no matter how must I adjust. I used to be able to hook up a TV (plug in, turn on) until it involved audio/video hookups, connections to the VCR, DVD, and satellite receiver. Now, if I'm lucky, the remote for the CD player doesn't turn on the TV ... and the CD player isn't even connected to the TV!

Oh, sure, there a few things I can manage without injuring myself or the equipment. I can change a light bulb, although fluorescents can be a challenge. I can check the oil in most anything and actually add just the right amount of oil if it's low. I can add air to the tires on my car, ending up, believe it or not, with more air in the tires at the end than when I started. I can even (hold on to your socket wrenches) replace my windshield wipers! It took me around 20 years to figure out how to do it, but, by Binford, I can do it!

I come by this ineptitude honestly. My father could take any working engine and render it into a useless pile of metal within minutes. He wasn't big on maintenance, either. I can promise you that I didn't learn my oil-checking skills from him. Back in those bygone days, you drove into a gas station, and a fellow came out and pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield, and checked your oil. This last was always embarrassing.

“Uh, sir, when was the last time you had your oil changed.”

“Oh, not long ago, “ Dad would say, which translated meant, “Sometime since the late Jurassic.”

“Well, you might want to do it soon, because your oil looks like peanut butter. Chunk style.”

In those days of 30-cents per gallon gas, and 50-cents per quart oil, we had a deal. When I borrowed the car, I paid for the gas, and he paid for the oil.

Besides being mechanically inept, I am congenitally clumsy, so while screwing up I can generally manage to hurt myself as well. Put together, these have convinced my wife that she should prevent any interaction between me and any tools that can cut, pinch, poke, or generally maim. As a rule, whenever I say I'm going to fix, refurbish, or build anything, she says, “Oh, dear, you work so hard during the week,” then she'll do it herself or bug my son Stephan to do it. I suppose I should appreciate this, but my ego is sorely wounded, because my son tends to do a good job once he sets his mind to do something. So when I go to check out his work, I can't even pretend that I could have done it better.

To show just how pathetic it is, I got a new toy today that came sealed in that heat-sealed-forever packaging. So, I had my scissors, knives, crosscut saws (or was it a chrome reverse ashtray?) all laid out and was just commencing to hack my way in, when Stephan went by the door. “Oh, God! Stop that now, Dad. Give me that before you hurt yourself!”, he said, proceeding to expertly cut his way into the package without harming the contents.

Geez, I only nicked myself once. You’d think he’d never seen blood before.

But there are certain tools, like chainsaws, that my wife and even my son are scared to use. So when a tree has to come down, it's up to me. Not to say that my son doesn't offer to take an ax to the tree, ("No problem, Dad, it'll just take me a couple of days") but I won't have it. So fare I've kept all my extremeties, but I must say that it's hard to concentrate with my son holding the phone with 911 on speed dial, and my wife sitting in the car, our medical insurance card in one hand, the keys in the other.

Bob Vila's wife and kids wouldn't act like that.

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