The Life of a Mechanical Idiot

Evidence #1: I don’t remember if I was 6 or 18. The older I was, the more pathetic this story is, so let’s say 8. It was probably 14. My father, his father, and I stood in front of the garage across the road from the family’s cabin up north. Something needed building, and it was a three-person job. I fetched tools, and when I didn’t know which one it was that had been requested (for a big chunk of years the whole pliers/wrench division was pretty hazy for me), I brought an assortment. Then, the thing being built required two pieces of wood nailed together, and my dad looked at me and said, “Why don’t you take care of that.”

Well, holy hell.

This was not just the bonding of two pieces of wood with a sharp piece of metal. This was a pivotal opportunity to prove my manhood to my dad, and to prove to my grandpa how good of a job his son had done in raising a strong, skilled boy who was more than capable of hitting a nail firmly in a downward motion so as to drive it into the wood. I found a hammer and squared my shoulders. Dad crouched down next to me, and grandpa leaned forward with his hands on his knees. I breathed deep and visualized my stroke. I kept my eye on the nail.

I missed with the first hit, and hit my thumb with the second. I finally made contact with the third and bent the nail sideways, and kept hammering until dad wrestled the hammer away from me. He asked for a needle nose pliers. I brought him a vice grip.

Evidence #2: My wife and I bought a house, and I wanted to make my mark, a tiny mark, barely noticeable, but something I could point out to all the friends and relatives who would eventually stop by for tours. I tried installing a shelf. “Oh yeah, you see that shelf? That was me. I put that up.” It was a glass corner shelf in the bathroom. Screw the two metal pieces into the wall (which had to be level, for all of you who have never installed a shelf), then slide the glass piece into the slots. Can’t get much easier than that.

Except one of the screws would not go into the wall. I tried my drill, and then a screwdriver, then swearing, then throwing things, then squinty-eyed rage. Behind the wall was either the chimney or some ductwork or an undiscovered vein of pure titanium. I got so mad I had to take a walk.

When I got back, I pushed the glass into the slots, one side with only one screw. The bastard held lotion just fine until we moved.

Evidence #3: I am smart, and I can learn, so I just needed practice. Right? Careful thought and analysis can solve any problem. So when the guy at Sears asked if I wanted them to install the new garage door opener, I laughed. “Are you kidding? Do I look like one of those types of guys? No, no. No no no. I can handle that myself.”

I got the garage door opener installed. And it worked. It only took me eight hours, the first day. Seven hours the second day. And three hours the next evening to get the stupid little sensors aligned. Totally worth it.

Conclusion: I was bad at mechanical stuff. I did not possess that type of intelligence. My dad tried to teach me, and I was a terrible pupil. When I was a kid the Star Wars universe books offered far more excitement than learning the difference between a “nut” and a “bolt.” But I know that now. Bolts are like screws, but flat instead of pointy. Nuts are the round things that screw onto bolts. Try me. I know what washers are, too.

There are throngs of dudes and ladies out there who are like me. They get their first houses and all of sudden choosing a choir class over a tech ed class in high school becomes the stupidest decision they ever made, if you exclude the choir trip to Winnipeg on the big coach bus where they sat next to so-and-so and played you-know-what and it was AWESOME. Just to be clear, I am not offering to help with anyone’s projects. To all of you, staring at your tilted shelves and loose wires and leaky faucets and exposed studs, I just want to say, you can do it. Check Youtube and take a deep breath.

My project this summer was to update our basement. I installed laminate flooring on one wall, painted, replaced the light fixtures, built a department store storage cube piece, hung the pictures, picked new furniture, and it looks frickin’ amazing. Next week I’m going to install some gutters. I’ve replaced toilets, faucets, outlets, installed laminate tile flooring, and I’m still a home improvement novice, but I’ve got a solid pile of mechanical skill points chalked up, and I can name every tool in my workbench. Okay. Most of them.

Eric RasmussenEssay