Fixing cars and other gadgets liable to cause injury

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 15, 2002

&uot;Get away from that screwdriver, Allen! You don’t know anything about machinery.”

I heard that often while I was growing up on our farm. I was the family member who specialized in breaking things. I was very good at it. A regular Mozart of the maiming and mauling of machinery.

My gift kept others busy fixing them. When a piece of equipment broke, we did not run immediately to a mechanic. We tried to fix it ourselves. We made do. Or, I should say, my father and my brother made do.

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Oh, I tried to be handy with tools. I have skinned many a knuckle thanks to a treacherous wrench slipping off a nut. I listened to mechanically-gifted family members ask me, “Do you want to know the secret to fixing that?” I did want to know the secret, but I never really learned any of those well-guarded secrets. I did try to repair things. I was a proponent of percussive maintenance. That is a fancy term for beating a piece of equipment with a hammer until it either works or is broken beyond repair. I tried fixing an old automobile owned by a mortician once. The funeral conveyance refused to start. I worked on it with a mallet, until the undertaker told me to stop beating a dead hearse.

“Auto Repair For Dummies” and “Automobile Maintenance For Idiots” are much too advanced reading for me. I am waiting for the book, “Fixing Cars For Complete Morons.” I can talk about repairs, but it is like eating bologna. No matter where I stop, it is still bologna.

Through the years, I’ve learned a lot about fixing things. I’ve learned that I cannot fix things. Today, I am the kind of guy who makes it possible for a lot of repairmen to make a comfortable living. I serve a definite purpose. There would be no Mister Fix-Its without Mister No-Clues like me. A lot of people say that they know just enough to be dangerous. I may be the safest person on earth to be around. When I pick up an instruction manual, I am already in way over my head. You will never hear me on a televised game show saying, “Light engine repair for $500, Alex.” My Jeopardy subject would be “First aid techniques for would-be do-it-yourselfers.” I can do some things that are car-related. I can put in gas, windshield washer fluid and the ignition key.

Occasionally, I am able to drive a car without my wife telling me what to do next. I can almost parallel park. I once put on a bumper sticker without any assistance. I could change a tire. That is, if I knew where the spare tire is. I think it is under the box of my pickup. That is the perfect place for a spare tire &045; especially when you have a flat tire while you are wearing your Sunday go-to-meeting clothes. I have a lot of friends who I fondly refer to as “gear heads.” They are like a bunch of freelance Mister Goodwrenches flitting about the countryside saving ill motors from the mechanically impaired. I can look under the hood of a car. They can look under the hood of a car and almost immediately find something known as “the problem.”

“There’s your problem,” my friend said, exhibiting as much glee as a chocoholic finding a hidden stash of chocolate Easter Bunny ears. I look but I see no problem. All I see are a bunch of unknown vehicle parts mocking my ignorance. My brain feels as though it has fuzz around the edges as I try to glean understanding from my observations.

“Do you think it is the frammydeuce, the high-speed muffler belt or the discombobulated ferndoc that is causing the problem?” my gear head buddy asked me.

I felt like the dim-witted Lennie in John Steinbeck’s book, “Of Mice And Men.” I wanted to say, “Tell me about the rabbits, George.” “Yes,” was my mumbled reply. My friend could have heard me blush without straining an ear. I didn’t want to tell him what I had just learned while doing toaster repair with a butter knife. I discovered that while doing such major repairs, it is a good idea to unplug the toaster first. Yes, I am your handyman. It was a great lesson that I learned and one that I will not soon forget. Experiences like that are why I take my vehicle to the experts. That way, I know that if my pickup has a drip, I am it.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.