Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Adventures in masculinity
This morning Janet greeted me with some bad news: “There’s a big branch down in our backyard,” she said. “We’ll have to buzzsaw it and bring it around front for pickup.”
“Why don’t we just haul it around front without doing any ‘buzzsawing’?” I asked.
“Because,” she said, pointing out the window and directing my attention to a “branch” the size of a small tree in itself, about forty feet long, with many subsidiary branches and a trunk the circumference of my chest.
“Holy Jesus,” I said. “Hey, are you sure it’s our branch? I think the last four inches of that thing are actually in our neighbor’s yard.”
“Jerk,” Janet replied.
We’ve had a couple of severe summer storms lately, and we have an old tree out back that’s about sixty feet tall and six thousand years old, but I’ve never seen anything like this. And I’ve never used a chainsaw, either. I pointed this out to Janet, who, I fear, occasionally forgets that she is married to me and lapses into thinking she is married to one of her three sisters’ husbands/ boyfriends, all of whom Fix Things (and one of whom not only Fixes Things but plays a world-class sax). This is not a coincidence; it is an integral part of the Lyon Family Plan. I recall very well the day in 1985 when I filled out the paperwork that would grant Lyon Family permission for me to marry Janet; when I got to question four, What form of manual dexterity or mechanical skill will you bring to the family? I wrote, “typing speed greater than 90 wpm.” Her parents and siblings laughed long and hard at this, before modulating subtly into mockery and derision.
Anyway, back to the branch. “How about we call a tree service?” I asked.
“How about you don’t be such a big baby?” Janet shot back.
So off we went to United Rental, where the Real Men who know how to operate chainsaws showed me how to step on the handle, open the choke, pull the whatsis and turn ‘er over. I was advised on how to cut according to the direction the branch will fall when severed, and I was shown the “safety shield” that I could tip forward with my left hand if the need arose. “Now, when you’re working with thick branches,” the Real Man said, “the chain will stick now and then. When that happens you need to glorf den thrabel noz kerwinder flix. . . .” Actually, I’m not sure what the hell he said after that, because the minute I heard that the chain saw could jam in the wood and would need to be glorfed etc., I remembered the size of that branch and decided I was calling a tree service. But I didn’t admit that to the folks at United Rental.
On the short ride home, Janet could tell that I’d made up my mind to keep all my fingers for typing. “We could give it a try, at least,” she said.
“Yes, and we could have the treat of having our department head announce in September that I have resigned the Care of Magical Creatures post in order to spend more time with my remaining limbs.” I did, however, walk over to the fallen branch, chainsaw in hand, prepared to attempt cutting a few smaller branches as warmups, when Janet thankfully called the whole thing off on the perfectly reasonable grounds that if we couldn’t get through the big stuff, we wouldn’t be able to carry the wood out to the front. Now, only one question remained: how long should I keep the chainsaw in order to pretend that I’d actually used it?
Two hours, I decided. Total cost of the day’s exercise in humiliation, fifty dollars.
So don’t let the brand-new beard and the weekend hockey career fool you. I am useless when it comes to behemoth fallen branches, except perhaps if you need someone to write about them (someone who can type really fast!). Fallen branches, broken furniture, electrical mishaps, mechanical failures—don’t even bother calling me. I am a total wuss.
But I am developing a whole new school of criticism and interpretation around this total wussness. I will call it “wuss theory.”
Speaking of which, I have an essay on summer leisure and summer anxiety in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education. But I see that it’s for subscribers only—and I wonder just how many Chronicle subscribers know how to operate chainsaws.
UPDATE: The essay is now free! free! Apparently the Chronicle editors chainsawed it loose from the “premium” site.