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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.

Posted by on 07/27 at 03:56 PM
  1. I wonder just how many Chronicle subscribers know how to operate chainsaws.

    Probably about five, and they’re probably all women.

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  05:26 PM
  2. Back when we were living in Albany there was a front page story about a guy who decapitated himself accidently with a chain saw. It was horrible and reported in terms too graphic for me to actually read. I carefully clipped the story, however, and placed it in a file that I keep close at hand. This file has all sorts of accounts of household accidents—explosions, amputations, floods, and so on—caused by men doing stuff they should have left to the experts. I employ this file whenever I am called upon to put my book down and try to perform some task in the yard or basement. Each day I search the papers for a story about a guy who managed to kill or maim himself vacuuming or washing dishes. My retirement will then be complete.

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  05:55 PM
  3. Very funny.  In a household that may or may not be my own, a certain man’s partner tries to persuade him not to try to operate a chainsaw.  Could have something to do with the partner’s being overprotective of her own father.  Or, more to the point, could have something to do with the story the man told her about almost killing himself with a machete one summer on an archaeological dig in the Yucatan. 

    The unintended effect: this man is getting very good at using an old-fashioned hand saw.  The neighbors tend to stare, probably because it’s amazing what you can do if you’ve got the time and a little oomph in your triceps.

    I think I can arrange an interview with the man in question in case you’re doing empirical work for your article on “wuss theory.”

    Posted by Brett  on  07/27  at  06:56 PM
  4. Chris, you should put that file online so those of us who are mechanically declined can refer to it when spouses begin to get that home improvement glint in the eye.

    I still remember getting a BBQ for a wedding present (first time around) and installing the wheels on the same side as the feet, so that the damn thing leaned to the side. Lucky me, a friend managed to get the wheels off without too much breakage.

    D

    Posted by Murph  on  07/27  at  07:06 PM
  5. Each day I search the papers for a story about a guy who managed to kill or maim himself vacuuming or washing dishes. My retirement will then be complete.

    Back in the ‘80s there was an infamous article in Lancet about a spate of penile injuries involving a Hoover product called the “Dustette.” Unbeknownst to its victims, the Dustette had a fan that was approximately ten centimeters from its intake.  The best part of the article was the authors’ deadpan repetition of the victims’ descriptions of how their penises managed to come into contact with the fan.  And yes, most of the victims claimed they’d simply been vacuuming the house when it happened.  So, Chris, if you can find the article, you may complete your retirement.

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  07:09 PM
  6. Michael, my last job before becoming an ecoterrorist was running a landscaping company, and *I* would call a tree crew for a branch more than a foot and a half thick.

    Less than a foot and a half thick, and you could cut the thing up safely with one of these… no moving parts, much easier to keep fingers away from the teeth, stops cutting when you drop it while crying out in agony, and wearing the scabbard gives you a kind of Toshiro Mifune cachet. I own several of different sizes.

    But for a branch as big as you describe it, knowing full well that you would never in a billion years stoop to using hyperbole? The rule of thumb is that if you don’t use a big honking chainsaw more than once a week, it’s not really safe for you to use one at all.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  07/27  at  07:14 PM
  7. I’m glad Chris said that. Exactly the same thing happened to me this week—and my wife also suggested that I be a man and rent a chainsaw. I chickened out, too.

    Posted by PZ Myers  on  07/27  at  07:20 PM
  8. I am mostly shocked because this invalidates my theory that you were sneaking in the Hockey Guy indicators, in the off season.  The golfing post was the first indicator:  every hockey guy I have ever known or heard of plays great golf.  Even the Columbia Hockey Club guys were rumored to be good golfers.

    But every hockey guy I knew growing up in Chicagoland would have almost been PROUD to lose a finger in a chainsaw incident.  Hell, the only thing better would have been a collapsed lung from a nail gun mishap.

    While I’m disappointed about the destruction of my theory, I’m pleased for your hands.

    Posted by MoXmas  on  07/27  at  07:50 PM
  9. chris r., if you don’t mind getting your dangerous vacuuming cite by way of Cecil Adams, here you go.

    Michael, you’ve reminded me I needed to trot out my old saw column that had been mouldering in the Contra Costa Times’ “pay to access our badly organized archives” section.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  07/27  at  07:52 PM
  10. Sparing all the gory details, I was nearly killed by a Ph.D. operating a chainsaw 2 summers ago.

    Note to all: Do not hold the ladder while Ph.D. chainsaw operator cuts off rest of broken branch. Especially one with a degree from Wharton and who knows nothing of simple physics.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  07/27  at  08:58 PM
  11. As a professor of English, I am shocked that you did not mention thata major American poem tells us why we should run tot he hills as opposed to operating a chain saw.  Frost’s “Out, Out” tells me why I would never think of oeprating a chainsaw.  The Blood, the Blood.

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  09:55 PM
  12. I removed a broken entry door lock AND installed (almost) a new one yesterday.  I rewarded myself with a cold beer as soon as I was finished.  I’ll reward myself with another beer tomorrow after my contractor friend ‘tweaks’ the job such that the door actually opens.  Not bad for a social worker!

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  10:05 PM
  13. vachon’s rule #7: if the tool you need to do a job weighs more than a laptop, leave it to the pros.

    Don’t chainsaws weigh about a million pounds or something?

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  10:16 PM
  14. Next time just invite us for the weekend. I married arborist boy, remember?

    Also, we love Janet.

    Posted by julia  on  07/27  at  10:39 PM
  15. Roxanne, arborist boy says ladders and chainsaws don’t mix, no matter how much you know about physics.

    Posted by julia  on  07/27  at  10:43 PM
  16. I was using “one of those things” that you use to cut branches that are too high off the ground to reach without the aid of “one of those things” this weekend, and my BIG fear was hitting one of the powerlines running into my house.  It works on a pully system and is very addictive...once you cut a few branches, you just can’t stop. 

    I could have called a tree service.  Hell, I could have asked a neighbor - I’m in an area of the country where some men don’t understand why a woman would mow her lawn ("She looks old enough to be married; reckon something’s wrong with her?") nor do many men understand how to do a proper squat or deadlift, but that’s another story.

    ...and no, I don’t know how to use a chainsaw, but I’d be damn proud to try to use one…

    -a Chronicle subscriber

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  10:43 PM
  17. OK, so maybe the trunk isn’t quite the circumference of my chest.  I wouldn’t stoop to hyperbole about such things, Chris C., but I certainly would deploy litotes and zeugma if I knew how.  I just went out and measured the thing.  32 inches around.  My chest is 42.  So are you happy now, Mister Accuracy?

    But, Chris, thanks for the link to the Straight Saw MASARU 360 Large Teeth.  I have nothing against working the triceps with such a thing, Brett.  I’m OK with hand saws—but the gas-powered Leatherface machines that get stuck in dense, still-living wood are another thing altogether.

    MoXmas, how do you know about the ethos of the Columbia Hockey Club guys, let alone their sneaky summer self-referencing techniques?  However you may have obtained this critical information, I can assure you that when I broke two fingers stopping a slapshot in the Illinois league (fall 2000 season:  my team was down 6-5, and their best shooter had a point-blank one-timer, so I took one for the team—though we still lost, 6-5), I was proud to do it.  Even though it cut my typing speed to 30 wpm.  And need I add that my doctor advised a minimum of four-six weeks rest, and I came back in three because the playoffs started in three?  (We won the championship game in double OT, and I set up the winning goal.  Individual fingers are overrated.)

    Steve, I’ve taught that poem.  And I thought, as I started the chainsaw for my “practice” cuts, of those final three lines--

    Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
    No more to build on there. And they, since they
    Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

    I think this is one of Frost’s B-level poems, because its deliberate impassivity invites less emotional and technical involvement than the dramatic monologue of “After Apple-Picking” (check out that amazing rhyme scheme, if you have a chance) or the deft wordplay of “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things.” But when it comes to chainsaws, “Out, Out” is the shit.  Thanks for reminding me.

    And vachon, chainsaws do not weigh a million pounds, except on Jupiter.  Here on Earth, they weigh just 1.3 times as much as you’d be comfortable carrying in one hand.

    Dave H., here’s to you.  I will happily drink to your facility with locks.  Alohamora and mazeltov!

    Finally, Roxanne, let me simplify your theorem:  do not hold the ladder while a Ph.D. operates any kind of machine.

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  11:02 PM
  18. You should know that Carson Daly used a chainsaw on his show.  I had insomnia, I swear I don’t normally watch him.  Anyway, the point being you may be a bigger wuss than Carson Daly.

    That’s not a big deal though, because I am surely a bigger wuss than Carson Daly as well.  At Christmas my wife usually gets a toolset (I’m not kidding) and I get something dorky like a jumpdrive or a bookstore gift certificate.

    Posted by  on  07/27  at  11:22 PM
  19. I just went out and measured the thing.  32 inches around.  My chest is 42.  So are you happy now, Mister Accuracy?

    Blissfully. That works out to a ten-inch diameter trunk, well within the caliper range suitable for even the Silky Gomtaro 300. Luckily, none of the saws on that site are sufficient to cut through a 42-inch-circumference chest - which is not something one could say about a chainsaw with an 18 inch bar.

    I did use a Masaru to cut through a country ham a few years back.

    It occurs to me that even chopped up, that much wood is not something I would ask a guy to carry around a couple months after an appendectomy.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  07/28  at  12:21 AM
  20. Any man who plays ice hockey for a hobby is forever exempt from the “wuss” lable… unless you play in one of those “girlie man” leagues that doesn’t allow body checking.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  01:23 AM
  21. Chainsaws are indeed alarming, and once you start slicing up multi-ton slabs of wood, that’s it-- a fight to the death, or at least paralysis.

    Here in Pacific NW lumberjack country where we sleep all night and work all day, you hear many grim stories: “Cousin Jack, killed by that tree in 1963...”

    The deafening howl of an expertly wielded chainsaw has an undeniably macho appeal.  But don’t succumb to that siren song if you value your limbs!

    Michael, you’ve often cited your prodigious typing speed, and if we could hear an audio recording with the mic positioned by the computer keyboard… just what does this pushin’ 100 WPM sound like, anyway?  I sincerely would love to hear an audio sample of full-throttle MB typing, which would more than compensate for any lumberjacky shortcomings.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  05:22 AM
  22. i wasn’t fooled by the hockey or the beard. ;->

    your comrade in mechanical ineptitude,
    dan

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  06:22 AM
  23. A good bow saw (think the ones that are like two feet long) will go through pine like soft butter. I realize you’re not necessarily cutting something as soft as pine, but bow saws are really cool and pretty useful. Also less likely to chop your fingers off. They look like this, and are pretty awesome:

    http://www.bartleby.com/61/imagepages/A4bowsaw.html

    Posted by Schwaumlaut  on  07/28  at  06:52 AM
  24. Don’t tree limbs eventually decompose if you leave them damn well alone? I believe they also encourage wild life diversity. Plus you can decorate it at holiday time. Burglars will trip over it.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  08:29 AM
  25. One of my former co-students at a computer study used to work part-time at a tree service. He once explained to us what safety equipment he used, and why. Sufficient to say that if he hadn’t be wearing a helmet at one time, he wouldn’t have told us why, and if he hadn’t been wearing safety shoes, he would have had a hard time walking.

    Chain-saws are not something that you should use unless you know what you’re doing.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  08:32 AM
  26. No one addressed the question of how long to keep the chainsaw before returning it to the Real Man store to keep up the pretense that one actually used the thing.

    I suggest at least 4 hours, 2 hours seems a bit wimpy for Real Man work. I’d also suggest wearing old and possibly sweat soaked clothing, particularly something to give off a manly odor. I’d wear a baseball cap (preferably w/ a NASCAR logo) for effect. And I’d actually run the damn thing a few minutes (possibly Janet could do that)and sprinkle some actual wood chips on the chain, and even in your beard or hair. Real Men neither clean the saw or themselves before returning the tool.

    For that added insurance in keeping your cover, I’d check out the air compressors or gas operated post hole diggers on your way out.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  10:28 AM
  27. This is a piece of genre writing in a format that he been used in dozens of variations thousands of times before.  I don’t know who originated it but we’ve all seen it in sitcoms and movies- the urban brain-worker who is humiliated by his wife into attempting (or as here, chickening out from) a physically dangerous activity - with hilarious results.

    The twist here is that the husband narrates the story himself- a charming and amusing narrative of self-affacement. Woody Allen has made a nice living on this sort of thing for decades.

    It’s interesting, however, that only a liberal would tell this story of personal failure and lack of masculinity.

    Imagine if you were a conservative columnist or professor telling the same story.  There would be no guff about renting a chainsaw, no humiliation in front of the wife.  You would have been right on the phone to the tree service.  There would be much humor about how poor the service was and how stupid the worker was.  Alternatively, the worker would turn about to be a noble fellow who did the job in a jiffy while you sat on your deck with your ice-cubes clinking in your whiskey glass, proud to be an American.

    A conservative would read Michael’s story and say, this guy is pussy-whipped.  A conservative would read it and say, this guy likes to lose.

    I read this and I say, how can it be that Michael Berube thinks that running a chainsaw has something to do with masculinity?  How can he possibly feel ashamed of not wanting to hack around in a pile of wood chips, getting filthy and risking the loss of an eye or a hand? Who the hell is your role model?  You want to spend your weekends clearing brush on a ranch?

    Think this through again, Michael.  Masculinity is not running noisy dangerous machines that look like big dicks.  Masculinity is doing what you want to do and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about it.  Especially not in front of your wife.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  10:46 AM
  28. Who the hell is your role model?  You want to spend your weekends clearing brush on a ranch?

    And then…

    Masculinity is doing what you want to do and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about it.

    Sounds like someone’s role model spends weekends clearing brush on a ranch.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  07/28  at  10:54 AM
  29. Some of the Flying Karamazov Brothers are said to be able to juggle an operating chainsaw, a bowling ball, and an open umbrella. But so far as I know, they don’t type worth a darn.

    Posted by Brooke  on  07/28  at  10:56 AM
  30. Re: injuries incurred while vacuuming:

    http://straightdope.com/classics/a3_225.html

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  11:12 AM
  31. i once worked for a tree service, as one of those people who clear the brush and branches and deposit them in a chipper once the Real Men cut them down.  after a month, the Real Men still wouldn’t let me put gas in their chainsaws, much less operate them.  such machines are not to be trifled with. 

    ps. the rich folk whose brush we cleared did, in fact, watch us from their porches, though i think they sipped lemonade.  must have been neo-cons.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  11:14 AM
  32. My husband is an arborist.  My advise is NOT to use a chain saw unless you know what you’re doing. There’s lots of talk here about damage to digits and limbs, but chain saw injuries can also happen to your head and neck.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  11:45 AM
  33. I read this and I say, how can it be that Michael Berube thinks that running a chainsaw has something to do with masculinity?  How can he possibly feel ashamed of not wanting to hack around in a pile of wood chips, getting filthy and risking the loss of an eye or a hand? Who the hell is your role model?  You want to spend your weekends clearing brush on a ranch?

    Damn, I thought I would get a little credit for self-consciousness on this score.  (For more on self-consciousness, see John’s post today.) But maybe, JR, you missed the bit about my wife’s family?  How all the Lyon Husbands and Boyfriends rewire houses, build studios and decks, restore furniture, and play world-class sax in their spare time?

    As for clearing brush from a ranch, hello!  That’s a cover to mask how often W. falls off bicycles and other wheeled forms of transport.  If he didn’t have the ranch, the press would be likening him to Ford instead of Reagan.

    Masculinity is not running noisy dangerous machines that look like big dicks.  Masculinity is doing what you want to do and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about it.

    Actually masculinity takes many forms.  Mine is alternative-rock-drummer masculinity, which involves driving an old van with no windshield wipers through a pouring rain for three hours to the all-ages show, playing two sets of post-punk god-knows-what, drinking a couple-three industrial-dreck beers, and sleeping on a cushion in the back of the van while the lead singer picks up women.

    Posted by Michael  on  07/28  at  12:14 PM
  34. I just went out and measured the thing.  32 inches around.  My chest is 42.  So are you happy now, Mister Accuracy?

    Blissfully. That works out to a ten-inch diameter trunk

    Chris Clarke.  Are you telling me that California is one of those states where the value of pi is 3.2?  I say it works out to a 10.186-inch diameter trunk, and I say to hell with it.

    Posted by Michael  on  07/28  at  12:51 PM
  35. Yes, I understand your wry, self-aware, ironic persona.  And I did read all about your in-laws with the broad shoulders and the magic hands, while you can’t butter a slice of toast.  This is a trope.  It’s not funny anymore.  I’m tired of having people I respect tell me what losers they are.

    And of course Bush is a cardboard imitation of Reagan who himself was a fraud.  By why does the imitation work?  Because even men like you somewhere inside themselves believe that hacking stuff up with dangerous machines has something to do with their dicks. 

    Boy I’m grumpy today.  Here you are happily writing something to amuse your loyal readers and I barge in screaming that with an attitude like yours we’ll never stop our headlong slide into fascism.  Sorry.  I’ll just go back to my room and stay there until I feel fit for company.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  01:09 PM
  36. I admit it’s been a while since I’ve been to Pennsylvania, where all the trees grow trunks that are perfectly spherical in cross section.

    (Significant digits are not just what you didn’t cut off with a chain saw.)

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  07/28  at  01:15 PM
  37. eep. Circular, not spherical.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  07/28  at  01:16 PM
  38. Hmm. Nothing against you, and the purple borders are quite nice, but my 5’2”, 100 lb wife used to wield a mean McCollough. Scared the beejesus out of me the first time she fired it up - I didn’t even know she knew how to start it! Chop! Chop! Zip! Zip! and we were short two trees in the back yard.

    I’m pretty scared of her now… wink

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  01:20 PM
  39. this post and comments thread bring up conflicting responses for me… I am in short in the opposite of Michael’s position, which is to say I’m pretty handy with tools and quite phobic about sports. (And Michael, did you not used to be good at sports? Because then the parallel would be even neater.)

    I feel bad about not playing sports and wish I would change in that regard already; but it never seems to happen.

    And I want to say to Michael, try picking up some tools and building something, it’s fun and empowering especially if you have long self-identified as a klutz. (Not saying you have—this is my own experience—but I think there’s a parallel in there to your own situation somehow.)

    But then I think about myself and sports and am uncertain.

    Posted by Jeremy Osner  on  07/28  at  01:27 PM
  40. You know, Michael, in these days of polymers and space-age technology, they make devices which are quieter, safer, and quite a lot easier to handle than chainsaws - and they do almost the exact same thing.

    These devices are called “axes,” and they’re really something to behold. Oh, sure, you might spend a little more time taking apart a felled tree, and you might be a little more sore the next day, but the chances of a chain being disengaged in the wood and then re-engaged in your forearm decrease significantly when you’re not actually using a chain.

    But tree services work fine, too.

    Posted by The Teacher Dudie  on  07/28  at  01:46 PM
  41. JR:  Here you are happily writing something to amuse your loyal readers and I barge in screaming that with an attitude like yours we’ll never stop our headlong slide into fascism.  Sorry.  I’ll just go back to my room and stay there until I feel fit for company.

    No, JR, it’s really okay.  From people who don’t know me, usually I get all kinds of shit for being allegedly smug and self-satisfied and confident and self-possessed (it must be the damn sunglasses), so it’s a welcome change to be given a hard time for presenting myself as a hapless schmuck.  About effing time, I say.

    Jeremy: And Michael, did you not used to be good at sports?

    Your syntax is messing me up, man.  Do you mean “was I once bad at sports” or “was I once good at sports”?  If the former, yes:  I sucked at every sport but hockey until I was 13, when for some reason the off-ice hand-eye-coordination hormones kicked in.  If the latter, watchu mean?  I’m still good.  Lifetime Nittany Hockey League stats, 2001- present:  81 goals (including five hat tricks), 55 assists, 136 pts in 106 games, in the A league; 155 goals (inc. 21 hat tricks), 71 assists, 226 pts in 91 games in the B league.  Oh yeah, and 19 career penalty minutes in A, two in B.

    And I’m actually OK at building things when someone shows me how.  Under my brother-in-law’s expert direction, I put in a new kitchen ceiling and repaired, primed and sanded the walls, and (all by myself) I painted my home office and put together all the ready-to-assemble desks and tables.  It’s the chainsaws that I skeeve.

    Which brings me to Jeff Boatright:  the purple borders are quite nice

    They’re not purple.  They’re lilac. 

    Posted by Michael  on  07/28  at  01:46 PM
  42. Hey, I gotta say, I think Janet is all wrong on this. What’s up with the ‘Here’s a nice dangerous job for you to do’ thing? You shoulda called her bluff! (Yes, I know, there’s the paperwork thing, but let’s let that be their problem for now.) Okay, honey, if it’s so easy, you do it. No but seriously - it’s like those women who handed out white feathers during The Great War.

    No but really, even more seriously, Kristjan is right, with the tree service friend’s advice. I used to work every summer for the Parks Department, and chain saw safety was a very big deal, for good reason. You don’t just get five minutes of advice from some schmuck in a store and then use the thing. They’re dangerous! Not just a little bit dangerous, but seriously dangerous - because they do kick, and jam, and do all kinds of unexpected things, and then they cut your head off.

    There was a minor stink in the Parks Dept, actually (she rambled on) because someone realized (or was told, or something) that OSHA regs require - legally, mandatorily, no exceptions, require - people using chainsaws on the job to wear chaps (metal-lined). No one was doing that. They started doing that.

    And the tree-crew, who use the things all day long, always, always, always wear the chaps. The cowboys who only use chainsaws occasionally and don’t get it and think they know what they’re doing, don’t, but the tree people do.

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  07/28  at  01:54 PM
  43. "From people who don’t know me, usually I get all kinds of shit for being allegedly smug and self-satisfied and confident and self-possessed (it must be the damn sunglasses)”

    What fool would ever in what parallel universe in what inconceivable circumstances ever say such a thing?!

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  07/28  at  01:58 PM
  44. I still would have favored dragging the whole 40ft long thing out to the front and let someone else worry about it.

    Guess that’s why I’m not married.

    Posted by Bulworth  on  07/28  at  03:58 PM
  45. ”...because they do kick, and jam, and do all kinds of unexpected things, and then they cut your head off.”

    Ophelia - cut it out. You’re giving me incredibly painful flashbacks to this guy I once dated. Turns out he was bi-polar. Who knew? But I guess that’s a legitimate reason for acting out. I don’t know what the chainsaws’ excuse is.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  04:46 PM
  46. cackle!

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  07/28  at  07:51 PM
  47. We had a tree fall in our yard a month or so ago.  Mark was thrilled to use his electric chainsaw. Unfortunately, he yells four-letter expletives every time he hits even a slightly tough knot in the wood, causing me to jump out of my skin every 30 seconds or so, sure that this is the time I’ll step out back to see him desperately trying to keep his hand attached to his wrist.  Luckily, he managed to chop up the tree without incident.

    Posted by Amanda Marcotte  on  07/28  at  08:46 PM
  48. Michael—Yeah I meant the first thing you said. Somehow when I was not looking the “not” crept over to the left. And if you’re good at building things, never mind then. Rats! and here I was thinking I had found some insight.

    Posted by Jeremy Osner  on  07/28  at  08:56 PM
  49. Hey, I know what it is. I beg Janet’s pardon. It’s the ‘buzzsaw’ thing. She probably thinks it’s like a large hair clipper - it buzzes and the saw kind of melts its way harmlessly through the wood. And there you are with a bunch of buzz-cut wood.

    Well, actually, a lot of people have no clue how dangerous chain saws are. In spite of that movie.

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  07/28  at  09:06 PM
  50. I still would have favored dragging the whole 40ft long thing out to the front and let someone else worry about it.

    Oh, right, Bulworth.  You think I didn’t try that?  Granted, all my muscle strength is in my legs, and I have T. Rex arms by comparison, but still, I couldn’t even budge the thing.  I’m not saying I could get it to turn over but couldn’t move it, or that I could drag it a few inches but couldn’t get it up the hill.  I’m saying I couldn’t move it even a teeny tiny little bit.

    Ophelia, you’re right about the “buzzsaw” thing (I think Janet was imagining that the job would require a circular saw), but wrong about her place in all of this.  Then again, I didn’t make it clear:  she offered to help at every step.  It wasn’t like she ordered me out of the house and wouldn’t let me back in until the branch had been carved into decorative shapes.  (And for the record, I believe your description of me was “self-infatuated,” not “self-possessed.” I remember this only because you were either the eleventh or twelfth person that week to say such a thing, and by that point I’d decided that my prose must be the equivalent of an open shirt and hairy chest full of medallions, when of course all this time I’ve wanted to devise a form of writing that corresponds to the alternative-rock-drummer ethos:  nervy enough to drive through the rain without windshield wipers and take on the dreaded D. Ho. in my spare time, but not obnoxious.)

    Amanda:  I know that Austin is nowhere near Morris, Minnesota, but still, you might want to get Mark in touch with one P Z Myers.

    Posted by Michael  on  07/28  at  09:58 PM
  51. (I think Janet was imagining that the job would require a circular saw)>

    Spherical saw.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  07/28  at  10:00 PM
  52. When a big limb falls in my back yard and I propose to saw it up and drag off the pieces my wife says: “Leave it to the pros, and c’mon back to bed, sweetie”.

    Besides, she doesn’t like it if my hands get rough and callused.

    She treats me like a king. Don’t ask me why, but she does.

    Posted by Mooser  on  07/28  at  10:19 PM
  53. I celebrated the Fourth of July weekend by finally going out and buying a chainsaw after many mostly saw-free years, and I gotta say, it’s just like riding a bicycle.  The limbs and brush and stuff seem to have gotten a lot heavier and more awkward than they were when I was younger, but the saw handling comes right back.  You just have to treat them with a little respect, is all.

    Posted by  on  07/28  at  11:58 PM
  54. God almighty it’s only a chainsaw.  As long as you have the common sense to stay clear of the whizzy bit and you wear the safety hat & trousers it’s just a fairly normal tool no more dangerous than a shotgun.  I used them when I was a teenager and they’re not scary.

    In your shoes, however, I would not have bothered with a petrol-driven chainsaw for a 10 inch diameter trunk.  That’s axe and bowsaw territory.

    Posted by dsquared  on  07/29  at  06:44 AM
  55. Agreed, dsquared. I’ve used several different types - Stihl being the most comfortable and balanced - and as long as you are familiar with the equipment and appropriately garbed, you’ll be fine.

    Occasional users, however, are a disaster. Every time we have a hurricane in North Carolina, chainsaw injuries become the number one ER issue. So either bowsaw it or go for the tree company - there’s no shame in that. Unless you’re P Z Myers, in which case do as your wife says.

    Posted by  on  07/29  at  11:08 AM
  56. As long as you have the common sense . . it’s [the chainsaw] just a fairly normal tool no more dangerous than a shotgun.

    ‘nuff said for most people without common sense.

    Which if you ask me, is a lot of damn people.

    Posted by  on  07/29  at  12:43 PM
  57. "I used them when I was a teenager and they’re not scary.”

    Yes but “not scary” is not the same thing as “not dangerous” - that’s rather the point. Just thinking something is “not scary” because one used it as a teenager does not mean that the something is in fact not dangerous. Some teenagers get drunk and drive their cars very fast down the freeway, and they think that’s not “scary” - that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  07/29  at  02:24 PM
  58. Michael, I beg Janet’s pardon a second time. Of course, I figured there was a good measure of hyperbole in your account, plus there was some in my comment on it, but if there is any residue, I beg everyone’s pardon.

    Hairy chest and medallions! Never! No no, much more of the alty rock drummer thing, with maybe a dash of Uncle Duke thrown in.

    (Which reminds me - I guess of my own alty drummer side - someone somewhere commented on my, um, interesting taste in the headline when Thompson offed himself. ‘Uncle Duke Does a Hemingway.’ Well what’s wrong with that?! Quite fitting, I think.)

    Posted by Ophelia Benson  on  07/29  at  02:34 PM
  59. C’mon, C’mon Hasn’t anybody here read any S.J. Perelman? “Acres and Pains” anybody? He does the shrewish wife and implement-impaired husband better than anybody!

    BTW chainsaws are no joke, and must be operated carefully. Letting the pros handle it and going back to bed is not a bad idea.

    Posted by Mooser  on  07/29  at  07:31 PM
  60. Blog readers truly craving manly humanities professors using powertools can come see my recent thread on my pathetic attempts to make a bookshelf. I’m just glad I’m not filming it, otherwise you’d see me scream like a total sissy when my circular saw bucked and wanted to go backwards. I came this close to dropping it and running for my life.

    Posted by Timothy Burke  on  07/30  at  06:43 PM
  61. to see so many people scared to death of power tools makes me glad I spent a least part of my youth in rural settings - camping, helping out at my granddad’s dairy farm etc etc. I can handle power tools, all the way up to a farm tractor and compressed air tools and chainsaws. Having said that, yes, anyone who is the least bit nervous about it should not be handling a chainsaw, not even the goofy electric ones. Besides going out to rent a chainsaw for something that is only 10 inches thick is overkill, unless its hardwood like maple or oak, a decent bowsaw will go through that like butter.

    Posted by rev.paperboy  on  07/31  at  11:49 AM
  62. Monsieur Berube:  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).

    In a year, when most of the pioneers of the academic blogosphere (Brad DeLong-winded, the , etc.) are long gone, this post will live on, as an example of the first undeniable signs that the (so-called) left is infinitely brighter, hipper, funnier and more manly than the right.

    u da man, michel.

    Posted by deb  on  07/31  at  07:58 PM
  63. Michael:  The key is to have the tree fall in such a way that it blocks the entire street in front of your house.  In this case the Borough of State College will handle it for you.  Ask me how I know… Jim

    Posted by JimLeous  on  08/01  at  09:13 AM
  64. I resent the naming “wuss theory.”
    wuss it TO KNOW and you don’t. call it the WUSSNOT or “ch’aipa”

    Posted by  on  08/07  at  04:02 PM
  65. I grew up rural, in a family that just “gets things done”, and now I’m a full time keyboard jockey.  I feel you. 

    One of my favorite stories is of my grandfather and a blocked supply line.  A mountain pass in Canada was filled by snow drifts and the trains couldn’t get through to the bay.  He strapped rocket engines to a train and plowed them through!  “Get a bigger hammer,” is the moral of the story.  And don’t forget saftey first.

    Don’t psych yourself out with wuss theory.  If you can draw it out, you can do it.

    Posted by  on  08/24  at  03:50 PM
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