I hate the sound of an engine not catching.
With some engines, it’s a kind of cough. Others, a sputter. Our Land Rover does a sort of whine. The late, lamented George Carlin used to do a bit where he imitated an engine that didn’t want to start: “Leave me alohohohohohohone.”
I used to think that was funny, but now it hits a little close to home.
When we lived in Manhattan, we had only one thing that might not start, and that was the car. Since it was a late-model Saab, the odds of its not starting were fairly slim. Certainly not zero, but not nearly high enough to make me tense up when I turned the key. Here, though, we have plenty of things that might not start, and they don’t start often enough that I’m steeled for the worst every time we take one out.
Topping the list of possible non-starters is the boat. Although you start the motor by turning the key, it’s not like the car. There’s a whole ritual involved. First, you pump the primer bulb on the fuel line to get some gas in the motor. Then, you lift a lever on the controller (the unit that has the throttle and the ignition, into which you put the key), which is a kind of auxiliary throttle that lets you open it up when you’re in neutral. But you don’t open it all the way, or you’ll flood the engine. Five-sixteenths is about right.
Then, you press the key in three times. Not two, not four. That releases oil to the motor. Last, you sacrifice a goat and offer it up to Vroom, the God of Outboards. There are incantations associated with this, and woe betide you if you get them wrong. Then you turn the key and hope for the best.
At least the boat has a key. We have lots of non-starters that have cords. Chain saw, leaf blower, string trimmer, log splitter, power washer, and rototiller all start with muscle power. Or don’t start, as the case may be. These are the ones that get me. I’ll be in the house, working or cooking or procrastinating, and I’ll hear the unmistakable sound of a starter cord being pulled to no avail. If you’ve ever pulled the starter cord on a decent-size machine, you know that it’s hard. I hear it going in and out of its housing, and I feel Kevin’s pain.
And now we come to my dilemma. When something doesn’t start, I’m no help at all. Kevin will be the first to tell you that his motor skills are limited, but they’re way better than mine, which are nonexistent. So I sit on the sidelines, watching my husband deal with the problem. He opens things and closes them, empties other things and fills them again, toggles switches and jiggles parts, and all I can do is bring the snacks.
I hate being helpless. I’ve told the story here of when, at the ripe old age of eight months, I snatched the clothes out of my mother’s hands when she was trying to dress me and, proclaiming, “Self!” proceeded to put my pants on my head. (Although I talked early, I did everything else late, and my social skills are still behind the curve.)
And so I find myself strongly inclined to learn something about motors. If we’re going to live a life that depends, to a large degree, on power tools, I should understand how they work, how to make them go, and what to do when they don’t.
Shouldn’t we test the glink with the thronkmeter?
But then I have second thoughts. There are so many skills that neither of us has. If I’m going to learn something new, shouldn’t it be one of those? Besides, Kevin has a big head start in the motor skills department, and it’s all too easy to envision a non-starting scenario where I’m leaning over his shoulder saying, “Shouldn’t we test the glink with the thronkmeter?” when he knows full well that the glink has nothing to do with it and the thronkmeter’s broken. That could get annoying, if you’re Kevin.
When you come right down to it, it’s not a question of motor skills at all, it’s a philosophical question about duplication of skills. Do we each develop at least minimal competence at everything we do, or do we each specialize and become primarily responsible for our own areas of expertise?
We tend toward the latter. Not only does it seem more efficient, with more skills developed between us, but it also helps us avoid the too-many-Chiefs situation. Both Kevin and I have Chiefly tendencies, and duplication of skills would leave us desperately short of Indians. Specialization gives us each a chance to be in charge, and our lives seem to go more smoothly when not everything is a collaboration. (This is a version of Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of non-overlapping magisteria, which I invoked a while back in regard to the building of the chicken coop.)
Although much of what we do is collaborative – gardening, beekeeping, chicken raising – we have other areas where one or the other of us is more or less in charge. Kevin is Vice President of Fishing, Hunting, Property Maintenance, and Vehicle Operation. I’m VP for Stonemasonry, Mycology, Home Economics, and Administration.
So, if I’m not going to learn motor skills, what should I learn instead? I’d like to extend my mycological expertise, such as it is, to mushroom cave construction. Or maybe, under the tutelage of our friends the Marcuses, of Cape Cod Beer, I should fine-tune my fermentation skills in anticipation of making mead from our honey.
And someone’s got to bone up on thronkmeter repair.