I am afraid of mechanical things


I am not mechanically inclined. At all. If it involves turning a wrench or working with metal in any way, I’m terrible.

I’ve often thought of tackling a mechanical project like restoring an old lawn mower, but I’ve never actually taken the steps to undertake such a project. The actual thought of it sends me into an apoplectic fit.

It goes back to my eighth-grade metal shop class at McKinley Middle School in 19-none-of-your-business. I was scared to death that working on anything metal would cause flying steel shavings to make a beeline right for my eyes.

That’s because I had been frightened in the seventh grade by a shop class safety film. It showed us horror story after horror story of people being blinded or permanently disfigured because of carelessness and general stupidity.

You know those anti-drug films that were supposed to keep you from wanting to do drugs? Shop safety films scared me from wanting to do shop class.

When I learned I was supposed to be in metal shop that year, I was terrified. On the first day of class, I went to the shop teacher, Mr. Woolsey, and said I was afraid to be in that class.

“YOU’RE NOT A BLEEDER, ARE YOU?” Mr. Woolsey hollered. After 187 years of teaching metal shop to 12-year-olds, his hearing was mostly gone.

I said, “I don’t think so.”


Thanks for nothing.

It was OK in the end because I didn’t lose an eye or a finger, so that’s my biggest success; I don’t remember what grade I got, but I can still count to 10 and see with both eyes, so yay for me.

I would rather have had wood shop because I thought wood would be softer and the worst you could get was a splinter. There wouldn’t be flying shards of wood that could slice your head off or get embedded into your carotid artery like the shop films said could happen.

I started learning woodworking when I was in my mid-20s. My father-in-law taught me how to use tools without lopping off a finger or getting an entire 2×4 lodged into my eye, and now I’m pretty good at it.

But my fear of metal and mechanical things has never subsided. The most I can do on my car is to add more oil to the engine. Every so often, I’ll check the oil level — my only other mechanical skill — and add some more.

That’s how I change the oil in my car: Add some oil, drive several thousand miles, add some more oil, drive several thousand miles, and so on.

But recently, I added a third skill to my mechanical repertoire, and I couldn’t be prouder. I was driving late one night to pick up my daughter, and a panic light blazed out of my dashboard.

They’re not really called panic lights, they’re called alerts. But they make me panic that my car is going to explode in 30 seconds.

One time, the oil panic light came on while I was driving on a Tennessee highway, and I had to find a gas station to buy some oil. I found one, the crisis was averted, and the car didn’t explode, but I still can’t help but feel I was seconds away from total annihilation.

This time, it was the coolant panic light, and I was again on the highway, but it was near my house, so I was in less danger. I drove to Walmart to buy some anti-freeze.

A slow dread crept in because I had never done this before. Do you have to mix coolant with anything before you pour it? The owner’s manual said it was car-explodingly critical that I get the right color and density of coolant properly mixed with water from only the purest of mountain springs or a plague would rain down on my family.

Or something like that, I can’t be sure. There was a roaring in my ears, and my breathing was getting shallow.

I found the coolant and saw that it was already pre-mixed and ready to pour — “Now with triple-filtered pure glacier water!” I found the right hole to pour it into, thanks to the owner’s manual, and got back on the road. The panic light turned off, my car didn’t explode, and I heard angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

I called my wife and shouted, “I DID A BIG BOY THING! I POURED MY OWN COOLANT!” She wasn’t as proud of me as I was, mostly because she’s already mechanically inclined and competent, so I had to be proud of myself for both of us.

Of course, now I have 90% of a gallon of coolant in my garage that I will slowly use over the next eight years.

Maybe I can use it when I finally restore that old lawn mower.