Anybody know how to use this ‘whacacallit’?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2004

Over the course of one week, all the masculine confidence I amassed during adolescence and early adulthood disappeared into a riding lawnmower tire.

Don’t worry; no estranged forms of yoga were involved in the harrowing experience. Just a lawnmower tire, some casement windows and a soffit.

Before we begin this session of psychosillypuddy therapy, let’s get something very clear. I am an idiot. I know that, and I need no one to call the house at 7 a.m. today to offer a masculine mentoring program. Clearly, I live in a region of these United States where most kindergarten-aged boys know that self-tapping screws have flanged tips, so I can only hope you’ll accept me for who I really am. (Go ahead. Laugh it up. Envision me standing in front of a mirror with a pink handkerchief and white tape circled around the bridge of my glasses. In rural America, we all know my glasses should be held together with duct tape.)

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What led to this moment of self-realization? I’m embarrassed.

About three weeks ago, before Noah visited West Alabama, I made the final pass around Turn 4 of my back yard. (See, I know a little about NASCAR.) I wasn’t in the No. 8 Chevy. I was driving the Model 3200 Craftsman.

Actually, I don’t know what model lawnmower is parked in my garage, but I know the ruts in my back yard were getting deeper and deeper. On the last lap, I looked down and realized I was riding on a very poor excuse of a back left tire.

No problem, I thought. I got down on all fours and started fidgeting with the whachacallit that held the tire on the other whachacallit. I think the words “bolt” and “axle” and “washer” should have been inserted somewhere in that sentence, but I’m not sure exactly where they fit.

For a couple of days, I let the lawnmower sit in the garage so it could think about what it had done. Then, Noah visited, which meant it was far too wet to cut the grass.

Eventually, as my front porch began to disappear behind the pasture that was once my yard, I decided to take a day off from work earlier this week and get some air back in that tire.

At some point during the day, I knew it would rain, so I woke up early and began hammering away at the clip washer — or so I’m told. I couldn’t get the blasted thing off, and with as much humility as a man can muster, I called Darrel — who works for us here at the paper.

If you’re unaware, every person in the world named “Darrel” knows how to remove a clip washer from the tire of a lawnmower.

Darrel came to my house, inspected the tire, grunted, and then walked back to his truck with four or five tools. (The only tool I have in my car is a tire pressure gauge. Only problem, of course, is that I’m not really sure how much pressure I’m supposed to have in my tires, so I’ve never used it.)

“Whacha do is get something and pry that thing off of there,” Darrel said.

Two seconds later, the tire was in the back of my truck and I was on my way to a local tire store. And I thought my male ego had been damaged already?

I opened the back of my truck and showed the tire store man not one, but two flat tires. (That’s right, the front left tire must’ve blown somewhere around Turn 2.) In a voice as country as I’m able to talk, I asked the fellow if he could fix my flats.

“Tried a can of Fix-a-Flat and it didn’t work,” I told the guy. “Probably needs a new tube.”

He made one of those grunts, kind of like Darrel did, and took the tires into the shop. After painting them with water, Darrel2 stopped at a bunch of bubbles and began putting tar on the tires. What came next was the next most humiliating moment of my day.

“What made you think this thing had a tube?” Darrel2 asked.

I mumbled something about tires and tubes and how they work together in perfect unity most times and how they had a falling out and now the pine trees were turning brown. Somewhere in that litany of garble, I walked back to the truck and started dialing a random number on my cell phone. Bet Darrel2 can’t program a name in a Nokia.

I got the tire back on the lawnmower all by myself and finished cutting the grass before Noah and his boys showed up again. Later that afternoon, I dropped into the office to check my messages. Humiliating moment No. 3.

For some reason, everybody giggled when I mentioned the words “cutting grass.”

“Get that tire on there, Jonathan?” one of my FEMALE employees asked.

Meanwhile, the contractors were next door continuing renovation to the building. Humiliating moments Nos. 4-437.

I do not know what casement windows are. I’ve never spent much time working with a roof gable, a baseboard shoe or a box cornice. (By the way, a home-improvement glossary defines “box cornice” this way: A cornice completely closed with trimwork.) Whatever.

Ever so often, the contractors walk over to my office and ask me about soffits, which apparently have cousins called soffit vents (defined as vents placed in the soffit). I think they’ve even asked me about some striking joints and air-dried wood (as opposed to water-dried wood?).

We’re tiling the floors at the office, too. And when someone mentioned “semi-vitreous tile,” I explained the sexual harassment is illegal and such language would not be permitted in my office.

I got so mad at the language that got in my car and drove back home. Along the way, I grabbed that tire pressure gauge and used it to hit the “seek” button on my radio. That way, I don’t have to reach as far.