May 20, 2019

Ballad of the Breakin’ Blues

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Today I broke the tensioning pulley on my John Deere lawn tractor.  Again.  That might not sound like much but unfortunately the tractor loses all self-motivation without it.  Sure, the mower still works, but it’s awkward, pushing while steering your ride-on tractor.  It adds significant effort to the job.  That’s just to mow the lawn, too.

I shoved that tractor only as far as the garage.  Can you see me?  I’m standing inside, out of breath.  The overhead door is up.  I’m staring at the machine, shaking my head.  Swearing, I realize this tractor will become yet another piece of patched equipment in my universe of baling wire and chewing gum repairs.

Looking around, none of my equipment is exactly right.  My repairs struggle valiantly but fail regularly.  There are engines with oil-soaked kitchen sponges for air cleaners, mufflers patched with dog food cans and hose clamps strung together, clinching various mismatched conglomerations into one.  I never was much of a duct-tape man but there’s some of that stuck here and there, too.

In fact, it’s clear from all of this that somebody is out to get me.

Because my repairs never last.  They’re exactly the sort of solutions that make your neighbors comment.  I don’t know if it’s the Fire Marshal or the Code Enforcement Officer who’s responsible for fining jury-riggers but I fear a visit from some such official is long overdue.

What’s ironic in this particular case is that I repaired this lawn tractor and this pulley properly, with factory parts, earlier this summer.  Sure, the mower takes a pounding with grass clippings flying everywhere, joined on occasion by sticks, rocks and what have you.  What mower doesn’t?  Still, I hate to get a lawn tractor at the dump, repair it correctly ― which is unusual enough ― only to have the same part smash again a month later.

It makes me look bad.

Worse, I swear this is normal.

This is far, far from the only such instance.

Nowhere near.  I’m always breaking equipment.  It’s not that I try to.  Just the opposite.  I strive to be gentle on machinery.  In fact, with a great many of my repairs, you have to be gentle.

Never mind.  There isn’t anything that I can’t break.  Brand new, used, repaired or both, it doesn’t matter.  This farm could be a testing facility for Underwriters’ Laboratory.  It’s work I do regularly even though no paycheck accompanies it.  Yeah.  That’s standard as well.

All of which makes me wonder.  For a long time I believed that only the person repairing various tools and equipment should be allowed to use them afterwards.  I think my son convinced me of that.  If you think I’m hard on machinery, I could tell you stories about Nathan.

Now I’m sure it’s more malign than that.  Further, being honest, who am I to talk?  Perhaps Nathan inherited this ghastly super power from me.  Poor guy!
I only know that I didn’t inherit it.  I developed it through hard work, scraped and bleeding knuckles and every honest attempt to accomplish the exact opposite.

What I did inherit were some of my grandfather’s tools and, among various other implements, his scythe as well.  I still lament snapping his cherry, Ball and Derby snath the first time I swung it.  It was a beauty, too, being a natural crook instead of a steamed one.  But that didn’t save it.  Perhaps that scythe only wanted my grandfather behind it.  Or maybe it was my otherworldly ability at breaking things showing through early in life.  In any case, I put Grandfather Smith’s broad axe up on the wall immediately thereafter.  It’s too precious to risk.

The point is that I’m locked into the cycle of Sisyphus.  I’m forever breaking things and repairing them only to break them again.  I’m hoping someone can tell me why.  Which god did I offend?  Blaming it all on increasing entropy is too pat, too smug.  This is more than that.  The laws of thermodynamics can’t explain it.

Because no question.  This is deliberate policy.  It’s personal.  There’s an evil genius behind this.  I’m sure of it.

I want to find his farm.

‘Cause I got the breakin’ blues.

And I want to share just a tiny piece of this with him.