Rendered Fat Content


"Done in by a tiny recalcitrant sheet metal screw."

Paleo-man did everything himself because the specialist phase of social development had yet to arrive. For eons, generations of our predecessors never thought to ask for help from any factory-trained specialist. This was a presumably proud species, self-reliant and skilled enough, though none ever once encountered even the smallest of our modern conundrums, like the justifiably terrifying tiny hex-headed sheet metal screw. Their world featured rock, wood, and leather, wild beasts and flint-prompted fire. They had no crawl space fans needing replacing. They owned no socket set with three dozen differently-sized attachments. They never watched themselves schlump back up the basement stairs to fetch that tool they'd earlier felt certain that this job wouldn't need. They had no neighbor egging them on, boasting about how easy replacing that fan would be. They never experienced DItY, the harsh reality of our modern Do It Yourself craze, for it is certainly a craze, a crazy-making preoccupation wherein an otherwise self-respecting fellow's self-esteem takes it in the shorts again and again and again. DIT, properly translated, means not Doing It Yourself, but DYtI, Doing It to Yourself.

Two little letters, one almost insignificant word, 'to,' the difference between a job well done and doing another job on one's self.
The context seems perfect for creating deep humiliation. It might be that with modern prosperity, mankind needed a reliable means of humbling itself and so created first the unassuming hardware store and later, the so-called Home Improvement Superstore, places where anyone, however unqualified, could find ready access to the means of their own self-destruction, materials which properly belong solely in the hands of skilled craftspersons, like tiny hex-headed sheet metal screw and an endless array of power tools, no proof of qualification required for purchase. People with no proven ability to find the business end of a hammer gain unfettered access to a vast array of hammers with which to wreak havoc upon themselves. Short of a trip to emergency care, nobody ever need know about the most recent humiliation. The hackneyed hammer-wielder, lord knows, will never tell.

The fan manufacturer's installation instructions reassured me that, unlike all those other come-on fact sheets before it, theirs would accurately describe the necessary steps. I notice that no detail of the electrical part of the process appeared, though I figured that I might, through disciplined observation and deliberate deconstruction, come to understand how to connect the damned thing to its intended electrical circuit. It painted with a broad and rather alluring brush, just as if this installation could not possibly prove to be much at all. Even after recognizing the potential for another great fall, this Humpty mounted his old, familiar wall once again. I'm now shopping for available kings horses and kings men, as if they might manage to put this old Humpty together again. I have egg smeared over more than just my face.

The difficulty turned out to be a tiny recalcitrant sheet metal screw. All I would have to do, the instructions insisted, would be to replace the small portion of duct with the defective fan imbedded in it. Easier said than done, and the actual doing's easier to summarily misrepresent than to actually describe. The duct tape securing the ductwork had deteriorated into its constituent parts, the grey top strata separating from the woven fiber center, which had permanently melded to the original adhesive. It would not peel off, but I had a sharp knife with which to score through the tape, if only I could gain access to all sides of the conduit, which, of course, I could not. Much scraping and cursing produced what might have been a good enough separation, except these tiny hex-headed sheet metal screws had been secreted beneath the degraded duct tape. I, through superhuman effort, managed to remove all but one of these tiny screws by employing a screwdriver when I could, a socket when I couldn't, and a small pair of vice grips when neither of the other tools could access the head. That one last one, though, I could not see, and it seemed to be stripped or something. After a fevered hour's effort, I texted my neighbor who had earlier touted how easy this job would be, asking if he had any time over the next week to complete what I'd started, as this job had proven to be orders of magnitude beyond my capabilities. Done in by a tiny recalcitrant sheet metal screw. Like with all DItY projects, I'd done it to myself again.

The Muse was unsurprised at this outcome. She'd earlier encouraged me to contract with our neighbor, but I'd felt that pride of ownership which apparently routinely needs buffering with another taste of humiliation. I'd years ago stopped servicing my own car, for the newer ones come with no owner-serviceable parts. I'd no more think of servicing my own computer as undertaking brain surgery on myself. I'm usually fine with routine maintenance tasks. I have suffered no injuries taking out the recycling, for instance, or mowing the lawn. But bring screw drivers into a chore and I'm more than likely to feel screwed over before that job's done. I have been wise enough to steer well clear of power tools, since I firmly believe that if I'm going to hurt myself, I might just as well accomplish that end the old-fashioned way, where I'm unlikely to lose any fingers or limbs. I can humiliate myself just fine with a screwdriver, and I feel a certain pride in acknowledging that I seem able to accomplish this end with either a conventional slot head or a Phillips, and have on occasion even proven myself inept with a Star and a Torc driver; no power assist needed, thanks.

I lost orientation working around that round sheet metal ductwork, reaching around and behind, I could no longer rely upon the old, at best semi-reliable Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty guideline, for left and right came to hold no clear distinction. Removing that last screw became a bit more confounding than the average game of four dimensional chess, and oh so much more dissatisfying. I finally surrendered and crawled back into my cave, aching for the Paleo period to emerge again. My neighbor will doubtless complete the job in under fifteen minutes and deepen his preexisting suspicions about me. I'd confided to The GrandOtter as I worked to persuade myself to begin this latest self-humiliation, that I deep down fear all mechanical things, with special terror reserved for electro-mechanical things, and that I was fixing to engage with an electro-mechanical. She nodded in reverent understanding. Feeling like a weak-kneed shopkeeper facing a gunslinging desperado, it took me five tries to identify which circuit controlled the fan. Once disconnected, the rattling had stopped within the duct, but not within the legs of my jeans, for I was facing A Machine again, and my self esteem would likely be sleeping on Boot Hill later that evening. I was Doing It TO Myself again.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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