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Life, viewed sideways. Emotions, amplified. Answers, questioned. Me, between the lines.

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- Working With Broken Machines
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"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."

Walt Whitman (1819-92)

"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."

Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)

And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:

The WeatherPixie

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Hidden Talents

Function: noun
Etymology: Latin, from movEre to move
1 : one that imparts motion; specifically : PRIME MOVER
2 : any of various power units that develop energy or impart motion: as a : a small compact engine b : INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE; especially : a gasoline engine c : a rotating machine that transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy
3 : things I should never be allowed to work on

I astonished my wife today. That's not a bad thing.

Especially since we've been together for over twenty years in one way or another. It's a long story, so get comfortable.

A few years ago, I bought a used Coleman generator. I figured that sort of thing would be nice to have around if I ever needed it. Occasionally I would let my son use it, then sooner or later it would end up back at my house again. Besides, Y2K was still coming down the pike and, well, you can't be too careful about that sort of thing.

(Yeah, I was one of those people. But that's another post.)

Anyhow, during the winter of last year we had a power outage at our plant. I think it was financially induced, but whatever the cause I brought my little generator to see if it would be of any help. I had tried unsuccessfully to start it before leaving my house, so I told them it needed a bit of work.

Within a few hours, they had it running like a champ. Well, a limping and coughing champ with a bit of a case of flatulence, but a champ nonetheless.

When the power was restored, I brought the generator home, sure in the knowledge that my family was now certain of power in an emergency.

Only six months later, that emergency showed up and her name was Hurricane Isabel. When the winds kicked in and the rain got started, pretty soon my power went out. "Ah," I thought. "No problem, I have that trusty Coleman generator!" So I went out onto my porch, dragged the tarp out from over it, took hold of the pull cord, and gave the cord a sharp yank.

The generator said "PthPthPththth!" This is a sound that is normally made by holding your lips together and exhaling languidly while your lips flap loosely. At times this can be a funny sound for a pair of lips to make.

It is not a funny sound at all for a generator to make. Especially in a hurricane.

I pulled again. "PthPthPththth!"

And again. "PthPthPththth."

And, of course, again "PthPthPththth."

Over and over, same result. After a few minutes I gave up. In the space of a few months something terminal had happened to the generator.

We lit candles.

The next day, I took it over to my son's house. He is usually good at this sort of thing. He also pulled a few times and made the "PthPthPththth!" noise, then he did the standard Backyard Mechanic maneuver.

The BMM is when a Backyard Mechanic removes the air filter from a machine, such as a car, lawn mower, or in this case a generator, and pours a bit of gasoline right down the carburetor. This seldom fixes anything, but you will get the machine to at least spring to life in many instances. This will make you look like you Know What You Are Doing.


Well, that was at least more verbose than I had been able to accomplish. My wife came to the door and said, helpfully, "Is it fixed?"

My son performed another BMM then pulled the cord again. "BRRRRAAAAAAPPPPPOPOPOPOPOPOPPOWPthPthPththth!"


We both stood staring at the machine, as if we secretly were weighing various important options on how to proceed from here. Actually we were both thinking the same thing, which was along the lines of "Sheesh, I have no idea what is wrong with this thing."

"Wait," my son said. "I know someone who can fix this." He took off down the sidewalk, leaving me on the porch with the generator, which took advantage of the interval to fix me with a cold dead stare. Well, not really, but it did in fact sit there cold and dead.

Pretty soon a friend of his came over. Introductions all around, then he took a look at the generator. First, the obligatory dry pulls, the the full BMM treatment.

Then he stood back, staring at the motor. We waited in silent awe.

"Bring me tools," he said in the tone of a surgeon. Tools were delivered. He attacked the motor with abandon, removing first one part then another, pausing to inspect each one then sending it flying into an every growing pile as we watched. He was pretty far into the carcass when he said "Ah ha!"

He held up a little sliver of rubber. "Here's your problem."

"It is?"

"Yeah, look at this."

I looked. I tried, I really did, to look like I had the foggiest idea of what I was looking at. After a moment, he came to the rescue.

"You have a frayed diaphragm." I still looked baffled. "Look at this little corner," he said, pointing out a little rubber tag that had a frayed place smaller than a lower case "o" in a newspaper.

"Oh. Where do I get one of these?"

There began my search for a diaphragm, one that would take days until I finally tracked down a nice business in a nearby town that had one. I picked it up (seems like it was less than $5.00) and dropped it off so my son's friend could reassemble the machine at his convenience, after which I would buy him a case of beer or whatever.

Only one problem. My son and his friend had just had a falling out. And my son had no idea how to put the darn thing back together.

That's how the whole thing sat for another six months. I kept waiting on him to do the kiss and make up thing, but he never did. Eventually, I collect the machine carcass and the pile of parts in a grocery bag.

Then they spend a few more months here on my porch while I put off taking it to the shop.

Today, the wait ended. My wife wanted me to take it to the shop, but in a typical guy way, I felt like I owed it the good old sailor's try.

Of course, I've never actually been a sailor. Not to mention that the last time I worked on her car engine we had to get a whole new engine. Even so, she agreed.

Nine hours later, I cranked it and it ran. It still needs some tweaks and stuff, but it works. (After starting it with a BMM I might add, but it kept going. I was good with that.)

My wife was floored.

And so was I, but don't tell her.

[doing victory dance here]

Machines take me by surprise with great frequency.
Alan Turing
English logician & mathematician (1912 - 1954)

Permalink: 9/19/2004 11:06:00 PM |
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