Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Yesterday I gave my lawnmower its annual maintenance. Or to be more precise I did the maintenance that should be done annually but which, in truth has been neglected for almost 10 years. Now the poor machine is caked up with oil and dust and grime and 10 years of accumulated grass clippings. It rattles and shakes and I am sure there are a few bolts missing.

I could have neglected it for another year but I was feeling good. Sailing went well on Sunday and the Yankees had won two games in a row. We're on a roll. A winning streak. I forgot that I am the biggest klutz in the world, ignoring the fact that whenever I attempt some mechanical task like this I usually break a tool, break the thing I am mending, or injure myself. Or all of the above.

Full of optimism I attempt the first task, removing the nut that holds the blade. Hmmm - seems pretty tight. I try everything in the klutz handbook to remove it. Adjustable wrench. Bigger adjustable wrench. Hammer the handle of the adjustable wrench. WD40. Socket set. Torque wrench. More WD40. Hold the blade with my foot and lever with all my weight. More WD40. Hmmm - it's really stuck. I guess that's to be expected after 10 years of use and rust.

So I give up for a while. I go to the computer and do some email. I seem to remember that in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", Pirsig has a whole chapter about "stuckness". How one little screw with a chewed-up head can make an expensive machine worthless. His solution, as I recall, is all about letting go of the subject-object duality or some such Zen-like concept. Now how do I do that again?

Then I think back to the days when I used to manage two groups of computer technicians. One group were arrogant, bearded, sandals-wearing nerds who had slightly higher technical knowledge than the other group of polite, mild-mannered, smartly dressed yuppies. The second group occasionally had to ask the arrogant, bearded, sandals-wearing nerds for advice. The usual response was "RTFM" - meaning Read The F...ing Manual. Oh - maybe I'd better try that. I dig out the lawnmower maintenance manual from the back of the filing cabinet. "To remove the nut, hold the blade with a padded glove....". I try it. It comes undone straight away. Duh.

The rest of the job goes like a dream. I strip the mower down. I clean it. I oil it. I clean the spark plug. I sharpen the blade. I replace the missing bolts. I reassemble it and even manage to get everything back in the right order. I look on the ground. There are no parts left over!! The engine starts first time!! Life is good.

On Monday evening the Yankees win again. It's a close game and Mariano Riveira doesn't blow the save. Life is good.

Now, if only I could solve my "stuckness" problems in sailing as easily.......

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