Manual Drive

We type with them and drive with them, but what our hands want is real work


| January/February 2001 Issue


Chiefly the mould of a man’s fortune is in his own hands. 

—Francis Bacon

Frustration is a powerful tool.

In my new backyard, a lilac bush was crumbling the back wall of my garage, the roots swelling large, shouldering emphatically into the old red brick. The rear wall, partially below ground, had begun to crack, was bowing in at the center, threatening to fall, and if that wall shattered, so would the side walls, dropping the rafters, collapsing the roof. It would be a poor homeowner indeed who stood by for such calamity.

The lilac was easily six feet tall, four feet across at its widest point. One neighbor offered a chain saw, but the problem was roots, not branches. Another neighbor suggested that I rent a stump grinder, a menacing machine that grates wood into pulp. There are six tree removal companies listed in my local phone book. I called the three nearest to me for estimates. None returned my call; help is hard to come by in these years of high employment.

My tool chest is meager; my even having a tool chest is a recent development. Unlike many of my neighbors, I don’t tinker on weekends for relaxation. A broken faucet, a leaking roof, a squeaking board don’t motivate me. Instead they make me feel powerless, stupid, inadequate. If you can divide homeowners into two camps, I’m in the camp that spends weekends on the phone, anxiously trying to find an honest handyman.