Homo mechanicus

by | Nov 8, 2006 | Pedagogy

Related Categories: Pedagogy
Posts by: Brian

We’ve had fantastic weather the past few days, so I’ve been getting out to hike and do some outside jobs around the house.  Today, for example, I repaired some rodent damage to the car.  A critter of an unknown species, but probably a rodent of some sort, had found its way into the engine compartment and chewed into a wiring harness.  It took a while to figure out what had happened.  The first sign of trouble was that the windshield washer didn’t work.  Washer fluid tank was full.  No bad fuses.  Looked up procedure to replace washer pump.  Decided I could live without a windshield washer for a while.

Then it turned out that the horn didn’t work either, so I looked for and found the chewed wiring, which wasn’t even ridiculously difficult of access once the radiator overflow tank was removed.  A soldering iron, a selection of wrenches and pliers, and everything works again.  The simple pleasures of homo mechanicus.

But there haven’t been any blog entries for two days.  Monday I substituted again, and even had a little fun.  A class of juniors started Othello.  Act I, scene 1: Iago and Roderigo waking Brabantio to tell him of the black ram tupping his white ewe.  The class wasn’t getting any of it, so we got a little reader’s theatre going, and went through it a few lines at a time.  The kids even admitted to enjoying Shakespeare once they understood it.  Most heartening.

It was the Bible As Literature class that gave me trouble.  Go figure.  Cellphones, Gameboys, you name it.  And attitude?  The jocks were the instigators, just the way Antony describes them in The Great American Desert.  There must be at least a short story about being king of the world at seventeen.

People keep asking me what the next novel will be about.  All sorts of things, but I won’t know which ones until the first one gets off the ground.  There’s a whole world of things to write about.  Or there’s only one thing to write about: people.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a book about wrenches and pliers.  You can tell a lot about a culture by how it designs its tools.  Are they designed to fit the workman, or is it the other way around?  A good tool, a comfortable hammer that you can swing all day long, a pair of pliers with just the right curve to the handles, can be a thing of beauty.

In a 1908 Sears & Roebuck catalog, on the back page, there’s a collection of items that go for two or three cents each.  It was partly a way for people to try out this new-fangled mail-order thing, see if you really did get something in return when you sent in your money.  One of the items is a hammer with a cast-iron head.  You could have one for two red cents.

Please don’t buy this hammer, pleads the ad copy –  These hammers are no good.

They have them in stock, and they’ll sell one to you if you really think you want a two-cent hammer, but they feel obliged to let you know that you won’t be satisfied, not if you really aim to use it, and they hope you’ll reconsider, and spend seven or eight cents for the nice one with a tempered face.

Good advice, too.