I’m gouging (laboriously) in a drainage pipe to avoid paying $20 an hour to somebody who knows how to do it right with proper tools. It is hot, I stop often and, being on top of the pup feeder, I can see into adjoining yards — the same old mess except for a pretty (sort of) microwave oven, on chrome legs.
It brought to mind the hillbilly song, “The New Wears Off Too Fast.” Hillbillies can’t afford to buy an expensive gadget, then toss it out while payments are still running. I’m relieved, even a bit smug, that I didn’t get keyed up over that Great Development — perhaps because I clearly recall the big hoopla about microwave cookery immediately after WWII, when I also did not get very interested.
Gouging in that pipe gives me time to ruminate . . . let the old mind wander around, to wonder what gives with most of us in relation to “essential” gadgets.
What is wrong with me that I do not experience that fervor for such marvelous things as riding lawn mowers, quickie ovens, Ten-speeds, gas-saving-motorbikes, blenders, Food Centers, and other highly functional labor-saving devices?
Mechanical ineptitude is part of it, plus the certain knowledge that buying a machine to work for you assures that you will work for it. I also have a neurotic desire for financial security, engendered by a deprived (depression) childhood: that “evil, crass materialism” retained in spite of the New Knowledge of the ’60’s.
It’s just that a late start at acquisitiveness gave an early start (due to my age) toward awareness that shiny things shortly turned out to be more bane than blessing, more repairs than prestige.
Every day I pass a home (big, metal, immobile “Mobile Home” with extensions, awnings) with a small yard; I see that riding mower sandwiched between a travel trailer and a pickup-camper rig, and a motorbike and other junk here and there.
Looking out of that place must be about the same as looking toward it: Pure Junkyard ’78. I picture the debt consolidator, marriage counselor, divorce lawyer, and wonder if they have riding mowers debt free. Do they also try to purchase prestige?
And at my house eleven picture windows to wash. Four cars, two air-conditioners, washer, dryer and a swimming pool. I worked hard to arrive at all that, now I work a lot harder to keep it going . . . thinking of a simpler lifestyle, of a red mule that started at a click of the tongue, and didn’t have to go in a shop every few days.
That thought always leads to recalling that damn dream.
In the nightmare, both family, friends and relatives get to loving me too much . . . want to do things for me, which means buying something shiny because I don’t eat sweets. Somebody brings me a travel trailer, almost completely equipped; another, an old Datsun (for economy) that needs only a new carburetor to be in like-new condition — it will be available when the dock strike ends. While I’m trying to park the trailer, another benefactor shows up with one of those ovens, so I stop to rearrange things to make room for it. A daughter brings me a rototiller that you can steer with one hand, which has a Wankel engine plus AM-FM, and overdrive. A dear friend, who knows my lifestyle, brings a lawn edger with so many safety features that it cannot possibly cut anything — just whirrs, twirling a fish line someplace inside itself.
After a truck unloads a large “Complete Woodworking Machine,” from somebody who knows I love wood, my loving and diligent spouse roars up on a huge riding lawnmower, but her pleasure is partly dampened by having to park it so far from the driveway. As it purrs to a stop it throws a long belt which ruptures a few other vital parts. No matter, it is a splendid gesture, a marvel of modern man’s mechanical ingenuity and ability at promoting things. It is gorgeous — being a raky design, with rows of lights, slotted mags, automatic windows and a Baja Kit. It is even more unique by being a convertible and being rigged to tow water skiers, in addition to having stereo with 17 speakers, plus a 78 channel CB that will not turn off, Good Buddy.
All that for a poor farm boy who gets hurt and creates a plumbing disaster trying to replace a trap under the sink.
The dream drags wearily on and as she is exulting over the bargain price (“Only $79 a month for 144 payments nothing down!”) an urgent report issues from the house — through a missing pane — that the septic water is backing up into the shower, and that water is coming through the ceiling, again, from the condenser.
While they were exulting over my party and new things, I sneaked off in one of the cars that would start quite often . . . ran away to a simpler life of self-sufficiency and ecological sanity; free of the sinister, tricky flush toilet that causes pollution dilution, among other things — away from the life of gadget clutter and worship; away from the “Total Electric Home.”
The runaway car had been reliable, except that one of those idiot lights had taken to blinking of late, so I cover it with chewing gum and zoom along, listening to Chet play “Oh, By Jingo” so loud I can’t hear the valve and other noises.
When the lower radiator hose blows, I declare it my last insult by a mechanical contrivance, and try to burn the car. No luck, as each of my few matches just burns a small hole in the nylon and makes a bad odor.
I stalk off into the forest, in somewhat of a delirium from the glee of sudden freedom and un-conditioned air. I stand tall in the true woodsman manner, breathe deeply of the beloved fragrance, and it makes me hungry as hell.
I’m taking huge pride in being free of Agribusiness and over-produced junk food, but there’s some trouble recalling my Euell Gibbons stuff, and it is now after Christmas — no purslane, no new shoots on bamboo. No old bamboo, either. I settle for the buds on pine trees, which seemed an odd thing for Gibbons to declare edible. You have to be desperate, and I was. Once past the horrid taste of the first few (worse than mangos), I eat a lot while building my ecologically approved lean-to outhouse, which takes a few days — without man-made tools.
By then the pine buds have caused the drizzling shits but the final insult to my pristine lifestyle (away from our crass materialism), to my independence and anatomy occurs when I’m bitten gently by a spider on an exposed part while I’m utilizing my lean-to outhouse made of recyclable materials. I scream faintly, but there are no nature photographers or backpackers nearby. They’re off someplace on a snowmobile.
Due to the dearth of wild weeds, grubs and berries, I overcome my aversion to killing cute wild things, but am too weak to make a snare.
While searching my hallucinating mind for good-old-reliable folk remedies, I die.
No more chores.