By John Addyman
I have not had a good relationship with tools in my life.
Some guys are just talented and drawn to using tools wisely and well. I never got there.
I think my troubles started with my father, who wasn’t too good with tools himself.
That didn’t stop him from trying to fix things. He’d start to rewire a lamp or put a hinge on a screen door— something that would normally take an hour — and three hours later he was still struggling and swearing. I learned more about swearing when you fix something than I did actual reconstruction.
The day I got officially offput by using tools was our first shop class in seventh grade when the shop teacher, Mr. Riker, was showing us something and I noticed he was missing two fingers and a couple more fingertips.
But that didn’t stop me from using tools when I grew up. And adventure regularly ensued.
For instance, we bought a 10-speed bike for our oldest daughter, Amy.
“You and she can put the bike together as a father-daughter project,” my wife suggested.
“We have to use tools,” I muttered to my wife.
“It’ll be fun,” she said, “a bonding exercise.”
Amy and I set up the box on the floor of the garage. On the outside was printed, “It’s the construction behind the glamour that counts.”
“What does that mean?” Amy asked.
“I have no idea,” I told her.
A friend of mine came back from Vietnam with a Minolta SRT 101 camera for me. The booklet that came with it was written by someone who wasn’t exactly facile with English. “Shutter for picture gentle press” was one of the sentences in the booklet. “It’s the construction behind the glamour that counts” was hitting me about the same way.
The guy who sold us the bike said we might have to put the bike cables and gears together, but when we opened the box, they had come already assembled.
I told Amy, “This is going to be easy. All we have to do is stick this thing together.”
Those words should never have come out of my mouth.
We read the owner’s manual, got all the parts spread out in proper order, and started construction. “If your model has a tubular front fork with a spoked wheel, slip a spacer washer into each end of axle,” stated the instructions.
“This isn’t a tubular fork,” I told Amy.
We put the wheel on anyway.
For the next step, we were supposed to assemble the kickstand and attach it to the frame. “Where’s the kickstand?” I asked. “I don’t see it.”
“It’s on the bike, right here,” said Amy. “It’s already assembled, Daddy. Maybe you’re reading the instructions for the wrong model.”
Yep, there was the kickstand, right where it should have been.
“Something is screwy here,” I said to myself. Amy nodded demonstrably — she knew exactly what was screwy.
I went through the manual front to back, then did it again. Nowhere could I find directions to assemble a 10-speed bike. Amy helped. We found stuff on quick-release hubs, on 12-speed gears, on three-speed bikes, but nothing on a 10-speed.
“Now what are we going to do?” she asked. We had pieces of this thing all over the floor, spread out.
“We’re going to put this together,” I said, and that’s what we did. We put the pedals on. And the handlebars. And the shift levers. And the brakes and cables.
“I’ve never seen brakes like these,” I told her. Her bike had side-pull brakes as well as brakes you pulled up from the top of the handlebars.
She showed me how well those brakes worked and how hard she could squeeze them.
And at the same time, she showed me how much it hurts to have your daughter squeeze on the top-pull brakes when her father’s fingers are inside the brake.
I took it all very calmly.
“Aaaaaaaaaaah!!!” I screamed.
Unfortunately, that scared Amy. In reaction, she managed to squeeze the brake harder.
And I screamed again.
From the next room, my wife reacted to the noise. “Amy, did you run over your father’s toes with your bike?”
“No, Mommy,” Amy answered.
“Did you grind up some of his fingers in a gear, dear?”
“Is he bleeding?”
“Not sure, Mommy. I’ll ask. Daddy, are you bleeding?”
“Aaaaargh! Take your hands off the brakes, won’t you please?” I muttered, doing my best not to yell at Amy.
“Oh gee, Daddy — I’m sorry. Mommy? I guess I’ve crushed Daddy’s fingers a little.”
“Is he bleeding, dear?”
“I can’t tell, Mommy. He’s rolling around on the floor biting his tongue and he’s holding his fingers between his legs where I can’t see them.”
“Is Daddy saying anything?”
“No, he’s just grinding his teeth and rolling his eyes a lot.”
“Get him some iced tea, dear,” my wife said, and as Amy left, my wife came in to look at me. I had stopped rolling around the floor in agony. She patted me on the head.
An hour later, the pain had subsided and Amy and I actually finished the bike, with Amy doing most of the work. To make sure everything worked, Amy took the bike for a quick ride up and down the street.
“There now,” my wife said, “that wasn’t so bad, was it dear?” She stood at the doorway of the garage as Amy returned. “I’m so proud of both of you.”
With that, she gave Amy a hug.
And she squeezed my hand.