Mechanical Animals


The next time something near and dear to a homeowner’s heart falls apart, my advice is to hire a professional to fix it. This advice goes against the grain of every do-it-yourselfer that has experienced the satisfaction of doing it yourself, but some of us have tried, and we’ve bungled it so many times that we’re ready to admit that we’re not mechanically inclined. If the homeowner is able to endure the room silencing, dish breaking stares that follow such an admission (and there will be stares, condescending, shaming stares), they will find that most of the staring contingent are not as mechanically as they’d like to think they are.  

Enter the mechanical animal. As in any arena in life, there are those that have an almost inexplicable ability to fix things, but their breed is not determined through genetic isolation or selective breeding. Either they fix things for a living, or they do it so often that they’re just better at it. As a friend of mine said, “It ain’t rocket science.”

Within the mechanical animal genus, a variety of species exists under an archetype, industrious person that taught the mechanical animal everything they needed to know. This breed of mechanical animal, knows enough to know what they’re talking about, but if the homeowner invests anything beyond raised eyebrows into what these mechanical animals have to say on the matter, they’ll discover the continental divide between the breed that knows how to apply such knowledge and those that have merely memorized it.

Within every species lies some level of natural selection, as some have found, through trial and error, that they are not as capable as others in their species are. The frustration of this whittling has led some in the species to focus their energy on the field of mechanical accounting. They can provide a desperate homeowner an itemized list of the expenses that they will encounter if they decide to hire a professional. They have intimate knowledge of how much the parts actually cost, and they know the retailer the professional in question chooses for their parts and resultant costs they pass onto their customer. They have also memorized how much each company charges for labor, and all related expenses involved in going with such a high profile company. “Do you know how much you’re paying for their brand name?” they will ask.  

The condensed version of their presentation is that the homeowner is not only foolish for even considering a call to an expert, but they are engaging in an unnecessary expense. The subtext of their presentation also suggests that homeowners that are not able to fix it themselves are less than male, if the audience of their presentation is male, and it often is in such discussions. If the homeowner stubbornly maintains a realistic limitation of their abilities in this discussion, in the face of the mechanical animal’s presentation, the mechanical animal will add the seven words that will forever taint the relationship that exists between the homeowner and them, “Hell, I can fix it for you.”

If homeowners want to endear themselves to the mechanical animal, my advice is to let the mechanical animal explain the full breadth of their knowledge in this arena. Let them provide their intricately detailed three-to-five-to-seven-to-nine point plans on how they would fix your dilemma. Smile when they enter their wheelhouse, nod a lot, and say, “Holy Crackers!” and “Man, you sure know what you’re talking about!” Dazzle them with your lack of knowledge, and keep your head in a non-confrontational and subservient position, and you’ll have a friend for life, but do not take this guy home with you.

He might seduce the desperate homeowner with conversation points that express the love and care he will show their home’s bolts and nuts, but soon after the lubrication is applied, the mechanical animal will start wrecking everything the desperate homeowner holds dear. When the job is “done”, the mechanical animal won’t mind leaving a fella incomplete because the homeowner’s satisfaction wasn’t the reason the mechanical animal injected their ideas into the conversation in the first place. The plan never involved them driving over to the house, screwing or unscrewing, or saving the homeowner one, thin dime. The purpose of the conversation was the conversation. They’re mechanical animals.

Mechanical animals have had this money saving and time saving three-to-five-to-seven-to-nine plan programmed into their head, note-by-note in the manner programmers program the notes of a Rachmaninoff tune into a self-playing piano. Like any song, a problem is fixable in programmed notes, but the difference lies in the variables. Mechanical animals are often great at communicating the intricate details of their pre-programmed knowledge on a lawn with a beer in their hand, but they often fall short when variables arise. They’re mechanical animals.

Mechanical animals are also great at informing a group of fellas on a lawn, with a beer in hand, that the corporate guys they’re planning on hiring are not as qualified as they think. The mechanical animal will inform his audience that he had a friend of a friend of a friend that hired them once, fourteen years ago, and that man wasn’t satisfied with the work they did. If the homeowner is brave enough to proceed headlong this gale of wind, they will ask, “Well, who would you hire then?”

“You don’t hire anyone silly,” the mechanical animal says. “You fix it yourself.”

This all makes for excellent “males on the lawn, with a beer in your hand” conversation, but it’s been my experience that the least expensive course of action for a desperate homeowner to take, is to smile, finish that beer he was gracious enough to slam into the homeowner’s hand, walk into the house, and listen to the conversation the females are having about the finest upholstery known on Earth. This conversation might not be as engaging to the male mind, but it will end up being far less expensive in the end.  

The homeowner should not ask for another beer, or listen to further “guys on the lawn, with a beer in the hand” conversations regarding the mechanical animal’s expertise, with a twinkle in the eye, because the homeowner thinks they’ve finally found someone that appears to have some expertise. Doing so will leave the desperate homeowner with a half-assed fix and an inoperable dullness in the eye that will last the rest of their adult life.

Mechanical animals are our wife’s brother-in-law, our neighbor, that guy that stops to chat with us at the local Home Depot, and just about every male that we know beyond a smiling nod. They’re mechanical animals –often named Morty– that have encountered just about every obstacle in life, and they can diagnose any problem a person puts forth in T-Minus two minutes, but if that person makes the mistake of turning a dime on them, they’ll be screaming: “Houston, we have a problem!” in T-Minus two weeks.

As discussed, this breed of Mechanical Animal often has an archetype male sitting atop their personal totem pole that knew how to fix things. The crucial difference between the two is that that archetype male needed to know, and he likely didn’t have the money necessary to hire an expert. If this archetype male didn’t know how to fix the plumbing in his house, in other words, the family would have to learn to live without plumbing. A Morty type will often have one great story regarding this archetype male going to a hardware store, picking up a pamphlet, and wiring the family home for electricity based on the instructions that pamphlet provided. The audience of this narrative may revere those industrious, rugged individual characteristics of Morty’s archetype male, but Morty will temper that awe with a conclusion, along the lines of, “It’s not as hard as one might think, all one has to do is …”

Throughout the course of a Morty’s testament to his father’s greatness, we learn that Morty’s archetype male was industrious, self-serving, patient with the trial and error variables involved in fixing things, and undaunted by matters that leave the rest of us breathless, but, again, that knowledge was borne out of necessity.

At some point, the import of Morty’s fixation on his archetype male will unfold when he attempts to fuse his knowledge with that of his father’s. “The man taught me everything I know.” 

The homeowner might consider such adoration of a father romantic, and they might recount some of their own feelings for their father, or they might wish they revered their father in the manner Morty does. We might not recall this romantic moment as the moment when we also began fuse their abilities, for his testimonial swept us off our feet. When forced to reconcile his best efforts with his actual ability, we might wonder when we fell for what this well-intentioned man was saying. A moment such as this one will be it. For in our desire to be as industrious as our forebears, we identified with Morty’s romanticized portrayal of his father, and we conflated our desire with his, until we were convinced of his actual ability.

Morty’s generation, our generation, loves the convenience that technology has afforded us, but the luxury of technology has also deprived us of the need that drove our archetype males to become what they became.

Reliance on this greater technology has left most males feeling less than macho, when we compare our knowledge to what our archetype image of a man dictates what it should be. As a result, Morty types spend their lives trying to replicate their archetype’s model. At some point in their lives, most Morty types will realize that they have fallen short of this idyllic image. They know how to wire cable to their TV sets … with some margin of error. They know how to change their own oil, spot a car, and they can relay some inane facts about some inane car. They know how to mow and fertilize a lawn, and perform some perfunctory plumbing chores, but they pale in comparison to the archetype male of their lives, often their father, because they don’t have a need to be as industrious. This is where the listener comes in. This is where the listener needs to list the distinctions and be mindful of them while playing the role of circuitous conduit to the goal of the mechanical animal’s conversation.

Playing the role of circuitous conduit to this goal of the mechanical animal, allows the mechanical animal to touch the face of their archetype male, even if it’s just for one moment, on a lawn with a beer in hand. It also forces the listener to play the role of the idiot in their story, but the mechanical animal will love you for it, for as long as it lasts.

“A trained chimpanzee could fix that,” is something they might say from their newfound stature atop the industrious male totem pole, a place that the obliging homeowner’s open-mouthed awe has created for them. “If they were willing to put forth a little effort, a trained chimp could fix that for a Frito reward. What kind of man are you that you can’t?” Morty types often don’t add the latter, for most of them are polite and fun loving, but their characterization of the listener implies it. At this point, the listener would love to have their own idiot among the other fellas standing on the lawn with a beer in their hand, but most of us don’t.

“All you need is a telescopic, shrub rake and a milled face, framing hammer,” is the manner in which a Morty type begin such assessments. “If you want to call a fix-it guy, be my guest,” they say in tones that provoke compulsory responses. “If you want to go into debt, and listen to a guy demean you for not being able fix your own home that’s fine, but if you stick with me we can fix this thing in a couple hours for less than a hundred dollars.”  

To be fair to Morty types, there are Morty types and there are Morty types. Some Morty types will confess, in typical Morty type humor, that they know “just enough to keep out of trouble”, or “just enough to be dangerous”. They’re often fun-loving beasts that may rear their ugly heads after they’ve had a few, when they’re with a bunch of fellas, looking out on their dilapidated lawn. It is not the goal of these Morty types to make members of their audience feel stupid, inept, or less than male however.

“Hey, you know your stuff and I know mine,” they may say to reveal how congenial, patient, and humble they are. If, however, the listener doesn’t make it a practice of lowering their head to the subservient position, the mechanical animal might feel a need to take them deeper into their weeds.

There are other Morty types, and everyone knows one, that will cause those that know anything about mechanical animals to dive into a row of insulation, at Home Depot, the moment we spot these mechanical animals walking their way down the aisle toward us. These Morty types will lock onto overwhelmed, vacant eyes and giggle: “Hey Martha, writer dude here doesn’t know what a milled face, framing hammer is.” To which a more cultured Martha type will instruct him to, “Be nice Morty!” and he will, if there are no other fellas around looking at a dilapidated lawn with beer in their hands. He will, if the experienced listener finds a way respond to all of Morty’s quick-fix theoretical fixes with careful responses that provide the mechanical animal the illusion that we know something about what he’s discussing. He will, if the experienced listener adds something that alludes to the idea that they have some knowledge of the telescopic, shrub rake, and the intricate web of seductive knowledge the mechanical animal has.

The thing is Morty types do know just enough to secure a crowned position on the conversational mountain of knowledge, with a beer in hand. The moment after the desperate homeowner joins them up there, they will note that the mechanical animal has all of the same brown patches in their yard, and a board they’ve had covering a broken window on their garage for over a year. The homeowner might not want to call Morty out on these inconsistencies, but if they’re considering asking this man to fix the headache in their home, these are crucial observations to note. We also need to note that the bed in their spare bedroom collapses when a man that weighs under 200 pounds climbs on, and even though he installed his own saloon doors on all of his rooms, we need to make note of the fact that they won’t close properly.

Once a guy leaves the idyllic conversations on a lawn, and they remove their beer goggles, they witness the realities baked in a foundation of half-truths and makeshift aggrandizements. We do need to note, however, that Morty types are not attempting to deceive the homeowner into believing they know how to fix whatever ails the home, beyond that which they’ve deceived themselves anyway. Most of them know what they’re talking about on this subject. They know the logistics of the fix, and they know how to go about getting things fixed, but they just don’t complete these tasks very well. They’re mechanical animals.

Those of us that have made the mistake of turning a dime on these conversations have realized our mistake soon after saying:

“Well, hell, if you can fix this for half the costs, then you are my man!”

If the reader is anything like me, it was never our intention to find out if the knowledge they displayed was theoretical or not. We just wanted our home fixed, and we were so desperate that we didn’t take the time to look for the realities of the man’s ability in the man’s home, in his garage, or on the dilapidated outskirts of his lawn. If the reader is anything like me, they’ve made the mistake of not knowing the difference between mechanical animals and mechanical animal conversations that occur on a lawn, with a beer in hand, and a bunch of fellas around.

If the reader is an inexperienced observer –with no precedent– currently debating about whether to bring in your cousin’s cousin to come in and fix your light fixture, I urge them to talk to these Morty types throughout the task. The mechanical animal might know what they’re doing, and they might even be able to fix what is required, but the reader should know that they would be making a huge mistake by leaving the mechanical animal alone in the room that needs some fixing. It would be rude, of course, to invite them into our loving home and just leave them to fix it, but that doesn’t cover what we’re discussing here. What we’re discussing is placating to the desires of a mechanical animal that is kind enough to attempt to relieve your headache without pay. To do that, those of us that have experienced such things firsthand, advise the reader to affix vacant and overwhelmed eyes on them, and say, “Wow!” and “Holy Crackers, you’re smart!” a lot. Let the mechanical animal provide detailed instructions on how to maintain, or fix, your problem in the future. The listener might not retain a single word of the diatribe, but that is not the goal of the mechanical animal. The reason that they collected the necessary tools for your project, and drove over to your home was to have their listener hear all the knowledge that they’ve accumulated over the years.

My experience with Morty types is that it’s also not enough for them that their audience promise to pay them, for nine times out of ten Morty types don’t need the money, or the steak that they’ve been promised them if they can fix a something something that’s plagued us. It’s also not characteristic of Morty types to like the homeowner so much that they’re willing to fix something for them just because, and my advice is to keep filling those void with various forms of those “Wow!” and “Holy crackers, you’re smart!” responses. Chances are, if the homeowner is an inexperienced observer, with no precedent, they might find these expressions tedious after a time, or they might believe that these mechanical animals will work harder, better, and/or faster if the homeowner leaves the room to get them to stop talking about what they’re doing and just do it. That homeowner will realize the huge mistake they’ve made soon after the mechanical animal climbs down the ladder, saying they need to get a milled face, framing hammer from home, and the homeowner is left calling that “over-priced” professional three days later, paying far more than they would have if they had just called him in the first place.

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