Monday, November 10, 2008

Dead Battery

Gramma turns the key, nothing. Lawn mower won’t start. Not even a grunt. Battery must be run down again.

I look behind the seat and sure enough the terminals are corroded. The negative doesn’t look too bad. Just dull gray lead with a rusty bolt holding the wire to the post. The positive however is covered with a thick jacket of whitish yellow gunk. I’m going to have to do some serious cleaning before hooking up the charger.

I tell Grams she might as well go read her book. Nothing she can do to help. I head for the workshop to get Granpop’s old toolbox. After he passed away, his tools were a mess. He didn’t take very good care of them in his waning years.

I remember cleaning up that old Craftsman toolbox, sanding the rust down to the metal inside and out. Then giving it a new coat of red enamel. It almost looks new again. Not exactly a factory paintjob, but you’d have to look close to realize it was repainted.

I even cleaned up his rusty old tools. Some of them were beyond salvaging. But most of them cleaned up pretty well. A few of the wrenches are missing. Should buy replacements one of these days.

The toolbox is heavy and pulls me off-balance as I carry it out to the old garage.

Metal scrapes against wood as I set the box down on the oil stained pine floor. The latch makes that old familiar click-clunk sound as I lift up on the lever to release it. That sound alone always brings back memories of Granpop and me fixing something around the old place.

Granpop was one of those guys who could fix anything.

Opening the lid I peer inside searching for the right size wrench for the job. The chrome sockets and extensions are cool to my touch and I try to sort them back into their proper positions. Gramma’s been in here and she never puts them back where they belong.

I notice several of the smaller wrenches are missing. I can’t remember if those were the ones I couldn’t save. I make a mental note to ask her if she lets the handy man use these tools or not.

Fortunately, I find a 7/16th box end wrench and proceed to loosen the negative terminal first. It’s easier to reach than the positive. Of course, the bolt just turns and I have to enlist the socket wrench to hold the other end as I loosen the nut.

Once the negative wire is free, I take a small wire brush and clean the rust off the bolt and washer until it’s shiny again. Next, I do the same to the lead terminal.

To slide the red rubber cap off the positive terminal and pushing it up the wire out of the way requires reaching my arm between the seat and the plastic gas tank. There’s not a lot of room to work on this one. Be nice if the seat would tilt forward out of the way.

With the same two wrenches I loosen the nut on the corroded terminal. The wrench clink clinks against the back of the seat with each turn of the rusty nut. Once I get too close to the negative terminal and there is a buzz of a spark as the two terminals briefly short. At least the battery isn’t completely dead. I try to be more careful and reposition the wrench so it doesn’t touch the terminal again.

Finally, the pieces come off and I can set them aside. I take the wire brush and knock the bits of corrosion off the terminal and polish it until it shines.

My back grows stiff from leaning over to reach behind the seat. There’s a tinge of gasoline in the air. It’s a beautiful fall day. Warm for this time of year.

The bolt cleans up fine, but I have to walk back to the workshop for a new washer. The corrosion has eaten away most of the old one. The red and brown leaves litter the yard and crunch under foot as I trudge back to the workshop along the gravel drive.

The old gray cat is sunning himself on the driveway and I stop and give him a rub.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


I feel the hot sting on the palm of my hand as the baseball strikes my glove. There is the whiz of the ball through the air and the loud pop as the ball smacks my thinly gloved hand. My hand is going to be sore tomorrow.

I don’t like playing catcher. My brother always throws too hard. I try to catch the ball properly, in the web pocket, but it sometimes still strikes my palm. There’s never enough padding in the palm. We don’t have a catcher’s mitt. I have to use my regular fielder’s mitt. I bet a catcher’s mitt would have more padding in the palm.

I can smell the tanned leather with its slight tinge of glove oil. I roll the hard slightly scuffed white leather ball with its red stitching in my hand. I’m squatting down in the catcher’s stance so I rise to throw the ball back.

I’m no good at throwing the ball. I can’t throw very far. I’m bigger and stronger than most of the other kids, but I can’t throw the ball very far. It’s embarrassing. When I play left field, and they always stick the worst players in left field, I haul back and throw it with all my might and it always falls short. I shrink inside and my face feels hot from the jeers and the groans of my playmates.

It will not be until years later that I will learn that the secret is not in the strength of your arm or your shoulder, but in the snap of your wrist. “It’s all in the wrist,” they’ll say.

I wish my dad (or someone) had taught me how to throw a ball. My dad had no interest in sports and I grew up with very little interest in them, either.

Starsky and Hutch have been watching the World Series on TV. It occurs to me that I don’t even know which teams are playing. Doesn’t really matter. That’s the thing about sports. It doesn’t really matter. They tell us that people are starving in Africa, but all anyone seems to care about is, “Who won the big game?” It doesn’t really matter. There will be another big game tomorrow, or next week or next year.

Still, I wish my dad had taught me how to throw a ball.