You've always been more mouse than man when it comes to hard labor or being remotely handy around the house. You can barely hang a picture without putting several holes in the wall. Back in the city you developed a solid network of reliable tradesmen to call when something went to hell. You had a guy for everything: a drywall guy, a gutter guy, a brick guy, a floor guy, etc. Google always delivered in the clutch when one of your guys couldn't. It was easy to justify this approach: you and your wife worked hard and earned well enough so that paying for labor didn't set you back.
You suspect your kids are sick of it, but in the name of preventative maintenance you bust balls about how they handle furnishings in advanced stages of wear and tear. You're certain that if Jack slams that antique hutch door one more time, the hinges will disintegrate and it will shatter on the floor, so you ride him. Decay makes you anxious because when something breaks you will be forced to confront your mousehood. And as if you need it, your wife will chime in to remind you. 'If you had a handy bone in your body,' she'll say, "I mean, even a handy sliver of cartilage...' Grinding your teeth, you leave the room and dial up one of your guys.
Now the playing field is reset. You're in unfamiliar territory, planted in a farm house surrounded by acres of land without a guy for anything. You're guy-less. Suddenly the pulse spiking realization that you are the guy hits you and you grind your teeth some more. Then you breathe deep and decide that part of this life change, this refresh, will be reinventing yourself as a handyman. After all, no one here knows you're a mouse. For all they know, you're a hardware store regular with a vast wardrobe of work boots, flannel shirts and baggy jeans. Come to think of it, there was a time when you knew how to do things, back when your parents mistook you and your brothers for day laborers during a two year Victorian home remodel in South St. Louis.
An excavation into the deep archives of your childhood fails to yield anything useful. What you conjure brings shadows of trauma. Putrid fumes of paint thinner. Images of your small hands itching and peeling from errant flecks of stripper. Back breaking pieces of drywall ceiling held up by your quivering arms while a rickety ladder shivers beneath you. Plaster dust mixed with sweat caking on your skin like papier maché. A thumbnail, destroyed by poor hammer aim, smelling like a dug up body for an entire summer. Wait, was that asbestos insulation you so casually tossed around while gutting that third floor? Should you rethink your take on those chintzy mesothelioma commercials? You get the picture that your subconscious buried those memories for a legitimate reason, and with them any handy skills. So be it.
For the most part the new digs are solid. You don't foresee any major malfunctions on the horizon. Then a biblical rainstorm hits town and brings major flooding. Soon the ground is too saturated to absorb water. The roots of a giant pine tree in your front yard lose their anchor and it falls. Immediately you consult Google but not for a tree guy. You're researching chainsaws. Butterflies flutter in your gut as you stroke keys and click away. You read reviews, good and bad, and can't relate to a single shred of insight posted by these users, so the star rankings fly way over your head. No worries, you decide, you'll get the lowdown from a sales guy.
The sales woman at Sears can barely mask her borderline disdain for you. You catch her sizing you up as she approaches in the chainsaw aisle and immediately regret your decision to run this important errand after the health club. In your Lulu Lemon outfit and precious ankle socks, you look like you should be shopping for a juicer, not a mean gas powered machine. Wearing ankle socks to the chainsaw aisle is bringing a knife to a gunfight. You're tempted to shrug her off and slink away when she asks if you need help. She looks like she chews tobacco and wears brass knuckles. For better or worse, you decide to come clean about your backstory. Clearly she already pegged you a pansy, and you are wilting rapidly in her gaze of disapproval, so why bother pretending to have any experience? Most likely she has forgotten more about power tools than you will ever know. In any case, maybe she'll find your rookie candor endearing. She doesn't. You might be wrong but could swear her fist clinches in response to the cutesy tone you inexplicably employ. You are shoveling shit and it's thickening, so you go limp, agree with everything she says and pay for whatever she suggests. You just want to get this over with and get your ankle socks out of there.
Back in your barn you spend an hour watching Youtube videos of burly corn fed guys chainsawing trees. It seems fairly straightforward. Now you're in proper gear -- tattered hoodie, ratty jeans tucked into wellies, bug eyed safety goggles, work gloves -- so you get after it. Logically you start with the branches, because that tree trunk's girth intimidates you, and you take care not to cut those propping the tree up. You don't want it losing its makeshift support and rolling onto you, and the last thing you need is to chop off an arm with your pocket knife like James Franco. Your wife would be so pissed. Your are laser focused. Your grip is strong. Your stance is wide, like a congressman in an airport stall. It intoxicates you, this gritty hard work. The branches fall and fan out to the side with ease. After cutting a dozen or so, you power off and drag those heavy limbs to woods bordering your land and stack them. You're drenched in sweat, your muscles hurt so good. You start wondering if the outfit that cuts your grass is hiring. You could see yourself spending days doing work like this.
As you drag another branch to the pile your thoughts drift to Raymond Carver and how he took on mindless custodian jobs and wrote in his down time. It's been inferred that the simple nature of such jobs and the lack of mental strain left Carver with plenty of creative juice to bang out some of the most celebrated short stories in literary history. You embrace that concept and envision blazing a similar trail as you pull the cord and bring the saw back to life. You rev it hard and listen to the sizzling hiss of the chain cutting the air. Really, you could get into this. You angle the bar to take out two branches at the 'V' point from where they stem and the saw goes to pieces. The chain pops and twirls, the bar falls to the ground and the casing flies off. On a dime your good vibes turn dark and you fill the clean country air with filthy language and rage.
Two-cycle fuel leaks and pools in the bottom of the wheelbarrow like blood as you push the carcass, now in five pieces, up the hill to the barn. You suspect this can be fixed but don't remotely trust yourself to tackle that. That's a job for a true handyman. The long haul feels vaguely like a funeral procession and brings back memories of your grandfather wheeling their St. Bernard, Duke, your friend, to the woods for burial. You spit and come back to the moment, staring down the fallen tree that got the best of you today. Then you park the wheelbarrow and remove your gloves to summon Google on your phone about that tree guy.