week I went outside to mow the lawn.
have a riding lawn mower, and one of the features on ours is a
kill-switch kind of arrangement. Basically, if you get off of
the seat the mower shuts down.
year was my first summer using a riding model. I spent a fair
amount of time getting used to the process of starting the tractor
and engaging the mower. I tried to pay attention to different
height settings, and even gave some thought to the seat positioning.
I learned about how to shift the unit into neutral so I could
roll it around. Basic stuff, sure… but nothing out of the ordinary
for using such a piece of equipment.
were some features that didn’t really matter to me all that much.
I have yet to need the cruise control. (Although, in all fairness,
I actually can see a use for such a thing.) The cup holder is
nice, though I almost always forget to bring a beverage with me.
And, honest admission, when driving around and reading the manual
and talking to friends, if it was even mentioned I never paid
enough attention to the part about keeping the motor idling along
if I got out of the seat to do something… or, say, for running
it a bit to empty out the gas tank before storing it over the
week I learned the set the idle process. And while I am thrilled
that I won’t need to break out the concrete blocks this year to
get enough weight on the seat to keep it running as I break things
down for falling snow and store summer tools, that isn’t what
led to this essay. Instead, while riding around the yard, I began
to think about other things in my house that I don’t use to the
fullest of potential. (Or… sure, more accurately… don’t know how
to operate completely.)
before you go crazy about me not know my riding lawn mower might
have a rider-less idle, I ask you to consider a few things.
like the cruise control, I never needed to leave it running while
I went off and did something except at the end of the season.
Plus, offered in my defense, while playing the winterization game
throughout the garage, I also had to keep my push mower running.
It’s one of those that has a handle you need to keep engaged for
operation. The end result… my train of thought was rolling down
the tracks of keeping handles in place and finding ways to keep
with that “learn it if you need it” concept in mind… second, I’d
like you to think about the items in your home that I’m willing
to bet you don’t fully understand.
start in the living room. Grab the television remote. Look at
it carefully. Do you know what each and every button on it does?
Why does it contain buttons with labels like active, keypad or
repeat? Why are some of the buttons unlabeled and different colors?
(And if you think you know what the colored buttons are for because
you’ve used them to label a program as a keeper or to initiate
a delete process, I’m warning you that no partial credit is offered
if you don’t know what all of them do.)
for the kitchen. How long have those cans like Spam and corned
beef hash been sitting on the shelf in the pantry? Where did those
bottles of sauces… many with flavors and spices and promises of
heat that appeal to no person in your household… come from? Can
you find your mandoline? (Do you know for certain whether or not
you own a mandoline?) Now head over to the all-purpose junk drawer.
Open it up, identify every item in the drawer and state with certainty
where it actually belongs.
wander the house. Consider those two wonderful occasions every
year when most of us need to adjust the clocks. Are you finding
clocks with strange and horribly labeled buttons that take a few
extra moments to figure out? (It’s usually the damn clock radios
on the nightstand that cause these frustrations. But considering
the number of people that have gone decades allowing the clock
to keep flashing on a VCR, I know there are more.)
all have things that we’ve brought into our homes and later cannot
figure out how they arrived. There are plenty of items, even items
used each and every day, that we don’t even think about (until
we have to).
have tools and equipment that were obtained to serve one or two
(or a simple handful) of purposes… and yet they have options and
knobs and more available that we not only don’t understand, often
we don’t even think about or know of their existence.
as long as the general chores get done, and the power doesn’t
go out in the middle of the night, we never really consider many
of these things. They become if not unappreciated than certainly
suppose as things become more complex… and they are, which you
can’t deny when our washing machines can now send messages to
a smartphone (while being constructed to have a lifespan only
25% of what they had a few decades ago)… the idea that we’ll never
understand everything a tool can do shouldn’t be a surprise. And
yet, I don’t recall the last time I turned to a butter knife as
a stand-in for a screwdriver. Those were good days.