Now where did I put…


A few months ago, I was debating whether or not I was losing my mind. It was half serious… half fun… and involved a cup of coffee.

Actually… not coffee. More to the true point, I was kicking around the thoughts of things we all do but forget we’ve done, specifically the things we tend to put away and forget about.

I talked about using the last of something in the fridge, then going back for some the next day only to find there wasn’t any. I talked about heading out to the store for one specific item, and then returning with all sorts of different things but not the one that prompted the errand. I talked about hiding the things you use less frequently in a strange system of storage based on frequency and familiarity.

And… yeah… as I struggled to remember things and find things. I wondered if I was losing my mind.

Now I need to change the oil on my lawn mower, and I’ve discovered it isn’t me. Nope. It’s the gosh darn manufacturers messing with my head.

I have a ride on mower at the house. Pretty standard piece of equipment. Good piece of equipment. Reliable. I love it. About the only really extra special part is the leaf bagger I got for it. That makes me laugh.

(Why? Because our old house was surrounded by oak trees. I mean, surrounded. Big… old… dozens upon dozens of them… hundreds of millions of leaves. And even if I had this wonderful piece of machinery when we lived in that house, I doubt if cleaning up the leaves every year would have been any easier. Really. That many leaves. Back to our story…)

The weird thing about this mower involves oil. The design set up for you to access the drain during the process of changing the oil is nutty. For reasons that simply defy any and all possible explanations I have ever sought, encountered, discussed and experienced, the manufacturer provides a tube that needs to be attached to the drain spout. Use the tube, or, big mess.

Now, I admit I’m kind of simplifying things a bit. As most people will tell you, we’ve reached a point where snow blowers, lawn mowers, any yard equipment requiring an engine… the brand on the body of the thing may change, the colors and designs may differ, but they almost all use an engine created by the same one or two companies. So, this oil drain tube thing is not exactly an unusual circumstance. Several names and models offer it up.

The tricky part is how often you need it. Once a season? After every 50 or so hours of use? Whatever… it is NOT like the replacement line you keep around for your lawn trimmer. You don’t need the tube each and every time you pull the mower out of the shed.

For reasons that will surprise no one, I can’t find mine as this year’s season of lawn care begins. I want to change the oil. I don’t want to make a ridiculous mess. But that’s not the part that’s driving me bonkers. No. The blinding headache is being created because I can’t for the life of me figure out why this entire obstacle couldn’t have been avoided. I mean…

First ~ What the heck are companies thinking designing things like this? Seriously if you are going to design things with a side panel that needs to be removed in order to even access the drain valve — and actually, design two removable side panels, since the one on the other side needs to be taken off to replace the oil filter — I don’t think it’s a reach for someone to come up with some way of designing things to line up a container to catch the oil without needing to add a plastic hose.

Second ~ Yes, yes, fine, I admit that my organization skills could be better. Why the heck the tube isn’t on the shelf next to all the other stuff I use with that lawn mower eludes me. My bad. But… here’s the crazy thing… no one carries the damn piece! Wouldn’t you think that: (1) if you bought a lawn mower from a home improvement store, (2) that same store… the exact same store… has the blades and batteries and so on for every other conceivable maintenance project on the unit, not to mention more specifically they stock the oil, oil filter, and even wrench for taking off the oil filter if you want one of those, that (3) they might stock the drainage tube (or be able to tell you what to use as an alternative because they don’t)? I think that’s sensible. (Again, I suppose, my bad. Since home improvement stores honestly never carry the replacement parts you need for equipment you bought there.)

Where we eventually arrive is that it isn’t me… or you… or any of us. It is, in fact, them. It is a planned, created, designed and manufactured process specifically organized even with the knowledge that in the end: it’s silly, it could be done better, and the buyer is going to be frustrated about it.

This isn’t about my storing it in a spot and then forgetting it because I haven’t needed it in a while. This isn’t about me (or someone in the house) accidentally throwing it away because we can’t remember why it’s needed. The only place where I am to blame is in letting it be a surprise.

That snow blower I have needs sheer pins. Anyone want to guess if the home improvement store stocks them? Of course they don’t. But… yes… they do still sell that brand of snow blowers.

Want a great reason for charcoal over gas? That grill I have needs burners. Same grill company is offered by that home improvement store, with the latest models proudly on display on the floor in the seasonal items area. But in an unbelievable demonstration that manages to defy any and all odds, somehow the company redesigns their burners again and again and again, and the replacement tube style I need is never on the shelf.

It’s almost as if this moves beyond losing my mind into some masterful attempt at planned obsolescence.

Many years ago, I walked into an auto body repair shop. Owner went to school with my father. Knew him fairly well. I needed a taillight lens. Nothing spectacular. Nothing complicated. It led to a conversation about how expensive some auto body parts could be, especially compared to other auto body parts. Simple explanation: glass breaks, and if too expensive to replace the glass is broken and still needs to be replaced… metal bends, and if too expensive to replace an owner will attempt to smooth and won’t replace… charge a lot for glass, not as much for metal.

Bring that theory along for a ride… they know we need sheer pins… they know we need grill burners… they know we need oil drainage tubes. And, they know we’ll pay a few extra dollars than we should to get them. Warped twist of the idea, resulting in an expected obsolescence of sorts.

I’m not losing my mind. It isn’t me. The only problem with understanding this is that once I unpacked that tube for the first time I should have realized it would work out this way.

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