Monday, January 6, 2014

Is Ignorance an Excuse?

Here is a test. The Final Jeopardy answer a few nights ago was:

When evidence was lacking, juries of yore would reply with this Latin word meaning “We do not know”; now it means a dunce.

Quick, the Jeopardy music is playing. Do you know the question?

As an intellectual exercise, I knew it: What is ignoramus? I’m really good at book smart, especially when it comes to trivia. As for street smart, or mechanical smart—not so much. All of which explains why I lived out being an ignoramus in so many ways last Friday. Here are the not-so-prideful details.

We in Glen Rock were experiencing our first significant snowfall of the year. We had had a few small snow showers with minimal accumulation in December, but not enough to demand the snow blower that has sat pretty much dormant in my garage for the past few years. The machine had been pretty lonely, and I had not really taken good care of its needs, such as draining the gas between winters and checking the carburetor et al. Which came back to bite me in the you-know-where.

So Friday morning, I opened the garage, brought out the snow blower and my trusty gas can, checked and filled the gas tank, and set to start up the machine to clean our long and winding driveway of the white stuff. I turned the dials to what I thought were the correct settings and pulled the cord to start up the monster. It gave a little whirr but had no intention of turning over. So I tried altering the settings of the dials, pulled again, and no change. What does a mechanical non-genius do in such a situation? I brought out the manual, which, amazingly, I found in the garage right near the machine. (I’ve used it before obviously.) Even more amazing was that I had indeed done the settings properly. But the darn thing wouldn’t cooperate. So I called the repair place that I had used to tune up the snow blower 2-3 years ago. He immediately said, “Bet you left the gas in the tank all summer, right?” Uh-huh. “The carburetor probably needs cleaning. You can bring it in today, and I can probably have it repaired by the end of the week.” Uh-huh. “Or you could try to drain the gas yourself and hope it starts.” Uh-huh. “I’ll bring it to you in a few minutes,” I said.

You can tell this is not me because the machine
is actually running and blowing snow.
So I opened up the back of Audrey’s Jeep and spent a few minutes working on the right angle to lift the snow blower and get it into the car. It hung out a little from the back, but I wasn’t worried. I should have been, of course.

I got about one block from home, moving very slowly, when I needed to make a left turn. The car did the turn well, but the snow blower decided to make a quick exit. I watched in horror as it bounced to the road. Not embarrassing enough? I discovered that a neighbor was driving not far behind me. He pulled up to my window and asked, “Is that your machine in the road?” Uh-huh. He hopped out and helped me reload it. This time, I dropped down the back seats to allow the machine to go farther inside. He also helped me lower the handle to allow the back door to shut. Pretty elementary stuff for those not mechanically handicapped. (Sadly, I didn’t have a manual to consult for transporting your snow blower by car to the repair shop.)

I dropped off the snow blower. As I pushed it into his storage area, I laughingly said, “I bet I’m not the only person who left the gas inside, right?” “Nope,” he replied. He pointed to a machine standing right next to mine—same model, same problem, it turned out. Its owner and I would both be shoveling our snow by hand that day.  

So I came home and did the shoveling with the help of our dog, who loves the snow but is not such a fan of the snow shovel. She tried to bite it a few times, taking a stealth position and then leaping ahead. At least someone was acting stupider than I today, I thought. Then I remembered that it was a dog I was comparing myself to.

Back inside, I tackled another mechanical activity that turned out to pose its own drama. Our son had given Audrey and me a “GoPro” video camera as a Chanukah present. It had been delivered just two days before, and we decided to take some time to open it up and check it out. Sadly, I could not figure out how to get the camera out of its intricate packaging. There was a diagram with pictures but not words. Frankly, I didn’t understand the pictures. (I can just imagine what you are thinking about me, and you’d be right.) Audrey suggested googling to see if anyone else had resolved the important “how to open your GoPro” problem and posted the answer. As it turned out, lots of people had. We were even directed to a YouTube video called “How to unpackage your GoPro 3,” and it was 16 minutes long! Take that, you who disparage me! Others have also walked this lonely road of ignorance. We watched the video and somehow managed to free the tiny camera from its challenging protective packaging.

Somewhere hiding inside is a GoPro yearning to be free!
But we still couldn’t make movies because the micro SD card was missing, whatever that is. We searched for several minutes until we spotted the small print in the manual noting that it was “sold separately.” I bought one of those yesterday, and, because our daughter was visiting, it is now properly enclosed in the camera. (She did major in mechanical engineering in college, after all.) And I plan to use it to film me as I blow the snow from our driveway later this week. That is, if the repair place calls me about picking up the machine by then and if I can be less of an ignoramus about turning both the snow blower and GoPro on and pointing each in the right direction.