Momma always taught me that a gentleman never goes into a lady’s purse. What that had to do with me personally, I’ll never know, but it was an interesting notion and as an ungentle young man my inquiring mind naturally wondered if there was some sort of corollary to the dictum; if there was some equally sacrosanct repository of masculine personal effects that was off limits to the distaff, who, strike me dead, are a hell of a lot nosier than the guys. It sure ain’t your jeans pockets come laundry day, and it sure as hell ain’t your wallet.
No sir, the wallet is public domain, the way women see it, and stuffing anything in there is tantamount to taping it to the bathroom mirror. If you’re foolish enough to tuck something away in your wallet with any expectation of privacy you deserve to have it discovered and studied suspiciously, and you deserve to suffer the consequences. Cocktail napkins come to mind.
Decades elapsed before it finally dawned on me that there is, in fact, an oft-overlooked sanctum sanctorum of precious guy stuff, and it’s the toolbox. And I’m not talking about the little plastic Walmart job in the utility closet with the pinking shears and the Super Glue and the curtain hooks and the spent AA batteries that women can’t bring themselves to throw out thinking the day will come when they’ll need that last millivolt of juice to avert catastrophe. I’m talking about the stately double-chest job on stout castors in the garage that holds the impact drivers and deep-well sockets and the spent batteries you can’t bring yourself to throw away. I’m talking about the altar to all things Guy.
That toolbox is the safe haven of a guy’s stuff because it has a near-mystical repulsion to women. Women never, ever, intrude into the murky recesses of a man’s drawers. There’s probably a better way to put that. What I mean to say is that the tediously utilitarian and universally greasy contents of the toolbox are something most women aren’t interested in exploring. They don’t want to think about how mechanical things work, much less consider the horror that ensues when they don’t, so they tend to basically whistle past the toolbox. It’s not a matter of respect for a man’s privacy, it’s a juju thing.
What brought me to this realization is that I broke away from the keyboard for a day last week and buried myself in wrenching on flood-inundated bikes, something I hadn’t had much opportunity to do in the immediate aftermath of the deluge, because I was mechanically catatonic—in the denial phase of the soggy horror. It was a therapeutic exercise, as it worked out; a return to core values and a sense of guy self-worth; a return to busted knuckles and crescents of filth under the nails. It was also a sentimental journey.
The toolbox holds a lot more than tools. It holds memories. It holds artifacts of mechanical terrors and triumphs—stripped bolts and crushed washers and leftover gaskets and nameless ferrules. It holds memorabilia of past bike trips dug out of saddlebags and pouches and tossed into the top tray when the bike gets detailed; receipts, campsite permits, mangled maps, stickers and pins, photos, matchbooks, business cards and a bag of Corn Nuts stuck in a puddle of Permatex from a leaky tube like a Pleistocene varmint in the La Brea ooze. It holds cocktail napkins.
Returning to the toolbox to do some serious bike repair and maintenance after a lengthy absence was like pulling out a scrapbook and revisiting the past, all of which had a negative impact on my productivity, as you might imagine. I was repeatedly distracted by one souvenir or another and every time I grabbed a tool I had a wistful moment. “Ah, my faithful half-inch open end. Boy, we’ve had us some times, haven’t we?” That’s pretty much how it went for the first couple of hours while I was ostensibly inspecting and replacing or repairing a galaxy of gaskets and fasteners, and replacing all the fluids; just sitting on a stool combing through the drawers and lingering over cocktail napkins, getting misty.
About that time My Personal Nurse came out to the garage to see how my repair job was coming along and she saw me that way, buried in my reverie, and she saw the bikes sitting there untouched and she shook her head wearily. “I’m almost afraid to ask this, Terry,” she said, “but what exactly are you doing?’
I dabbed a manly tear from my eye with a cocktail napkin and replied: “What the hell does it look like I’m doing? I’m wrenching!”
It’s all right here in the diaries.