Features & Stories
Men, Women and Machines

Ranchers, in some respects, are no better than ordinary men.

When my friend, Laura told her husband that a transmission bolt on their van broke as she drove down a steep hill, this fellow who'd calmly coaxed dozens of tractors to run, and persuaded reluctant hay balers to bale, reacted like any other man. "What", he howled, "did you DO to it?"

It's been three hundred years since witches were burned at Salem. Yet men persistently believe that women have some mysterious, malevolent power over machinery, particularly the family car.

The unspoken assumption is that, if something goes wrong while a man is in charge of an automobile, it is either a natural malfunction due to age or condition, or an example of poor engineering. When a woman is the driver, any deviance from normal is, obviously, a result of malign feminine influence.

And, a pervasive influence it is. Not only faulty drive trains, but incompetent mechanics, usurious garages, service managers with hearts of solid flint, are, we're told, the faults of the women who experience them. Blame the victim, indeed!

The best of men are not immune. My Significant Other, who'll explain carburetion and valve systems by the hour, responds in typical male fashion to my automotive dilemmas.

Once, intending to ski in an unplowed cross-country area, I left the car running, the driver's door closed, but not locked, while I tramped down a parking spot.

The latch stuck. The door refused to open. The other three doors were solidly locked. There we were, the car and I; it roaring happily on a full tank of gas, my skis and purse in plain view; me frantically jiggling the door handle, apostrophizing the vehicle, waving vainly at the minimal traffic.

Should I break a window with a rock, I wondered? Could I find a rock under three feet of snow? At last a fellow skier stopped, laid hands on the door handle, and, speaking sternly in Norwegian, persuaded it to open.

When I explained to the Significant Other why the garage was replacing the door handle, I was certain he'd be pleased at my triumph over the wily Chevy Caprice. I was wrong. "Oh", he exclaimed in disgust," you shouldn't even HAVE a car!"

Any man who resolves a dispute between a woman and a vehicle in favor of the vehicle shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't receive the usual warm affection.

Attempting to avert catastrophe wins us latter day Cassandras no plaudits either. "What do women want?" men inquire. Radical feminists, Christian fundamentalists, chambermaids and C.E.O.s stand united. When we tell a man a mechanical device clunks, squeaks, rattles, thuds, hisses or over-heats, we want him to believe us. We don't want the patronizing reply, "Well, I can't hear it!"

It's truly one of Nature's marvels. A man sensitive to the slightest change in pitch or tone of a running irrigation pump or harvester is stricken deaf when confronted with a stricken clothes dryer.

The opposite of a husband who can't discern the harsh, scraping sound that is the dryer's plea for lubrication is the eager repairman. Perhaps he can't hear the sound either. Or, he may hear it but have no idea what it portends. Nevertheless, he regards a call to the home of a woman with a malfunctioning appliance as the equivalent of a big win at Vegas, and is prepared to systematically replace every moving part, theorizing that, eventually, the noise will stop.

There are exceptions. Recently I met a horse trainer who actually complains that his wife never warns him when their truck's giving signs of distress. He's a rare specimen, though. Until cloning is perfected, most women will hope in vain for such comforting words as; "You bet I hear that grinding noise!", "Certainly it needs fixing." and, best of all, "Of course it's not your fault!"

Fellows, we're waiting.

(Trudy is a freelance writer living in Kamloops, B.C.)

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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