The Machine Whisperer

“How do you do it?” I asked.

My buddy Stan had his head under the hood of my lawn tractor.  He had been carrying on a rather intense conversation for some time – except not with me and I was the only other person present.

“Do what?”

“Talk to machines.”

“I don’t talk to machines,” he told me, “that would be crazy.”

Stan is what you might call a machine whisperer, a man who can instantly figure out what is wrong with almost anything mechanical.

As he muttered, apparently to himself, he pulled something here, twisted something there and ran his hands along the casing to sense the vibration – then he bent down to listen.

“So what’s my lawn tractor saying?”

I had asked Stan to figure out why my tractor can no longer climb the steep ditch on the east side of my property.

“It’s not saying anything,” he said, then he added incredulously, “machines don’t talk.”

“Then what are you listening to down there?”

“The people who designed and built it.”

“Huh?”

“Look at this,” he said, pointing to the fuel filter. “Notice how the clamps restrict the fuel flow? Only one thing causes that in that exact way.”

“What?”

“A woman scorned.”

“Really?”

“Damned straight on that, partner. The lady who attached the filter had been recently wronged by a man.”

“Did he cheat on her?”

“Naw,” he said, “look at the angry way she crimped the clamps. That is not a cheating mad, that’s a thoughtless man kinda mad.”

“This is fascinating,” I said, “tell me more about my tractor.”

And so Stan did.

Whenever we work, he told me, we infuses a little bit of ourselves into whatever we are working on and that is what animates the inanimate, giving every object a unique character. When we are angry, when we are bored, whether we are having a good day or a bad one, it will leave a mark on what we do.

And that mark radiates out into the world.

It is what makes an appliances hum or screech. It is what makes a car ride comfortable or causes an airplane to fall out of the sky.  It is what makes the things we surround ourselves with either endearing or loathsome.

When things are at their best, they are designed by people who have us in mind and are assembled by those who take pride in their craft. When things are at their worst, well… those are the days you don’t want to fly.

“So why did my tractor suddenly refuse to climb the ditch?”

“Love,” Stan said.

I just looked at him.

“The kid who assembled your transmission was giddy with love when he put it together,” he said, “he was not too sure about her and she was not too sure about him, still the hormones raged – leaving him dazed and utterly useless on that day – and now the bill for his neglect has come due.”

“So what does that mean?” I asked.

“It means about an $800 rebuild at John Deere.”

I groaned.

“And by the way, avoid the dealership in town – their mechanic is going through a rough patch.”