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.”


“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.”


“A woman scorned.”


“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 this is what he told me.

Whenever we take on a task, we infuses a little bit of ourselves into whatever we are working on.  This is what animates the world and gives objects 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 smooth car ride 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.”

Author: Almost Iowa

58 thoughts on “The Machine Whisperer”

  1. Funny post! I often wonder about the state of mind of whoever made my tablet…. bonkers, I think!
    I’ve a ‘machine whisperer’ here… he whispers to guitar amps mostly.

  2. This is kinda like characters in a novel. Why is that character so angry? That was the week the writer got his latest rejection. Why is that character so dorky and such a pushover? The writer was in love. Etc.

  3. I’ve missed Stan. Had no idea he was a machine whisperer too. This guy has many talents. Some may not be “noble” or “ethical” or “legal,” but still. The guy just has a way of putting things that’s just… you know what I mean?
    And now I think I know what’s wrong with the kitchen sink.

  4. Who knew Stan was so deep? And that I would ever actually agree with him? Our moods don’t just effect the people around us, they effect (or is it affect, I can never remember) everything around us. And I hope you followed his advice and didn’t buy anything fixed by a mechanic suffering through a bad patch!

    1. Stan is a savant, a rain man who can play back a symphony after hearing it once and pick up every emotional nuance of the music but have no clue as to what people feel when they hear it.

    1. Despite being as perceptive as he is, Stan will always have relationship problems, in that sense he is like my dad, a plumber who raised eleven kids in a big house with only one bathroom.

  5. Well this is fascinating stuff. But it IS very true that an artisanal handmade item which is made with loving care, feels different than one made by machinery or in haste.

    Stan sounds like the kind of mechanic we all dream of!

    1. Ironically, the primary motivation for automating processes – is quality. Things become more predictable and reliable by taking the personality out of them. But this strikes to the heart of our love/hate relationship with modern society – industrialization has stripped the character out of modern life – leaving it without a soul.

      Around here, farmers raise hogs by the thousands. There are all kinds of issues surrounding the economics, ethics and quality of industrialized food and the debate about that is bottomless – but one local wag put it best by saying, “Well damn, have you ever walked into a living room and seen a painting of a hog shed on the wall?”

  6. I once owned a Ford Capri 3-litre that was built by a pre-menstrual, psychopath, who had that morning stood on an upturned plug before being told by her old man that her arse was spreading. No question.

    1. Yeah, and I drove a VW bug built by sadistic, double-jointed Bavarian pygmies and anyone who doesn’t believe that has never worked on a bug.

  7. Makes much more sense than my Dad’s Friday night car theory. So now I know our Friday-nighter was put together by someone in love… just not in love with us.

    1. The Friday night theory still holds – Stan can even tell you what the after-work plans were. I like that “just not in love with us”.

    1. When Stan read your comment, he asked, “Is being a muse a good thing?”
      I told him, it is.
      He still wasn’t sure.
      “It don’t sound very guy-like.”
      “Sure it is,” I told him, “it’s Latin for a guy who works on heavy industrial equipment.”
      He feels a lot better now.

    1. He is easy to understand in a strange sort of way. Have you seen the film Amadeus? It portrayed Mozart as a savant. One who can instantly comprehend the emotional nuances of a complex musical score – but has no clue as to the consequences of his personal actions. That is Stan to the tee. It is a syndrome associated with the autism spectrum….

      But as we all know, Stan is a fictional character.

  8. I TOTALLY believe that! Funny. I worked for a brief period at an aerospace company, in Quality Assurance… notice I said brief time – because it was scary their “check off” system. And people just signing off to sign off – oh, yeah, that’s good. (totally all about their mood) some days, they would thoroughly check..while others…

    I would come home and tell my husband (who has his degree in aerospace engineering) the things I’d see, and the lack of true inspection depending on who I got and their mood – sending full engine wings to Boeing. He would then make a comment about the “O ring” on the Challenger disaster. Best not to thing of these things…

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: