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BLUE JOBS

One of the proudest moments of my ‘newly single’ life was buying my own house. It was a ‘cozy starter home with great potential’. What that means in real estate-ese is ‘tiny, no-frills fixer-upper’. But the price was right, and through my eyes it was a prim, country cottage with winsome appeal and much lace at the windows, soon to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens.

With great zeal, I attacked the walls with patching compound and paint rollers, sanding blocks and wallpaper. Since I have a natural bent for this kind of project, it seemed like a Pink Job to me. As opposed to a Blue Job, that is, which is to be carried out by a person who prefers to stand up to pee.

The Blue Jobs were a challenge. Cleaning leaves out of eave troughs. Barbequing. Anything requiring a hammer/screwdriver/chain saw. Flushing the fuzzy green science experiments that have bloomed in the back of the fridge. Killing spiders. Anything involving power tools, hard labour, or fire. All things icky.

Spring came and the grass kept growing and growing and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Dandelions everywhere. Tulips pushed their little bald heads past matted wet leaves and vibrant green weeds to get a glimpse of the sun. I agonized for a while, then set off for Canadian Tire.

By the time I was done, my Jeep was laden with assorted garden implements and a brand spanking new, shiny red lawn mower. With my pristine tool set, I confidently set out to assemble the self-propelled Briggs & Stratton four-point-zero-horsepower four-stroke lawn mower-slash-mulcher all by myself, pour oil and gas into their respective reservoirs, and screw in the spark plug. Yanking on the cord and hearing the roar of the engine filled me with the pride that parents must feel when their newborn cries for the first time.

For the first dozen times or so, when I pulled off grass-stained socks and sneakers, I would stand and look out at my freshly mowed lawn in a kind of awe. My wonderment, of course, eventually turned to "oh, gawd, does the damn grass need cutting again?" and I scheduled the chore with some resentment at its intrusion into my free time.

Since that first foray into self-reliance, I have dug trenches, installed hardwood flooring, pried the lid off the septic tank, changed furnace filters and snow tires, replaced broken shingles, caulked the tub, strung outdoor Christmas lights, and relocated forty-three bats which were residing in my attic. I have raked, hoed, shovelled, plowed, composted, transplanted and pruned. I haven’t loved every minute of it, but I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t shy away from it.

These Blue Jobs have not robbed me of my femininity, either. Sure, I may have callouses on my hands and dirt under my nails, but I know that if a call comes asking me out to dinner, within forty-five minutes I can be in a little black dress and looking like a million bucks. That is the power of a woman.

Until she has to set up her own computer. For me, computers = electronics = Blue Job.

In 1998, I was finally dragged kicking and screaming into the twentieth century with the purchase of a 100MHZK, 1.6 megabyte, 512K IBM clone. I have no idea what all that means. (What is a pipeline burst cache anyway? Sounds like if it happened in your basement the insurance company would try to wiggle out of paying you.) The array of modern technology spread across my desk was daunting, and I wondered why, exactly, did it matter that I was the last person alive still using carbon paper? I had to practise three hours of meditative yoga before I could face the assembly of those mysterious components.

It went okay at first. Plug in printer. Check. Plug in keyboard. Check Plug in mouse. Check. Plug in monitor. Check. Press power button. Check. The screen lit up, and I basked in its eerie glow.

Now, click on Start.

Nothing. I right-clicked, left-clicked, dragged the mouse, wiggled the mouse, banged the mouse, threw the damn mouse against the wall. Nothing I did could make that cursor arrow budge.

I am not usually given to tantrums, but this thing pushed me beyond the tipping point. I raged, cursing all things sent to try me. And yes, I wept. In an effort to pull myself together, I went for a long walk through the streets of the little hamlet, but there was no solace for me that night, not even in the clear dark sky with its twinkling stars and smiley-face moon.

Computer = electronics = Kryptonite. At last, Superwoman had been defeated.

The next morning I called the store where I had bought the computer and complained bitterly that they had sold me a dud. The technician said, "Did you take the protective tab off the mouse?"

Huh?

I turned the mouse on its back. A tiny piece of spongy foam, no bigger than my thumbnail, covered the ball. It was as simple as that. That’s what had brought me to my knees.

For a long time I kept that little foam circle stuck to my bulletin board. It was a reminder not to let the little aggravations of life triumph over my spirit.

Several years later, I met my future husband. He looked at my obsolete Desktop, pointed and laughed, then surprised me with a brand new system for my birthday. Knowing what was lurking in those cardboard cartons, I felt an old but familiar dread. All that wizardry, all those wires. A mouse. A touching gift indeed.

I smiled my gratitude, handed him the box cutter, and told him if he needed me I’d be changing the oil in his car.