Monday, August 13, 2007


My father was happy to teach me to operate the bandsaw but of course strictly forbade me to use it unless he was standing beside me. So I played with it by myself every chance I got. Every human tradition must have stories about children coming to grief after doing something strictly, and for good reason, forbidden.

One day when I was about twelve, I was in Dad's workshop in the cellar, cutting in half at the thinnest point some pieces of scrap wood -- thin in the middle and wider on the ends, curved, as though circles had been cut out of square boards. Having polished off all the ones within easy reach, I stretched for one of the ones farther off, my hand still resting on the platform of the saw. I heard a tzzzit and felt the breeze on the end of my thumb as the blade sawed off the tip of a long thumbnail I had recently taken to cultivating.

I could have cut off my thumb and a bunch of fingers about that fast, and I knew it. Feeling my face go white, I shut off the saw, made my way upstairs, and confessed to my mother what I had been up to. She didn't seem particularly impressed; after all, there was no harm done.

Mother has described me as "oblivious." In my late teens I put so many spoons into the electric mixer that I got really good and fast at repairing the damage to the blades. I have dropped many pieces of silverware and other objects into garbage disposals and failed to notice until somebody turned the disposal on. I usually have one or two minor cuts or burns on my hands from incautious cooking.

Since the day I nearly cut off my thumb, I have used no power tools. I am too careless and inattentive to manipulate at close range any tool designed to subdue material harder than cold butter.