Steve Braunias on a saw point
Chainsaw! Such a tough and aggressive little portmanteau, its two nailed-together words a perfect vortex of annihilation and screaming. No one thinks of a chainsaw switched off. Everyone thinks of a chainsaw switched on, the volume turned to 11. Loud, hysterical, a heavy metal drone, it requires both hands and is just the ticket when you need something amputated on the farm or around the home. Stand back! Its teeth will gnaw through branch and bone.
Chainsaw, I thought. That's what I need. The neighbour mentioned he'd be grateful if I trimmed a few branches of my grapefruit tree because it was blocking out light to his reptile cages. I've been over now and then to have a look; he's got an amazing collection of lizards, in yellows and greens, which he feeds with things like bananas. He also keeps frogs. One of my life's great and simple pleasures is to walk out onto the back deck of an evening and listen to their singing. I wouldn't want to deny these creatures anything.
"Chainsaws, please." I strode into Mitre 10 like I knew the place and was familiar with its shelves of tools and whatnot. I very rarely go into Mitre 10 and have no idea about tools, or whatnot. Certainly, I have never used a chainsaw or even been near one. But I'd done my consumer's homework. I read everything in my letterbox and was delighted to find a range of chainsaws in the Mitre 10 brochure. The cheapest was $129. The price spoke to me and so did the promise of howling rage. We've all had a stressful year. We all deserve a bit of release.
Chainsaws are either electric or petrol. The man at Mitre 10 took me to the $129 model. I said, "Is this an electric one?" He didn't say anything. He just pointed to the cord. I hate people who don't suffer fools. I suffer fools very willingly and quite freely; to act otherwise would be gross hypocrisy. Fools have as much right to take their place in Mitre 10 as the wise and the competent. We try our best. We give things a shot. We're good for the economy: a fool and his money are easily parted, although you could say the same thing about a fool and his limbs.
"Chainsaws," said the man at Mitre 10, "are dangerous in the wrong hands." My favourite 20 films of all time would probably include the original 1974 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Leatherface, the film's demented villain, holds a chainsaw in his very, very wrong hands for most of the movie. The noise of his weapon shatters the scariest thing in all horror movie soundtracks: silence. The essence of the horror movie is the quiet day and its sudden interruptions of pain, blood, amputation.
"A chainsaw will kick back if you do it like this," said the man from Mitre 10, miming a particular action. He explained that the saw would bounce up and hit the top of the user's head. "I've seen it," he said. "But only in photos." He demonstrated more of its features and I could tell he was warming to me, that he knew I really wanted that chainsaw, but needed special treatment and a measure of kindness. We talked for about 20 minutes. Another man from Mitre 10 joined in, too. His contribution was to show how to tighten the belt. I tried to keep up. I rode waves of confidence, and fell into pits of despair. The first man had to go, he had a meeting. He said: "You'll be right." We shook hands and it was one of the best handshakes I've ever encountered. It was strong and firm, and it had meaning, too. It meant that he knew I could handle a chainsaw.
"Flowers, eh," said the kid at the checkout counter. After the first man left, I mentioned to the second man that I was going to use the chainsaw to take down some branches off my grapefruit tree. He asked how high they were. I said I would be on a ladder. He said that he didn't know about that, that I'd have to be extremely careful, that something could very easily go wrong. "I've seen photos," he said. Where are these photos? I thought of the chainsaw teeth gnawing through branch and bone, my foolish life interrupted by screaming and annihilation ... I said I just had to go and check on something. In fact, I went to the Mitre 10 garden centre and chose five potted flowers for $10. "I was going to buy a chainsaw," I said to the checkout kid, then I went home and took down the branches with a tomahawk.
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Next week: Diana Wichtel