“Hey there y’all, Bob here, again, and uh, today we’re gonna see how to replace the blades in your lawnmower!”
No face, no perceptible human appendage at the moment (the actual repair had not begun), just the gray and time-stained undercarriage of the bright red lawnmower that was a new and improved model of the one Warren had seen his dad slave over in the Texas sun for decades. The sight of the warped propeller had initiated a reaction of childhood anxiety within his brain, reminding him of the time that he had run over a sizable rock in the backyard while mowing and had to assess both the damage to the blades (a small but noticeable chip) and how best to approach his dad with the news. The fear outpaced the reality of the reaction, but it was fear nonetheless. He can clearly hear the sternness in his father’s voice and the way he moved to the backyard with robotic intention, the way he approached all problems.
“Okay, so first let’s take a peek at the damage here…” The phone camera shakes and a thick forearm confidently launches from outside the frame. “See here this big ol’ chip in the blade, caught a rock under there in the front yard the other day, heh heh.”
Warren’s initial emotional reaction is simmering spite. The YouTube channel, “BobHomeRepairs”, had only come to his attention a couple days previous. He was beginning the long and arduous process of sorting through and decoding the history inside his dad’s file cabinets that had always been a latent mystery to him growing up. Not that he believed anything especially important lied in wait, but the monolithic, hospital green towers of folders and paper left everything to possibility, and thus all possibilities had been considered. What Warren had found, inside a folder aptly named “YouTube”, was notes. Several pages of handwritten notes for tutorials made for a channel that Warren had somehow not been privy to. The scrawls contained steps for repairs, suggested lines of monologue, several ideas for catchphrases that had been aborted by one clean line of ink, notes on the videos of other creators, a running count of subscribers and views aligned into two neat columns, really all of it organized tightly but nearly illegible to anyone else but his father, who possessed the single Rosetta Stone to these scribbles. It must’ve taken hours. Days if combined, probably. For what?
“Alright, so first thing here, you’re gonna wanna take out the spark plug…can’t be too safe, had a buddy who damn near lost his hand ‘cuz he forgot to and dang thing came on…” The hand moves to unplug the mechanism, but takes two or three tries to succeed due to the juggling act of holding your phone in landscape with one hand and operating with the other.
If you’re going to spend your twilight years dumping hours into this kind of thing, the least you could do is take the advice of your own fucking notes. This thought is immediately met with a pang of guilt in Warren’s stomach, even though his dad would probably be the first to agree with him. He had always played a sort of balancing act with his own southern humility and the fact that he, indeed, seemingly knew everything. The only thing he couldn’t logically defeat was the fact that age and understanding of technology had a negative correlation. It had even seemed that technology won a battle in the physical world, on his hospital bed all covered in wires and screens and beeps and whirrs and the rhythmic hissing of a breathing machine that all was working as intended, only the man behind the camera needing a repair in a twist of fate. Warren thinks back to seeing him laid in living state, and wonders if one of the neurons flaring in his dimmed brain held concern regarding what would happen to the channel when he was gone. He clenches his fist and feels scorned at the possibility that his dad had spent more cumulative time thinking about this, his Great American Novel, than he did his family, what with the rest of his time spent toiling at work and all. Warren remembers all the time spent watching Disney channel shows where the fathers were involved and supportive or else had the decency to not show their face at all. He creates phantoms of time to ceremonially behead.
“Okay so now you’re gonna need your socket wrench, and you’re gonna, uh, you’re…um hold on I gotta prop my phone up here, heh heh, I’m sure you’re not here for the production values any way heh heh…” The screen quakes and moves before stabilizing at a vantage point looking slightly up at the lawnmower. Lower half of the face and down becomes visible, great beard and great gut and all. “Alright so you’re gonna hold the blade in place while you loosen up this mounting bolt here…”
32 videos in total, capping out at about 1,000 views at the very most. Not popular, by any means, but every single person who has looked at these shoddy tutorials has had a unique, intimate experience with his father that he had never known about. He thinks back to the funeral, where he was asked to deliver a eulogy for the dearly departed. The anxiety Warren felt that day mirrored the feeling of having to take an exam that you haven’t studied for, or more appropriately one where the content had never been taught. He stood in front of the mourning crowd and delivered some platitudes about supporting the household, perfect picture of a man, strong and resilient, smart and resourceful, we miss you already etc etc. He really did mean that last one, but he considers now if any one of these faceless viewers would be able to give a more accurate summation of his dad’s life and personality than he had attempted on that day. The anger turned to deep, deep sorrow, at really and truly missing his dad and questioning who it was that he really missed.
“Alright once you’ve got this…off…aw shit.” His hand slips and the blade clatters to the oil-stained garage floor. “Dad gummit, sorry y’all, been a bit since I last did this. In fact, been about, 20 some odd years? Had to then because my kid hit this big ol rock while tryin’ to do a favor for me…had to be 11 years old…y’all should’ve seen him, heh heh, he runs in, tears runnin’ down his cheeks going ‘Dad…I broke the mower…I’m sorry…’ like he just crashed the car or somethin’. I was a little pissed but I couldn’t get mad at him, he’s 11 and screwed up. Still love him all the same. Anyway, he’s got a family and all that now, real proud of him. Alright, so let’s get the new blade fixed on the mount here…”
Warren sat stunned, bathed in the blue light, and found those same tears, bubbled and recycled like from an ancient spring, falling down his cheeks now. The tinny audio of a 360p YouTube video doesn’t allow for much reverberation, but his dad’s words now bounce off of the walls in as if in a chapel, the key words ringing like tinnitus in his ears but with the clarity of a message from God directly communicated to the soul. The dormant resentment and jealousy built up over years and years would still remain in the backseat of his mind, but for once in the long and tumultuous history of Southern Men and Their Fathers, a new perspective had made itself known, but unfortunately only to one party. He knows that his dad was only perpetuating a cycle, one he hoped badly he could break or at least be broken, but dammit how was he supposed to know, how could he be expected to read the millions of modest verbal cues and stilted interactions to find scripture, to find change, to find love? Could he, with this video, somehow forge a link to the past and alter it? Was this all he would get?
To call this “all” or “only” would undermine all the moments, like this one, that Warren was not present for. This was not an isolated incident, this was indeed the codex that he had searched most of his life for. Through this immortal document, all the past and future could be understood in new light, re-translated for future generations to edit and translate again for those that come next. The cycle would unravel, and unravel, and unravel until a single, neat line of love pierces through time and history into infinity. He loves his dad, and his dad loves him.
“And that’s how you do it. Be sure to like and share if this helped you out, and until next time, keep on fixin’ on!”