Tooling Around, Feeling Virtuous

by Kevin Burton

   Looks as if I’ve had the definition of “tooling around” wrong all these years.

   Tool around is a verb, says vocabulary.com, meaning to “ride in a car with no particular goal and just for the pleasure of it.”

   On yourdictionary.com the definition is “to drive or jaunt about, going from place to place without any specific direction or goal,” or “to spend one’s time idly.”

   I never knew about the automobile aspect of the idiom. Being a legally blind guy who doesn’t drive, that figures.

   This calls to mind the great song by rock legend Chuck Berry, “No Particular Place To Go.” If you think about the song, there most assuredly was a particular place the protagonist was hoping to go, even if it didn’t have a street address attached to it.

   But I never thought that to tool around was to waste one’s time.

   I have always thought tooling around meant working on small or medium-sized projects, the low-stress kind. It would be good to finish, but nothing major is riding on it.

   I also thought the phrase might have come from working with tools, because I have heard it used as “tooling around in my workshop” a lot.     

 Trying to figure out this definition has also helped me define something I’ve been craving lately.

   The idea is to spend a day, or the major portion of a day, without any pressure. Not wasting time at all, but finally getting to things I have promised my wife or myself that I would do, eventually.

   Tooling around has an unfortunate rhyme with fooling around. I never thought the two were the same at all. The same is true for the words “meek” and “weak.” Meekness is strength under control and has nothing to do with weakness.

   On a recent Saturday I found myself longing to tool around.

   Maybe the concept I’m looking for here is something called childhood. But no, that would be fooling around. 

   Even raking leaves can be considered part of tooling around.  You rake up just enough leaves to feel virtuous, enough to almost fill the trash barrel, being careful to leave room for the household trash, the real trash, to be taken out at halftime of the Sunday Night Football game on NBC.

   It isn’t “oh my God look at all these leaves, and there goes a chunk of my day.  It’s rake a few, leave the rest, see you next week.  And now, on to the next task, tooling around.

   I just paused my writing for long enough to actually rake some leaves, as many as I felt like dealing with, no more no fewer.

   It’s the middle-class American Saturday morning feeling I’ve been missing lately.  It isn’t care free and feeling groovy in the Simon and Garfunkel sense, but it feels pretty good.

   Around the corner though are phone calls, e-mails, demands. This is something called adulthood. No escaping it.

   The unavoidability of new demands reminds me of a mindless incident from my childhood.

   I was in the dining room with classmates at the school for the blind in Ohio.  There was a certain skinny kid that people used to pick on a lot.  Somebody (not me!) got the idea to pick up a bread and butter plate and slowly extend it across the table, until it was right in this kid’s face. The kid was totally blind.

   At the point when plate met face, the kid had to deal with it. There was no turning to the left or right.

   Life will do that to you. Something you didn’t see coming, something not your fault, something ridiculous, is in your face.

   The kid was unhappy, shall we say, his meal interrupted. He slapped at the offending hand and plate. Plate went flying, the kid uttered a word mostly regarded as an expletive, hurled it really. Another addition to the great treasury of pre-adolescent humor that I smile about to this day.

   Not too funny in real life though when life does that to you.

   Of course you don’t want to be totally without demands and deadlines. I’ve been there too.  There were times that when I paid the last bill for the month, I realized that if I died right then, nobody might notice for a whole month. That’s not a good feeling.

   How sweet a moment though, with time enough to tool around on a Saturday before the phone rings.

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