I found myself looking for something in the basement workshop while I was home for the holidays: an adjustable slide clamp (if that’s what it’s called), so that I could hold a piece of laminate in place after I had glued it. The front of the TV table was peeling away and needed to be fixed.
I couldn’t find one. I didn’t even know if my mom owned one, but most of my dad’s hand tools are still in the workshop, so if there was one it should have been there. But the only clamps I could find were smaller C-clamps and wood clamps (the kind with two threaded rods) but nothing that would fit over the depth of the TV table. This dredged up memories of looking for tools on orders from my dad, when I had been conscripted into Saturday morning repair work, which I resented, because it ate into play time; I wasn’t getting to use any of the fun tools, so what was the point? Of course, I sucked at using those tools, even if they were the ones that were relatively safe for me to use, but at the time that was completely beside the point.
So my job was holding the flashlight and being reminded every attention-span-interval to point it at the target, and fetching the new tool that was needed when an unexpected problem arose. The trouble with this is twofold: tool taxonomy, and spooky tools. I knew the names of very few tools as an eight year-old — the difference between a regular and phillips-head screwdriver, different kinds of pliers and wrenches (why is an Allen wrench considered a wrench? It breaks the paradigm of fitting over the head of the bolt), even hammers (what the heck is a ball-peen?) were not innate knowledge, and since I wasn’t actually using them, I didn’t have a lot of motivation to learn. Even if I knew the name of it, it had the ability to cloak itself like a Romulan warbird, as if the tool were the embodiment of Lamont Cranston, able to cloud my mind so I couldn’t see it. Whatever tool I was sent to find, I simply could not see it some significant fraction of the time, but it would pop back into view once my dad approached the pegboard. The same effect persists in looking for tools in the lab, when they aren’t in their lair (if they are, I know where to look). They have a chameleon-like ability to blend in on the lab bench until you ask someone else where the widget is, at which time they turn fluorescent orange and stands out like a fluorescent orange widget.