The Awning (1996)

I have a fatalistic attitude toward trailer awnings. I have seen too many distorted frames, too many ripped and tattered remnants flapping in the breeze to believe that the gods are in favor of the deployment of these sun screening devices. Although it has not happened to me yet, I am certain that I am merely being toyed with. When I least expect it, some exuberant wind will tear my awning loose, snatch it into the air, dance with it merrily while I stand in dumb and impotent disbelief, and then finally deposit it in some creative manner that will cause excessive work for several insurance agents.

That is one of the reasons why I cringed when Linda asked me to put down the awning last Sunday.

The other reason is simply that I am a world class klutz. Amazingly enough, I come from a long line of engineers and builders, people who could and did both design and execute projects that exist to this day. Somehow all that genetic ability passed me by: I can not design, I cannot build, I can barely eat breakfast cereal without assistance. While others may be able to lower an awning with barely a thought, this task requires my complete concentration. Heck, connecting a hose requires my complete concentration. As my neighbor to our left remarked, "I love living next door to you. You're such fun to watch!". Well, fun for him, perhaps, but anything mechanical is sheer torture for me. So this was the other reason that Linda's desire for shade caused aching pains in my stomach.

However, I felt fairly confident, which for me means that I am reasonably certain that I will not kill myself and that I can afford whatever damage may be caused. With assistance, I have put this awning both up and down several times, and toward the very end of last year I actually did it entirely by myself just as the manufacturers instructions promised I could.

Therefor I ignored my neighbor's evil grin and walked right up to the awning and put my hands on it and...let's see, what is it I'm supposed to do first? I remembered something about it being very important that one side be started before the other, but I could not remember which side. If I were not a Man, I could have simply gone inside our trailer, dug out the instructions, and refreshed my memory, but Men don't do that. So I paused, undoubtedly with an extremely stupid look on my face, and tried to remember.

It was right at this point that Linda asked if I needed any help. The timing of this was extremely unfortunate, because my confusion was distracting me, so, without any thought of the consequences, I said "Sure. Thanks".

This was a grievous error. There undoubtedly are couples who can work together side by side in complete harmony. I've seen such people now and then, but Linda and I are not capable of doing this. In fact, I firmly believe that part of the secret to our 29 years of marriage is that we do not work together. Normally, when my wits are about me, I graciously refuse any offer of assistance from my wife unless the task under consideration is so simple that even I can handle it and her assistance will merely be a token of marital togetherness and not involve anything taxing to either of us. Putting down a balky and recalcitrant awning does not qualify at all, and even as I answered her I felt a gnawing pang of regret.

Nevertheless, I put on a false front of good cheer and positioned her at the gear side of the awning. I still was not sure whether that was the side that should go first, but I decided to unship it from its seat, and I instructed Linda to hold it while I went to attend to the other end. My mind was still very foggy on exactly how this was supposed to work, but I figured that I would just get started and somehow it would all come together. For inexplicable reasons, I am an incorrigible optimist sometimes.

For a few brief, shining seconds, this project seemed to be going very well. The awning began to unroll and I remember thinking "Wow. This is working". The fact that the awning was forming a 45 degree angle to our trailer had somehow escaped my attention, but as the leading edge approached the top of our picnic table even I realized that something was drastically wrong. All I needed was a few minutes of quiet contemplation to remember how I had done it last year and I'm quite sure that I would have had the situation back under control. Unfortunately, this was not to be because our neighbors noticed that Linda was being buried by the awning and that I was standing off to the side looking stupefied.

Before I could even get a proper panic state worked up, we had five burly and very mechanically minded Men on our deck. Unfortunately, while I have no doubt that any one of them could have calmly and professionally taken over and saved the day, the presence of five men (six if you count me, which no one did) only added to the confusion. However, after a few false starts, we all realized that the arms needed to be detached from the trailer and swung out onto the deck. I now remembered that this was indeed the way I had done it last year, so we did that, and with much manly grunting, we got the awning up to a height that adult humans could stand erect beneath it.

But now there was the matter of the extension arms that would keep the awning from rolling back up. Some nagging memory kept insisting that there was something special I needed to do, something unusual, but I couldn't remember what. Normally these arms have little hand nuts on them that you screw in. Apparently these had broken or rusted away years ago, and some other method was used to secure it. The problem was that I couldn't remember what, and the other five men were arguing among themselves as to how to do it. In the meantime six naked men had to stand there holding the awning up while their wives stood on their own decks and giggled.

Finally one of them went to get a drill, and it was only when he brought it back that I remembered that there already were holes drilled just for this purpose and that I actually had the pins, too!

After this, things went smoothly, and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon shielded from the harsh sun. Unfortunately, sunny nudist afternoons must end, and awnings must be retracted once again, and I foolishly assumed that reversing the process would be easier.

It was when I was standing with my head braced against the main arm, trying to keep the awning from retracting while I strained to reach the part of the extension arm that had slipped out onto the deck that our neighbors once again came to my rescue. I don't want to be unappreciative, but the howls of laughter were, I think, quite unnecessary. What's so funny about a naked man bent over with his head jammed into an awning? I fail to see the amusement in that. I also felt that my neighbor's parting comment about this being better than Laurel and Hardy was completely uncalled for.

The next time I put down my awning, I'm going to get up at 5:30 AM and get out there before anyone, including my dear wife, is awake. I will struggle in solitude, naked man against awning, with only the rising sun to see my bumbling efforts. I will defeat that awning, or it will defeat me, but we will grapple with each other alone, silently, no holds barred, winner take all.

The smart money is on the awning.

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