BLOOD BROTHERS Of Men, Springtime and Power Tools


Though it's been almost two hours since I heard the plaintive cry, "Get the ice!" I stand alert, knowing that it is spring and at any second I may have to stop what I'm doing and again race for the freezer.

In the old days, the really old days, it was a spring ritual for males to place leeches on their bodies as part of a therapeutic process called bloodletting. It was believed that this practice would rid the system of excess blood accumulated over the winter. It's surprising that in this modern day and age the ancient ritual continues; however, today's males have replaced leeches with a more civilized method of bloodletting -- power tools.

During spring, the ice maker tucked in the corner of our freezer works overtime. Of course that's not very unusual, except that we seldom use the ice for drinks. For us, having an automatic ice maker is not just a matter of convenience, it's a necessity because the ice is used primarily for medicinal purposes.

When I claimed the cost of the ice maker as a medical expense the Internal Revenue Service was skeptical, but after hearing my explanation, the auditor, a woman whose husband owns a complete collection of Black & Decker tools, approved the deduction.

Is there a woman alive who has not frozen in her tracks when she realizes that she no longer hears the roar of the lawn mower, the chain saw, electric drill or weed whacker? We all do the same thing -- stop, hold our breath, cock our heads and frown as we listen to the silence.

Believe it or not, there are two kinds of power-tool silences. One is the silence that occurs when the machine is turned off because the job is done; the other is the silence that accompanies bloodletting. A good wife can tell the difference. Unfortunately, I can't, which is why the frequent spring bloodlettings at our house are accompanied by the shout "Get the ice!"

I used to get scared when I heard the ice command, but after 25 years I've grown accustomed to the splat sound that blood makes when it hits the kitchen floor and I no longer panic. Experience has taught me that if one can simultaneously run and holler for ice one's not dead yet.

I always ask what happened even though I've gotten pretty good at figuring it out simply by judging the width of the scarlet trail that snakes across the porch, through the back door and down the hall. I do know not to ask, "Did you cut yourself again?" because rhetorical questions only agitate the injured party. Even wives in ancient times knew it was not wise to agitate a spouse who had "let" too much blood.

My job is simply to get the ice, remember the date of the last tetanus shot, and never say something really stupid such as, "I think that might need a stitch." Also, no laughing when the explanation is something like: "I hit myself in the mouth with my hand while I was trying to start the chain saw."

It's amazing how a man who has injured himself badly enough to fill three pastel guest towels with blood can simply tape up the injury and return to his power tools. Men don't even whimper. When I experienced a power-tool bloodletting (I stapled my thumb in 1966), I took to my bed for two days and cried the whole time. I still tear up when I think about it.

Perhaps the worst, and certainly the funniest, incident in the history of power-tool bloodletting occurred in my own back yard, and though I swore I'd never breathe a word, it's perfect to use here to illustrate what can happen when a . . . oh wait! He's hollering for ice again.

JOANNE SHERMAN is a free-lance writing living on Shelter Island, N.Y.

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