For three little words, they sure carry a lot of weight.
Most men don’t like to say them.
Especially when they’re talking to a woman.
Three little words.
You wouldn’t think they’d be so hard to speak.
Especially when they happen to be the truth.
And, as we all know, those three words are:
Perhaps you were expecting something a little more sentimental. But for most men, acknowledging ignorance is much more difficult than professing affection.
My unwillingness to admit “I don’t know” has caused me a lot of problems over the years. Especially when I’m driving.
“Do you know how to get to the store/restaurant/hotel/your brother’s house?” my wife will ask as we head out for parts unknown.
Later, when we’re running a little behind, she’ll ask again: “Are you sure you know where we’re going?”
Then, when we’re obviously late, she’ll demand: “Do you think we’re going the wrong way?”
Finally, when we’re undeniably lost, she’ll comment: “You really don’t know where we’re at, do you?”
“Yeah, but still … ,” I’ll finally admit, “I love you.”
I can’t help it. Driving in ignorance was something I learned early in life.
I remember back when I was 18 I got a summer job working at Matthiessen State Park near Utica, just down the road from Starved Rock. It wasn’t glamorous work by any means, mostly picking up trash, cutting grass and digging ditches. Plus the boss was a curmudgeon, quick to criticize and averse to explanations. So anytime there was an opportunity to take a break from the monotony and sarcasm, I jumped on it.
“Wimbiscus,” the boss said to me one morning. “You know how to drive a stick shift?”
Now, I had never driven a stick in my life, though I understood the theory. Mostly. Enough to know you had to push the pedal thingy with your left foot before you moved the shift thingy with your right hand.
So instead of admitting the whole truth – which was “I don’t know” – I immediately responded with a half truth: “Sure.”
“I need you to drive the dump truck down to Starved Rock and haul back a tractor. You know how to hitch a trailer, right?”
Now, other than a ride, I’d never hitched anything in my life, though a couple days earlier, I’d seen one of my coworkers hook up said trailer to said dump truck. As far as I could tell, it involved putting the cup thingy on top of the ball thingy.
So instead of admitting the whole truth – which, again, was “I don’t know” – I immediately responded with another half truth: “Sure.”
Because, as everyone knows, two half truths make a whole truth.
“Well, make sure the chains are secured,” the boss grunted. “That hill’s pretty steep.”
Chains? What chains? But, at that point, I was in too deep to admit ignorance.
“Sure, boss,” I said as revved up the truck, dropped it into first, lurched forward … and promptly stalled out. Three times in a row.
On my fourth attempt, I managed to ease it into second, grind into third and finally jam into fourth. As I staggered off to Starved Rock to haul back a trailer I didn’t know how to hitch, I could feel the boss’s eyes drilling a hole in the back of my head.
Now, the main entrance to Starved Rock is halfway down a hill that culminates in the Utica bridge. It’s a steep hill, and if you miss the turn you have to cross the river before you can turn around. Still, getting there proved to be relatively easy. I simply rode the brake all the way down.
When I pulled into the ranger station, my luck continued to hold. The ranger took one look at my feeble backing in attempt and offered to hitch the trailer for me. Chains and everything.
By the time I was heading back, I figured I had the whole stick shift thing under control: go easy on the clutch, push hard on the shift and everything else took care of itself.
But, then, when I was only halfway up the hill and stuck behind the a long line of cars, the stop light turned red. It was at that point I discovered a hitch in my hauling plan: how to stop a two-ton dump truck pulling an 18-foot trailer carrying a 1960s-something Ford tractor on a 10-degree grade without rolling backwards into the car behind you … and/or stalling.
It was then I finally realized: I don’t know.
After a moment’s consideration, stalling seemed like the better option. And with the brake jammed to the floor, I hardly slipped backwards at all. Finally, after what seemed like hours later, the light turned green. I started up in second and managed to slowly grind my way up to the top of the hill as the cars behind me blasted their horns.
“Everything go OK?” the boss asked when I finally pulled back into Matthiessen.
“Well, just back it up over here. You do know to back a trailer, right?”
I took a hard look at him. He took a hard look at me.
“No,” I said, swallowing hard. “I don’t know.”
He let out a deep sigh. “Fine,” he said icily. “I’ll do it myself. Now get back on garbage duty.”
Relieved, I climbed out of the cab. And at that point all I could think was, “I love you, man.”
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.