A week ago the car quit dead in a fashion beyond my understanding. I decided to remove the tags and roll it onto the railroad tracks. Nobody can afford to get anything fixed anymore. But there was one possibility.

I called Fix-It Dick, the master of the mechanical world, my omniscient neighbor. "Sounds like the ballast resistor," he said. "It's one of the hardest problems to diagnose."

I found the ballast resistor that night, probing around with a flashlight. Next morning I slapped it on the counter at Murphy's Auto Parts and the guy brought its $2.50 replacement in 15 seconds.

VROOOOM. Case closed, except for the small matter of a debt owed a friend. I called to thank Dick and ask what I could do for him.

"I have to put a fence up to keep the baby in," he said. "I have all the tools but I can't possibly dig all the post holds. What with your massive upper body strength," he said, goading me, "you should have no problem at all." u

"I'll be there at dawn."

Fix-It Dick checkled. He had never seen dawn, except from the back side.

"Make it about 10:30."

I found myself looking forward to a day at hard labor. My wife found this amusing. Six months before we had paid a pair of churlish, unprofessional youths 1,500 hard dollars to install a privacy fence in the yard.They hadn't done much of a job. But wife, who watched, was left with an abiding view of post-hole digging.

"It is the lowest form of human labor," she said.

Fix-It Dick was shocked when I arrived next morning. He was so sure mine was idle talk that he'd lined himself up another job, repairing a Ford van's horn which either blew all the time or not all. "But here's the tools," he said. "Why don't you go ahead and start digging."

Rule No. 1 is you dig no free post-holes alone. I jingled my keys and headed for the car, but the master got there first and mended the little break in our fence.

The first thing you learn when digging post holes is that eight feet, the regulation distance between them, is about half as far as you think it is. The second is that the yard you think is 50 feet long is actually 80. The third is that three feet down, regulation depth, is somewhere between the water table and the Far East.

A post-hole digger (the tool) is a pair of steel, spoon-shaped tongs with sharpened leading edges. They're worked with a pair of two-foot-long hardwood handles. Also helpful is a five-foot heavy steel shaft with a sharpened end to dig up, pry at or pound through obstacles.

A post-hole digger (the person) is two arms, a chest and some support structure, like legs. Brains are not required. In fact they are counterproductive.

We made a good pair. While I wielded the tools of ignorance, Dick measured the eight-foot lengths and three-foot depths. When I finished a hole he tossed in a six-foot post and anchored it in an amalgam of mud and bluestone gravel.

To oil the rough spots of two men accustomed to working alone, we were required to shower each other with preposterous praise every five minutes, which we did.

For my part I admired Dick's inventiveness. The bluestone mix was his idea, with its basis in the fact that his driveway is a ton of bluestone and what's around is cheaper than what you're supposed to need, concrete. He figured bluestone and mud was homemade concrete, and when he bedded a post down fastidiously and tamped the final layer of earth around it, it was in for good.

So the long, slow day followed its own meter; if you got tired you took a break. This is the way life is for Dick, who never thought enough of the so-called real world to bother with a day job. He's always just been handy; when some high-powered working person needs something fixed, Dick has the time and inclination.

People stopped by over the course of the day, as they always do at Dick's. They chatted awhile and then went about their business. Toward evening a woman stopped by and watched. Dick introduced me.

"What do you do?" she asked as I grunted and heaved at the post-hole digger.

"I work at the Post," I said.

"Yes," said she. "So I see."