The brilliant Eric Moes, an architect, works as a handyman at our organization’s Watershed Station, “The Shed.” Although he’d rather be drafting, he is wonderful to have around. An example: we have bats in our bathrooms, and I asked for his help moving one out of the Women’s bathroom, into the hallway, and from there back out into the wild. Eric agreed, found a toilet brush to use to help herd the Myotis californicus, and proceeded to shoo the winged mammal.
“It’s not a vampire, right?” Eric asked. Even though I knew it wasn’t, I only ventured that I didn’t think so, feeling suddenly vulnerable around my neck.
Eric’s waving and swishing with the stiff-bristled brush worked–sort of. The bat flew out of the Women’s, into the hallway, and (rather than out the door) into the Men’s! It reattached, this time directly above the toilet bowl. Eric seemed satisfied: “If we can’t convince them to move, at least we can toilet train them.”
He replaced the brush and shrugged. “That was feckless,” he said. “I hate feeling feckless.” It was a comment no doubt reflecting not only on the lame results of our shooing but also his wish not to be working outside his field. He shouted, “I am without feck!” and wandered away to move desks or replace boards in our decaying walkway. “Honestly,” he had told me earlier, “making minor repairs to this place is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”
All of which led me to my dictionary, where I see that the word feckless (meaning “worthless,” “ineffective”) is rooted in the tongue of the Scots. A feck is a majority, an effect. The consonants in feck fall hard on the ear, lodged in our hearing between cad and loch, derived long ago from some other (no doubt) tough-edged word on a cold day on the Island, where one certainly finds no California Myotis to herd.