June 8, 2009

LIFE HOLDS NO MORE TERRIFYING EXPERIENCE FOR THE BOOKISH MAN...:

Home Mechanic: Joseph Epstein, unhandyman. (Joseph Epstein, 06/15/2009, Weekly Standard)

When I was 11 years old, my parents bought a two-flat apartment building. The building had a small front and back lawn, the care of which was turned over to me. I was no more than 10 minutes on the job when I found it even more boring than hearing about your children's high SAT scores. I rushed through the rest, and returned to our apartment to let my father know I had finished. Looking around, he noticed the patches of grass I had missed, how uneven I had left the edges of the lawn where it met the pavement, all the little clumps of grass I failed to rake up. "You know," my father said, calmly, "comes another Depression, you are exactly the kind of guy they let go first."

In Chicago grammar schools in those days, girls were required to take a course in home economics, where they learned the rudiments of cooking and sewing, and boys to take a course called home mechanics to acquaint them with tools. In home mechanics, we made bookends and lamps with bowling pins or fancy wine or whisky bottles as their bases. We did a fair amount of work with something called a coping saw. Every so often we used one of the large electric power saws; this was my first and last interaction with the firm of Black & Decker, apart from the few Black & Decker haircuts I've since had.

I did not cope at all well with the coping saw, and broke its slender blades fairly often. I had no patience for careful sanding, no interest in wiring. I took no pride in my ineptitude, as if it suggested that I was cut out for higher things. Nor did I look down on people who were good at home mechanics. I vaguely admired them, but not enough, apparently, to concentrate sufficiently at improving my own skills in this line.

Living in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the early 1960s, I often met men who tuned their own cars or did their own plumbing, and, in one instance, a guy who was building his own house. My admiration was no longer vague; I wished I had their talent, which, among other things, set them free from having to worry about being overcharged for jobs any normally (oh, hell, let's bring out the word) virile man ought to be able to do on his own but also gave them a sense of independence I lacked.


...than operating a Sawzall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 8, 2009 11:02 AM
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