Last of a Dying Breed

Just when you think it can’t get more stupid, something comes along to give you that sense of despair that, yup…it can always get worse.

Phil at Busted Knuckles had a great piece the other day about a days worth of encounters where people just couldn’t fix stuff and didn’t even think to try. Worst part was his niece stuck with a bad battery, with no conception that you could jump start those while the fiancé sat five minutes away, clueless as to what to do as well.

Reminded me of one of my daughter’s boyfriends. I was helping him with his brakes, and told him to jack up the car. Pitiful and clueless. He was using the shaft of the jack’s crank as a “T”, instead of slipping the hook in the notch, attaching the other part, and cranking.

Sweet Jesus! I said, let me show you how to do that. Total revelation to the boy.

Then, I showed him the sticker on the trunk lid, complete with pictures, showing how the jack works. Whatever. The kid was a doofus. I don’t think his father was around, and he was still in his teens.

That said, I was walking the dogs this morning and I ran into a situation down the block. There’s a car in the middle of the street, door open. There’s a dude that appears to be changing a tire on a car parked next to that, on the other side of the street.

As I get next to them, there’s a woman in the driver’s seat of the middle car, ‘supervising’ the tire change. I can’t for the life of me understand why she needed to block the street. Then I get a load of the dude changing the tire. Same thing as the doofus kid, using the shaft of the crank as a “T” and twisting it, 1/2 turn at a time, to raise the jack.

Dude was in his 30s, a moron.

Too dumb to figure it out, to thick to read the instructions.

God help us, how many of them are out there?

I felt bad not helping, but with three large dogs, that would’ve been drama.

I’m blessed with mad man skills. I have the aptitude and curiosity, which are the foundations of learning and then I was blessed to grow up in a time when men fixed things. I had a dad that could do some stuff. He could hold his own with what little tools he had. He paneled my and my brothers bedroom with nothing but hand tools, including an old school miter box. He took the sheets over to a friends house and had them cut on a table saw. And it looked decent.

I also had neighbors and friends dads that would press us kids into service.

I probably learned the most from my neighbor, Fred. Dude was always rebuilding something. He was the master of the understatement – “Hey, you boys want to help dig a hole?”. Sure. A 4×3 by 6 feet deep footer for a chimney. We were good sports about it.

“Hey, can you help me get something in my basement?”

An iron woodstove – the reason for the chimney.

But then things went both ways. I was trying to tune up my Dad’s Toyota. I got sick of it missing and sputtering when trying to take off from a stop. I’d seen Fred do it enough I thought I’d try it myself.

“What you boy’s doin’?”

Next thing you know, Fred is there with a dwell-tach and a timing light digging in. “We’ll get this thing burnin’ rubber in no time” And so he did. When I dropped my brother off at work that evening, I popped the clutch and peeled out into the street from the parking lot. True, the back tires were useless, but it never did that before.

He was always there helping. Once I needed a custom motor mount in a van I had. It had a slant 6 originally, but the only motor I had (that came with the van) was a 318. “Tell you what, my brother has a metal shop in the country (around Harrisonburg VA, near Fred’s cabin), why don’t you help me plant some trees, and I’ll have him build the mount.

So I went to the country and planted a few thousand seedlings – Pine, Oak, Walnut.

But not only did his brother build the mount, he welded the cracked exhaust manifold for me as well. Welding cast iron isn’t for the newbie.

So think about this. I, as a young man, that year learned how to swap an engine, and plant seedlings, and learn to fit in with the company of men (His brothers were tough cookies. You needed thick skin. I’m not sure a modern dude would survive the encounter).

As I get older, I’m starting to thing guys like me, Fred, and a host of others I’ve known are fading away. They have to be out there.

Enough walking down memory lane. I’ve screwed around long enough and now have to go finish installing the tiles in the sunroom.

PS – last time I talked with Fred (I think I just was back from Texas), he apologized profusely for running over our ancient cat. It had fallen asleep under his car. He also told me all those trees had grown and his drive was lined with pine trees, and the walnuts and oaks had dropped nuts and acorns all over, so there were deer and turkey all around his cabin. Which was the point of planting them.