Men knew things before YouTube
Burt's Eye View
When I was a boy, men knew how to do things.
You didn’t hire mechanics or carpenters. You fixed and built stuff yourself.
If you didn’t know exactly which direction to route the plumbing fixtures, you had your spouse call the spouse of one of the other guys who did. (Back then, men didn’t use telephones.)
There were no YouTube videos. If your buddy who had deciphered the mysteries of plumbing was in the hospital because of some home repair accident, you scooped up a mess of tools and figured it out yourself.
Want a new house? If you were from my dad’s generation, you built one yourself. The roof might leak and you might have to tote water in buckets from the nearest stream, but it kept you mostly warm and dry — because men knew how to do things.
My dad can fix anything.
Except me. I’m sure I was a mystery to him when I was a kid. How could any boy of his not know the difference between a pair of pliers and a wrench?
I’ve bumped into a modicum of skills over the years. I once hung drywall that didn’t crash to the floor in an explosion of white chunks. There was the time I successfully manipulated a carpenter’s square and utility knife to replace a piece of flooring that had to fit around a complex geometric pattern of obstacles. I even once lit the pilot light on the water heater without the house exploding.
My generation isn’t as self-reliant as my dad’s, but we have figured our way around a tool or two. We changed our own oil, fixed our own flats and installed our own trim.
Or used to. These days, I sit in customer lounges and play on my smartphone while professionals perform all the tasks that I used to do.
Which is why the new generation not only can’t tell the difference between a pair of pliers and a wrench, but aren’t sure if those names belong to tools, clothing or rock bands. But they’ll Google it for you.
My collection of tools is pitiful and pointless compared to what guys like my dad kept. But I pack a set of jumper cables in my car, apparently a modern day rarity. If someone’s car won’t start, I get the call because I not only have cables, but I know which color to clamp to what without blowing up the car. So far, anyway.
Today, if kids’ cars won’t start, they call Uber. Why fix it if someone else will drive you?
I’ve only been ferried by Uber once. After a conference in San Antonio, I needed a ride to the airport. I downloaded an Uber app, scheduled a pickup and then on my smartphone screen, watched the driver wend his way to the hotel like some kind of Pac-Man game sans the pink, green, red and blue ghosts.
Dad, of course, would have built his own car from discarded pieces and parts culled from trash bins behind the hotel. Because he’s from the generation when men knew how to do things.
After I arrived at the airport, I deleted the Uber app. I’m embarrassed enough that I carry a smartphone, let alone being caught with one that contains apps.
But mostly, I don’t want Dad to catch a glimpse of my cell and realize that I’m a man who still doesn’t know how to do things.
• Fix stuff with Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or @BurtonWCole on Twitter.