What happened to the simple things of life that I knew how to work?
Burt's Eye View
Before I became a fossil, I used to be able to do things.
That was before young punk kids improved simple tasks, complicating them beyond human capability. Or beyond mine.
When I was a kid, we turned on the black-and-white TV by actually turning a knob. That’s why it’s called “turning on” the set. Now if I don’t push a dozen buttons over three remote controls in the correct sequence to sync TV, sound system and DVD player, I end up with a show on how to knit toilet paper covers. In the old days, the only finesse work needed to run the TV was knowing which side to smack to fix the vertical hold. That I could do.
When the phone rang, we lifted the big, ol’ receiver off the bulky black cradle and said, “Hello.” Simple. That was back in the dinosaur days when dialing a phone meant spinning an actual dial.
My most recent phone is a slim rectangle that slides into my shirt pocket. The first time it chirped, I had no idea how to answer the silly thing.
And when I was a teen, a guy could park his car under a backyard shade tree and — with only a screwdriver, two wrenches, duct tape and a can of WD-40 — fix most anything.
The times were so relaxed that even I, a guy with no mechanical ability to speak of, could change a car tire. Loosen lugs. Jack car. Drop flat. Line up replacement. Lower car. Tighten lugs. Live happily ever after. Because doing things was simple.
Fast forward 40 years. I left work one night to find a flat tire on my new-to-me car.
No big deal. I can do this.
I popped the trunk, reached for the spare and came up with a skinny round bit of rubber apparently meant for a Schwinn. Next to it, an odd-looking jack that looked like it had been squished was clipped to the wheel well.
I rooted through the trunk for the hunk of crowbar handle. I found a couple cute slivers of steel that the life-complication engineers claimed would interlink to form one solid jack handle. It was like trying to hitch a hay wagon to a tractor without a simple hitch pin.
The crazy jack slid under the car, parallel to frame. Meaning the turny thing the fall-apart handle was meant to lock onto but didn’t also was underneath the car. A car sitting too low to the ground to let the handle turn because, you know, the tire’s flat!
What happened to straightforward tools that made sense? Sure, the old jacks ate up truck space, but they worked. Easily.
I borrowed a perpendicular jack from a co-worker and finally raised the car despite the best efforts of life-convolution engineers.
The wheel wouldn’t budge.
Just great. Had my car been improved with hub locks, too? What kind of perplexingly sophisticated tool did those take?
A middle-aged guy pulled up in a roadside assistance truck. He glanced at the locked wheel. “I have a tool for that.”
He picked up — a hammer. One thwack and the wheel popped off.
“Frozen by rust,” the guy said. “Rubber mallet works every time.”
Sixty seconds later, the spare was on, the jack unspun and the car was ready to roll.
Simple tasks may have been improved beyond human capability, but the old-fashioned hammer still wins. I’m going to a mallet of my very own — as soon as I can figure out how call out on one of these troublesome modern pocket phones without dials.
• Send smoke signals to Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.