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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Judge, Jury and Man

Dear Dad,   
                 I have been observing the interactions between men doing manly things for some time now. Like an anthropologist, I mentally record repetitive behaviors and unspoken traditions. I have found that there is a common misconception in modern lore that suggests men judge each other based on size and power. This just isn’t true. Men do not judge each other the way that women or famous Germanic psychologists think they do. Nor do men judge each other the way women judge one another. Men judge each other based on general preparedness towards daily ’manly’ trivial tasks. I want to talk about two separate experiences I have recently had that support this hypothesis. I think Dad, that if women knew this about men a lot of domestic disputes could be avoided entirely. 

               A few days ago I gathered up all my guns and headed out to a local firing range to meet some friends. A shooting range is typically a getaway, a place for men to show off their skills. We always pretend that the weapons just need to be sighted in. The truth however is that guns are loud and scary, and therefore manly. Throw in the competition angle and you have got yourself a recipe for man gathering. My friends met me at the appointed hour (never late) and we began to assemble our arsenal. One of my friends brought out a couple of assault rifles. I had to turn my head to wipe the tear of happiness from my eye. The smell of the gun oil and the silence that would soon be shattered, created an atmosphere of pure joy. That’s when it hit me. My two friends would watch me shoot these assault rifles for the first time. I can hold my own with a hunting rifle, a pistol or even a shotgun but I had never before fired an assault rifle. As I picked up the first gun, I could feel their eyes boring into the back of my head. You see men don’t judge you by the size of your gun, or even by how many guns you have. The judgment comes when you are loading the weapon or how you hold it. Did you flinch when the gun went off?  It’s all about preparedness. We laugh for weeks about the guy that put the ammo in backwards, or the guy who fell down when the shotgun hit back a little too hard. It’s not even important to hit the target the first time. It is very important though to adjust your aim after missing. Men notice if you miss in the exact same manner over and over again. Fully conscious of the stares, I went through the first twenty shots before finally hitting a target over a hundred yards away. The enjoyment I felt at the decimation of a gallon jug only lasted a second. The jug flew through the air and landed in an awkward, hard to see spot. I only had 10 shots left and my friends were still watching, fully expecting me to hit home again. I did, and with just one shot to spare. I quickly and surreptitiously fired that shot into nothing, as if to say ‘My work here is done.‘ I certainly didn’t want the pressure of hitting the target a third time with just one shot left. The test was passed. I was judged and found guilty. Guilty of being ‘THE MAN.’ Next week I am going to barbecue at the range. I cannot think of a manlier way to spend the day.

               The very next day I joined yet another friend on the launch of his new boat. A boats maiden voyage is a great thing to be a part of, and because the seating is limited it is an honor to be invited. So we two men headed to the lake with boat in tow. Upon our arrival at the boat access ramps, we found the parking lot full. Men were milling about preparing to leave or waiting their turn to launch. My compatriot jumped out of his truck and got into the back of his boat and I slid into the drivers seat. I found myself in the unique position of driving someone else’s ‘baby’ and backing a trailer down the ramp with a crowd of men waiting breathlessly for me to fail. Already nervous because the boat and trailer were brand new, I eased the truck backwards at a steady five miles per hour. Not too fast, not too slow. I knew what the spectators would appreciate seeing. I wound up too close to the curb, but I was committed. The worst thing I could have done was to pull forward for a second start. As the boat entered the water millimeters from the curb, I heard my friend shout out to our neighbor launchers, (there were two ramps side by side) “It’s hard to find good help.” There was some light laughter and I knew that I had narrowly avoided being the butt of many lake side jokes. Seconds later my friend jumped up in alarm and yelled for me to pull the boat back out of the water. I pulled forward a few feet and turned in my seat. His face beet red from embarrassment he climbed into the back of the truck and tried to whisper to me that he had forgotten to put the plug in the boat. It was too late, the damage was done. The knowing smiles on the other anglers faces told all that the judging had commenced. I however felt redemption in the face of adversity. It is no small thing to triumph at a task in the presence of your peers.

              So you see now what I mean. Men can get stressed over a trivial daily exercise. Especially when other men are present. This is why we don’t ask for directions. We don’t care that we are lost. Other men won’t judge us for getting lost. Everyone gets lost. We don’t want another man to have to tell us that if we had driven just two more miles down the stretch of road we were already on, the solution would present itself. That is what embarrasses us. Men are supposed to be problem solvers. The ultimate man is probably a cross between ’Indiana Jones’ and ’Sherlock Holmes.’

              A few weeks ago I wrote you a letter referring to my ineptitude when working on cars. That did not bother me. It would have been embarrassing though to write you and say that I didn’t even try. For the most part women don’t get this. My wife doesn’t understand why I own tools I have never used. She doesn’t get that I cannot be the ‘guy’ who always needs to borrow tools. I need to be the ‘man’ who loans them out. When your neighbor knocks on your door to borrow a deep well socket, you don’t bring it to the door. You invite him in, you show him your tool emporium, you bask in the glory of it. It doesn’t matter that he knows how to use the tool. He wasn’t prepared. Is it embarrassing to call a friend with four wheel drive to un-stick your car from the mud? Sure, a little, but it is nowhere near as embarrassing if when he shows up he doesn’t have to get out of the truck. You being the prepared man that you are, have the tow chain in hand and hook it to both vehicles yourself, in the proper place. Redemption, respect, they go hand in hand. Men know this. This is why men get mad when they are forced to try and retry parallel parking in a tight space or when they need to ask someone for directions, or when they can’t find the tie-downs they need to help a buddy move. This is even the reason so many men who hate helping a buddy move, still own a truck when they have no other reason to own a truck. A well prepared man is a manly man. We are raised this way. A man always has a pocketknife. If you don’t have one when you need it, then you run the risk of other men assuming you are effeminate. Ask yourself this, have you ever judged a man on the size of the deer he shot? How about on the story he told you about getting the deer back to camp? He forgot his rope, his four wheeler ran out of gas, he didn’t field dress it before trying to move it. Those are the things we judge. This is why we don’t like shopping. A man wants to walk into a store, grab what he was there for and be out in ‘8 seconds’ or less. As a matter of fact everything we do (except for one thing) is done as fast as possible. Life is a rodeo. You ever struggle tying on a fish hook?  Out come the excuses followed by the frustrated swears. I won’t bother trying to explain this to my wife again, she listened to my hypothesis for a minute and dismissed me Immediately as incorrect. The Image we have of judging by size or style is so deeply ingrained in society that many women will never understand.

              Well I can say that my last two trials ended well. I came out a man, judged by a jury of my peers. It is only a matter of time before I find myself once again the defendant pleading for a second chance to prove myself. All I can do in the mean time is be prepared. If my wife loves me she will help me be prepared. I need a new fishing pole and I could really use a leather punch. I don’t yet know what leather needs punched, but I’ll be damned if I am going next door to borrow one.

                       your boating, shooting, fully prepared man of a son.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Motor Miracles

Dear Dad,

               When it comes to automobiles I have never been real mechanically proficient. I know the basics. I can respond to the lights on the dashboard. The check oil light comes on, I check the oil and maybe add a quart or two. The temperature light comes on, I add some engine coolant. The check engine light comes on, I pull over, pop the hood and make sure the engine is still there. I have friends that watch NASCAR and rebuild transmissions, so I don’t need to know much. What I do know I have put to excellent use in a pinch. I have most of the tools, and I do enjoy taking things apart. That and a little ingenuity is all you need right?

              I was in my recliner the other day, minding my own business and generally enjoying pretending to nap. My wife stormed into the house seconds after leaving to run an errand. She said her car wouldn’t start and gave me ‘The Look.’ You know the look I’m talking about. It’s the one that suggests everything is your fault and if you don’t get up and do something about it your demise will be described in morning headlines across the nation. I believe John Wayne Bobbitt ignored ‘the look’ once. I craned my neck to the right so as to look out the front window and noticed that her car was pulled out in to the street blocking traffic. This, in conjunction with ’the look’ meant that I had to go to work on the problem immediately instead of putting it off until one of my buddy’s could come over. It was a Sunday so I couldn’t even call a professional. I resigned myself to the inevitable and stood up. My Wife explained to me what happened. The car started and she pulled out about halfway into the street. She realized she forgot something, so she parked right there and got out, when she got back in, the car wouldn’t start.

               OK, before I even began I knew it was either the battery or the alternator. I bundled up for the sub freezing temperatures and walked out to my truck. After I got my truck turned around I ran jumper cables between the two vehicles. Her car started right up. I walked around to the hood and grabbed the jumper cables. Now this is the real moment of truth. There is only a fifty dollar difference in the cost of a battery verses the cost of an alternator. A battery is much easier to replace though and most times only needs to be recharged. I prayed that she had just let the battery run all night and my work would be done. You see, a battery just starts a car. An alternator creates the electricity that runs the car. That means that if the alternator is bad, then when you remove the cables the car will die. The battery of course will already be dead from trying to run the car. I eased the cables away from the battery posts and gritted my teeth.

               The car died and just like that, my whole day was ruined.

               Never baulking at a challenge, I went to the tool shed and filled a bucket with the necessary tools. I removed the serpentine belt, metal support straps and a coolant reservoir. Then I went to work on the rusted bolts holding the alternator in place. There was one bolt left that wouldn’t budge no matter how much I sprayed it with WD-40 and strained against it. I called a buddy up and asked him for a breaker bar. He brought me a torque ratchet with a heavy handle, and that did the trick. He could have done it himself much faster, but he is a police officer and he was on duty. He was in full uniform and never came within two feet of the greasy mess I was trying to make sense of. I removed the alternator and drove it (in my truck of course) down to the auto parts store. This whole process took only about an hour so far. I was immensely proud when I plopped the alternator down on the counter. I knew I would be done in an hour and I had some serious napping to do. That’s when it happened. The shop attendant had disappeared around the corner with my accomplishment in hand. He returned in a minute and told me he tested it and it tested good. There was nothing wrong with it. I told him how, ‘I knew’ that it was the alternator causing the problem. He just shrugged at me.

               My victory high gone and my temper flaring, I hurried home to figure this out before it got dark. On the way home I decided that the problem must be in the wiring from the alternator to the various devices that need power. I got home and immediately removed more car parts until the wiring was exposed. Then I took a twenty minute break to retrieve my wrench. It is physically impossible to work on a car without losing a tool in the no-mans land between the radiator and the front bumper. This is where tools go to die. They never hit the ground and you can never reach the perch they landed on. That’s what that rattling noise is when you get your car back from the mechanic. It’s his favorite tool entombed forever under the hood of your car. That’s also why mechanics charge so much, they have to replace their tools. Well I left most of the skin from my hand on the radiator, but I got my wrench back. I toned out all the wires leading away from the alternator, I tested all the breakers under the hood and all the fuses in the cab. I brushed down all the connections and cleaned all the wiring harnesses out. I never found a definitive problem. It was getting dark so I put everything back together, breaking my friends expensive looking torque ratchet in the process.

                The total elapsed time involved was approaching five hours. I jumped my wife’s car one more time and went to remove the jumper cables, preparing myself to push the car back into the driveway. I don’t even know why I jumped the car again. I was tired, and wasn’t thinking logically. I removed the cables and THE CAR KEPT RUNNING. It was a miracle. It was illogical. It was absurd. There was no great explanation. Maybe it was a faulty connection and I caught it in my desperate every wire check. Maybe the alternator just needed to be knocked about a bit. Maybe the auto gods felt sorry for me because I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe the wrench I dropped jarred something in there, maybe the car was never broke, maybe it was just tired, or maybe, just maybe… I AM THE MAN. Well my wife thought so anyway, as she finally left on her errand. I had her pick up a soda and a snack for her man while she was out. She found me back in my recliner when she got home. I was all cleaned up and sleeping with a small contented smile on my face.

                          your greasy, wrench laden, rev'ed up son.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sideways User Names

Dear Dad, 

                I pride myself on my understanding of technology, after all I install internet and set up networks for a living. I am new to things like ‘Facebook’ and ‘smart phones’, but I have been quick to catch on and for the most part successful. Today I encountered my first techno wall. It was large and formidable. Unlike most walls, this one protected nothing important, my task was a meager one. Their was no maiden waiting to be rescued, no children’s lives were in peril. So why did I endeavor to persevere, why does it deserve a letter? Well judge for yourself.

               I was relaxed in my recliner, my laptop was where it was made to be, in my lap. My phone was on my belt. The children were playing on the floor, doing something more cute than average. I saw this and because in this day and age real time updates are of such extreme importance I ripped my phone from it’s holster quicker than ‘Doc Holiday.’ I flipped the camera selector to video and shot a thirty second clip of the kids. Now on this phone I can take a photo and then ‘one-touch’ share it on Facebook. As it turns out I can not do that with a video. The option just wasn’t there. It did give me an option to e-mail the video though. If I could e-mail it to myself, then I could save the video to my computer and post it online the ‘normal’ way. So I tried it. The phone gave me a very polite error message. The file was too large to be sent as an attachment. It was 5.27 Mb and 5 Mb is the limit. Murphy’s law prevails. Now I am starting to get a little pissed off. I mean what’s the point of being able to shoot video with your phone if you can’t do anything with the resulting video. I shouted this to the furniture in my living room and threatened the phone with destruction and cancellation of service. It paid no heed and continued to give me the same error message. Yes, I like most people refuse to believe the first error message, as if it must be mistaken. So I stubbornly tried to e-mail the video three times. Surely I, (the Man) can’t be wrong.

             Then I figured it out. The phone had a link to ’YouTube.’ I could send the video there and then post it for my friends. I clicked the appropriate boxes and the phone asked me to sign in to YouTube or create a new account. I typed in my e-mail address and filled out all the pertinent information. Then the phone asked me to select a user name. I think that everyone has experienced this nightmare. I crossed my fingers and nervously typed in ‘missourian.’
             Sorry this user name is already taken.
             Sorry, you’re an Idiot, try again.
             Sorry loser, any other bright Ideas.
             Sorry, please get a clue, it is taken.
             ‘the missourian’
             Check user name, character not allowed.
             Sorry, sarcastic user name is not allowed.
             Sorry dumbass did you think you were the only garrett in the whole world.

             All of a sudden the phone did something else and I knew that I had finally succeeded. It was about time too. If my GI Joe kung fu grip had gotten any tighter, I would have broke the phone. In the split second the phone was thinking I mourned the loss of my usual user name ‘Missourian.’ It is a very cool name. I first starting using it on first person shooter games on my Playstation. I got the idea from the old western show ‘The Virginian’ and for a fleeting moment it occurred to me that it must suck to live in Ohio or Illinois because how do you say Ohioian or Illinoisian.

             Right at the peak of this enjoyed levity my phone informed me that an account already existed with that e-mail address. My god, I must have had this address for five years now, and one night probably after a night at the bar, I must have created a YouTube account. Well hell, I spent the next ten minutes guessing at all the passwords I have ever used. Finally I gave up and used my wife’s e-mail address, my new username and my common password. Success. I posted the video to YouTube, transferred it to Facebook and prepared to revel in my glory. Well the video showed up sideways. Anybody who watches it will suffer afterwards from taco neck. Six hours have gone by and my sideways video earned zero comments. Nobody even checked the ‘like’ box.

            I did it though, I conquered the wireless dimension. I AM THE MAN. After the yelling, swearing and tears, my wife brought me her phone and said, “honey, will you help me post this video on Facebook.” I’ll probably have to call in sick to work tomorrow, but we’ll get it done.

                     your tech support getting, wired in, www.son.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Garrett Holmes

Dear Dad,
  As you know I have been reading the complete edition of Sherlock Holmes mysteries and thoroughly enjoying them.  It has been almost an obsession.  I have been reading none stop for days now.  I believe that I am in Holmes / Doyle’s head as much as anybody can be.  I love the Idea of any kind of problem being solved logically, because in a lot of ways that is what I do for a living.  I am so invested in these books that I envision Holmes in some of today’s prime time TV shows.  I see him as the Dr. in ‘House’ and as the Detective in ‘Law and Order Criminal Intent.’  I do this a lot you know, I seem to become obsessed with every little project or hobby I start.  I always read one genre or author at a time with fervor until the supply is exhausted.  Well on with the story. 
My wife approached me last night and stated that she has been thinking of having me pull the carpet up in the bedroom.  We already know that there is a hard wood floor underneath it.  She told me that her only reservation was that we might then have to rent a machine and finish the wood surface.  She figured this would be very expensive. (Notice that it never occurred to her how much work for me it would be.)  Now you should understand that the majority of the house already has hard wood flooring except for the billiard room, the back add on and the master bedroom.  I admit I was a little annoyed by the interruption, I put down my book and gazed at this lovely creature who finds all these things for me to do.  A small smile begin to play at the edge of my lips. 
I got up from my chair and began to pace the room.  I lit a cigarette and then sat back down.  I quickly turned to Misty and in my best educated British accent, said "My dear girl, calm yourself.  Have a seat, while I solve this little problem of yours. You say that you need the carpet removed so as to expose your pretty little floors but you cannot afford the expense of a nice finish. Quite so, well it is rather simple, just remove the carpet and I assure you the floor is already quite complete and finished gloriously."
She gasped and nearly feinted on the spot.  (In my imagination of course)  "Come now" said she, "How can you be so sure."
I raised my eyebrows a little and relished the next pull of my cigarette. "It's all very elementary” I said.  “Notice that the carpeting in the bedroom is Identical to the carpeting in the homes rear addition. The hard wood floors are original but the addition is obviously not.  So from this one can deduce that both rooms were carpeted at the same time, long after the floor was finished.  Haloo!  By jove!  What is this?  Here is a further proof for your peace of mind. Notice old girl that the Bedroom is exceedingly small, which suggests that it was carpeted as an afterthought, for as you well know carpet is bought in large quantity at a discounted rate.  The faux wood paneling in the addition suggests a do it yourself project, so we can assume it was done by a previous tenant.  Anyone who likes that kind of paneling is also the type of person to buy carpet as cheap as possible.  So we can be sure that the three carpeted rooms in the house were all carpeted at the same time.  By the by whatever you do, you need to retain the carpet in the addition.  The sub flooring in that room is almost certainly bare plywood.  Good evening to you Madame, I wish you happy remodeling.  I must retire now for there are many more things that shall require my attention in the morning."
And that concludes the case of the missing hardwood floor. Yep that's right I AM THE MAN.  Of course this whole adventure may have been designed by some criminal mastermind (wife) because as you have already guessed, yes that's correct.  I now have to remove carpeting.        
Love, your OCD crime solving pipe smoking son.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Dear Dad,
                 So our dishes have been getting done by hand for about six months now. The dishwasher just quit working one day. It wouldn't drain and the water in the bottom was starting to stink. I checked the drain hose and it seemed OK so I told my wife that I would get it fixed as soon as the opportunity presented itself. Of course she does the dishes while I am at work so I quickly forgot about it. Lately I found myself doing dishes by hand two or three times a week and that just won't do. Time to go to work.

               I got my cordless drill and removed the screws from the face of the machine and stared at the guts until my head hurt. I completely removed the drain hose and ran a jet of high pressure water through it. I drained the gunky water out of the dishwasher onto the kitchen floor. Then I mopped up the mess and reattached the hose. I wondered how the water built enough pressure to drain up through the hose to the top of the garbage disposal. To figure it out I ran the dishwasher and observed the coil heat up, the washer filled with water but still wouldn't empty. Both the top and bottom water jets were dispensing but it sounded weak and the spinners weren't spinning. I re-removed the front panel (again) and ran the washer while watching the motor. OK, I thought. The motor turns but there is nothing attached to it. Why does it turn then? Ahah.... where is the drive belt? I discovered it broken behind the machine. I then drove to two hardware stores and then finally an appliance parts and repair shop before I found the right part. When I got home I installed the new belt, which is much easier said than done by the way.

            Now I don't have to dishes by hand, and as an added bonus the wife is so excited about the machine being fixed she is using it. I didn't have to do dishes at all which gave me time to write this letter. Here's a quick recap, no dishes for me. I got to play with tools. The wife is bound to show appreciation for the working appliance. The gal at the hardware store was cute. My oldest son thinks I am the coolest dad ever. I feel good about myself. I saved a bunch of money (not by switching to Geico) and well basically, I AM THE MAN! Of course the possible downside is that the family might start to expect me to fix all the broken crap around here. Now I am getting depressed and afraid of what tomorrow will hold, perhaps I am not the man. Perhaps I am just a guy who got lucky fixing an appliance without electrocuting himself. A guy who spent three hours fixing the thing to avoid twenty minutes of dish washing. Oh well life goes on, I am going to go hide in the basement until dinner is ready. I can hear the kids breaking stuff already.

                      your enslaved middle American suburbia handyman son.