It’s a guy thing, or used to be….
I felt guilty. I hadn’t seen our neighbors in a while. The weather was crap. Snow. Freezing cold temps. Then Jerry’s favorite aunt died in PA. After returning from the funeral he and Deb quarantined a fortnight.
My wife and I are new to upstate. We’re both from LA. Twenty-five years ago we moved to NYC, which is not the best way to prepare for small-town life in the southern Catskills where the silos hold grain, county fairs mean business, and folks trace their roots way back to when.
They took us in hand, showed us how to share roads with horse-drawn buggies, and shop for clothes at Tractor Supply.
The guys from Lowes brought the snow blower early, just after seven am. Luckily I was already up and dressed. I trudged through drifts and danced over the ice-slick driveway to pay homage to this new tool that was complex enough to almost be a vehicle.
“The handles on either side control your direction,” the elder of the two delivery guys explained. White whiskers formed the tip of his beard. He wore overalls and no mask.
“It’s got its own headlight,” I exclaimed.
They just looked at me.
The other delivery guy finished priming the spark plug hole. He used a socket wrench to reseat the plug. Minutes later they had it started. It rumbled with the steady, satisfied purr of good new machinery.
Picture a scene—use your imagination if need be—in the Upper Paleolithic. Tools have long been purpose-made, usually at great expense to the clan or family given the time and effort expended for each one. When passed to children who have developed the requisite skills, the desire to imbue meaning might have called for an accompanying ritual.
A key step in coming of age.
Fast forward .…
Tune Up Masters, 1978. I was hired on as a tune-up technician. One of the VPs explained that everyone who works at Tune Up Masters started out as a tune-up tech. I already owned many of the tools needed to do the tune-ups, but techs weren’t allowed to have their own tools. Only managers and assistant managers. They had mostly Craftsman or Skill. Now and then a district or regional manager stopped by to help out. When they brought tools they were Snap On or Matco.
Less ritual perhaps, but more pay for certain.
Amon non-professionals it takes only an unmistakable “cling” of chrome against cement or tarmac to draw other men in the neighborhood to the Place of Tools. An oil change or rotating tires is underway. Maybe, if the God of Useful Things is good, an alternator needs replacing. Men raised by distant, cold fathers obtain emotional validation by lending a seal puller or torque wrench to the operation. Some achieve temporary status in the group by saying off the top of his head how much compensation is required when using an adapter to apply torque*.
This is how men bond, sharing the deepest part of our inner selves because, trust me on this, there’s no man child in there, screaming at the abyss, seeking to heal his primal wound by making the Kierkegardian leap of faith into the loving arms of his God.
It’s Craftsman all the way down.
One of our key ancestors was Homo Habilis.
Evolutionary biologists will tell you that the human hand is less of an evolutionary milestone than the foot. Lots of critters have hands, or paws that double as hands when needed. It’s the foot that put human beings upright. But in so doing that foot also freed the hands from assisting with locomotion permitting them to start inventing shit.
One day fire is mastered, the next my neighbor’s three-stage snow blower is moving frozen water from one place to another. The distance between these events is a mere blip in geological time.
Unfortunately no amount of human ingenuity outwits nature. Snow in particular is a devious opponent. Confronted with five feet of accumulation, Jerry finally surrenders, dishing out four figures for a blower sporting every bell and whistle, and, needless to say, the sky changes tact. We get three inches one day, two the next. Enough to be a nuisance, covering sidewalks, making the roads slick, but quantities insufficient to be addressed by a state-of-the-art snow blower.
Snow knows enough, in short, to keep its head down now that Jerry’s prepared.
Some men can’t help but be competitive. Their tools do more and cost less. I’m not one of those guys. When I see Jerr outside one morning desperately hunting enough snow to put through his bright yellow machine, I walk over: Damn dude, look how far your ejector throws the snow! I’m jealous—I’m happy to let Jerry have his day in the cold winter sun.
So, this is just a man thing?
In my experience, yes.
But when I open my eyes and look around, I see women catching up.
Youtube channels feature dozens of female craftsmen, woodworkers, mechanics, electricians, and plumbers. April Wilkerson, Tamar, and Welcome to the Woods share woodworking and framing experience; Faye Hadley, and Flying Sparks Garage feature women mechanics, and Vivi the Plumber … you get the idea.
- This kind of ad lib expertise can put one in a delicate position, because you don’t want to call your neighbor a liar, or doubt his expertise. But, you see, this is why men won’t ask for directions, because it is men who mostly give directions and we’ve all had that moment, as the car drives hopefully off, of wondering: Was it really three blocks before the first right? Or was it four…shit!