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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Going Norm Galt

Many people with skinny glasses instead of safety glasses talk a good game about self-reliance. They grow cucumbers in a window box and put together an IKEA shelf, then start blogging about how they’ve returned to their pioneer roots. They’re going Galt. Complaining you’re being forced to hoard your quarters instead of buying toys with them right away sounds vaguely familiar to me. I did it when I was six, when my mother made me fill a Christmas Club card from my allowance every week instead of blowing it immediately. My behavior was understandable, if not commendable. Gleeful references to John Galt from the well-off are similarly understandable, but not commendable.

But I was in first grade. What’s your excuse? Ten percent of the population of the US is being told that the creative destruction they’ve always had to deal with–the hard way –while their managers shrugged and ordered a third martini at lunch, has morphed into permanent unemployability. Telling them it serves them right for not being rich enough to threaten to take their economic ball and go home, like you say you’re going to do, is unseemly.

I’m beginning to become slightly irked at continual references to that Harlequin Romance version of economics everyone but me seems to be captivated with. Then again, actors in unwatchable Batman movies win Oscars like they’re Olivier now. No use complaining about it, I guess.

Did you know Norm Abram retired from his TV show, The New Yankee Workshop? Probably not. Let’s test my hypothesis, using Google News:

Two references. Both not about the subject. Let’s see what the average Netizen does know and care about. How about the Balloon Boy:

Over 20,000 news stories.

The balloon boy’s parents are “Reality TV” people. There has never been a more inaccurate sobriquet in English. Everybody seems to be fascinated with nothing.

Norm Abram is the penultimate example of true “Reality TV.” He made real things, and encouraged others to do so. No pretense. Not a scam. The balloon boy’s father will get his 15 minutes, but being part of Katie Couric’s nightly geeks and freaks sideshow act is a virtual reality, it’s not real real. He’ll get a book deal or an ankle bracelet, maybe both, but he literally contributes nothing to the sum total of the world’s worth. If you count up just the Twitter time he wasted, which is all waste anyway, he was the most destructive force on planet Earth for a week. But you didn’t have to look. I didn’t. You can’t even dissect him as an example of a media frenzy, because there’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s all just stupid.

“Reality TV” is an absurd concept to people that live in the real world of work and worry. They get reality every day, they don’t need a faux one to amuse themselves. Cubicle-bound endomorphs think a contest that looks like figuring out a subway map, a bus schedule, and an airport tote board is an “Amazing Race.” Catching a trolley is not a bloodsport, no matter how heavy your backpack full of energy bars is. Adults going camping while participating in activities too silly and sedentary for an overweight child’s summer camp, with office politics thrown in, hardly makes them a “Survivor.” I’m told that when you’re all done watching all this onTV, you’re going to weave your own clothes and barter with your next-door neighbor, the grizzly bear, with Kruggerands. Sure you are.

There actually is one hint of unreality to Norm. The workshop isn’t his; not many people know that. It belongs to the producer of the show. Norm, as successful as he is, has been dragging his ass to the factory every day as if he was just another schlub. But that’s it. He’s immensely more influential and successful than most anyone I can name on television. He could walk into any home center, tool shop, construction trade show, and any restaurant in New England, and get carried around on people’s shoulders if he felt like it. It’s not his fault you don’t know that. He’s not an idiot celebrity. He’s important to a lot of people, and for good reason. He’s as close to a real folk hero as you can find in contemporary American life. It was as if Johnny Appleseed was on TV for two decades, but everyone was too busy watching execrable people with no talent judge singers with even less talent to notice. You didn’t get to lounge around and vote on which table leg Norm used, instead of putting down your bowl of lotos petals and making one yourself, so you weren’t interested.

Norm is going Galt, if you insist on using the term. He’s still making lots of dough pointing and smiling on This Old House, the only shelter show worth a turd, and money will roll in from all the books and drawings and videos and advertisements from his shuttered but amiable and useful show forevermore. He doesn’t have to stand on someone else’s concrete floor and smile while his feet hurt and back throbs anymore. Norm will be fine. His audience’s life will be diminished because he’s not in it as often.

I keep hearing others say they’re going to drink taxpaying gasoline, eat supply-side dynamite, have a trickle-down nitroglycerine enema, and then swallow a serves-you-all-right John Galt match. Beware. Daffy Duck teaches us it’s an exciting trick, but unfortunately you can only do it once –just like your fifteen minutes of fame. It would be a shame if you went John Galt and no one noticed.

21 Responses

  1. Damned Atlas Shrugged. I was fascinated by it as a sophomore in high school, and I figure any intellectualism that fascinates a sophomore in high school isn't much good for adults.

    Norm and the Workshop have been a love/hate thing for me forever. I can tell he's into things that I want to know, but boy howdy does it take a shop full of strange tools to do what he does (did) on that show. I would have to figure out which 40% of my life and budget and home to amputate in order to make room for Norm.

    My plan is to make a blanket/toy chest sometime this fall. I have a circular saw and a drill. I'll let you know how it turns out.

  2. I watched the first episode of the first Survivor show.

    The first guy voted off was clearly the most likely to survive being marooned anywhere.

    It was a playground game with adults.

    I watch "Dirty Jobs" sometimes. That's as close to reality shows as I get.

  3. I wrote this a long time ago, in honor of Norm.

    Do you suppose Norm’s wife ever said, “Not.One.More.Thing. You are not bringing one more thing into this house.”

    Norm Abram

    I’m in love with Norm,
    He’s my man.
    If Norm can’t built it,
    No one can.

    I’m in love with Norm,
    My husband understands.
    He would marry Norman too,
    If he weren’t a man.

  4. Mr. Anon Mous shows the truth, once again, as I quote above my own comments,

    "It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." — Karl Popper

  5. ed in texas

    A couple of years ago I found a book of Norm's: 'Norm Abram's New House'. It's about, suprisingly enough, about building his own house. It's full of the kind of bizarre events that only people that have ever worked building contracting will appreciate (Myself, I was an electrician in another life. Still carry my license.)
    The part that really rings true is that they never manage to finish the stairway. All the carpenters can't wait to tell their wives "Norm never finishes this stuff, either. That's what HIS wife says."
    It's an amusing book if you've worked the trades.

  6. So there's a job opening for a crusty Massachusetts carpenter you say? Hmmm….who could fill that tool belt? Hmmm….who could it be?

  7. Just for fun, for Hallowe'en, could you change the animation and have good ole Norm sever a finger in the table saw?

  8. My apologies.

    I'll be sure to give everyone a warning next time, so that they'll have time to evacuate all the women and children from the room before the I let loose with a barrage of galvanic, spittle-flecked invective rage like: "I'm beginning to become slightly irked" again.

  9. Clearly you should be more careful. It's practically Fox News at The Cottage with all this hate mongering going on.

  10. I always liked Norm. He managed to hit the right time at the right place and made lots of people drool.
    Roy Underhill's show was pretty good but he often made me gag. A tad too sweet…? Whatever.

    About 6 years ago, I cancelled cable. From listening to other people who still watch, it remains a good decision for me. I do, howsomever, have about 300 movies on dvd.

    Happy retirement, Norm!

  11. Didn't you hear? "Atlas Shrugged" is the new black. Too many good points to quote you here that I agree with. I'd basically be reposting your post. Oh, and also what Retriever said.

  12. Just came back from the local woodworking club where my presence lowered the average age of attendees significantly. The talk/demonstration tonight was on handcut dovetails for making blanket-chests. They guy said you need 6 tools, a backsaw, utility-knife for marking, a sharp chisel, and angle gauge that you can cut yourself from a piece of stiff cardboard that you fold to make the 90-degree edge line up perfectly, a mallet for the chisel, and a square. His dovetail saw came from Lee Valley and cost $8, he's been using it for years. It does require some skill to get good tight joints consistently however, so he said that he started out by coming home from work one night, sawing a scrap board in half, and then joining it. Took him about 20 minutes. The next night, he cut off the joint and made another. After four weeks a joint took him three minutes and mistakes were rare, and he figured on average it took him about 5-minutes per weeknight to learn.

  13. "Reality TV" is an absurd concept to people that live in the real world of work and worry. They get reality every day, they don't need a faux one to amuse themselves."


  14. Sipp,
    Have you watched the HGTV show, Holmes on Holmes?

    It's like the contractor version of Superman who comes to the rescue of hapless homeowners whose previous contractors have left them with the worst remodels one can imagine.

    I can't figure out yet if I like the "hero". Holmes is no Norm in that he seems to truly relish his role as their all-knowing home improvement savior.

    The few shows I've seen portray the homeowners as helpless, particularly the men.

    I had no idea that Norm retired. Thanks for marking the occasion.

    I sometimes worry that we'll lose the knowledge of guys like you and Norm.

    -Deb in Madison

  15. Hi Deb- Yes, I've seen that. My wife and I have shorthand names for the HGTV hosts. He's "Buckethead."

    He's better than many, and amiable. I think the only real appeal of his show is pointing a camera at a contractor who actually shows up and does things. It's like a dodo bird sighting or something.

  16. Regarding reality TV (if not most TV) – the Wasteland of airwaves. Reality TV is the "Bug-in-a-jar" syndrome. You have three bored ten year old boys on a saturday afternoon who've found a colorful bug. They put it into a jar and each begins poking it with a stick to see what it will do. The more poking, the better the entertainment. Its mean, feeds abuse of power, and engages immature minds for about fifteen minutes. The bug always suffers = reality TV. Most TV, American advertising, and possibly American politics seem to be run by ten year old boys. B.

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