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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

Hey Mister, Go Mister, Soul Mister, Go Mister

Things are different today
I hear ev’ry muvva say
The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore  -R Stones

I make things. 

I’ve pretty much always made things of one sort or another, or at least had a hand in their manufacture or maintenance. Houses, mostly, but an enormous variety of other things, too. Swung soldering irons to nailguns, peeped in microscopes and theodolites alike, got spattered with everything from mud to a-dimethylpolysiloxane. I still am pounding on things that aren’t a keyboard every single day. I’ve noticed something lately.

When I was a boy, whenever “the man” came around, to do anything whatsoever that involved anything that changed the size, shape, or general demeanor of the natural world in any way, children of all ages would congregate around them like they were deities.

In my own life, I remember being fascinated by the garbageman with the milky eye and the aureole of flies that visited once a week to fetch the pail’s worth of food scraps we’d temporarily immure in a silo with a lid outside the back door of our tiny house. The fellow with the pipe and the endless well of bonhomie that delivered our eggs. My friends and I were very interested in the excavators trying to dig a driveway and add a “garage under” to a ranch house up the street for a while; we later were supremely interested in their affairs when they hit the buried natural gas line and blew the house up entirely –almost as interested as we were in the firemen that came. That kid at that house, safe at school while his home was signed up for NASA treatment, could always produce a malformed and scorched GI Joe when we played together, and so was like a lord among us peasants.

When my uncle, a truly mighty man, showed up from time to time — he never did anything that didn’t involve feats of strength and changing the face of the world in some way back then — I’d hang over him like a curse and pester him with my fool questions about every damn thing, septic tank or roof, didn’t matter. He made the world different looking; he was a god.

I’ve been living where I am in Maine now for eighteen months or so. I make things here, lots of things, and work on all sorts of things in our old, interesting house whenever we can scrape up a few bucks and fifteen minutes. In all that time, neither my own children, nor any of the friends of my children, who are every age from toddler to adult, and include teenagers from a handful of foreign countries, has ever shown the slightest inclination to want to see what I’m doing. A couple of them were the mildest sort of awestruck that I had written a book, but that was about it.

My older son works with me without complaining, out of a commendable and tangible sense of duty to his family, but is not interested in the least in what we’re doing while we’re doing it. My little son wants to talk me in to helping him emulate YouTube dorks that “mock” Legos and cardboard and Nerf guns into rude approximations of imaginary things they saw in unentertaining entertainments, but he couldn’t give a fig for what I’m doing. He will enthusiastically sweep the floor to earn quarters to buy the Legos with, though.

The vast majority of persons in the United States, and apparently through a goodly portion of the globe, thinks that anyone that does anything productive is boring, and that’s that.

20 Responses

  1. The kids in our neighborhood would always run over to watch our garbageman, Mr. Ford, lift and dump the heavy trash cans into his truck. He always chatted with us from up on his load of refuse.

    We called him Mr. Ford, but decades later we're not sure if that was his actual name, or if we got that from the script logo on the hood of his truck. Eventually, in what seemed to be a plan to put black entrepreneurs out of business, our town government took over garbage collection and Mr. Ford no longer came around.

  2. I'll say this about that: The city is just a permanent construction project that moves to a different block every few months. A fence goes up while a building comes down, the ground gets dug out, and a new building goes up.

    Those curious and awestruck children you wrote about are men now, and while I don't know what their kids are doing when the repair men don't come anymore, I know the men are hovering around the fences at the construction sites like they did when they were boys.

    Kind of a funny sight, really: Suits, with Starbucks in one hand and briefcase in the other, staring down into the pits to watch the crews mill around and move dirt.

  3. We treated that generation like giants only because: they were giants. Great Depression. World War Two. Economic Boom. Baby Boom. American world hegemony (a good thing).

    We are less interesting as a generation for obvious reasons. For my part, I'm willing to try harder.

    I tried to introduce a progressive guy (doctor of sociology) to the idea of things having value. One illustration I used, and I literally made his head do a Linda Blair, was that we don't need more jobs. What would the workforce make, I asked. Money? My point is they need to make things of value.

    You can make things, or you can harvest things. This creates wealth. It's Kindergarten stuff, but we need remedial ed.

    I make things, too. The things I make will last generations, and my predecessor's things like mine have lasted centuries. These things I make I make from virtually nothing, and they are American made.

  4. My little four year old son Patrick loved the garbage truck guys. He used to roam the house searching for anything not attached–coats, shoes, nic nacs, tools–and pitch them onto the landing–making hydraulics noises.

    Then there was Mr. Leach. I had no idea what the driver's name was, but it was a LEACH garbage truck body, so that driver became Mr. Leach.

    One day I was standing there when the truck came and told the guy that my kid had three feet of stuff piled up on the landing, and we couldn't get upstairs from him playing "Mr. Leach". He said, "Leach? He got transferred to another truck". Turns out that really was his name.

    Pat just turned 27–thanks for the memory.

  5. When my eldest, 22 tomorrow, was 2, he waited for the garbage man to come on the appointed day. We lived in Bellingham at the time, so he would put on his boots and jacket, and go out in the rain to watch. One day he asked me if we could make cookies for him. You have never seen such a surprised man, receiving cookies for picking up the trash.

    Also, I love to make things, and there is absolutely nothing boring about it.

  6. Love the title (brought me back to Creole Lady Marmalade and my youth…). Another wonderful post. Off to buy your book after a summer preocuppied with our trip…

    As to your despair about kids today not being interested in people making things? I dunno…I think kids still hero worship people who make things, but around here they are savvy enough to know that their paper pushing dads are clueless and useless at doing anything real or practical, so they watch the carpenter or the electrician or the plumber or the builder furtively but in fascination. Not wanting to let on that they find them far cooller than wimpy Dad shackled to a computer and/or a Blackberry 24/7.

    As a female, I find that kids love to watch and help when I make all the kinds of stuff I learned to cook from my grandmother. That "nobody" makes at home any more. We found that when the kids' friends came over half the time all they wanted to do was hang out in the kitchen (so many of their moms were anorexic trophy brides who warmed up Stouffer;s for dinner), as they found it vaguely wicked and eciting to make bread or sugar cookies from scratch…

  7. Gotcher curmudgeon on today, eh? We allus usta gang around the gas man and the mail lady and the garbage man, too. Butcha got no call makin' sport of the kids. Innit any good to be a buffalo hunter where there ain't no buffalo.

  8. I have but a small, one-car detatched garage here, so often when I'm building some project or another, I have tools like a table saw (big, heavy cast iron Craftsman), or a 12" Makita dual compound/bevel miter saw, set up out in the driveway.

    I need the room, and it helps keep sawdust out of the garage.

    When I do so of an evening or weekend, it usually draws a crowd of both young boys and girls who are fascinated to see what it is I'm making now, and how the making is done.

    Thing is, they just don't get to see much like that anymore, as most of their dads just aren't handy with, nor willing to learn, the tools and techniques that get things done.

    Those dads often ask to do such work for hire, and I'm generally too busy with my own, or with life in general, to engage in such.

    So, I get the fancy cabinetry, trim and flooring, and they live in ordinary, plain, bare crackerboxes.

    And, they feel no shame for that. I might feel some pity for them, deep beneath my disdain.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  9. I spent a good portion of the last couple of days watching Truck Tunes with the boy. His response has been a mix of quiet fascination and full bore cheering and applause. My brother was a watcher, too, and now he's a full-grown borderline boy.

    As to men working, though, the few guys I've had out to handle things we can't have seemed uncomfortable at best if, out of curiosity and an interest in learning, I watch what they're doing. Maybe understandably; maybe it's different with kids. Or maybe you're just right, and most people – kids and adults – don't want to see anymore. I find that unutterably sad.

  10. Hi Gerard- I like Norm. Bob Vila was a raging A-hole, though.

    Hi Retriever- I asked my wife if that reference was too obscure and she laughed at me, and hummed that song all day, too.

    Thanks in advance for buying the book. Be sure to let me know what you think of it when you read it, especially if you like it.

    Well, only if you like it, really.

    You have to read "despair" into my comments, because I have not placed it there. I observed a phenomenon, and rather chastely reported on it.

    Besides, I figured I could get another 10,000 words and a week's worth of blogposts out of my despair later.

    Hi Arlan- When I put my curmudgeon on I'm usually funnier. Maybe I shoulda.

    Hi Jim- Thanks for reading and commenting.

    I sense a kind of rear-view-mirror longing in a lot of adults about an inability to do manual things of all kinds.

    Hi Julie- I sorta miss Boff the Builder. (that's my current, and his former, pronunciation)

  11. Okay okay. Norm's okay. I just envy his shop.

    And speaking of the makers, I just read this:

    "I smelled Los Angeles before I got to it,” Raymond Chandler would write forty-five years later in his novel The Little Sister. “It smelled stale and old like a living room that had been closed too long. But the colored lights fooled you. The lights were wonderful. There ought to be a monument to the man who invented neon lights. Fifteen stories high, solid marble. There’s a boy who really made something out of nothing."

  12. I feel for your plight. Fortunately, the plague has not yet reached here, so if every you would like a bunch of kids asking you about every dmn thing (my grandpa frequently pronounced his four letter words without a vowel), let me know. I will rent you out (cheaply!) some of my bazillion siblings to ask you everything under the sun, and then some.

    There is a certain joy to watching their wonder, but I do understand better now why my Dad's answer was so frequently "watch and see".

    I did watch and see and sometimes did, and I'm still inordinately proud of myself when I am able to change the shape of things. . .

  13. I had a Grandpa like that. I am still trying to figure out how to say "sht" like he did. The 'i' always sneaks in there.

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