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There are two kinds of people, those who can fix things and those who can’t. Social scientists, preachers, and politicians have lots of theories about what is wrong with our country. Social scientists blame underperforming schools, bad parenting, and a lack of opportunity. Preachers tend to blame our social ills on atheists. Politicians blame everything on other politicians. Of the three, only the politicians are right.
I believe our country would be a lot better if people knew how to fix things. When I was a kid, men had workbenches in their garages where they fixed things that broke—cars, toasters, bicycles, windows, even themselves. I knew a farmer whose finger got lopped off in a corn-picker. He went to his workshop, heated his wife’s iron, cauterized the wound, dipped it in whiskey to kill the germs, took a swig for the pain, wrapped his bandana around the stub, and went back to picking corn. There was a man who knew how to fix things!
While I admire people who can fix things, I’m not one of them. I don’t know the first thing about automotive repair, home maintenance, electricity, or surgery. In 1999, a doctor at the South Pole, Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, operated on herself when no one else was around to do the job. If you’ve ever operated on yourself, you know it isn’t easy, which is why I hire out all my surgery. I had a vasectomy not long ago. The doctor told me it was a simple and routine operation, so I tried doing it myself to save money. But I made a horrible mess of things and had to have the doctor fix it. I had the same problem when I tried to fix my own hernia 20 years ago. I admire people who can do their own surgery, but I’m not one of them. I’ve finally come to accept that.
I have a friend named Jim McClung who can fix anything, and I mean anything. He built his own house, fixes his own cars, erected a bridge over a 30-foot ravine by himself, and 10 years ago performed brain surgery on himself. The scar is jagged, and he has a facial tic or two, but other than that the surgery was a success. The hole is almost healed.
In addition to not being good at operating on myself, I’m not that good at car repair. Maybe I should say I wasn’t that good. I’ve gotten a lot better since reading a book last month on how to fix cars. It came in handy almost immediately when, the very next week, I was driving down the road and saw a broken-down car. The driver was standing in front of her car, looking at the engine. Since I knew a little something about cars, I pulled over to help her. She thought maybe her car was out of gas, but that didn’t seem right to me. Sure enough, after asking her a few key questions, I figured out it had a bacterial infection. There had been a lot of that going around. Of course, she didn’t think so, but that’s because women don’t know anything about cars. They’re like the French in that regard.
My grandpa was another guy who could fix anything. He cussed under his breath the whole time he was fixing things, but there was nothing he couldn’t repair. My grandma, however, never cussed once her entire life and couldn’t fix a thing. My grandpa did all the cussing in the family, and all the fixing. I don’t think this was a coincidence, because the same thing was true of my parents. As a child, I would hear my father down in our basement fixing things and cussing. If I were better at cussing, I could probably fix more things. I’d go to hell for the expletives, but it would be worth it.
My older son is a cusser and a fixer. But he doesn’t say the cuss word—you know the one I mean—around me. When I’m in the room, he cusses like Yosemite Sam. He says Goldurn!, Criminy!, and Dagnabit!. But the boy has a gift for language and might cuss like Al Pacino around other people. I bet Al Pacino is really good at fixing things.
People who know how to fix things are always surprised that other people can’t.
“You can do it,” says my friend David, about rewiring my home’s electrical system. “Don’t hire that done. It’s easy!”
David never hires anyone to do anything. When he was 8 days old, a mohel came to his house to circumcise him. David turned to his father and said, “Are you kidding me? We can handle this ourselves,” and did it himself on the spot.
I’m the exact opposite. I don’t want to do anything for myself. If I could hire someone to dress me every morning, I would. Half the time I don’t get my shirt buttons lined up, or forget to zip my pants, or put my socks on backward so the baggy heel part is on the top of my foot. I would happily lie in bed each morning like a big, fat slug while some handy person pulled on my pants, buttoned my shirt, put on my socks, and tied my shoes. It’s not that I don’t know how to do these things; it’s that I’m tired of doing them. Dress, undress, shower, shave, brush my teeth. It never ends. I was thinking the other day how baby birds have it made. They loll around in a nest they didn’t build while their parents regurgitate food into their mouths. They don’t even have to chew.
I was talking with a career counselor recently who said if he were starting over, he’d be a handyman, because no one knows how to fix things anymore. He said a good handyman can make out like a bandit, and I think he’s onto something. I’ve been trying for 13 years to find someone who can fix a leaky outdoor faucet. If I had my own handyman, he could tackle that in less than an hour, right after he dressed me, shaved me, and brushed my teeth. With unemployment being what it is, you’d think people would be lining up to help me, but you would be mistaken. No one wants to work anymore. People sure have gotten lazy.
Our new governor, Mike Pence, wants to expand vocational education in our high schools so more young people can learn how to make and repair things. I didn’t vote for Mike Pence because I have a sneaking suspicion he wants to put a preacher in every school, but I think it’s a dandy idea to teach teenagers how to fix things, since they’re the ones who break them. Just the other day my teenage son broke my car. It makes a loud thunk every time I hit a bump. He told me he hit a chuckhole and busted a shock absorber. That shows how much he knows. Anyone with half a brain can tell it’s a ruptured appendix.
Illustration by Ryan Snook
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue.
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