September 25, 2007
Does it take a "real man" to change a tire? (Puh-leez!)
Far be it from me to complain in any way about a "lack of manhood" in anyone. Despite the fact that I managed to summon the balls to criticize GQ magazine in the last post, I don't generally believe in such concepts (at least, not in having them defined for me).
So, while this isn't a complaint about emasculation or anything like that, an incident I witnessed in front of my house yesterday reminded me of the decreasing ability of men to be what is called "handy." I initially saw this discussed by Glenn Reynolds and the Wall Street Journal, and the journal linked another post by Glenn, and that post linked a long list of basic tasks that today's men can no longer do.
What I didn't see anywhere was something I always took for granted was a basic task: changing a tire.
Late yesterday afternoon, I heard that vaguely scraping "thwack-thwhack-thwhack" sound that I associate with a tire that's gone so flat that the car is being driven on the rim. Mildly curious, I went outside to investigate after a few minutes, and sure enough, an SUV was disabled just a few feet from my driveway with a tire that was beyond flat. A gaping square hole in the side had ripped a tear two-thirds of the way around the rim, and the rim showed clear signs of damage from having been driven too far. The driver was visible a hundred yards down the road, and appeared to be walking aimlessly (as if trying to figure out where he was), but came back when he saw me staring at the beyond-flat tire. Wanting to be as helpful as I could, I volunteered that I had a floor jack and tools, and asked if he had a spare. He refused all help and immediately and hurriedly insisted that the car had no spare, so he had called for help. I figured he must know what he was talking about, but it struck me as very strange that this perfectly ordinary looking SUV would have no spare (not only do most cars come with them, but Pennsylvania law requires spare tires, and cars which don't have them flunk the annual inspection). Meanwhile, this perfectly healthy young (25 or so) man stood around looking helpless. I had this sneaking suspicion that he had no idea whether there was a spare tire or not, and that he didn't want to be bothered looking for it, but it wasn't my business so I went back inside. (I could watch the whole thing easily from the house, though, and I strongly suspected total incompetence and rather enjoy live comedy.)
After a half an hour or so, an older guy (I'd say 45-55) arrived, not driving a tow truck, but another SUV. Obviously, his first question was the same as mine, for the next thing that he did (in seeming irritation) was to open the back of the SUV to look inside, and started rooting through the stuff to expose the spare tire set-up. Sure enough, there was a spare and a jack and the older guy busied himself throwing stuff to the pavement in disgust while the young guy watched. Of course, the older guy's inefficiency was painful to watch (it took over an hour to change the tire -- a problem I could have solved in ten minutes with my floor jack and spinner lug wrench), but I was so irritated at my offer to help being spurned that I resisted the temptation to just wheel out the floor jack and barge in.
What irritated me the most was the absolute cluelessness of the healthy young man, who I could tell was in good physical condition and of at least normal or above intelligence.
Again, this is not meant as an indictment of today's youth. Surely, most young men can change a tire, can't they? And if I can, and I'm a 53 year old who has conceptual difficulty with the "manhood" concept, then maybe it's not a manhood thing at all. I mean, surely women change tires just as easily as men, right? Is this really about manhood? Or does it involve some form of creeping decadence? It occurred to me that I would never hire this young man to cut my lawn, as I'd be afraid he'd take all day, or else cut his foot off and sue me.
One of the most interesting (and in my view sinister) aspects of proposals for mandatory "national service" is that they virtually always target only the young, usually 18-21 year olds. This might be understandable if the proposals were limited to military service. But most current proposals (including those by Charles Rangel, John McCain, Bill Buckley, the DLC, and Rahm Emanuel noted in my last post), incorporate civilian service as well. When it comes to office work and light menial labor, there are many elderly and middle-aged people who can do the job just as well as 18-21 year olds can, if not better."If not better" seems like understatement in light of the ridiculous performance I was unable to avoid witnessing yesterday.
What I can't figure out is whether changing a tire is an age-related skill, or whether it's a generational thing.
posted by Eric on 09.25.07 at 09:51 AM
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