The Old Man: “I got this”


With one hand, my nephew scooped the toddler out of her car seat in the World’s Manliest Pickup Truck and slung her onto his hip, whence she proceeded to giggle and admire the world while he asked me what I know about alternators – which is next to nothing.

It seemed that his truck, a snorting diesel beast that is old enough to vote, had a new alternator that he himself installed while in the parking lot of a supermarket two nights before. The new part was not working properly. Investigating the mystery of why would keep us happily engaged for the next hour.

My nephew is not a poor man. Some say he is a cheap man. But I know he prefers to think of himself as a self-reliant man.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was passed on the highway by a far less manly pickup truck, swathed in advertising for a dog poop removal service. Seems that you can pay this company a weekly fee and they will send someone to pick up all of Fido’s landmines from your yard, presumably just before the lawn service arrives. There is apparently nothing we won’t pay somebody else to do.

Cleaning up after your dog doesn’t require any skill (although a subscription to the New York Times is useful, because then you get these convenient blue plastic bags that are perfect for this purpose).

For the household repairs and chores that do require some skill – especially for old homes – if you don’t have an Old Man around to mentor you, and you are bookish like me, I suggest a few old books that I found at yard sales over the years that I think are terrific:

1. Better Homes and Gardens Handyman’s Book. My copy comes from 1951; it’s a red covered three ring binding like the BHGH cookbook. Everything is arranged in tabulated sections with lots of black and white photos showing how to repair practically everything in a house.

2. Manual of Home Repairs, Remodeling & Maintenance. (Fawcett Publications, Inc. 1969) This book adds a lot of depth to various home repair subjects by discussing how they were originally constructed. I think this is so that if you really screw something up, you can rebuild it.

3. House by Tracy Kidder. (Houghton Mifflin 1985). This isn’t a do it yourself instruction book, but it is a great non-fiction account of a young couple having their dream house constructed and of all the drama and tension that naturally arises when you have someone else charged with putting your hopes and aspirations into wood and plaster.

Victory Over Daily Life: Dead Car Battery


When Pookie drove across the Bay late last night, her car was fine. This morning, the reliable old Jetta, named Sheila, decided she just wasn’t going to go.

Time for a new battery, and how hard could that be? Pookie’s friend, Sherman, came over and together they examined the German Owner’s Manual, Face Timed the Old Man and watched a YouTube video. Overly confident, they started to rip out the old battery to make room for a shiny new one.

Sherman yanked up the battery after unscrewing anything and everything that could have been attached to it. That’s when something called the battery clamp bracket flew out from underneath, fell with a clang and disappeared into the bowels of the 10-year-old engine.

Pookie and Sherman took turns climbing underneath the car, burning through two flashlights as they reached into fans, engine shelves and things that looked like they were made of grease. They pushed the car forward, then backward in hopes that the two-inch metal clamp had fallen all the way through and was hiding under a tire.

Finally, after jacking the car up with the idea of tipping the clamp out to the ground they saw it. It had lodged itself in a small compartment behind the headlight.

Now old Sheila the Jetta starts perfectly and they can count this adventure as another victory over daily life!