It’s been established that I don’t know how to do anything handy. We know this. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t do anything that falls under the umbrella of “things men are supposed to do.”
For example, I can move things. Like, from here to there. I can pick it up and move it.
It should probably be mentioned that even in this endeavor, I fail at the nuances of doing it well. Once while moving a desk I accidentally ripped the top off because I was holding it by the lip, an act that couldn’t support the weight of the base underneath. (As embarrassing as that is to admit, I’m quite proud of myself for even identifying that part of the desk as the lip without having to Google “what’s that part of the edge of a desk that just begs you to lift from there?” It is called the lip, right? Forget it.)
I distinctly remember, years ago, helping my dad and his friends put together a shed in my parents’ backyard. Everyone’s confidence in my and my cousin John’s ability to do the technical work was evidenced in the jobs we were given.
“Why don’t you guys, uh ... go throw all this garbage out at the dump.”
“Both of us? Shouldn’t one of us stay here to hel-”
“Nope, we’re good.”
At one point however, it was necessary—because even then my dad’s friends, like my dad, were super old and feeble—that a younger man’s strength and energy were needed to lift something. It involved moving a heavy piece of the shed into the part of the shed that was already constructed for reasons that escape me. Anyway, me and my dad’s buddy “Fish” (the gap in manliness between me and my dad is most apparent in the fact that I have no friends named Fish or friends who actually fish, which all my dad’s friends do) were moving the piece together. We soon reached a difficult point where we couldn’t proceed further because the piece wouldn’t fit.
My strategy in the moment—no doubt influenced by a youthful burst of frustration and testosterone—was to keep jamming the piece into the shed wall to make it fit. Fish, somehow patiently restraining from yelling “JIMINY CHISTMAS, STOP IT YOU FOOL” despite being drenched in sweat while trying to hold up his side, said, “Whoa, whoa, put her down. Let’s work smarter, not harder.”
It was the first time I had ever heard that phrase, and my mind was BLOWN. For one thing, it kind of rhymed. Also, Fish was acknowledging that I was working hard, which made me feel good, and also that I was dumb, which I was/am. I vowed right then and there to always work smarter, not harder, and some day impart that beautiful piece of wisdom on to one of my … friend’s kids, or whatever.
Which brings me to last week. We were having our house painted—another not so technical thing I think I can do but really can’t, which is why we hired someone—and I needed to help my wife move her treasured and very heavy floor-based jewelry box out of the painter’s way for the next day’s work. Before she could get out the words “be careful” I had already used my blind, brute force to pick up my side before she had hers secured and we instantly heard the leg crack off.
“What happened?” I wondered. I definitely had worked harder, not smarter, living by the phrase I had heard so many years ago and remembered quite well. But then a more apropos mantra dawned on me—never listen to a guy named Fish.
Note: This column appears in the 8/14 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/15 issue of the Peoria Times.