10. April 2006 · Comments Off on Cavalleria Rusticana · Categories: Domestic, General, Pajama Game

On Friday, I had a sort of minor shake-up experience…pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but it started me thinking about a number of things… masculinity, pretty-boy actors, Lucille Ball, Women’s Liberation and the science of automobile maintenance, which is pretty weighty stuff to spin from a flat on the I-35, but bear with me, I do have a point and I will eventually get to it.

It started in the most prosaic errand— I went over to the local everything-you want-we have got local grocery store on my lunch hour, to load up on the usual sort of stuff, most of which would stay in the trunk, but the bags of perishables— milk, eggs, an assortment of meats and veg. (less my luncheon deli sandwich) would be stashed in the break-room refrigerator until the end of the day. Hey, lunch hour— too precious to actually spend all that time to eat your lunch—in my world, you do errands or a brisk workout walk for 45 to 50 minutes, and eat a sandwich, salad or cup-o-noodles at your desk in the remaining 10 to 15 minutes.

In the height of the morning rush hour there had been the most awful accident on the I-35 South, the sort of accident that closes two lanes on a seriously major interstate. Attention had been paid, I took a couple of alternate routes, and went by the accident site on the access road next to the highway, after everything was over except the shouting, cleanup and the lawsuits. When I finished my grocery shopping, I came back on the highway— and as soon as I drove by where the accident had been in the morning, I started to feel something very strange in the VEV’s steering, a curious and wobbly feel to the wheel, and an odd noise and vibration that grew steadily more intense. I had already begun to slow down and pull off onto the verge, as soon as I noticed it. That the sound, the feel, and the vibration were getting worse every second, so with visions of having something awful happening to the… oh, what is it, the thingus that controls the… umm, thingummy… those whatsis that have something to do with the steering, those… ummm, boot thingummys that you have to make sure are intact and lubricated always, lest they break off suddenly and you find yourself and your car sliding down the highway at 70 MPH with the off-side wheel broken away and underneath the car… well, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on Car Talk have very dispiriting things to say about this kind of scenario, so I held my breath, and pulled off to the side, and set the brake and the hazard lights, and went for a quick superficial check around the VEV, just short of the exit by my workplace.

Oh, thank god, it was immediately obvious and uncomplicated— the left rear tire— in shreds and tatters of rubber and steel mesh. I was amazed I had managed to go a couple of hundred yards on it, in that condition. I had been warned about that tire— both of the rear tires, when I bought the front tires last year. They were next to bald, good for only a couple of months, so said the tire place salesman when I had to replace the front tires. At that point, with my steady employer only good for about the same time limit… well, I could only afford to see to the immediate and urgent, and pray for the rest. I was just seeing to the immediate (still shaking slightly); opening the trunk and fishing out the jack, and the lug-nut wrench thingy, when a late model SUV pulled into verge head of me… which marvelously, contained my immediate supervisor, and the president of the company I work for these days. They immediately assessed the situation, bundled me and the groceries into the SUV, telephoned ahead to the office and sorted out which of the guys there would bring me back and change the tire. Chivalry may be on the rocks in a lot of places, but not here in Texas.

I’ve never been stranded by the side of the road with car trouble for longer than about three to five minutes. Another female NCO, a supremely competent and organized sort— but quite uninterested in automobile mechanics—- once remarked to me that all you had to do was pop up the hood and look helpless, and guys would be hitting the brakes, dropping out of trees, and rushing up breathlessly with their toolboxes at hand, begging to be of assistance. It’s a rather endearing feature of the male of our species, this urge to fix things. In point of fact, both of us knew very well how to change tires, and oil, and stuff like that…but guys seemed to get such an ego boost out of doing it, you might as well just let them.

Ages ago, I wrote in a comment on another blog, where the concept of masculinity was under discussion, “Real men take responsibility for what matters in their lives. And fix things. Everything else is quibbling over habits and hobbies.” The proprietor of that blog was quite taken with that statement, and emailed me, asking permission to use it as a tagline, which he did, for quite a bit; it seemed like I did hit on something very deep, very resonant in a pretty off-the-cuff statement. Real men fix things; they are capable and confident when it comes to those skills they value. It would only be logical that competence should have been attractive to a potential mate, over and above the physical stuff. Real men are competent and reliable… they fix things…

…and of course so do women, and I wonder how it ever got to be thought that helplessness and haplessness was attractive, endearing, and even sexy. A lot of TV viewers did love Lucy, after all, even if watching the classic show of that name did (and still does) drive me to paroxysms of exasperation— desperate incompetence was just not funny. It was not endearing, not even amusing to me (even when I was a child, watching the reruns at Granny Jessie’s house); seeing Lucy and Ethel bollix up some grand plan beyond all human experience was more an exercise in masochism, than amusement. And watching a male as a butt of that kind of comedy is hardly any more amusing.

My daughter has a screen-saver on her computer, of one of the current heartthrob movie idols; he is quite devastatingly handsome, as these matters are judged… but he is a boy .He is pleasing to look at… but alas, as I judge them, he is a boy, an ornamental boy. He does not exude that air of reliable, solid and adaptable competence. He plays that sort of person in whatever drama offers him a salary… but I cannot imagine him swapping out a blown tire on the verge of the I-35 south, without a lot of drama about how it would adversely affect his fingernails.

Real men— they are there when you really need them, they fix things, and they are good at it.

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