A Guy Old Time

As a column-writing, piano-playing, condo-owning man who doesn’t enjoy sports or drive a truck or work at a slaughterhouse, it’s not often that I get to do real GUY things. Most of my activities are genteel and sedentary, and seldom involve equipment any more complicated than a pillow. So when an opportunity arises to build, fix or destroy something, I seize it with manly gusto. Of course, even the seizing process often causes my back to go out, but this is the price you must pay for manliness. The Rock’s back is probably out all the time.

When I first moved into my condo, I found it necessary to put bookshelves into some of the walls. I did this myself, thank you very much, obtaining the necessary materials from Home Depot and doing all the measuring and stud-locating and hammering without help from anyone.

Needless to say, these were the most dubious, improbable shelves ever built. They creaked and wobbled every time I touched them, or didn’t touch them. There were spots in the wall where you could see several holes next to each other, false starts where I’d misjudged the location of the stud and had to try again; these series of holes made it look like I’d been shot at with a machine gun. I was wildly suspicious of the shelves, bordering on paranoia, confident they would collapse at any moment, until finally one day they did. One of the shelves overpowered its supporting brackets, fell onto the shelf beneath it, and took it and all of its contents down. This was known as the Great Shelf Disaster of 2003, and my ego and a bag of cookies were crushed in the fracas.

Another incident of manliness that occurred in my home was when I wanted to simplify the living room arrangement by getting a smaller entertainment center. The one I had occupied most of an entire wall, and was filled with videotapes and DVDs and multiple VCRs, which the Laotian kids who worked in my sweatshop used in conjunction with my video-pirating racket. I purchased a smaller, more tasteful unit at Wal-Mart and planned to put some of the videotapes in storage, since it is not often that I need ready access to a collection of “Golden Girls” episodes anyway (though it is more often than you’d think).

All that remained was for me to assemble the new unit. It came with instructions, of course, some of which were in coherent English and some of which I could not decipher without the aid of divine revelation. They seemed to have been written for the target audience of people who do nothing but put together entertainment units all day. There were pictures of each of the individual pieces of wood, labeled “A,” “B,” “C,” etc., but this was unhelpful, as there were several pieces that looked identical on paper but which were different sizes in real life.

I thought, Is this what it’s like to be a Guy? To be constantly uncertain that what you’re doing is going to make any sense when you’re done? Or do true Guys not worry about such things, proceeding vigorously without regard for the consequences? I think it’s the latter, actually. Which means being a real Guy isn’t for me. I have too much respect for the notion of “consequences.”

So it was a game of chance, assembling this entertainment center, but when it was done, it more or less resembled the display model at Wal-Mart, except without all the white trash wandering around fingering it.

The third incident of manliness that I wish to share concerns my car, which of course is the manliest thing a man owns, except when, as in my case, it’s a Kia Spectra. Then it’s the womanliest thing he owns, even womanlier than the mascara he bought once for a Halloween costume.

During the Sundance Film Festival this past January, I had to drive every night from Park City back to Heber City, where I was staying, a trip of about 25 minutes through rural Wasatch County. During one of these drives, I was pulled over by a county sheriff’s deputy, who told me that I had a non-functioning headlight. (Well, that my car had one. Mine were fine.) At first I assumed Robert Redford had smashed it in retaliation for the time I called him a leathery midget in a newspaper article, or that perhaps I had actually run him over, accidentally, not being able to see him as he skittered out in front of me. However, the officer informed me that the light was not broken; it had merely burnt out.

It made no sense to me that one headlight could burn out while the other remained active, considering they tend to operate in unison, always either both on or both off. How does one wear out faster than the other? Cars baffle me, as you see.

Anyway, the next night, while driving the same route, a different cop stopped me, as I hadn’t had time to fix the headlight in the intervening 24 hours. I realized that with the dearth of crime in Heber City, I would probably get stopped every night until the end of the festival, and so I’d better replace the headlight immediately.

I thought, A headlight is just a light bulb. I’ve changed light bulbs in my home before, and it only takes one of me, despite the jokes you may have heard. I can do this myself. So I visited an auto-parts store and told the man, whose name of course was Steve, what I needed, and he sold me the replacement bulb for $15. This seemed excessive, but I am not in the custom of haggling with auto-parts Steves over the prices of their wares. Don’t anger the Steves, that’s what I’ve learned.

My efforts to change my own light bulb were thwarted, however, when I realized access to the headlight in question was blocked by the car’s battery. This seemed like poor planning to me, but I’m not the Korean gentleman who designed the car. I’m not Korean at all, in fact, despite the jokes you may have heard. I realized that even my manly manliness has its limits, and there was NO WAY I was going to remove the battery from its stronghold. It would require wrenches and whatnot, plus I would probably get my hands extremely dirty, and then I’d have to lift the battery, too, and I know how heavy those things are.

So the next time I had the oil changed at Jiffy Lube, I had them replace the headlight. They normally charge $12 for this, but since I was supplying the new bulb, they only charged me $9. Which means I paid $24 for a new headlight when, if I had just gone to Jiffy Lube in the first place, I’d have only paid $12. If poor planning and over-spending don’t make me a Guy, then I don’t know what does.

For me, it is fun to include links when something that occurred in a previous column is referenced. It also makes me remember jokes I'd forgotten I ever made. For example, if you click on the "Steve" reference, you'll find another column about cars, one in which I mentioned having to get my safety and emissions tests done (on my car, not on me), and where I wondered how I could wear out just two tires when I generally drive on all four at once. Sound like any jokes I made in this, the current column?

Discussion questions:

1. What Halloween costume of Eric's might have required mascara?

2. Make up a joke that, when told, would give the impression that Eric is a Korean gentleman.