Category Archives: manly matters

Mr. Fix It

What’s the best thing about the internet? The bottomless pit of news? The endless shopping? Porno for every taste, no matter how obscure and perverse? Yes, those are all wonderful, but for my money, the best thing about the internet might be how-to videos.

It used to be that if you wanted to fix something you needed some special knowledge or training, but today you just need YouTube.

An example: Over the weekend our clothes dryer crapped out. The drum was spinning just fine and it was getting warm, but there was no air blowing out the vent and the clothes wouldn’t dry. What to do? Consult the internet.

My search results brought a flood of answers that pointed to a single problem: an issue with the blower belt. After watching several videos, I learned how to take the front panel off the machine and what to look for. As promised in one of the videos, the belt was laying loose and next to it was a pulley which had come free. Replace and tighten the pulley, re-attach the belt, put it all back together and we were in business.

What would it have cost to pay someone to do this job? Even for a minor repair, you’re looking at a minimum fee just to have the guy show up, so I’m guessing $150 or more for the whole thing.

I spent more time watching videos than actually doing the work. Some of these are slick productions — sometimes posted by companies who sell parts — but more often it’s just Joe Handyman. There might be some money in these videos considering how popular they are. Here’s a low-end example; it’s rough, but helpful:

The bottom line? Instead of picking up the phone to call someone, pick up the phone and watch a few videos. You might be surprised at how simple and easy it is to fix a problem yourself. It feels good to repair something and will impress your loved ones. If the Maytag repairman was bored thirty years ago, today he’d absolutely lose his mind.

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

My name is Rob and I own a cat. But wait, I also have a dog!

Look, I usually go my own way with head held high, but the matter of cats and dogs stirs some uneasy feelings. There’s a subtle prejudice in our culture about men with cats that’s cut with sexism and old stereotypes. In a nutshell, it’s the idea that cats are feminine, dogs are masculine and a guy with a cat — particularly a single guy — is not a manly man.

Don’t get mad at me, I’m just telling you what I’ve observed. And if you don’t believe it, read what Kristi Gustafson Barlette wrote on the topic. She stopped just shy of calling it “creepy,” for God’s sake.

You might think that as a married man with a dog none of this would phase me, but the cat stigma has affected my behavior. Here’s the thing: when I go to the pet store and buy two dozen cans of cat food, I’m always sure to throw in a dog item so the clerk doesn’t judge me over my pet proclivity.

Dog treats, dog toys, various dog accessories and dog chewy things — as long as it’s clearly for a dog. I’ve even held up an item and said to the cashier, “My DOG is going to love this!”

Yes, that’s nuts.

What can I say? Blame society for this cruel view of men and cats. It benefits no one — except maybe for my dog. She loves it.

Taking the Plunge

Something came over me last Friday and I texted my friend Tom.

He’s been starting off the year with the Lake George Polar Plunge for more than a decade and he’s been after me to join him for a while. I’d never quite managed to pull it together, but this year would be different.

So — why start during a cold snap that’s made the past few weeks downright miserable? Some things can’t be explained, and this is one of them.

It was quite a sight as people started gathering on the beach: they were a mix of young and old, men and women all dressed more for an ice fishing shanty than a day at the beach. There a lot of energy in the air , very much like what you feel before a road race. But this was no 5K. As we stood on the shore watching the volunteers slide big sheets of ice away from the waterfront, some of the plungers started to wonder if they’s started 2018 by making a very bad decision.

Too late.

I didn’t expect a walk in the park; a quick glance at my Google search history will reveal various combinations of the terms “cold,” “freezing water,” “shock,” “hypothermia” and “heart attacks.”

As the mintues ticked down, the clothes started coming off. Soon I was standing in my bathing suit, water shoes, gloves and a knit cap. There were jokes that my body hair would keep me warm. If only.

When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go. When my time came I stormed into the water and went out as far as the safety crew in their cold water suits . It wasn’t terribly deep, so I crouched a bit to bring the water up to my chin. At first it wasn’t so bad — hell, the water was 30 degrees warmer than the air — but it didn’t take long for a weird combination of numbness and burning to begin taking hold of my legs. Time to get out.

Once in dry clothes I felt pretty great, deeply refreshed and oddly renewed.
I thought my friend Tom was pulling my leg when he went on about cleansing away the old year and prparing for the one to come, but he wasn’t kidding. And my penis didn’t break off, so that’s also a big plus.

Tie One On This Christmas

So, about the Christmas tree.

On our way home from getting the tree, we passed another car on their way home from the same mission.

The other car’s tree was secured with a cheap piece of frayed twine that looked like it would snap at any moment. I was sure the tree would tumble to the road on the first sharp turn.

I try not to be judgmental, but the ability to tie things down is a fair measure of one’s competence.

My wife wanted me to honk and alert them.

I refused. “No. He needs to learn.”

My tree? There was a ratchet strap across the middle holding it snug to the roof and then a heavy nylon rope to keep it from pivoting. I could roll the car over and that tree would still be attached to the roof.

It wasn’t exactly pretty; no sailor would be impressed with these knots, but they were secure.

People get stressed out at Christmas, but the key to having a nice holiday is to accept that there are some things you can control and some things you can’t.

Accept the things you can’t control, and you’ll be happier — tying a tree to your car is something you can control, so don’t screw it up.

That’s the News from Lake Wobegon

I’ve listened to Prairie Home Companion for more than thirty years, but it wasn’t until a few summers ago that I got to see the show live at Tanglewood.

When I heard the words, “From American Public Media,” in the canned open, chills ran down my spine. Within the first few notes of the show’s signature song, Tishomingo Blues, I swear to god, a tear ran down my cheek.

The show was great – everything I expected – but both me and my wife were struck by something: Garrison Keillor seemed to be unusually intimate with a young women he sang with on several numbers. Watching them, I thought that they were either involved romantically (eww) or he was hopelessly in love with her. Let’s put it this way, his attention wasn’t grandfatherly, unless your grandfather is Roy Moore.

——

I saw sexual harassment up-close once when an employee complained about unwanted attention from an older, male co-worker. This was not he said/she said. There was plain evidence that a line was crossed, and it even extended to outside the workplace.

I took the matter to my boss and it was quickly elevated to corporate HR. The people in that office (the ones who made us take endless sexual harassment training) then made it all go away. They basically told the complainant that she should first go to her co-worker and explain that she was not interested in his advances.

Yes, they told the woman who complained to go deal with the creepy fucker on her own. Good job, HR!

Look, there are no easy answers to all this. Maybe the current climate will bring change. If you have sons, teach them this: Treat women with respect, behave like a gentleman and keep your filthy mitts to yourself.

Doomsday Prepper

Look, when you get to be my age, you’re going to be subjected to all sorts of dire things. Like a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy, as you probably know, is when they pass a camera inside you and have a look where the sun don’t shine. The good news is that you’re totally out of it during all of this, in fact, moments after sedation, you don’t care what they do to you.

Many people will tell you that preparing for these tests is an odious ordeal. They’re half right.

My prep required a day of non-solid foods capped off by a giant dose of laxatives. The first half, the liquid diet,  was not so bad, but the second half was no walk in the park. In fact, a walk in the park that’s the last thing you should do after taking a giant dose of laxatives.

Here’s my delicious lunch of mango Jell-O and chicken broth. Good stuff.

lunch

And hey! I have some pictures from inside my colon if you’d like to see them. No?

Some of you are saying, “Whoa, Rob! TMI!” Nonsense. This is a routine medical procedure and you’d be crazy not to do it. Colon cancer doesn’t get the sort of high-profile attention as other health risks, perhaps because it’s not a very glamorous region of your body. This is nothing to be squeamish about — and it could save your life.

By the way, hats off to the doctors and nurses who do this all day long.  You think you deal with a lot of assholes all day long?

In Your Face, Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg made news last week for his run through Tiananmen Square — both for exercising during a period oppressive pollution and the lousy optics of doing so where protesters were slaughtered in 1989. But something else caught my eye: the Facebook founder noted that he’s hit the 100 mile point for 2016.

This is all part of Zuckerberg’s Year of Running health campaign, which challenges participants to reach 365 miles by the end of 2016.Introducing the program, Zuckerberg said, “This is a lot of running, but it’s not a crazy amount.”

Wow! That’s pretty… underwhelming.

Now wait — my running is nothing to brag about, but if I’ve run more miles this year than a fit young man like 31-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, well, what the hell?

Ten years ago — in my 40s — I ran a marathon. Not a fast marathon, not a great marathon, but listen here Facebook boy, I ran 26 miles in one day. No, I can’t do that anymore, but if a fat old man like me (old enough to be your father, I might add) can go out and run three miles before dawn, you can do better than a mile.

So here’s a challenge: you want to motivate me to exercise, how about buying me fifty pairs of Saucony Triumph ISO 2 running shoes? At two pairs per year, that should pretty much last me until I’m too dead to walk around the block, much less run.

But seriously, just kidding: good job with your mile. Maybe we should get you a participation trophy, or something.

OK, that’s it for me. Gotta go see if my Facebook account has been deleted yet.

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

I’d been thinking go buying a cheap smoker to dip my toe into the dark art of barbecue when my wife Ann called.

“I have a surprise for you!”

Oh, Christ, what now — another cat? But this time she’d really outdone herself: standing in the garage was a ceramic Big Green Egg, one of the fancier — meaning more expensive — smokers out there.

This was certainly not something I would have ever bought for myself, but she discovered it on Craigslist, for sale by a man who bought it several years ago and never used it. He finally decided he couldn’t stand looking at it anymore, and it came to us at a fraction of the price of buying a new one.

So, since then, every weekend has been a festival of meat.

It turns out that when it comes to barbecue, the internet is both a blessing and a curse. You can find a recipes for anything you want  — but ten-thousand of them — and every person who smokes meat has a different opinion on how to do it. It makes your head spin.

pulled pork1

Pork shoulder which went on the smoker at 4:50am on Sunday.

But for all the confusion, one thing has been constant: everything I’ve cooked in the Egg has been spectacular. Can you remember the best chicken you’ve ever eaten? I can — it was last week.

So, what about health considerations? Some would say that at 54-years-old, eating more meat might not be the best game plan — but I’m not really eating more meat, just better meat. The jury is out on the health effects of breathing too much smoke, but hey, what are you gonna do?

The Clock

There comes a time when things have to go.

Years ago, we had a garage sale when my mother was selling her house. My father died several years earlier, and spread out on the lawn and driveway were a lot of his things. Tools, clothing and the bric-a-brac that builds up after of decades in the same place. I didn’t end up with much of it.

My mom went from place to place, each time shedding more possessions — and now we’re facing a move that will not allow furniture to go along.

And that brings us to the grandfather clock.

My father built the clock 40 years ago from a kit and it stood for years in our dining room — and now no one in my family wanted it. I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to get rid of things, not acquire more — but the idea of the clock going on Craigslist and ending up with some strangers really bothered me.

So, I drove to Poughkeepsie and loaded it in my car.

I may regret it one day, but how can I just let the clock go? So much of the tangible evidence of his life is gone, scattered here and there — it just seems like something he made should stay with me.

No, we’re not defined by stuff, but objects have the power to transport you through time. What could be better for that than a clock?