Do you know who I love? Hardly anyone. But in that small number I include plumbers. Also the people who come to change a flat tire. I have encountered both of those people this week, and I love them both. I have added them to my Christmas Card list. Whenever I am blue, I will picture that guy kneeling in front of my flat tire, asking the tire earnestly if it is seriously going to fight him every step of the goddam way. Or that other guy kneeling in front of the broken sump pump in his careful, taking-no-chances, 2-inches-above-the-jeans underpants. Guys Kneeling and Fixing Things is a coffee table book I would buy.
I have seen lists of things all adults should be able to do (debone a chicken! sew a shirt! deliver a baby! start a fire without matches! mix a perfect martini! caulk a tub! iron pleats! drive a stick shift! change a tire! hotwire a car!), and I hard-disagree with all of them, starting with the presumptuous tone and ending with the listed items. By all means, learn things you WANT to know how to do, or personally NEED to know how to do, but there is no reason to run out and acquire the particular skills the clickbait author came up with, making it an even 10, 20, or 30 so they could turn it into a snappy title. (I know it should be “bone a chicken,” not “debone a chicken.” But really at this point in the English language it should be changed to debone. So I’ve changed it.) (I also know that “who” in the first sentence of the post should be “whom.” But it always sounds wrong, and also snooty. I’m changing that too.)
Some of the things on the lists are outdated: it takes awhile for older generations to stop insisting that the younger generations learn things they no longer need to know. (I for one will have a hard time giving up on cursive writing.) I was glad my dad made me learn to drive a stick-shift back when a lot of people had stick-shift cars, but now it is really rare to encounter a stick-shift and really common to encounter people who think everyone should know how to drive one Just In Case, because THEIR dads made them learn how to drive one Just In Case. But we are now at least one generation past that time; it’s like saying everyone should know how to use a pencil to fix an unwound cassette tape. (I can imagine similar lists in previous generations. Absolutely EVERYONE should be able to: recite one performance poem from memory; speak conversational French; fashion a bandage from an old petticoat; darn a sock; pull an abscessed tooth; deliver a breech calf; disassemble and clean a simple pocket watch; make a good plain meal on the cook’s night out; gentle a horse; testify effectively in a witchcraft trial.) The ONLY TIME I have ever been called upon unexpectedly to use my stick-shift skills was when the pharmacist wanted to treat the pharmacy staff to coffee and doughnuts, but he couldn’t leave the pharmacy and needed someone to drive his car so he wouldn’t have to mess with reimbursing mileage. I was the only one there who could drive a stick-shift, so I did the coffee/doughnut run. SAVING LIVES. I think people should learn to drive a stick-shift if their car is a stick-shift, or if they WANT to learn to drive a stick-shift, or if they have reason to believe they have more than the usual likelihood of being called upon to drive a stick-shift.
For other, more currently-useful items on the list, I think we don’t ALL need to know how as long as SOME of us do. Let’s SPECIALIZE and then SHARE OUR SKILLS FOR CASH OR BARTER. I do not want to take the bones out of the chicken. It would take forever and I would hate it and it would be messy. Let’s give that job to an expert wearing a company smock they won’t have to personally launder. They can do fifty chickens in the time it would take me to do one, and then we can all take home our packets of boneless chicken and spend our time doing happier things we’re better at.
Or I certainly COULD learn to change a tire or change the oil, but I’d prefer not to. I’d like the person who changes the tire to be someone who has done it THOUSANDS OF TIMES and so will get it RIGHT. I don’t want to do it a few times to learn it, and then wait a few years, and then suddenly have to remember how to do it on a dark scary road in the rain, when I’d rather be inside the car with the doors locked waiting for the guy to arrive and swear at the tire for me. And it’s more sensible for the person who changes the oil to be someone who has all the equipment (including the coverall that only improves in appearance with a few sexy oil stains) and can handle the whole task quickly, neatly, and efficiently. And then they can dispose of the old oil easily, because they have a whole system for that. In a TRUE OIL-CHANGING/TIRE-CHANGING EMERGENCY, like in a dystopian future where roadside assistance no longer exists, I will read the manual. Or I will find someone who already knows how to do it, and I will barter. I have many jars of peanut butter. Or I can name a baby. Or I can listen attentively and responsively to a really boring story.