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RSVPhillippi | February 2016





HOW TO BE A GROWN UP

By Dennis Phillippi

A lot of the time, when I’m up against a deadline for this column, I’ll surf headlines in hopes of finding a suitable topic to write about because I haven’t spent any time in the past thirty days trying to think of one on my own. If I hadn’t already written a column about how lazy I am and how much I hate doing research, I’d be set, but as it happens I wrote that one years ago. Sometimes the headline trawling is a bust because all of the headlines are so depressing. No one wants to read what I think about politics, or a bunch of nuts holding a National Park hostage, or the way some people are stubbornly contending that the booming economy isn’t booming. My opinions about important subjects are just as ill informed as everyone else’s. Then along comes a sweet header like this one: “Carjacking foiled by stick shift.” Ah, morons come through once again.    

Apparently a couple of young men in Pittsburgh, realizing that starting their own cheese steak joint was too much work, decided to go with a life of crime, and their crime of choice was taking other people’s cars. Unfortunately, the car they chose was a five speed, and they hadn’t learned to drive a stick. It’s like picking cat burgling as a career and not taking a safe cracking class. Granted, only about seven percent of automobiles in this country have a manual transmission, but as a car jacker that means an almost 10 percent chance of failure. You get better odds with Honda airbags.    

When I learned to drive, close to 40 percent of cars on the road had manual transmissions. Not knowing how to drive a stick was like not knowing how to rewind a cassette tape using a pencil. It was just something everyone learned how to do. At the time everyone also learned how to clean a vinyl record, heat up jiffy pop on the stove and untangle a phone cord, but this column isn’t about how old I am.      

This is about things that it seems to me every adult should know how to do. Not knowing how to drive a five speed is not knowing how to do something you can learn to do in an afternoon and be proficient at by the end of that week. Sure, there will be a few moments of panic trying to get it into first going up a hill, and you will stall at an embarrassing time, but, before you know it, you will be able to feel superior to all those automatic transmission only people.    

It’s like being able to change a tire. There is no reason why anyone over the age of sixteen can’t change a flat tire. Changing a tire isn’t even something you really have to learn. It’s as natural to a grown human as catching a squirrel is to a cat. The only obstacle you really have to overcome is the sadistic tightening practices of mechanics with air wrenches. Sooner or later, applying enough pressure, including, if necessary, standing on the jack handle, you will get the lug nuts off. Being able to tell everyone later that you had to change a flat tire is a great way to secretly praise yourself to others. You get to act all angry about the hassle, and the knuckle busting, and the time it took, but all you’re really doing is telling a story about how capable you are, while hoping that some member of your audience couldn’t change a tire on a tricycle. Smugness comes in many forms.    

I am capable of changing the oil in a car. I don’t change the oil in my car because it’s a pain in the neck I can pay someone else nineteen bucks to do for me, but I am capable of doing it. I am also capable of operating jumper cables. That doesn’t mean I’m going to cop to having them every time a stranger has a dead battery, I’m not running for Gandhi, but I know how to use them. It’s not the doing these things that matters, it’s the knowing how to do them that matters.    

I am always nonplussed by an adult male who can’t swing a hammer or operate a circular saw. To me these are basic skills that any guy should have mastered just by being yelled at by his dad or uncle or older brother. My friend Jeff is infinitely more handy than me, and most jobs at my house involve him repairing things while I hand him things. I don’t know anything about electricity because I don’t need to. That’s something else that every person should know how to do: exploit your friend’s abilities by using flattery and feigning weakness. Nobody give a copy of this column to my friend Jeff. This scam had been working for a very long time.    

I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but if you can’t fry an egg, bake a potato or roast a chicken you may need some kind of support animal. When I hear someone say, “I can’t boil water,” it makes me want to throw boiling water at them. It’s not like I’m expecting everyone to be able to make a soufflé or pick a great wine or flip an omelet, but frying an egg is something an ex-convict does three hundred times a day at the diner across the street from your office. Everyone should have enough basic cooking skills to make a meal, if not to impress someone you want to get into the sack, then at least to be able to give yourself enough sustenance to remain standing throughout the day.    

There are tons of other things I think all people should be able to do, but most of you have already found something in this column you can’t do, and you’re starting to get kind of mad. My apologies; now go learn how to drive a stick like a person.