They Don’t Make Men The Way They Used To

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I’m rolling around in bed, side to side, but each time I do, I regret that decision and attempt to find the warmth my body created between the sheets. Our heat is out, but I don’t know that yet.

I hear my mom on the phone. “We can’t get warm in the house,” she says. “It feels like an ice box.”

I don’t know who she’s talking to, but instead of jumping out of bed and into action, I hit snooze on the alarm clock. I figure it’s the smartest option considering the situation. I know I can’t offer any help in fixing the heating unit, which is surprising for a guy who had two extremely capable and handy grandfathers. One worked as an Air Force mechanic and the other in commercial refrigeration for 50 years. The most mechanical thing I’ve ever done is build a wooden apparatus that was supposed to protect an egg from cracking when it went down a ramp in high school technology class. (Spoiler alert: the egg cracked immediately upon descent.)

I hear my mom say, “Thanks, Dad.” And I know our very own Mr. Fix-It, my grandpa Joey, is on the way.

I also know it will take him a little extra time to arrive since he’ll have to put his work clothes on. Joey only wears two types out outfits – work ones and his Sunday best. As a child of The Great Depression, he once dirtied a church outfit by playing with his neighborhood friends after Mass and had to deal with the wrath of his mother. Today, at 88-years old, he still changes before he gets his hands greasy and then will switch back after the job. This always struck me as unusual. If I got grass stains on my pants my mom would treat the spots and make the pants look as good as new.

When my grandpa arrives, I want nothing to do with the project, but he’s old, so I feel bad and help.

“I bet you the belt is broken or came off,” he says after giving me a hug and a kiss.

“That’s what I thought too,” I say.

He shoots me a look as to say, sure you did, and we head into the basement.

“Did you change the filters?” he asks.

“No,” I say. “I’ve been in LA.”

“You’ve been home for a month.”

“Maybe my dad did,” I say, wanting want someone else to share in my mistake.

We pull the filters out and they’re a wreck. I guess my dad didn’t change them after all. There are lots of holes and look as if they haven’t been switched in years. I see my handwriting from when I was in middle school on the unit with an arrow leading to the filters. I also see a note I wrote to myself that my grandpa dictated over ten years ago so I would never forget to change the filters each season, which reads: “Filters are behind the hot water heater. Turn oil burner off!” I then remember the filters for the air conditioner are in the attic. I don’t think I’ve changed those in a while either. Good thing it’s not summer yet…

My grandpa enters the workroom in the basement, ducks under the ducts, and assesses the situation. He asks me to get him a small chair, the toolbox out of his trunk, and the schematics for the unit in his front seat. I go upstairs, find a folding chair, and then return with the supplies. I see him sitting in a wooden chair that he actually bought for me when I was four years old.

I try to pull the cover off of the heating unit from the top. No luck. My grandpa loosens it from the bottom and then tells me to pull. Off it comes. As he originally suspected, the belt fell off, which is why the heat isn’t working.

“Today you’re going to be the mechanic,” he says.

There are very few things you can say to me that I’d like to hear less than that. I just want things to work instantly. And if they don’t then I’ll call someone to fix it. I’m the guy who buys an armoire from IKEA and instead of looking at the diagram, decides to put it together myself. Who needs instructions? I finish and then wonder why it falls apart when it stands up. Oh, I guess I needed to put those brackets on and then start again.

My grandpa, on the other hand, reads all instructions before starting a task. “I’d rather take my time and do it right the first time,” he says, “instead of having to do it all over again when it’s wrong.” I hear Joey’s voice saying that in my head often, but then “quick and easy” always wins out.

I decide not to fight him on this and commit to learning how to fix the heater today. I pull up the sleeves on my sweater (since it’s freezing) and attempt to place the belt over the big pulley in the back and then the small one closest to me.

“You have to put it on the little pulley first and then extend it to the larger one, spin the pulley slowly, and it will go on.”

I follow his instructions and the pulleys don’t fight me any longer. The belt slips right on.

“That was smart, Joey.”

“It’s not smart,” he says. “It’s a fact.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not assuming all guys in their mid to late 20s can’t fix things, it’s just that I don’t have a lot of friends who can. We get a flat tire? Oh, call AAA! Your headlight is out? Jiffy Lube is only a couple of blocks away. Why won’t these Christmas lights work? I guess I better throw them away and buy a new strand. Instead, my grandpa went through all of the lights and found the one that went out, changed it, and they all lit up again.

I know this is only a small sampling of how my grandpa’s generation differs from my own, but whenever I start to get down on myself and wish I learned how to fix things, I remember one thing: the old timers from my grandpa’s day are known as The Greatest Generation and you just can’t top greatness.

But if there’s one thing the guys from my age group know, as part of the Me Generation, it’s our limits. So, hey, at least we have that going for us. TC mark

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