Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Me And My Manly Tools

A bright, neon-orange envelope arrived in the mail recently with the following question printed on the outside: “Will you do us a favor and test tools?” Perverse thoughts immediately entered my mind as a surge of excitement pulsed through my veins contemplating the word “tools.” Then I noticed the return address—unfortunately it read, “The Handyman Club of America.” Disappointed and flummoxed, I thought this must be a mistake. The only tools I’m interested in certainly wouldn’t arrive from the Handyman Club of America.

There must have been some confusion between my father and me. Even though he lives in New York and I live in Los Angeles, we share the same name and, after all, he earned his living working with tools. My father spent 45 years in the construction industry and recently retired as senior vice president from a major construction conglomerate. Clearly this must have been meant for him, because I certainly didn’t inherit any of those genes. Unlike my father, I’ve never had the desire to get my hands dirty, engage in any form of manual labor or build anything more than a substantial wardrobe. And whenever I’m faced with the tedious task of replacing a light bulb, I still have to remind myself, “Lefty loosey, righty tighty.” Truth be told, I don’t even know how to read a ruler. Honestly.

When I was 16 years old, my mother wanted to install a tin ceiling in our kitchen but didn’t want to pay the price. So my father had the brilliant idea of creating the appearance of tin by covering the ceiling with three-dimensional wallpaper. Since I was the only boy in the family, it was my duty to help dad hang the wallpaper and measure out the pieces. As he stood on a ladder at one end of the kitchen, I stood on the faux wood formica countertop at the other end and read the measurement.

“Sixty three-and-a-half inches and three little lines,” I confidently declared.
Chuckling with amusement my father responded: “Alright, don’t joke around, just read me the measurement.”

“Sixty three-and-a-half inches and three little lines,” I repeated once again, slightly hesitant.
“Come on, stop busting my chops and just read me the measurement,” he responded, his patience rapidly wearing thin.

This went on several more times before my hot-headed Italian father completely lost his temper and roared; “Stop acting like an asshole and read me the goddamn measurement!”
In an angered attempt at precision, I snapped back; “Sixty three-and-a-half inches, two little lines and one medium-sized line.”

The fact was I didn’t (and still don’t) know how to read a tape measure or a ruler. Sure, I know how to measure an inch or 7 or 8 or 9, if I’m really lucky, but who knows what all those little lines are in between. A third? An eighth? A quarter? I have no clue, and no one ever taught me, either.

But let’s be honest, sixty-three-and-a-half inches and three little lines weren’t that hard to comprehend. I found it to be a perfectly accurate measurement. My frustrated father, however, felt otherwise and immediately dismissed me from my duties. (Thank God!) But as the years passed, I never did learn the rudimentary task of reading a ruler and now, 20 years later, the Handyman Club of America expected me, of all people, to test their tools?

In fact, the only tools I own are a hammer and a set of screwdrivers, which sit in my forest green, metal Restoration Hardware toolbox, along with masking tape, Elmer’s glue, a ruler—go figure—some leftover holiday ribbon and a Magic Eraser (the greatest tool ever invented!). But that might change as the overly bright orange envelope promised more tools in my future and included several free gifts.

First, there were the free utility box labels, which were a complete waste since I don’t even possess a utility box in my miniature apartment. (Unless that’s what that metal box in the wall of the closet was that I covered with a picture frame when I moved in?) Then there were the free address labels, which would definitely come in handy (pun intended). And finally, there was a thin rectangular piece of plastic riddled with little holes, which apparently was my free drill bit guide. A drill bit guide? I don’t even own a drill or know what a bit is. I mean, sure I’m often been described as a “bit” much, and I use a “bit” of pomade to style and mold my hair. The hot straight guy at the gym who I have a major crush on—and who always holds my gaze a little too long—might be a “bit” gay (I can only hope), but I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a “bit” before.

The accompanying literature went on to promise even more exciting tools in my future including a circular saw, a tape measure (great) and a three-piece damaged screw extractor set. Well trust me, the last thing I needed was a damaged screw.

The introductory letter stated that I’d been nominated to become an “official member of the club” because it’s no secret among my friends and family that I’m an outstanding handyman. Oh really? Who have they been talking to?

As a club member, each month I would receive a copy of Handy magazine along with a new tool to try around my home, report my thoughts on and then keep the tool for my own use, completely free of charge. It only cost a dollar a month to join the club and, well, I figured sooner or later I’d want to drill, hammer or screw something or someone, so I signed up. Let’s just hope one of those free gifts includes a tool belt to showcase all my manly tools.

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