I like to think, although I have no proof of this, that I’m probably no dumber than the average person. I mean, I know that there are many folks who are vastly smarter, in myriad ways, than I am but I don’t generally think of myself as a total dumbass. That all having been said, here’s a partial list of the many things that I fail to comprehend.
Electricity. No matter how many times it is explained to me, no matter by whom, even an elementary understanding of electricity utterly eludes me. As Dereck Williamson said in his brilliant and hysterically funny book “The Complete Book of Pitfalls” (Out of print for years. Find it and buy it anyway. VERY funny book.), whenever you ask an electricity expert about the subject, they immediately take a piece of paper and begin drawing wavy lines, a real help. Then they explain how electrons (Ever seen one? Me neither.) flow first in one direction, then another, changing back and forth sixty times per second. Yeah. Sure. Lotsa help there.
All I know for certain, having done some experimental field work in matters electrical, is that you can’t see electricity, except for lightning and you sure as Hell don’t want any closer familiarity with lightning; you can’t hear it (Thunder is noise, not juice.); it would probably be lethal to attempt to taste it; I don’t EVER want to smell it but you CAN feel it. I speak with a certain amount of authority on this as I have, inadvertently, occasionally dangerously, usually stupidly but ALWAYS painfully felt electricity many times, some of which appear elsewhere in my blog. Electricity HURTS. It also kills. Not me, so far. But I’ve been lucky. My advice is to leave it alone, much as you would an unexploded bomb. Nothing good will come from a closer study.
Plumbing. I totally grasp the concept, which is to contain liquids in pipes and move them where they are wanted and keep them from where they are NOT wanted. The problem here is not in the theory or methods of plumbing, but in the actual application of such knowledge. A crucial skill is “sweating” a joint. This does not involve marijuana but at some point, you will fervently wish that it did. Sweating a joint involves putting two pieces of copper pipe together, applying “flux”, a compound that helps solder to flow and heating the whole mess up with a small propane torch until the solder flows into the joint, sealing it. Most neophytes begin by brushing on the flux, holding the pipes together, igniting the torch and heating the pipes until the solder flows smoothly and you scream in agony as your hand sticks to the now-superheated pipe. This sort of plumbing frequently takes place in basements, cellars or crawl spaces, which involves working with all these things above your head. As Mr. Williamson points out, plumbing can be very rewarding, once you learn to regard hot solder down your neck as a reward.
Wiper blades. There seem to be many methods of attaching wiper blades and wiper arms to automobiles, all of which seem to be in the experimental stages. I have owned and driven numerous cars, vans and trucks for almost fifty years now. I have yet to successfully change wiper blades or, Goddess Help Us All, wiper arms. The last time I bought new wiper blades for my car, I went to an auto parts emporium, stated what I needed to the seventeen-year-old girl behind the counter and told her that I had less than no idea how to install them. She cheerfully sold me what I needed and said that installation was free, if somewhat demeaning, which she charmingly left unsaid. In less time than it would have taken me to find my car keys, she had swapped out the blades and I was good to go.
Years ago, I owned an elderly van of indeterminate mileage that my friends christened “Death Wish”. The seats had been reduced to mere sagging springs, the floor afforded an excellent view of the road passing underneath and the driver’s door had an unsettling way of opening itself on right-hand turns. It was, in short, the type of vehicle that the police never pull over, the operating principle being that whoever owned such a vehicle already had enough trouble.
The part of the van in the worst shape was the wipers. There were small remnants of rubber still attached forlornly to the metal but they had ceased being effective around the turn of the century. The previous century. I was then, as I am now and will probably always remain, impecunious. Couldn’t afford to fix the door or the floor but I could at least afford to change the wipers. And as it was winter and the weather miserable, I pulled Death Wish into my small garage/woodshop. It barely fit but it was better than working outside. I tried for over an hour to figure out how the Goddamned wiper blades came off but with zero success. I should probably point out that by the time I actually got into this project, it was fairly late at night, definitely too late to phone for competent help.
That’s when I decided that, if I couldn’t get the wiper BLADES off, I could maybe remove the entire wiper ARM and take the whole damn thing to a parts store the following day. The wiper arms seemed even less likely to part from the van than the blades were, having been affixed there since, approximately, the invention of the automobile.
This is probably an excellent place to tell you that using an eight-foot 2X4 as a lever to try to force “stuck” wiper arms from a van is NOT a good idea. Nobody told me this. My shattered windshield did. I had now taken a ten dollar project and cunningly turned it into a two hundred dollar project, to the amusement of everyone who heard about it.
To this day, I have absolutely no knowledge whatever about how to change wiper blades unless there is a seventeen year old girl around to help out an old man.
Bourbon. It has become fashionable, particularly among “Hipsters”, whatever they may be, to drink Bourbon. I have no aversion to anyone drinking Bourbon. I can’t drink it and don’t understand why. I seem to be mildly allergic to something in it. One sip and I will have heartburn that could ignite rocks. No matter which brand. I can and often do enjoy single-malt Scotch, I like Irish whisky but Bourbon is forever forbidden to me. I’m (For once.) not complaining. I just don’t know why.
Quantum mechanics. I’m no genius but I have a pretty fair understanding of physics, at least on a human-or-larger scale. Many of you probably don’t remember or never heard of Rube Goldberg. He was a cartoonist who drew the most complicated, silliest, most ridiculously complex contraptions to accomplish remarkably ordinary tasks. Note: He is very much worth looking up. Quantum mechanics makes Rube Goldberg’s inventions look far simpler than an ordinary coat hanger. Not only does any remote understanding of quantum mechanics elude me, I halfway suspect that it’s all a large joke being played on the rest of us by those people who write enormous equations on chalkboards, knowing that we mere mortals have a less-than-zero chance of telling whether it’s science or high-grade malarkey but don’t wish to admit that we don’t understand. They then use this to leverage grant money from the government in order to keep themselves in chalkboards until the end of time or until Rep. Inhofe smartens up.
Time and space. I thought I understood these things. After listening to very highly educated people for some years now, I have almost no understanding of either. All I can state for certain is that I am ALWAYS late, no matter where I go or when or how far. I suspect that this is a genetic flaw as my ancestors came over on the Juneflower.
Gravity. Gravity is easy for me to understand, in general. What eludes me is why gravity has such an abiding and particular hatred for me. If I can fall down, up, sideways, into something, out of something, off of something, onto something or in any other way come a cropper, I will. Guaranteed. By Gravity. When I were a lad of nineteen and doing construction work, my foreman was filled with wonderment at the fact that I could walk a two-by-four outside wall sixty feet off the ground, pause in the middle to nail something, then descend to the parking lot where I would trip over dust. Or a finish nail. He commented on it almost daily and was probably surprised at the end of each day when he found me still alive.
Starbucks. Only in the last few years have I become a coffee addict. But I have been shown by others, all with a greater familiarity with coffee than I, how to go about obtaining and making great coffee at home. I have yet to go anywhere other than home and had coffee that even approached “acceptable”. The two worst were: Starbucks and Starbucks. In different states. The coffee utterly sucked at both places but in different ways. From one, I obtained coffee that consisted of about 75% hot water and 25% grounds. From the other, I got coffee that tasted remarkably like paint thinner. Each one at about five dollars a cup. Minor rant: WHY, in the sacred name of Harry Mabs, does Starbucks insist on calling its different-sized containers by odd names? TALL. VENTE. GRANDE. Especially when the “Tall” is the smallest they have. Everybody understands “Small, medium and large”. Why overcomplicate things? To take your mind off of the fact that you’re about to pay five clams (Or more.) for a paper container of Liquid Crap? And the names of the varying drinks would confuse an English major. Rant over.
It’s coffee. Not rocket science. Run hot water through (Good) ground coffee beans. Pour some into a mug. Add (Or don’t) some sugar and/or milk or cream. Drink. For those who seek to make coffee that is FAR superior to Starbucks, at home, here is how we go about it at Hysteria Hall.
Learn just a bit about coffee. One thing I never knew was that un-roasted coffee has a very long shelf life. So, we buy our coffee in whole-bean five-pound bags from a company (Unpaid plug- Coffee A M) that doesn’t roast any coffee that it hasn’t sold. If I order on Tuesday, the coffee won’t be roasted until Wednesday or Thursday, then shipped in a plastic bag with a one-way valve that lets pressure out but no air in. Cost, for the Costa Rican we prefer here, including shipping, is about 41$. Lasts a month or longer. Spend a few shekels on a burr-type coffee grinder. Don’t grind until you’re ready to brew. Outstanding coffee. Just the way we like it- blacker than Mitch McConnell’s heart and strong enough to stand a spoon upright in the cup. For less than the retail of eight cups of Starbucks crap. Hell, it’s even cheaper than buying canned ground coffee like Folger’s or Maxwell House and running that sheisdreck through your Mr. Coffee machine. In the Age Of The Internet, there is no excuse for anyone to drink crappy coffee. If a blazing incompetent like me can do it, so can you.