By Paul Koch –
While I much prefer my neighborhood Ace Hardware store to the Lowes across town, there is something that makes the trip to Lowes worthwhile. It’s not so much the personal shopping experience (I’ll take the knowledge of the guys and gals at Ace over Lowes any day, plus they have free popcorn!), rather it’s the spectacle that you can find at Lowes that makes it a joy to go. I’ve begun to notice something delightful in the wide and spacious aisles at Lowes. Whether I’m in the plumbing aisle or lumber section, you can often find one or two complete novices deep in thought about the correct purchase. And by novices, I mean folks who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Yet here they are buying PVC cement or a stack of 2x4s and a box of nails. They’re getting ready to give it a try, to dirty their hands, to risk screwing it all up, and I think they are a beautiful sight.
Sure, some people may find joy in watching people greet old friends at the airport. They may get all misty eyed at a wedding, but for me, I love to see the pasty-faced neophyte getting ready to build something for the first time.
There is something about this activity that is inextricably linked to manliness. To engage in a world outside of our own minds, to create with our hands, to build, to fail and try again is part of what makes a man. It’s not about being the most skilled craftsman, it’s not about doing what others cannot, it’s about trying. There is an incredible spirit of masculinity that is willing to go down swinging while overcoming the fear of the unknown. It’s not that the bookshelf you build with your own hands will be better in quality or durability than the one you pick up at Target (though you might be surprised). Rather it’s the desire to try and build a bookshelf, the movement from an idea in your mind to a physical thing outside of yourself, that shapes a man.
Yet there has been a constant and relentless attack on just such a thing. More and more of our lives are defined by either experts who are the custodians of the outside world or technologies that keep us in our heads. In fact, these two things work in concert together to provide us with products that leave us, and any tinkering we might be inclined to do, completely outside the loop. So we can buy a new car that talks with an app on our smartphone to inform us of what maintenance needs to be done, it will even lead us to the nearest expert to perform such maintenance. Even if we wanted to pull away from the screen long enough to give it a try ourselves, we would find layer upon layer of technological advancements that prohibit us from being able to do much more than stand there and stare inquisitively at a mess of hoses and wires.
In most aspects of our lives, we are reduced to being consumers only. We don’t know how things work, and we don’t even care we just want them to work for us. And if they don’t we take it to an expert. We are increasingly encouraged to stay within our own minds and only tamper with things if we happen to be an expert in that field. Otherwise, we just leave it to the carpenter, plumber, mechanic, theologian or psychologist.
I think this leads us to a sad state of affairs. It leads us to a place where men fill their days doing some of the most bizarre shit imaginable because they have lost the spirit of masculinity and are reduced to being nothing more than collectors and critics.
This became increasingly clear last Christmas day. After all the gifts had been unwrapped, and after church and a wonderful afternoon nap, we opened our home to a bunch of friends for dinner. Two of these dinner guests work at Starbucks, and another one used to work at a different coffee shop. And they were having a conversation about a few different and beautiful demitasses that customers had brought in to drink their espresso out of. Now I had no idea what a demitasse was; it turns out that it is a small cup like the type of cup you would drink a double espresso or a Turkish Coffee out of. Since I love both espresso and Turkish Coffee, I have used a demitasse without knowing that was what it was called and always enjoyed it.
Now the hilarity of our dinnertime conversation came when it slowly dawned on me that they were talking about full grown men who would take a demitasse from their home and bring it down to Starbucks to sit there and drink from a cup from their own collection. Now they aren’t talking about a large travel mug. This would make sense, especially if you’re drinking it in your car or are concerned about the environment. In fact, they aren’t talking about taking the drink to go at all. They were intentionally bringing little porcelain cup down to the coffee shop to drink it where they could be seen by everyone else.
As I began to ask questions about this, I began to get more and more agitated. For some reason, I was pissed that there was a man out there (and apparently it is far more than one man) who felt the need to do this. It wasn’t bad that they were drinking out of a demitasse, as I said I drink out of them and enjoy it thoroughly. My days of drinking boxed wine out of water glasses are a distant (and somewhat fuzzy) memory. These days I appreciate having the proper glass for the drink. But it’s not like Starbucks didn’t have little cups there. Why in the hell would a man feel the need to do this? I couldn’t understand, and I still can’t!
I think this is simply the sad state of affairs when it comes to men. The spirit of masculinity has been crushed or worn away over time.
It’s time for us to move away from this. It’s time to check and see if you still have a pair. For the sake of our society leave the damn demitasse at home and do something. Change the oil in your car, build a deck, climb a mountain, paint a picture, install new irrigation for the front yard, and get yourself to the gym. The world will always have new and better technology; it will always have experts. But what it really needs is the spirit of the man who is willing to go down swinging, who lives outside of his own head.
A man is more than a consumer, more than a collector!