Thursday, July 31, 2014

The pen and the wrench

    My wife is busily equipping our older boy for his relocation to college at the end of next month, packing boxes to be shipped off to California. While I have been urging her to practice what I call the Buy-Things-There method—they have Targets and Office Depots in Los Angeles—the fact is there's only a day or two after he arrives before he has to start classes, so in practice, my philosophy will be refined to Buy-Big-Heavy-Things-There.
     Thus my wife showed off this little mesh cup filled with pens, which she was charmed with for its beginning-life-afresh quality. "I bought him this metal cup!" she announced, proudly. I admired it, but noticed that one of the pens was very different than the others—positively wrench-like.
     "I got it at the dollar store," she explained. "The college recommends you provide them with simple tools. I got him a screwdriver too."
     To be honest, I can't imagine a circumstance where my scholar would be prompted to tighten a bolt. I'm not sure he knows what bolts are or that they occasionally need to be tightened. My fault. Still, I was pleased that she had included the wrench, and double pleased with its juxtaposition among the pens. As somebody who manipulates words and thoughts for a living, I have a natural affinity for the nuts-and-bolts physical world, and believe that our general praise for academic excellence we sometimes give the realm of tangible stuff short shrift. I have heard many, many kids, including, sadly, my own, brag about their good grades, but very few—okay, none—brag about building a good chair. I don't know if he'll ever use the little wrench in his cup of pens, but I'm glad it'll be sitting there when school starts, reminding him, subtly, of the quiet, unassuming presence of objects.
     "You're your father's daughter," I said to my wife, a high compliment. I was thinking of 14 years ago, when we bought the house. Her father showed up out of the blue, and gave me a gift. It was a cordless electric drill, the first I ever had. What, I remember thinking, is this for? It wasn't my birthday, it wasn't a housewarming gift. It wasn't wrapped. It was, he knew and I found out, something I would need, a lot. Most practical gift anyone ever gave me, I used it continually for a decade until the drill eventually expired in my hands. My wife cried when we got rid of it. I bought another just like it, because I knew, every homeowner needs a cordless electric drill. 
     Love is many things, but giving people the tools they'll need before they need them is as good a definition as any.


  1. Hi Neil, where did you take today's picture? Is it an elevator shaft?

  2. Ductwork at the Pipefitters' union HQ in Mokena.

  3. Early on, my late father-in-law gave me a 200-piece tool kit for Christmas. I deeply appreciated his misplaced confidence.

    Today many of its pieces have been lost or replaced, but as long as I breathe, that took kit ain't going anywhere.

    -- MrJM

  4. Wow. A great definition of love. Would that I had been pre-equipped. I might have fewer scars and more sense in my old age.

  5. To go along with the wrench and screwdriver, teach him: Righty-Tighty, Lefty-Loosy.

    1. except for left handed threads, of course.


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