What brings the subject to mind is my spending a lot of time lately in hardware stores, which may be the ultimate sociological laboratory for studying the habits of the species.
First, consider the gender difference in facial expressions. Females, as a bloc, tend to come into a store either neutral or smiling, with a look of calm focus. Males, to the contrary.
As writer P.G. Wodehouse once commented on my own ethnic heritage: “Never in recorded history has anyone mistaken a ray of morning sunshine for a Scotsman with a grievance.” I have it on good authority that the reason most guys look aggrieved in hardware stores is that they have to be there in the first place.
In an ideal world, one would just pluck the necessary part or device off the meticulously organized shelves and pegboard of one’s own garage, if so much of the space weren’t taken up by female stuff.
To make matters worse, you usually have to deal with another guy to find what you want. (The growing number of female hardware folks is a great boon, I believe, but that’s a story for another time.)
Basically I think writer Kurt Vonnegut nailed the concept when he observed, “The term ‘writers conference’ is actually a misnomer. Writers cannot confer; they can only drag themselves past one another like great, wounded bears.” Voila: guys in a hardware aisle.
This type of encounter is difficult for us because of the way boys are brought up. Rule One is, “Don’t be a wimp.”
Which is also Rules Two through Nine, but number Ten is, “Always appear competent and in control of any situation.” The problem is, if you were competent and in control you could just grab what you need off the store shelf and not have to talk to anybody.
(If you’re thinking that these rules make the World of Guy-ness a pretty grim place to be, you’re right. For most of us the Rules get old pretty quick, so I can only imagine how non-fun this mindset is for the other half of the population who have to deal with us on a daily basis.)
Eventually, usually, blessedly, the shopper guy gets what he came for from the hardware guy and all is well. It’s just that the testosterone quotient makes the process a lot more grueling than it has to be. But that could also be said of life in general.
(In fairness, the properties of estrogen are not 100 percent beneficial to the social order either. But that’s a topic for another day in a galaxy far away.)
The good news for those of the female persuasion is that most males get over their hardware ordeal pretty quickly. Although it’s never a bad idea to give them a bit of seclusion afterward, while they tackle whatever home repair/improvement project is at hand.
One way to break the tension is to post a sign by the door where he’s working that says “Caution: Grumble Zone,” but the humor of this generally goes unappreciated. Trust me.
The most important thing is to stave off further hardware-induced household testosterone tumult by avoiding the dreaded Brother-In-Law Visit (BILV), which for some unthinkable reason often follows the completion of a home-improvement project: “Why don’t we invite [fill in the blank] over on Sunday afternoon so they can see your work?”
Don’t go there, ladies. Please, just don’t. Throughout history, nothing good has ever come of such a family encounter. And some of the most intense of these sessions make “Hunger Games” seem like an ice-cream social at Aunt Bea’s house by comparison.
Just say “no” to BILVs. Your loved ones will thank you. And if they don’t, I will.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.