Category Archives: manly matters

The Long Trail

I judge my winter camping trips with the Boy Scouts by the condition of the outhouse. This year it was pretty darn good. The smell was tolerable, probably because it’s been so cold, and besides a little ice on the seat, it was not bad at all. I took a picture, of course.

The cabins at Woodworth Lake are cold and rough around the edges, but warm up nicely when the stove’s well stoked. There’s a peculiar smell to these weekends, a mix of dirty socks, wood smoke, and grilled cheese that clings to your clothes when you leave. It’s a reminder of your adventure.

Many scouts have come before, and a lot of them inscribed signs that ring the cabin. Mostly they’re simple, but others look like they had some parental input, with neat lettering and a gleaming coat of polyurethane.

The oldest one I could find was dated 1994, from Cub Scout Pack 40 in Amsterdam.

That doesn’t sound like long ago, but a lot can happen in seventeen years. The boys would be in their twenties now, setting off down the road of life. Some will be businessmen, some work with their hands. Some will find success, others trouble. But long ago they all shared a cold winter weekend in the woods. They may not remember every detail, but I’d bet they would recognize the smell of that cabin.

Customer Service: Alive and Well in Portland, OR

A couple of years ago, I snapped the Diamond-coated File clean off of my Leatherman Wave. We won’t discuss exactly how that happened, but let’s just say the last time the blade was seen it was protruding from a log.

The rest of the tool was fine, but once or twice I found myself yearning to actually file something down. The log incident haunted me. “Oh, Jeez… if I only had that Diamond-coated File right now…”

Fast forward a couple of years. For some reason, I ended up on the Leatherman website and read the warranty information:

We take extraordinary measures so your Leatherman product will give you many years of dependable service. If it doesn’t, we will gladly repair or replace it, at our discretion, with one of equal or greater value under our 25-year guarantee for tools and 10-year guarantee for lights.

25-years? Oh, great! But then it goes on:

This warranty does not cover abuse, alteration, theft, loss, or unauthorized and/or unreasonable use of your Leatherman product. This warranty does not cover sheaths, accessories, imprinting, color finishes, cleaning, or sharpening.

Unreasonable is an interesting word — and abuse is certainly subjective.  Who’s to say that, oh, for example, chipping kindling off a log is abusive or unreasonable? Really, without being there? It’s not like I used it to cut my arm off.

So off it went to Leatherman headquarters in Portland. I expected an email questioning how I’d broken the tool, or if I’d used it for anything harmful to the environment, but nothing.

Then, about a week and a half after I mailed it to them, a package shows up in the mail. Leatherman didn’t just fix the blade, but sent a brand new tool, along with a fancy sheath to keep it in.

Thanks, super tool dudes. I promise not to abuse it or do anything unreasonable with my new Leatherman. Really.

The Right Tool for the Job

We can all agree that a guy should have some tools.

With that in mind, my older son has started getting Christmas gifts like a Craftsman socket set — and this year he found a tape measure, Channellock pliers, and a decent hammer under the tree.

Channellocks, with their distinctive blue grips, are an American classic. They were the brand favored by my father and other guys who worked with their hands when I was growing up. Like Maglites, and Leatherman tools, they’re still made in America, even though spitting these things out in China would be dirt cheap.

There were few things that drove my father crazy like people taking his tools and not putting them back where they found them.

You’d grab a pair of tin snips or a screwdriver to do something stupid — as twelve-year-old boys are apt to do — and leave them on the floor of the garage. Invariably, he would find it there and be very, very unhappy.

A man will end up with a collection of tools he’s accumulated over a life of fixing things or attempting to fix things. Many of them will be used just once, highly specialized stuff bought for some obscure task.

As a responsible father, it’s my job to get them started.

Haironomics

Surely, you’ve heard by now about Steeler’s strong safety Troy Polamalu’s hair being insured for a million bucks. That’s impressive, especially considering the way men’s hair is valued in my house.

I did a little consumer research in the shower this morning and discovered that the shampoo I’ve been using, Suave Ocean Breeze, cost only $.99. Meanwhile, my wife’s shampoos and conditioners (three different bottles) all cost between $15 and $20 each. They even sound better, like her Rusk Sensories Calm Guarna and Ginger Nourishing Shampoo ($15.99). Mmmm… guarna. My shampoo sounds like a feminine hygiene product.

Not that I care, really.

I’d be OK with soap — in fact, on vacation I went a whole week using just a can of Barbasol shaving cream as soap, shampoo, and yes, for shaving. I know that sounds weird, but it was an outdoor shower, we were at the beach… forget it, you had to be there.

I did not brush my teeth with the Barbarsol, but maybe if I’d had a can of the Soothing Aloe…

Important Advice For Men #54

Are you the sort of guy who appreciates spicy foods?

If you’re like me, you enjoy adding a little heat to your cooking, and there’s no better way to do that than with fresh hot peppers.

But be careful.

As I was preparing an omelet for dinner last night, I diced up some red pepper and onion, and then recalled that there was a jalapeno in the fridge. I pulled out the seeds and chopped it to tiny bits — and as the pan was heating up, I made a quick trip to the bathroom.

Soon thereafter there was a tingling sensation in my nether regions, and as my tender man parts began to burn, I realized immediately what happened: the fiery hot oils of the pepper rubbed off on a very bad spot, and I don’t mean my eyes.

Most of us learn from our mistakes, but this is not the first time I’ve been in this situation. Once it was so bad I had to get into the shower, which by the way, did not help.

Our advice today is to approach hot peppers with care. I’m accustomed to washing my hands after going to the bathroom, not before — but if you’ve been pepper handling, wash your hands before.

Additionally:

  • Do not touch your man parts after fooling with the insides of hot peppers.
  • Never touch the sensitive sections of other people.
  • Avoid changing babies if you have been working with hot peppers.

Now, go forth and enjoy your meal. Bon appétit!

Big Bang Theory

Fireworks figured large in my youth, and not just on the Fourth of July. We were always blowing things up and doing various stupid things with firecrackers and bottle rockets. It always went pretty well — except maybe for the time we lit the Clancy’s tree on fire. Sorry about that.

Model cars and airplanes were always a big part of these antics. You’d spend hours putting something together, painstakingly sanding, painting, and gluing, only to take it behind the shed, cram it full of firecrackers, and blow it to smithereens.

Everybody I knew did this — but if a kid caused that sort of trouble today, he’d be packed off to see a shrink.

Anyway, the one thing we didn’t have were video cameras:

Please have a safe Fourth of July. If you get a chance, take five minutes to read the Declaration of Independence.

The Candies of Our Fathers

Not sure if I’ve ever actually seen anybody with a roll of Necco wafers except my father. These were the sort of thing you would find inside his coat pocket, along with a Zippo lighter, a pack of Parliaments, and a handkerchief.

Necco Wafers are an old timey treat that are decidedly odd with their strange flavors and chalky consistency. They don’t seem to be the sort of thing craved by children — not these days, anyway. According to a timeline on the New England Candy Company site:

1913: Explorer Donald MacMillan takes Necco Wafers on his Arctic expedition, using them for nutrition and as rewards to Eskimo children.

If you’re used to eating seal blubber, Necco Wafers look pretty good!

In 2009, the company tried to update the classic candy by switching to “natural flavors.”  According to a story in The Atlantic, they did this because:

All-natural flavors and colors, the company thought, would draw young mothers concerned about their children’s diet.

By the way, Necco Wafers contain gelatin, which means they aren’t Kosher — and off limits to strict vegetarians.

It’s surprising the way little things can bring you back. A certain smell or taste. A song. Or even the way that translucent wrapping of a roll of Necco Wafers feels in your hand. Now whenever I see a roll of Necco Wafers I grab them. And I think about my father.

Smoke 'em if You Got 'Em

Once upon a time in America, a guy could smoke a cigarette without anybody busting his chops.

Cigarettes were so normal that it was nothing to have one in your hand, even when being photographed for a newspaper ad. Like my father. This is a contact sheet from a long-ago shoot done for a Long Island Lighting Company ad:

In the actual ad, which I have hanging in my house, the cigarette is cropped out. That was surely a composition decision and not about the smoking. Men smoked in those days. Men like Frank Sinatra.

Check out this famous picture of Sinatra in 1965 cloaked in a haze of smoke. Imagine someone saying, “Excuse me, Mr. Sinatra. There’s no smoking in here. Could you take it outside?”

That said, smoking probably contributed to my father’s death at 62, which is way too young. On the day of his funeral, I recalled as a kid being sent down to the drugstore to pick up cartons of Parliament. What did I know?

Today smokers are treated like criminals. I don’t really want to be closed up in a room full of smoke, but when I catch a brief whiff it reminds me of my father. I would never have asked him to smoke outside, because like Frank Sinatra, he probably would have smacked me in the head.

Dig We Must

The author pauses while enjoying a vigorous morning of shoveling.

Just when you think you’ve won a wager against the weather gods, the snow comes thick and heavy.

A wager, you ask? Why yes: I gambled that I would get through another winter without needing a snow blower. I lost.

The physics of snow plowing and the peculiar geography of my driveway mix to create a perfect storm at the edge of the street. The result is a huge pile of snow left behind when the plow rounds the corner. We’re talking Billy Fuccillo HUGE — as in three times as much snow as the people across the street.

The guy who drives the plow for the town empathizes. “You know, whoever built your house did a lousy job. They should have put the driveway down there — not here by the corner.”

Ha. If you think they did a lousy job on the driveway, you should see how drafty the house is. But that’s a story for another day.

Moving the driveway would be way too expensive, so maybe it’s time to consider a snow blower. I’ve stubbornly refused to give in so far, instead, dragging my 48-year-old butt outside at 4:30am to shovel.

I actually could have bought one this year, but chose to spend the money on that birthday party for my wife. If she comes out some morning and finds me face down, I hope she remembers that I did it all for her.

Cutting It Close

Among the four sons in the Madeo family, I was the only one to win the genetic lottery and keep my hair. I suppose I would trade it for my younger brother’s brains, but you play the cards you’re dealt. It’s not great hair, but it’s better than nothing.

Ever since I was little haircuts have made me uncomfortable. These days I manage to sit still, but on the inside I’m squirming and wincing like a five-year-old.

Years ago I lived on the other side of the river and found a barber shop that I liked. It was a dingy storefront place with a bunch of regular-guy barbers and stacks of hunting and car magazines.

The guy who always cut my hair was a quiet man who had a look of intense concentration on his face as he snipped and buzzed. It was the first place I’d ever been where they shave the back of your neck with a straight razor. He always did a great job.

Then one day I was driving up 9 & 20 and I spotted my barber walking on the side of the road having a very lively conversation –with himself.

I’ve had my eye on the paper all these years for a story of someone having their throat slashed by a Rensselaer County barber. Still hasn’t happened. Maybe I should have kept going there after all.