Wednesday, November 2, 2016

88 lines for father

Today is my father's 88th birthday anniversary. How about that? I want to commemorate the occasion by elaborating on something on something I recently told him in appreciation of two rare gifts he gave me in my adolescence: two useful skills I now have which - so far as I can tell - few others my age possess.

First is, to drive a stick shift car. Even before I was of age to legally practice-drive, my father took me and his trusty Volkswagen out to a deserted college parking lot one weekend and drilled me in the mysteries of this device.

The stick shift is the ideal illustration of the fact that understanding the principle of an action and actually being able to perform it are entirely different things. The clutch is merely the enabling switch for the gear shift. Depress the clutch, shift the gear, release the clutch. Simple, right? No, not at all. Coordinating the clutch and accelerator pedals to do this smoothly and efficiently without grinding, stalling, or causing the car to hop and jerk requires enormous practice and building up of muscle memory. My father is a straightforward man: describe, listen, do. He had to show great patience as I slowly stumbled my way to mastery of this skill.

But master it I did, and it's something you don't forget, even after years away, though it may become a bit rusty after long disuse until one's sea-legs return. It's proven useful over the years. Not just in Britain, where - at least up through my last visit - the default rental car is always stick, and an automatic has to be specially arranged for. Once when I was in college, an elaborate plan involving the moving of many cars around between various places nearly foundered when nobody available could drive stick. Except me.

Second is, to knot a long necktie. This is not a simple skill, and since I only wore a tie two or three times a year to formal occasions, I kept forgetting it and had to be re-taught. Again, it needed patience. But eventually it stuck, and though as an adult I still don't wear one often, I am the more likely to do so because I know how. Most of my career as a librarian was in the back office behind the "Staff Only" sign, but whenever I was on duty at the reference desk, I always wore a tie.

I was rather amused when I found that few of my male friends could do this, and even ones who often wore a tie as a fashion accessory just kept a pre-knotted one hung up in the closet. Once I attended a party where the visiting guest brought a collection of ties along as party favors, and someone handed them out at the door to the men who entered. All the other men had just draped theirs around their necks as if the tie were substituting for a tallis. I hadn't yet noticed this when I came in and was given one: I was dubious, as my shirt wasn't appropriate for wearing a tie with, but I quickly knotted it up roughly. The woman who was handing out the ties was slack-jawed in astonishment. Even her husband, a figure of some note in the computer industry, couldn't do that.

I don't have many unusual skills, and some common ones defeat me. (I cannot hit a ping-pong or tennis ball over a net, or usually hit it at all, though a volleyball I could manage when I was still limber.) But I owe my ability to type fast to my mother's insistence that I learn touch-typing, and these two I owe to the wisdom and patience of my father. Thanks, Dad.

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