"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Hands On

There was an interesting article in the Times magazine last weekend about the benefits of working with your hands:

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.

The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

My mother’s father was a mechanic (His wife did not approve; she thought it was beneath her to be married to a man who got his hands dirty for a living).

I have never had any interest in taking things apart and figuring out how how they work. If something breaks I pay someone to fix it. For the longest time I thought I was less of a man because I wasn’t inclined to fix, construct or build things. In many ways, I didn’t have much in common with my grandfather but I always admired him, the breadth of his knowledge, his casual confidence. He was a true artisan.

This article made me think of my grandfather. It made me stop and appreciate his calling.


Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email %PRINT_TEXT


1 vockins   ~  May 28, 2009 12:25 pm

As a guy with a MA from NYU that also has a XR-750 piston tattooed on his arm, I thought this article was fantastic. I chose the exact same path for a while.

2 The Hawk   ~  May 28, 2009 12:49 pm

I agree with this article as well. I really don't think college is the end-all-be-all people make it out to be. Especially nowadays.

3 randym77   ~  May 28, 2009 12:57 pm

I loved that article, too.

If Jeff Rubin is correct, we may all be working with our hands more in the future.

4 RIYank   ~  May 28, 2009 1:18 pm

Me too. Not that I regret taking the desk route, but the piece was so well written and so thought-provoking.

5 The Hawk   ~  May 28, 2009 2:17 pm

Actually this article kind of annoys me in that I'd been thinking along those lines lately. Now everybody's gonna get the same idea! Well, at least we'll have more mechanics.

6 Raf   ~  May 28, 2009 2:30 pm

I'm college educated, learned some trade work on the side. I was the first in my family to go to college and graduate, to me that holds some sort of cachet in my family.

I have no problem getting my hands dirty either; I do repairs around the house, as well as on my computer and my car.

7 rbj   ~  May 28, 2009 3:10 pm

So what would you rather have, a discussion about Impressionism or a working toilet. Me, I'd choose the latter. Heck even the work by janitors/custodians is important, I like having a clean bathroom at work, not to mention good sanitation practices cuts down on diseases like swine flu.

I've just picked up woodworking as a hobby, can't afford much equipment so I'm going small with scroll sawing. There's a lot of satisfaction in having something physical finished, rather than some papers pushed off to someone else.

8 Shaun P.   ~  May 28, 2009 3:22 pm

I like taking things apart, and I like understanding how things work. I especially like doing things that allow me to not have to call the professional. There is something incredibly satisfying in DIY stuff, whether its building your own computer, or making a small table, or fixing the toilet's flushing mechanism - especially when it works right and looks nice! It gives me a good feeling of independence.

But the one cost to "tinkering" I've found is that it takes time, and with kids, especially little ones, I find I prefer to spend that time with them instead. My hope is that as they get older, they'll like to tinker too, and then we can do that stuff together.

9 Diane Firstman   ~  May 28, 2009 4:47 pm

I think that school's most important function is to instill a sense of curiosity and wonder in students.

The desire to ask questions, delve further, not take the standard "this is the way it has always been, that's why" line. That's an important trait to develop, regardless of whether you stick your nose in a balance sheet or under a car hood.

I personally like the "How it Works" / "How its Made" TV shows. I'm naturally curious about life in general. But sadly, there are many people who don't think that deeply (or aren't raised/taught to think that deeply).

10 PJ   ~  May 28, 2009 7:01 pm

"You think? You'll never kill anyone if you go around thinkin'." - Graham Chapman as Yellowbeard

: )

11 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 28, 2009 8:19 pm

[7] "So what would you rather have, a discussion about Impressionism or a working toilet."

Whoa! with the false dichotomy!

I'd rather have *both!*

I'd love to chat about impressionism *with* my plumber. Why not?

12 Jehosephat   ~  May 28, 2009 9:55 pm

That's why I love this blog. Nice post.

13 Diane Firstman   ~  May 29, 2009 12:33 am


Have you thought about Impressionism while ON the toilet?

14 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 29, 2009 3:36 am

[13] Heh heh heh. Can't say that I have, although I can say that I used to prop up an art book on top of the toilet, leaned up against the wall, opened to some or other picture like the Oath of the Horatii. Ah, back when I was young and romantic.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver