The Death of Southern Gentlemen January 24, 2015
Seven million years ago, when I was learning how to drive, I asked my father how to check the oil in my car. Checking the oil was something I’d seen him do, and it seemed to me to be an Essential Part of Grown Up Car Ownership and Maintenance. My father’s answer? “You pull into a full serve station and say, ‘Will you please check the oil?’” That was the end of the subject.
Not long afterwards, I was driving with my father along the Meadowbrook Parkway on Long Island when the tire blew in the car. Dad told me to pull to the side of the road, which I did, and he proceeded to make me change my own tire. I remember what I was wearing: a khaki colored jumpsuit (it was the mid to late 80s and I was Very Fashionable) and short boots I thought of as Peter Pan boots. Not exactly the clothes you’d put on to do car maintenance, but I wasn’t given a choice. I was not strong enough to turn the lug nuts with the crow bar, but Dad refused to help me beyond giving me advice and encouragement. Out of options, I braced myself on the side of the car and jumped on the crow bar until I loosened the lug nut. I felt like an absolute fool, jumping on the slender bar and trying not to fall, but by God I did it and I changed that tire myself on the side of the road. Rawr.
The difference between those two things is that there isn’t any circumstance in which I will need to check the oil in order to get on my way, but there are plenty of circumstances in which I might need to change a tire.
I can’t tell you the rush it was, the feeling like I could do anything in the whole world, including changing the tire on the side of the highway wearing impractical shoes.
Five million years ago, when I was auditioning future husbands in what seemed to be an endless run of first dates, that was one of my go-to questions. “Do you know how to change a tire?” If the answer was no – which was awfully often – there was no second date. And yes, I was questioning his essential manhood. Changing a tire is one of those life skills that every human living in the first world should know how to do.
Tonight I was sitting in the lobby of the Hugh Hodgson School of Music killing time while my son attended the Oboe and Bassoon Symposium. I was sitting in a sea of bored looking parents playing games on their phones and reading books. A woman came in the door and announced loudly, “Does anyone have jumper cables and know how to use them?”
I had jumper cables, and I know how to use them, however, I had no interest in getting out of my comfy chair and shutting down my computer to brave the cold wind to help a stranger. Still, no one else said anything in a reasonable amount of time, so I announced, “I do.”
A man sitting across from me said, “Are you sure it is the battery? Does it go click click click or rawr rawr rawr click click click?”
Ah, I thought. This guy knows something about cars. He knows from the noises whether we are wasting time or not. Yay! Expert help.
“Just click click click. No rawr,” she said.
“Then it’s the battery,” he said, and went back to reading his spy novel.
Despite the fact that we were in the Deep South, clearly there were no Southern Gentlemen in the room. I pushed my unladylike thoughts about the ungentlemanly behavior of this man and the other men in the room hiding behind books and tablet screens to the deep recesses of my brain. I had a Job to Do, what with no one else volunteering to do it, and all my concentration was spent on prayers that my memory of how to do this wouldn’t result in a mushroom cloud-worthy explosion. I also allocated a small portion of my prayers to petitioning on behalf of this joker’s wife/daughter/mother that none of them ever got stuck in a dark, cold parking lot with only another man like this one nearby.
I stuffed my computer in my bag and stood up to go outside. Together, me and my new friend Lynda drove my car to where her car was, dug under the shopping I had done earlier in the day, random jackets, reusable shopping bags, last week’s gym clothes and the other assorted crapola that can generally be found in my trunk and found the jumper cables. It took me a minute to find the little latch thingie that opens my hood, and it took Lynda a minute to find the stick thingie that holds up her hood, but we eventually did what we needed to do, connected negative to negative and positive to positive and cranked ‘er up. Yay us.
So, major props for my Dad for teaching me to be the kind of woman who doesn’t need a man to come rescue her in a parking lot. And boo for the dozen or so men in the room who refused to be gentlemen and help us out. I’ll make those two thoughts reconcile in my head somehow, someday.
Until then, “RAWR.”
Men out there: I’m really curious what you think about this incident. Do you think women are just as capable as men at routine tasks like this, or do you feel obligated as a gentleman to help women with something that is stereotypically a manly thing to do? Or, like everything else, am I just over-thinking this? I welcome your comments below.
Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Asked in the First Place” was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.
The Death of Southern Gentlemen