Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Construction guys—especially ones who do hardcore stuff like foundations and plumbing—make me feel like an idiot. They talk in a language that, as a guy, I’m expected to understand, about stuff that, as a guy, I’m supposed to know how to do. I just stand there, nodding my head and doing a mental accounting of my bank balance. I wonder if this is how my students feel when I talk philosophy to them.

My dad wasn’t really what you’d call a “handy” guy. I think he knew more than me—I have a sense he knew the rudiments of plumbing and enough electricity to wire a lamp or fix an old toaster—but it’s not at all part of my childhood experience to be working on a major home repair project with the old man.

As a 20th century intellectual, I’m pretty sure he considered the building trades something best left to tradespeople; I would venture to say, as in the old joke, that the primary home improvement tool he wielded was the Yellow Pages.

Nowadays, though, it seems like even teachers, like me, or lawyers, or even doctors like my dad was are expected to by handy. We’re supposed to be able to spend our weekends tearing out a wall or something; at the very least, we’re supposed to be able to talk the construction talk with construction guys. This seems unfair; after all, I don’t expect them to be able to discuss metaphysics and epistemology with me.

Right now, the concrete guy is out in the back yard, installing his “forms.” When he first said that this is what he was going to be doing, I immediately thought of Plato. I had this thrilling image of him out there creating the essence of concrete from which all other concrete draws its identity.

Imagine my embarrassment when it turned out to be just a bunch of wooden boxes into which he will pour cement.


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