Category Archives: You Never Know

THE PROPER USE OF TOOLS

 

“Worse deaths there are than slaughter in the classroom, and few worse than annihilation in the womb!” Anon.

“Name some tools,” I asked myself the other day.  I stopped and looked around me.  The place was full of them.  I was merely sitting in my living room, and as I looked the number of tools I saw took up quite a bit of the space, almost I thought crowding me, to whom all of the tools belonged.  Pliant servants all they were and would be from time to time of my wants, needs, desires, whims or plans for good or ill.

It was my will, whim, decision and deed which occasioned each and every one of them being there; my needs, desires and purposes which would cause their use.  For my ends they existed.  And until I formed a need desire or purpose for them, at rest, silent and dumb would they remain until they decayed, not ever once knowing they had existed.

I do not own many tools.  I own those I need, or think I do need or might need, from time to time, and only those tools.  My home is a small place, and so I have rid myself of some of them as I had no longer a need for them.  Some tools, though, even though a need no longer exists for them, I still keep.  Call my keeping of them a sentimentality; and even though I haven’t in my life of late kept them for any practical use, they are triggers of memory, frames, if you will, of times, people, incidents in my life whose recollection I find pleasant.  For that reason, these tools are useful to have around, pleasant to be around and for me serve, still, some purpose.  Frames themselves, don’t you think, are tools, and in some way whatever the frames contain; containing, in the case of the frames on my walls and other places, and bringing to mind, in the case of what is within the frame, the memories, the experiences, the lessons of another time and place.


In a sense, almost anything can be a tool.  Are we not all familiar with the word “tool” being applied to people?  I used to work in one of the law enforcement agencies that have multiplied almost like a plague in recent years; and it was most common to refer to those men and women who, for whatever reason, chose to cooperate with us as “tools”.

And, just as almost anything can serve as a tool in an emergency, or merely a moment of need or inspiration generated by need, almost any tool designed for some use will serve almost as well in another way when the right one isn’t handy, a way one simply was never thought of;  or a case when one simply doesn’t know how to use the “proper” tool for the task or believes that they have discovered a new and sublime use for something that wasn’t a tool and now has become one.

But, until used in some way for some purpose, whether as intended, or by accident or improvisation, tools are actually little more than immobile, mute, dumb and lifeless matter.

That is what brings me by the long way to part of the reason I write this thing, this thing about tools and their use.


Tools get blamed when they are really no cause of wrong. If we stop to think about it, only a poorly made, or poorly used, tool can injure, can cause harm.  The tool is not to blame, though it has been the unwitting and really innocent cause of a mishap. But, drop a dish that shatters on the floor, and both dish and floor are subject of abuse for our carelessness, or the slippery soap, the too hot dish water. How silly would they be who then remove all their dishes, or tear up their floors, or turn off their hot water heaters after such an incident.  This never will happen outside of Bedlam; never in a sane world, you say.  And, very rightly so.

No one calls for or has called for the abolition of automobiles, the destruction of roads, the grounding of airplanes though thousands die each year in the case of autos, and every crashed airliner and loss of life from them.  No one but a madman wishes to halt commerce by the sea.  The Titanic did not sink because of some perverted decision by the vessel itself to collide with an iceberg the size of a small mountain.  There were a thousand reasons for that disaster, and all of them had to do with human beings, with us.

It was the designers, the engineers and architects who used their tools to build the ship, tools that were top of the line, cutting edge tools, and the captain and crew who used these inadequate tools to deal with sailing in dangerous waters, who brought about the tragedy.   Well, we say, such things will happen when we use things in places we shouldn’t, or misuse something nor made for use in a time or place for which it is not required, prepared or about which we should have known, but of which, for any number of reasons, we chose to ignore; simple ignorance being one of them, but pride, impudence or bull headed determination being not far away in many cases.  Or, we should say that.  Don’t you think?

But, we don’t.  Like a headstrong toddler we adopt the attitude my daughter had when she was still in diapers, the “My do it myself!” way of thought, and steam full ahead into an iceberg; dying in the doing and taking millions with us.

And, the fault wasn’t ours. It never is, you know. Is that a reason for shoulders?  So we may shrug them?  Or fingers so we may point them?  Or fists so we may shake them? Or hats?  Hats??  Hats, so we may cover our own guilt beneath them while pointing fingers and pounding fists.


Why blame a gun, a tool?  And, why organize a march of hundreds of thousands to demonstrate against tools?  It’s the top of the mark for silliness, really.  Isn’t it?  It is so silly that one is almost persuaded that a sentient being couldn’t possibly think of or take part in such a thing.  They must be being put to use by others.  They must themselves have become tools.

And, it is especially so when there are more reasons than you can throw a stick at as the cause for all of these kinds of things at schools across the land.  I’ll not go into here what may be one proximate cause; the abyssal poverty of education and lack of discipline and control at all levels in schools.

There are other causes, causes cultural and civilizational, personal, familial and philosophical.  We all know them or can guess what they are.  All one needs is to pay attention to, to think about what we have allowed into our minds and homes in type, form and presentation of entertainment, sport, culture, commentary. Begin there. All forms of media have become vehicles for programs and spectacles which might well have provided most of the material for a standard season’s spectacle in a Roman arena.  No longer do the children go to their rooms when something like that is presented. Why, the child’s room is as well-equipped as any with whatever is needed for a front row seat to anything.

In a world where men and women may no longer be, or remain (a fiction if ever there was one) men and women, where marriage is more honored in the breach than the observance, where children are raised by experts in the equivalent of cattle holding pens while Mom pursues a career, and Dad pursues Susie Secretary, where the old are put away to die when not tolerated in some back room or garret, it is the children who are left adrift, unsure and, I think, at some deep level afraid of what is becoming a life alone.  Well alone, except for “devices” and vices.

But, isn’t everyone these days defined by their devices; and most of us by our vices? Shame is a dead word. And with shame have died politeness, good humor, ease, manners and charity.

More marriages today end in divorce than are made each year, and the loneliness and soul hunger bred by that one fact alone is the cause of great woe and sadness and, yes, anger in the hearts of many; things which shape a life, and no doubt end many.  Those who because they are or were witness to such a thing avoid their own chance and begin a series of liaisons, a sort of serial marriage ceremony where a courtship never takes place, the honeymoon is all there is and everyone is simply changing partners.  They don’t even dance.  They simply hook up, like tools; a male plug in a female socket used when needed and put away…or, worn out, simply dropped like a fewmet.

It isn’t hard to pass that kind of attitude, that kind of world view, on, like passing on an infection, virus, or plague.  The newspapers and news programs are full of stories about such a way of life where people have become tools, used, used up, put away, dumped and forgotten, from the red carpets in Cannes or Hollywood to the school shutdowns.


The Walking Dead!

That should be an icon of the age.  The nation is full of them.

A few years ago, I saw one of the programs in that series about people who had died and were still dead, but in some way walking about, interested only in killing people still alive, using any means to hand to accomplish the task.  It was painful to watch, really, on a number of levels.

It’s painful to watch the zombies today who wander around, through the malls and the parks, slouching in the playgrounds singly or in packs; painful and not a little frightening.  From time to time one hears of such “packs” descending on a store, a railroad station or a bus stop, and simply destroying things or other human beings, or cleaning it out like vultures stripping a corpse.  Children.  No, once children, now zombies.

More of them are raised without fathers these days than ever before.  Fathers, who are the source of rules and law and discipline, the first teachers, are being driven to extinction.  And, if they go, so do we.

It is a fact as clear and proven as the sun in the sky at high noon that those who have killed so many in schools and classrooms throughout the country are, to a person (a zombie?), the products of fatherless homes.  They were not formed with love and patience and fatherly discipline in the image and likeness of fathers to respect and obey others and authority; to know the “right thing to do”, to grow from child to man, and not eat dirt, or scream and rant, or hate and, eventually, rampage and kill.  Poor, misshapen things, they are.  And, long before they should have been, they are dead in any of several ways; dead inside in their soul, and dead outside to the world, which, really, has ceased to care for them, and they for it.  It is a fair exchange. Why should it be any different, really?

Well, the world has stopped caring in many ways, but most importantly in this way. It has ceased to care except for the angry marchers and the loud voices of the children, assembled by the ones who created the swamps and and wallows, both physical and intellectual, in which they live, and now gather them to scream their rage and frustration as they are told to scream…like two minutes, no a day of hate from some horrible prediction from not so long ago of what now is…by their masters.  It’s a kind of un-care.  To scream for the destruction of a simple dumb tool. I find myself wondering what hats they will wear who rage in ignorance.

And, in some hole in the ground, or a dungeon deep, the latest zombie lies or will lay; un-wept for, unknown, and ignored in a zombie hell, fatherless for eternity.  The Walking Dead!


I am no kind of craftsman, engineer, or worker at anything other than the simplest tasks.  I am most definitely not a Homo Habilis.  Left to me, our ancestors would have remained as we began, scrambling up trees away from predators and picking berries from the bushes after carefully and cautiously sniffing around for dangerous creatures waiting to eat us.  As I said above, I don’t know how to make them, or repair them, but I know enough to know a tool when I see it, why it is a tool and what is its proper use.  I also know that a tool may not be for me or someone who cannot be trusted to use it well, or properly.

But, I know we had ancestors, and where they came from, and how they lived and what they did.  And more to the point, why they did it.

The use of tools, the proper use of tools must be taught, and the skill to use them properly practiced.  That’s as true for a hoe as it is for an axe at it’s handle’s end.  That’s as true for a pick axe as for a pistol; a mallet or a machine gun, a telescope or time bomb.  But a tool used incorrectly, though damage may be done to it and whatever it is ill used on is innocent of the ill use, and punishing the tool, destroying or banning its use and possession by anyone skilled in its use is, simply, stupid.

It makes no sense whatever to forbid pick axes because maniacs have sometimes cleaved the odd skull with them.  It makes even less sense to gather in crowds and shout slogans ordering officials to ban pick axes, no matter that Uncle Buck, or little Jimmy his son, were lately found to have been pick axed off this mortal coil by that madman Jim Bob Scruggle, a zombie so he thought.

If you want to march and show your disapproval of death being wielded against innocent lives by tools misused, march then against the people killed in clean (sometimes) rooms by quite sane, they will themselves be first to tell you, doctors and nurses engaged in sending hundreds of thousands to their dismembered death before they draw an independent breath; killed and sold for parts to pharmaceutical firms; a kind of proxy cannibalism.

Or, fill the streets in protest against the multi-billion-dollar traffic in pornography, a disease which, if left untreated, will eat away the souls and lives of everyone under the age of forty.  The chance of that happening, though is less than microscopic.  Too many folks named Sandy, or Bambi, or Stormy, or Jake, Jerk or just plain Joe are the willing tools of the devils behind the damage done, and billions more need it to forget how miserable life today is.

Or, finally, raise a voice against the toxic nature of education today, from nursery school to post-doctoral studies, and the death of civilization thereby; civilization and culture aborted in favor of rights and choices.  I think one of the worst forms of death is the slaughter taking place today in class rooms.

Of course the boards and unions and politicians whose lives depend on keeping the death of culture and the end of civilization a flourishing concern will wear the hats they wear, and fill the news with horrible stories about how horrible things used to be before the enlightenment, and why everyone is better off today with the good things we have, and the better things to come.  If only we let them, because they are really the only ones who know, do their damnedest.

And don’t worry so.  Take away their forceps and folks at the abortuary will find a novel use for needle nosed pliers.

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The Last Delivery

When my father cashed in his chips on April 26, 1969 the responsibilities for the proper conduct of his obsequies fell upon my dead brother Tom (MP 56, Fordham 67), who was very much alive at the time, and my humble self.  And so, the next day we appeared at Williams Funeral Home, not too far from Joe’s Fish Market, and just across Broadway from the RKO Marble Hill accompanied by our grieving mother and sister to learn what could be done to honor a devoted letter carrier.

The funeral director, whose name I never can remember, but whose manner I shall not forget, sat behind his desk, which seemed about the size of a carrier’s flight deck.  It was the most slick and shiny piece of furniture there has ever been and was empty of everything except a black phone, his folded arms, long fingers knitted together so as to make me think of a bed of snakes, just below the inverted reflection of his face in the highly polished wood; that face a practiced and professional mask of compassionate sympathy, welcoming us in a properly consoling manner; both in reflection and in fact.

  “We accept cash or check,” were what I remember most his consolations.  That and the soothing words, “Payment is due within ten days, or late charges go into effect,” did much to ease the pain of loss.

My mother, stoically silent, merely nodded, opened the purse she held on her lap, produced a pile of bills and counted out the full amount.   “We would like to see the coffin,” my brother said, standing.  “You have a showroom, of course?”

With no more than the merest gentle smile, your man rose and gestured that we follow him, from his carpeted office through the door and down the carpeted corridor to a doubled door opening into a large room filled with beautiful examples of funerary magnificence.

To be sure, I was awed.  He gestured in such a manner that gave us to understand any of these was ours for the asking.  Thus invited, we strolled among les Objets des Morts, whispering comments and questions until we had narrowed our choices to two.  My dear sister spoke for the first time.  I know this sounds unusual for those who know her, but nevertheless…  She spoke and said, ” Are these the right size? “

For the first of several times during the next few days the, until then, composed, controlled, supremely confident gentleman, our very own Virgil I had come to think, appeared to lose himself in surprise.  “No one has ever asked that question,” he answered with the tiniest waver in his voice.  My mother, smelling blood, smiled ever so briefly and said,”We are.”  I thought I saw him stumble backwards, slightly.  My brother was nearest him, now, and said, “Our father was above average in height, though slimmed some by the disease which finally took him from us.  He suffered greatly in this life, and we would be grieved to know we were the cause of any further suffering for him on his “Last Journey”.” Turning to me, Tom added, “Peter, here, is closest to our father’s height.  We would like to see in which of these Dad would look his best.”

“Of course he’ll take off his shoes.”  The gentleman had raised only this objection after a nervous cough and a frantic look around, whether for help or a way out I have never known.

And so, barefooted since I wanted to feel the satin lining on my feet, I climbed in and lay down in the coffins feeling a bit like that little girl in the story.  The first one was too small by several inches, and I thought of my poor father spending only God knows how many years awaiting the Parousia with cramped aching feet.  But the second was just right, and upon my testimony, we all chose it for Dad.  He, or what is left of him, lies there still, waiting comfortably.

There were several details left to be attended to, so we returned to the office.  The next matter was the preparation and publication of an obituary for the deceased as our Master of the Rites informed us.  In response to Tom’s question he explained just what the charges would be in each of the several papers and offered himself as amanuensis in its production.  He removed a blank piece of paper from within one of the desk drawers and, smiling, paused expectantly.

My mother asked if this was included in the fee just paid.  Sadly, it was not; a piece of information which caught us short for the merest moment.  We were not people of means, and had little set aside for the honors which might have done my father justice.  His early death caught us unprepared. Then my brother offered what I think was a brilliant solution.  He said, “Why not: Ed Gallaher, dead!”

After he had found himself; only a short while, really, our guide gave us some bad news.  “There is a minimum charge.”

It was my sister, then, who suggested a solution.  We would approach my father’s favorite barkeep, Angie of The Kingsbridge Tavern on the corner of our block.  He was always good.  We’ll just add it to Dad’s tab, now in the low four figures.  And that was the end of that!

The last matter of business for the afternoon involved the number of cars for mourners, and, of course the hearse and flower car.  We would do this all without flowers, my mother said, since it was too early for dandelions she added, soto voce.  That left us with the matter of a hearse, and the positioning of cars.

And, here, I spoke up.  “My father’s last wish was to have a Mailman’s Funeral.”  He had been writing something on  piece of paper when I said this, and he slowly put down the pencil.  Looking directly at me he spoke, a little tremulously, “What do you mean?”

I guessed he had never heard of such a thing, so I explained that my father’s body would be carried from the funeral home on the day of the Funeral Mass by six pallbearers in full dress Letter Carrier’s uniforms placed in a mail truck and driven to the church.  Behind it we would all walk, led by the Mailman’s Marching Band.  The Mail Truck, to be driven by my father’s longtime mailman friend and partner, whose name I only remember as Ralphie Boy, would be further decorated with two brand new leather mailbags, one mounted inside out on each each door to signify that inside a dead letter carrier lay.  Further, a gold ribbon bearing the word “Cancelled” in black letters would be draped across the hood of the truck

“Really?” He said.  ” If they are available,” I answered.  “That would be good,” my mother interrupted.  “With the money we save on your hearse, we won’t need Angie.”

And so it was. Or could have been.  The fellow was kind enough to say he would absorb the obituary costs if we allowed him to take Dad to church in his hearse.  Such a deal we couldn’t get in a store as Moe the tailor used to say.

We took it.  He couldn’t stand, so we shook his hand and left.

There are other stories to tell about Dad’s wake.  But, I’ll save them.