Men. We have a fascination with things mechanical, engineered or crafted. It could be a 1959 small window Peterbilt with a small cam Cummins engine married to a 5×4 transmission or it could be a meticulously executed 3 on 1 rush in hockey; however you look at it, we love it when a plan comes together, to paraphrase John “Hannibal” Smith of A-Team infamy. As a corollary, we love the associated detritus that comes with an appreciation of craftsmanship. For many woodworkers, the acquisition and collection of the tools is as meaningful as any sort of project they’ll ever turn out. A man will show off his shop to a new friend long before he’ll ever invite him into the house, and this is because the shop is where your tools and equipment live. Even as boys, it wasn’t what we’d DO with the Star Wars figures; it was that we HAD them. This is the sort of mindset that allowed us as a nation to purchase Alaska for $0.019 per acre from the Russians in 1867. We didn’t NEED the great state of Alaska, we just thought it’d look good in the garage.
I am such a man. Always have been. The Wife has expressed concerns that this will evolve into a hoarding situation. Even as as a kid, though, I was fascinated by gear. In the salad days of my attempts at Little League, this became abundantly clear. If you were horrible at baseball, and I was, you either played in the outfield, to be left alone with your thoughts and Matchbox cars, or you played catcher. Being as how I had already constructed my own catchers gear from a pasta strainer, an old pillow and some PVC pipe, this was a score of epic proportions. You mean to say I could actually wear all that gear, for real? Never mind that I’d turn my head with each pitch and the ball would fly right by me. Never mind that I was terrified of getting clobbered in the head with the bat (and with good reason); I wanted to wear that shit on the car ride home from practice. The best part about BMX racing? Trying to do well enough that someone would sponsor your “leathers”, or racing pants, and a cool helmet. The worst part? I sucked at that too, so that meant I wore a motorcycle style and weight helmet, a rugby shirt and Levi jeans, and thereby came across as a slow Charlie Brown bobblehead figure. I didn’t care, I was wearing GEAR, and it was awesome.
The years rolled by, and I wanted more equipment. I became a certified SCUBA diver and harbored thoughts of becoming an underwater welder. I learned how to weld and spent more time thinking about different welding helmet styles than metallurgy. I thrilled at running the biggest dozer in the quarry’s fleet, because it was an emblem of mechanical engineering asserting itself over piles of dirt. I played lacrosse in high school, in part because it was the closest thing we had to hockey out there, and I’d always wanted to play hockey in part because of the enormous amount of cool gear players got to wear. Now I lug and curse my hockey bag and wonder, as I open it up and the stench wafts upwards, if I should have stuck with soccer. Soccer seems to give off less of a malevolent odor.
Being a firefighter simply enables this love of accoutrements. We ride around on a mobile toolbox, carrying enough hydraulic, pneumatic and hand operated tools to break into most of your finer establishments. We have the firehouse engine bays, which is sort of like acquiring your own shop without any of the mechanic’s training. And to top it off, we wander into burning structures wearing more gear and equipment than I could have believed possible as a strainer wearing kid with a hyperactive imagination. Between the bunker gear, air pack, helmet and tools, we’re sauntering around in something like 60 pounds of personal protection and implements of destruction. And as I continue to age at ferocious pace, the feeling of awe at such cool junk has been replaced by aches, sores and future hernias.
Now I catch my boys wearing ninja masks to dinner and hockey helmets to the bath tub, as though this is the most normal course of action any young man can take. To them it is, for they are my boys. They love having a wide array of light sabers to choose from, even if they have no intention of going on an intergalactic assassination spree any time soon. I’ve seen them wear welding helmets while simulating flight on the riding mower; if I bring my fire gear home, they pounce like pimps who’ve stumbled across George Clinton’s wardrobe. No backyard battle is complete without them ending up in tool belts and yet somehow shirtless. While their mom might mutter and shake her head in confusion, I couldn’t be happier, for these boys, they get it. We don’t all outgrow our childhood dreams – we just get better at concealing them under layers of supposed “maturity”. It’s really a shame, because that which afforded you such wild tangents of the imagination as a child gets you labeled later in life by your spouse as a “potential hoarder”. So you grow up a bit, quit using cordless drills as laser-shooter-blasters and begin to laud the intended purpose of the tools that make our mechanical society function. You claim to appreciate the intrinsic and aesthetic qualities of tools and shops and safety gear, those things that make our lives that much better. And when no is looking, you grab a pasta strainer and see if the boys need another player.