Jerry Nelson: Saving an entire gender
A guy never knows when he’ll be called upon to save an entire gender.
Here’s how it happened. Some years ago, I was passing a long midwinter night abed — soaking in the sweet, deep slumber of a righteously weary man — when I became aware of an odd noise that was trying to claw a hole through my dreams.
My wife, ever vigilant, sat up in bed, shook me and asked, “Do you hear that?”
I pretended to be asleep, hoping that both she and the noise would leave me alone. It was not to be. My wife jostled me again, this time shaking me with a force that would register 9.7 on the Richter scale.
“I am now. What’s the matter?”
“Don’t you hear that racket in the basement?”
Indeed I did. It was a growly-squeaky sound, as if someone were trying to process gravel in a coffee grinder while goosing a bat.
“Pay it no mind,” I said in my most reassuring tone. “It’s probably just the house settling. Go back to sleep.”
“That’s a bunch of hooey! And why is it so cold in here? You’d better check the furnace!”
Were it up to me, I would have simply ignored the racket, slept until morning, enjoyed a cup of coffee and then called our furnace guy. Thanks to my upbringing in a drafty old farmhouse, I’m perfectly fine with sleeping in a bedroom that’s cold enough to see your breath. My wife, on the other hand, prefers an indoor climate that closely resembles a sauna.
Now fully awake, I dutifully descended into the basement. I hacked through the furnace’s protective network of cobwebs and removed its access panel. The source of the noise seemed to be a small electric motor. I touched it and nearly blistered my finger. Aha! My vast experience with farm breakdowns swiftly led me to surmise that we a bad bearing on what, according to its label, was the “primary ignition exhaust fan.”
Burdened with this unpleasant news, I trudged back upstairs and revealed to my wife what I’d discovered.
“If you know what the problem is, why don’t you fix it?” she asked expectantly.
I explained that we were fresh out of primary ignition exhaust fan motors and I doubted that one would be available at our local 24-hour convenience store. There was nothing I could do.
You can’t be married to someone for umpteen years without knowing when she’s disappointed. My wife was definitely disappointed.
“Fine!” she said, “Let’s just go back to sleep! I’m sure the sound of water pipes bursting will wake us in time for breakfast!”
The implication hung in the air. I was the Man Of The House; it was my duty to Do Something About It.
Here’s the part where I saved an entire gender. If I had done nothing, if I had been perceived as being ineffectual in the face of this calamity, the ripples would have been felt worldwide.
At her job the next day, my wife would have told one of her female coworkers how our furnace malfunction had proven me to be about as useful as teats on a steer. Another coworker would have chimed in with an anecdote about how feckless her husband was, and so it would go, on and on, until the Husbands Are Worthless movement swept across the entire globe.
Men would come to be regarded as a quaint fad whose time had come and had long gone, much like pet rocks except that a pet rock never used the last sheet of toilet paper and failed to install a new roll in the dispenser.
Fortunately for guys everywhere, I had a Plan B. Specifically, I had an old wood burning stove and a supply of firewood in the basement.
So there I was at 2:30 a.m., stuffing kindling into the sooty maw of our ancient cast iron woodstove. I soon had a good and proper fire crackling and popping in the belly of the beast.
I sat and stared at the fire for a spell. There’s something primordial about watching a fire at night, knowing that this precious flame is all that stands between your loved ones and the deadly cold. I felt like a caveman who was tending his campfire as his family slumbered nearby. Warmth and comfort emanated from the flickering blaze.
At length I returned upstairs and went back to bed. My wife, predictably, was still awake. “Did you get a fire started?” she asked.
“Me — Wonga Tonga, keeper of flame,” I grunted.
And that’s how I single-handedly saved my gender. All of you fellow guys can thank me later.