It’s springtime here in Iowa which can only mean two things…six more weeks of winter AND the annual cleaning of the garage from months of wintertime neglect. I like my garage, it’s the only place where it’s, essentially, my domain. No one tells me what to do while I’m in the garage (I think that the wife and daughters are just happy to have me out from under foot), but in my opinion….
it ain’t a garage unless I smell gas.
Let me be clear about this before we begin, I’m talking about garages; your basic single, double or three stall garage. We’re not talking about barns, pole buildings, Morton sheds, machine sheds, museums, show rooms or the oft misidentified “man cave.” We’re just talking about garages that get used every day to store your family’s vehicle(s) in it, the kind that 99% of everyday Americans have. It should smell a little like gasoline, oil and tires, or car wax (that’s a nice substitute) or fresh lumber (aaahhh…fresh wood…insert your own ‘fresh wood’ joke here”). Most garages these days are way too sterile, filled up with lots of junk that doesn’t belong in a garage, like: recycling bins, bicycles, lawn equipment, strollers, kids’ toys, and stuff that your wife won’t let you keep in the basement, a.k.a. “your stinky beer can collection”. I say, “Men…grow a pair! Take back your garages!”
First…buy or build a tool shed in the back yard for all the stuff that’s cluttering up your “man-garage”, like everything that I just mentioned. You’ll need some elbowroom in your new and improved man-garage, so build your tool shed big enough to hold the stuff you’ve got and even stuff that you don’t have…yet.
Secondly…you’ll need a refrigerator in your new man-garage so head on out to Sears, or if money’s tight, a yard sale…and acquire a working frig that will hold (at minimum) 12 cases of your favorite barley pop. Side note…stock a few of the kids’ drinks in it as soon as you get home before your wife starts asking too many questions, if she does you can just say “why this way the kids won’t be runnin’ in and out of the house all summer getting a drink from the kitchen, trackin’ grass and dirt all over your kitchen floor. I was just thinkin’ of you sweetheart.” (These two lines will buy you a little time so the rest of this will have to be done quickly and quietly).
Thirdly…start decorating your man-garage appropriately with anything advertising beer, car stuff, hunting & fishing stuff, sports teams, racing stuff, etc. Even that old concert poster of Eddie Money’s 1978 “Two Tickets to Paradise Tour” will make a fine wall covering. You might even want to put out your old set of golf clubs in a corner, or hang that old mounted bass on the wall (that was willed to you by your late Uncle Jethro) but by doing so you’ll likely induce a great deal of lying. “Caught that lunker bass on Leach Lake in July of ’87 during a horrible thunderstorm, just me and Tuffy McGregor in his 18’ Bass Tracker. Damn near kill’t the both of us. Big hawg of a beast to haul in, local folks been trying to catch it for years-the natives up there have an Indian word for it, sumthun’ like gigantosaurus…or sumthun.” Or with the golf clubs “Shot a 61 at Dimwood Country Club last spring, set a new course record, still stands to this day. They’re trying to get me to turn pro and join the PGA but you know me…I’m just a homebody who likes his Old Milwaukee, wife and kids…in that order!! HAR HAR HAR!!” So be careful what kinds of décor you’re putting up or you might have to endure some real heavy bullshitting.
Fourthly…this is probably one of the most important steps in your man-garage, so pay special attention! Find and buy some of those tool hangers that you screw into the walls of your garage and then hang every single tool that you own on the wall. Now let me be clear, if you only own a pair of pliers and a Phillips head screwdriver you’ll have to do a little extra work. First, go out and buy around a thousand dollars’ worth of your basic, everyday tools…in every size…including standard and metric. A real man-garage can’t have new “shiny” tools hanging on the walls so head on down to the local Jiffy Lube and get a couplea five gallon buckets of used oil, then soak your new shiny tools in that for a couplea weeks. After retrieving your new tools from the buckets and wiping them off, you can now hang them on the wall, or you could save yourself a thousand bucks and lots of nasty oil by just going to a few flea markets and garage sales and acquiring your “wall of tools” from others. What’s important here guys, is that the tools look like they’ve been used, and since they’re hanging in your garage…folks will assume that they’ve been used by you on all of the countless cars that you’ve had (which you haven’t). Imagine this exchange as little Billy, the neighborhood redhead, rides up on his bike, hops off and jogs into your man-garage.
Little Billy—WOW!! (Eyes full of wonderment) Are all these tools yours Mister Ripley?!
Me—Yep, these here are called ‘tin snips’ Billy. They’re used to cut tin, which I frequently do, and other metals. Go ahead and stick your finger in between those two blades…if you want old Rich here to snip off your finger. (I say teasingly)
Little Billy—GOSH NO!! (horrified)
Me—No, no son…old Rich was just yankin’ your chain, boy. (I chuckle) Say, why don’t you walk on over to the frig and get old Rich a beer and a soda pop for yourself and I’ll show you how a ratchet wrench works.
Little Billy—OH BOY!! I can’t wait to tell the other guys at school what a swell time I’m having at your garage Mister Ripley!
Me—That’s nice Billy, say would you like me to show you how to shoot a pellet gun at that stray cat over there?
Little Billy—WOULD I?!
You could also find some old factory service manuals from either Chilton’s or Haynes and leave them out in the open on your workbench for everyone to see. I prefer Haynes “Chevrolet Chevelle, Malibu & El Camino 1969-1987” where my buddy Fred would see it and ask:
Fred—You lookin’ to buy and fix up an old car, Rich?
Rich—What? Oh that. That’s from when I had a girlfriend with a ’72 Chevelle Super Sport that needed a little work, so I fixed it up a little.
Rich—Well…I liked her a lot. Actually it was love at first sight and she knew it. Sheez…I couldn’t stop thinking about her…couldn’t keep my hands off her either. It wasn’t until I became intimate with her that I got to know her heart and soul. It was the best of both worlds…ya know?
Fred—No…I don’t know. I’m kinda confused, honestly. Are you talking about the girl or the car?
Rich—Gretchen?!! Oh Fred…com’ on MAN…it was a nineteen seventy-two Chevelle Super Sport! That kind of car doesn’t just come across a guy’s path everyday!
Fred—So you are talking about the car.
Rich—Yyyeeeaaahhh (in an annoyed tone)
It’s important that your tools have “street cred”, so that they won’t be made fun of by your neighbor’s tools. Every street gang has its “enforcers” and your “tool gang” shouldn’t be any different. That’s why I strongly suggest that you fork out around $600 and get yourself a Campbell-Hausfeld 26 gallon 320 volt cast iron air compressor, but don’t stop there my friend…get the accompanying tools too, like…a nailer (let me show you my little friend—in your best Al Pacino Scarface voice) or the spray gun…for painting really, really fast; or the impact wrench—a real head turner, making your garage look and sound authentic. And finally the sandblaster for cleaning your coffee maker. Don’t forget to buy extra lengths of air hose so you can work all around your garage. Basically men, you want to be able to sit with your garage door open looking like you’re able to switch out the engine of a ’71 Barracuda at a moment’s notice. “Hell yeah Bill, pull ‘er up into bay number three and we’ll take a look see under the hood and see what’s ailin’ the old ‘Cuda” you’d quip. “Carb’s probably all gummed up with that cheap gas you use, but we’ll have her back to runnin’ the quarter mile in no time at all” you’d say as you popped the hood on the old Plymouth pony car, hanging an adjustable light from under the inside of the hood. Yeah…that’ll happen when pigs fly…but it’s all about appearances. Adding a band saw, a drill press or lathe to your collection will only enhance your standing in the community. For instance…what would everyone think if you made and donated a couplea dozen homemade baseball bats from your man-garage lathe?
Kid—what is it?
Coach—It’s a baseball bat.
Kid—It looks like a table leg from a dinner table.
Coach—It was free.
Kid—Can’t I use a real bat?
Coach—Listen kid, for all intents and purposes, it is a bat, and you haven’t hit the ball out of the infield all season, so get up there and swing away ya mouthy little punk.
Granted, adding all of these tools to your garage is like adding air shocks to the rear axle of a ’79 Camero, or breast implants to today’s swimsuit models…neither is essential to the receiver’s practicality, but they sure do increase the curb appeal in both; so we’re increasing the ‘curb appeal’ to your man-garage…understood?
Finally…the finer touches to your man-garage. Have a couplea old bar stools by your work bench or a couple of those lawn chairs that have had their straps replaced by some older lady who has used miles of yarn and macraméd on the seat and back to hold a person of your girth. Get an old Mister Coffee coffee maker, made famous by Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. If it has the faux wood grain sticker on the front by the on/off switch, all the better. An oscillating fan is a nice touch and you’ve got to have at least an AM/FM radio. Some guys still have their old stereos from college, the kind with the 4’ tall speakers that, when turned up all the way, drown out the civil defense sirens installed around town. It’s a great place to listen to all of the classic rock albums & 8 tracks that your wife and kids won’t let you listen to in the house. Just remember, men, to shut your garage doors before you accidentally introduce the neighborhood to your alter ego “middle-aged air guitar guy” who is frequently mistaken for “middle-aged man having a heart attack or seizure” and 911 is called to save you. Sure, it’s fun to show the paramedics and firefighters all of your man-garage stuff, and swap stories about classic fast cars of the 1970’s & 80’s, but firefighters are known to consume gallons of beer at a moment’s notice….so lock up your beer frig lickity split before your Miller Lite and Lienie Summer Fest is depleted in record time. If they happen to be mulling around your frig, be certain that a couple of them aren’t unplugging it and planning on hoisting it onto the back of their rescue truck. You can try to throw this red herring at them “sorry guys, just the wife’s potato salad and a couple gallons of orange juice for the kids are in there!” But the smoke eaters weren’t born yesterday, and they will point to the 30 gallon trash can sitting beside the frig with four cases of assorted emptied beer cans and bottles in it, shooting you a nasty look before rejoining the rest of their crew on their truck.
I guess I’d sum up these helpful hints in the following sentences; a guy needs a place to just be himself, to reflect, to zone out, dream, remember, to be alone with his thoughts, and that place is becoming harder and harder to find. Leave your cell phone and other electronic gadgets inside the house or shut them off altogether. It’s the kind of place where the coffee is served hot and black, the beer ice cold, the peanuts salted and still in the shell, where the bullshit can fly without the skeptical ear of a spouse laying waste to a perfectly good lie. Get back to your roots my fellow middle-aged man-brothers, Wear those blue jean cut off shorts (let ‘em see a little too much man-thigh). Wear those comfortable up-to-your kneecap white athletic socks. Mow the lawn shirtless. Crank up Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird on your old stereo. Wave to the neighbors and invite them over for a beer. Enjoy the moment that this is…life…sweet life.