What is man in a post-Brokeback world? The cowboy is dead, and Ang Lee has killed him. If not the leather-chapped bronco tamers of yore, who now are our all-American men, the ones who ooze masculinity and bleed testosterone?
I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help but pontificate on manhood after a day grunting over the engine of my car, dead on the side of the highway. Indulge my braggadocio for minute: see me bracing against the wind, in the dark, and sopping wet in an all-out thunderstorm; watch me crank levers and wrestle with bolts; look, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s our hero still covered in oil and grime up to the elbow despite a dozen washings. I am the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s greatest mechanic, hear me roar.
This is not, actually, the first time IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve found myself stranded on a paved vein in AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s heartland, solving the same old problem (damn you alternator). The first time, two years ago, my sister was on-hand and declared my triumph over automobile to be the pinnacle of my existence thus far. I think it was the first day she realized that her childhood playmate, master of Legos, had somehow grown into someone with life skills, with the ability to, like, fix things. These breakdowns inevitably lead to a swelling of pride, momentary and fleeting, but there nonetheless because I actually accomplish something.
I am the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worst mechanic, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s be honest. I am not the burly, mythic male machine who toils endlessly with his hands. Let the record show: I broke down returning from an art house film; I smoked the cloves of artistes, not the Marlboros of Western television heros; I may or may not have ignored the flashing warning lights on my dashboard for longer than recommended (it was more convenient to believe the wiring in my dash had gone haywire); do real men follow up a day of mechanical tinkering by listening to Schubert and Chopin? And really, I wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve given up the surge of testosterone if I had the money to pay for a tow. How is it that a five-minute conversation with a beautiful woman makes me sweat more than loosening oil-caked lugs on my engine?
This is not epic, the reality of it, and there are no grandiose life lessons and character-building maxims here. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s simple really: today I watched Apocalypse Now (now thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a real rumination on manhood) and then spent five hours struggling with a mechanical system anybody with any actual know-how couldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve fixed in half the time. On the upside, having a showdown with my burdened and tragic car forces me to expand my tool collection (stocked now with wrenches and ratchets in both metric and standard, thank you very much). IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve decided the real story here, the real man in all this, is probably my steadfast little brother who picked me up in the first place and who tirelessly held the flashlight in the rain as I bumbled around under the hood. He was there, commiserating and cheering, just there and being himself and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably what really counts at the end of the day. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just the sissy boy.