Sunday, February 5, 2017

Life Skills for Dummies

A local newspaper recently carried an insert titled “Life Skills—How To Do Almost Anything.” I had purchased Pogue’s Basics: Life—Essential Tips and Shortcuts for my husband a year ago. I saved the local newspaper insert, hoping that it would be a sort of Readers Digest edition of Pogue’s Basics. After all, the paper promised “set-by-step tips and illustrations.”

One chilly afternoon, I sat down with “Life Skills,” a freshly brewed a cup of tea and a hearty does of eager anticipation. The insert had a contents page that neatly organized the tips into five categories: Basics, At the Office, Play, Technical and Social. I jumped right into the ‘Basics’ section and compared entries to the Pogue’s index. The insert included such life skills as “Sew a Button” and “Iron a Shirt.” Pogue’s missed them. Since I’ve already mastered those skills, I turned to those pages purely out of curiosity.

I started with “Iron A Shirt.” My mother taught me this before I left for college, since I’d be doing my own laundry and white men’s-style shirts were popular my Freshman year. As I began reading this, I wondered if this was taught in the Home Economics class in my regional high school. “Clear the ironing board of any debris. If it’s really dusty, throw the cover in the wash.” To match the iron setting to your shirt, “look for the itty-bitty words on the dial and on the back of your shirt tag.” Definitely a “Life Skill.”

What stopped me in my tracks, however, was the sequence of the ironing process. I always start with the collar, then the yoke (inside and outside parts), then the back and sides, finishing with sleeves and cuffs. Life Skills started with collar and cuffs, then sleeves and yoke, finishing with “trunk, back and front.” Except that when you read the instructions, they don’t mention the back of the shirt at all.

Was my mother wrong all those years ago in her careful tutelage of my ironing skills? There was one way to find out: Google it. After all, whatever you find on the Internet is the truth. Or at least it’s an alternative fact. Be still my heart. None of them seem to end with the sleeves. They alternate between starting with collar vs. sleeves, but never end there. All these years I’ve been doing it wrong. What would my mother think?

On to “Sew A Button.” Illustrations included a drawing of scissors with the label “scissors” and an arrow pointing to the drawing. So helpful. Ditto for “sewing needle,” and “doubled thread and knot.” There were sketches showing the difference between a flat button and a shank one, but who needs names to figure out where to insert the needle? I especially loved the sketch of the fabric with two buttons and an arrow labeled “missing button” pointing halfway between. If you didn’t know where the button belonged before reading this, good luck replacing it.

Now I’m a wondering if the Life Skills in the other sections are as pedestrian. Let’s see. In the At Your Office section we have: Clean Your Desk. Step 1. Pile it up. All of it. Step 2. Clean Thoroughly. (You cannot make this stuff up.)

In the Play section there’s: Bowl Without Hurting Anyone. Seriously? Notice it is not titled Bowl Without Hurting Yourself.  That would have made sense to me. I skim the page. It has detailed instructions on proper technique, but nowhere does it caution what not to do. Nor does it explain the injuries that might occur if you do it wrong. I could have helped with that. Bruised toes from dropped ball. Thumb sprain because it never came out of the ball. Sore bum from losing my balance and landing backwards.

The Social (and last) section ends with what to do when “Someone’s Fly Is Down.” I could have used this for my high school Physics class. The instructor had lunch before he came to us and frequently missed the zip. The Life Skills steps include surveying the scene (to tell or not), who should do the telling (including gender guidelines) and breaking the news. Nowhere does it include my favorite way to inform a guy that he has this problem. “You might want to close the barn door before the horse gets out.”

It seems I made a good choice in gifting Pogue’s Basics: Life to my husband. Not only does it spare us the mundane, it includes some truly essential items that Life Skills missed. In particular, I’ve marked page 136, “Getting Your Cat Back.” Now that’s an essential tip if there ever was one.

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