Thursday, June 26, 2003

Air Conditioner

It's hot as blazes here and I knew it was coming and I warned a friend to buy an air conditioner last week. Last week it was 50 degrees, so it was hard to imagine there was much urgency to the task. But around about Monday when it went from 50 to 90 in one day, my argument proved more compelling -- that owning an air conditioner would not be a bad idea.

Have you ever installed an air conditioner? It's no fun. I had done it with my dad and I knew a little bit. I'm not the kind of person you would consider terribly technical, in fact, this friend who needed the air conditioner didn't expect me to know anything at all about installing air conditioners, but that was where he was wrong.

We took the thing -- a heavy thing -- out of the box. I dove for the instruction manual. "I used to write these," I explained. I really do believe if you read the directions enough times and look at the wacky little diagrams you can figure the thing out. I read the thing cover to cover like a smutty novel while he rummaged around for a Phillips head screwdriver. I could tell he doubted our ultimate success on this already hot and humid evening. "How long do you think it will take?" he asked. His tone was not optimistic. "About 2 hours," I said. "Do you think we can do it?" he was not sanguine. "Yes," I said.

It would be so easy to spend the next two hours, hot, sweaty and biting one another's heads off with such a task ahead of us, but that did NOT happen. I think he was shocked to see I could be methodical, persistent and rather resourceful in the face of this big heavy slab of metal coils, fan, housing unit.

I told him stories of my dad and I lifting these monsters into old windows, him asking me to hold onto the cord, explaining its importance, then slowly angling the thing down a bit so the water from condensation would drip away from the unit, then watching it delicately balanced in the window, only to suddenly tip backwards just a little too far and start a suicidal slide down the roof, saved by the plug which I gripped for dear life in my strong girl hands. My dad and I would laugh as he cursed the bloody box with a mind of its own. "Halley Biz, you saved the day!" he'd say.

Back in the hot room, we were painstakingly reading the directions again. "Before we start anything, I want to tell you the story," I announced closing the manual. "Here's what they are telling us. They want us to take the whole thing -- all the guts -- out of the housing unit -- weird, eh? Then the heavy part can sit here, while we install the housing in the window. Much easier than the old days where you had to deal with the whole damned thing which weighs three tons. Then once we get the empty metal box in, we have to add these side accordian panels and make the window fit around it. After that's all snug, we put the guts of the machine back in and screw it all together."

I always like to start with the "what the hell we're doing here" overview. He was impressed. Over the next two hours we did exactly what I described. When he wanted to jump ahead and use the wrong piece in the wrong place, I calmed us both down and re-read the manual. When I got fed up and wouldn't let a certain term or direction sink in, he showed me how to be patient. We pulled it off and best of all, this spanking new air conditioner came with a remote control. I loved the idea of an air conditioner with a remote control. He thought it was bogus as any air conditioner to his mind, should just be cranked up to full blast and left on all summer. When we were done, I grabbed the remote control, pushed ON and the baby started up like a dream. We cheered! "How did you ever get so good at this?" he asked and I knew he was really surprised.

I told him my secret. Men in my life have taught me how to do things. The most important thing they've taught me is what men learn as boys. They learn they CAN'T GIVE UP. I hate to say it, but at least for my generation, as little girls we were taught WE COULD GIVE UP, that we could get emotional, throw up our hands and say, "I give up, I can't figure it out!" There was something diabolically "feminine" and "cute" about that. It's often called "learned helplessness" as girls learn that appearing helpless gets them more positive attention, and often as not, attention from men who want to help them, playing to the worst of alpha male stereotypes. I've since learned that this stance is truly insidious. I've learned from men that if you start with the premise that you MUST solve a problem, it's much easier to solve. Men have taught me to be resourceful and NOT to give up. So have women. My sister-in-law and I once had a blast installing a dimmer switch. She was good, but not typical of most women I fear. We let our girls off the hook all too often. We need to teach them how resourceful they can be.

You should have seen me install my new Linksys Wireless-B Broadband Router with no male assistance, this week. Got that baby humming too. Even after the boneheaded manual writers referred to the WAN port on the back of the thing -- and there WASN"T one labelled that way -- and were guilty of the most imprecise and sloppy language in their "fast start" booklet. Just gotta use your head and keep on plugging.