The phone rang and I heard my wife’s voice on the other end of the line. “Something’s wrong with Trevor’s car.” Trevor is our seventeen-year-old daughter’s boyfriend.
“It’s the starter. Or the radiator. Or the alternator. Is that a thing? An alternator. I mean, I know it’s a thing, but is it something on a car?” (One of my wife’s endearing qualities is her complete disinterest in cars. I could never have married a woman who’s into cars. I don’t know why. I just couldn’t. I dated a woman who was into cars. It didn’t work.)
The problem with Trevor’s car didn’t really matter, but it brought her to the main reason for her phone call. “He’s trying to earn some extra money to fix it, so I was thinking I’d have him clean out our gutters.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said without thinking. We discussed how much to pay him, settled on a price, and hung up.
The gravity of the conversation didn’t hit me until much later:
I’d become the guy who used to do things for himself, but now has to have a younger guy take care of it.
A few short years ago I was the guy out there on the big extension ladder, sticking my hand in all sorts of stinky, organic muck and flinging it into a garbage can on the ground.
(Two side notes here: 1. There’s no smell worse than rotting gutter vegetation. Try as you may that smell isn’t coming off your hands for days. And try explaining to Bob in the next cubicle that the stench he’s been complaining about all morning is coming from your hands. 2. Someone should invent an easy way to dispose of all that gross gutter goop. It’s practically impossible to accurately heave it all into the grounded garbage can from fifteen feet in the air, and you risk a broken neck if you try to bring a garbage bag onto the ladder with you. There’s a Shark Tank pitch there somewhere.)
But now my wife had suggested, and I agreed, to pay a kid less than half my age to do it for me. Tell me I shouldn’t worry that this is the beginning of the end!
I like to think of myself as a handy guy. I can fix most things that go wrong around the house, and many things that go wrong with the car. In fact, I’m good enough that relatives have actually called me to fix things for them.
And clearing leaves from a gutter is precisely the sort of home maintenance chore that falls to the man of the house. I’m not one of those macho guys known to drone on about being the king of the castle or the man in charge or whatever, but letting this kid come over and clean out the gutters feels a little bit like I’m surrendering the helm of the ship.
Today it’s the gutters, but what’s next? Cutting the grass? Killing spiders? Carving the Thanksgiving turkey?
My wife has always preferred that we have someone else clean out the gutters. And she has a point. They’re high off the ground. I have to climb an impressive ladder to reach them, and the job is usually done in the fall or early spring, when the weather is crappy and the risk of a catastrophic fall is high.
It’s also possible that I wouldn’t have given this a second thought had I not noticed that I’m a little older than I used to be. I’m only thirty-six, which isn’t old. But it’s not eighteen, either. Things are creakier and a little more sore than they used to be.
The other way to look at it is that we’ve come to the point where we’re adult enough to actually pay someone to do something that we don’t want to do. That’s a common goal of everyone growing up isn’t it? In grade school you wished you could pay someone to eat your veggies, or in high school you wished you could pay someone to take that test for you. After college you might have paid someone to find a job for you. And now, I’m paying someone to clean my gutters.
I can still take care of the spiders though.
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