I often joke with my sons about my tough childhood. The punch line usually involves something about how we didn’t have a remote control for the TV set. I would tell them, “If I wanted to watch another channel, I had to GET UP from the sofa, and WALK to the television to change channels.” The joke, of course, is that compared to my parents, my life was very easy. They talked about riding horses on unpaved trails, and working in the fields from dusk ’til dawn. My sob story is about a remote control.
Since my dad grew up poor, he learned how to fix just about anything. In the family store, I was assigned counter duty while he was repairing the freezer, the truck, or whatever had broken down. He was also busy repairing customers’ chainsaws, changing the oil in their cars, or helping them find the right plumbing and electrical parts. He would then pass them off to me, where I punched the buttons on the cash register, and gave customers the correct change. To this day, I can calculate your change in a split second, but I’m not so handy with wrenches and plyers.
That is, until YouTube came along. In case you haven’t noticed, there are “How-To” videos on just about any topic. Before YouTube, I had to learn to tie a necktie on my own. My dad showed me a couple of times, and with the help of a mirror, I figured it out after two thousand unsuccessful attempts. Now you can go online and be an expert within five minutes. In fact, you can learn ten different ways to tie a tie, which would be nine more than I have learned.
I bought a new weed-eater recently, which was more complicated than my old one. It came with a tiny, hard-to-read instruction manual. I took one look, and was more confused than ever. So rather than tear it up right out of the box, I went on YouTube, and some kind man had posted a video intended for a klutz like me. I was able to re-string the line without calling in professional help. Suddenly I was an expert.
However, my favorite YouTube lesson took place a few years ago on a Sunday afternoon. Without getting into graphic detail, I will just say there was a toilet malfunction. It was the type of mishap my dad could have cleared up instantly. I would usually called a plumber. Except on this day in rural Alabama, there were no plumbers available. I couldn’t even find a plunger in the house. Again, at the risk of giving you too much information, just know this toilet really needed to flush, and fast.
I was fearing a mess of historical proportions. My only shot was YouTube. So I looked up “how to unclog a toilet,” and sure enough, another nice man had posted a video. (Best I could tell, it was not the same gentleman who taught me how to repair my weed-eater.) Thanks to some boiling water, and a little bit of dish soap, I was soon flushed with pride.
Where was YouTube all those times I struggled to assemble baby beds, chairs, tables, desks, or anything that required instructions and a screwdriver? Tasks that most humans could complete in thirty minutes tied me up for hours. Most often, these projects were completed only because I had put so many things on backwards, I would get lucky after starting over a few times. “There, that finally looks right!” my wife would say. “Now, leave it alone and go watch TV.” I would gladly follow her order, because the one thing I could operate was a remote control.
Come to think of it, the TV set is my only field of expertise. I’ve never needed a YouTube video to hook up cable, recorders, or speakers, or to navigate those tricky inputs or channel guides. In fact, my father-in-law was convinced I was a genius because I could always solve his TV problems. I drove to his home many times, easing his frustrations in the middle of a crucial golf tournament or tennis match. It was usually a simple fix: the VCR was set on the wrong channel, or he had pushed a wrong button. Keep in mind, this very talented man had assembled many desks, chairs and tables, but he struggled with the mysteries of his TV set.
When he passed away a few weeks ago, I realized he was the only person who ever called me a genius. It was a huge exaggeration, but it always made me smile. Think about that, the next time you see someone who could use a kind word. A well-placed compliment will live forever in their heart.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.