A Perfect Cement

Friday started with two certain plans: open the door for the plumber
scheduled to arrive at the house at eight and leaf through the thicker-than-usual
Atlantic Monthly
issue.  Thick with stuff I won’t read about “The State
of the Union;” I thinned it by pulling out all of the subscription
postcards.

The boss at the plumbing company called at eight to say they’d be 35 minutes late. An employee was out of gas, stuck on I29, waiting for a ride in the
light rain.  The blocked sink drain would still be there. No hurry.
It’d been there since Wednesday evening, a perfect kernel of gunk cementing the drain pipes. I’ll spare you the details, but I should defend my
resourcefulness. I tried to plumb the line; I pulled apart the pea
traps and drain extensions, splashed murky water everywhere, even sliced my
thumb twisting the hand auger a few stubborn feet into the netherworld of the
inner wall. Went to Kmart at 9:45 for an extra plunger and a jug of acid stuff
made for loosing gunk. No luck.

So when the plumbing boss called I had more time to wait, but not enough time (or interest, really) to undertake an engaged reading of the full-length features. I leafed through, turning pages, then this: “The
Other Gender Gap
.” A short article on the shortcomings of popular
education in America for boys. I had no idea.

I was almost at the end of the short article when I read this:

But boys’ educational stagnation has long-term
economic implications. Not even half the boys in the country are taking
advantage of the opportunity to go to college, which has become almost a
prerequisite for a middle-class lifestyle. And languishing academic attainment
among a large portion of our population spells trouble for the prospects of
continued economic growth. Unless more boys begin attending college, the
nation may face a shortage of highly skilled workers in the coming decades.

I think the plumber from the highway (the one stranded with an empty tank) was the person who came to the door. The boss picked him up, brought him to our house and parked in the driveway, then waited in the driveway with the engine idling. This job should be quick. The boss waited; the worker unfurled a tool much like the one I had, fed the wire into the pipe,
twisted, twisted, and was done. Eighty-three bucks. Fifteen minutes.
With the same kind of tools I’d already used. Eye-twitches.

Tidied up the mess before coming back to Poe’s article on the other
gender gap. I thought, yeah, maybe I’ll write for a while about that, even
though I’m not seeking formal references for my entries, and I don’t think of
EWM as a referrent-type blog working by redirection or regularly (necessarily)
pointing at interesting matters, out there, over there.

I put off this blog for most of the day, wondering about what else might end
up here. Then the Atlantic Monthly listserv sent all of us subscribers a
reminder that the JanFeb issue was out. Indeed it was. And all day,
I’ve been wondering what this article means, what inspired it, what Poe thinks
should happen. I’m not taking it so seriously, nor do I want to dismiss it, although that’s my impulse in this case. I just can’t get a grip on the idea that more boys need to attend college or the United States “may face a shortage of highly skilled workers in the coming decades.” Guess I’m surprised to read about gender, the economy and the vocational service of educational institutions framed this way, since it challenges much of my own thinking on these issues.

I didn’t put the hand auger back where I got it from. I left it on top
of the cluttered workbench in the garage.