You know, Moe, my mom once said something that really stuck with me. She said, “Homer, you’re a big disappointment,” and God bless her soul, she was really onto something.
It turns out that if you want to start a conversation with a stranger in Minnesota, all you have to do is start working on siding. The usual Minnesotan reserve is forgotten. Once taciturn strangers, now feel free to wander up and to proffer advice.
I am not complaining, I welcome good advice, especially in areas where I lack experience. Helpful advice comes from many familiar sources. But this phenomenon–random Minnesotans volunteering unsolicited words of wisdom–was new to me.
As I described in part two of this post, we decided to replace the rotten garage siding with vinyl. So, on a warm sunny day, I walked out to the garage with a tape measure, a spirit level (that’s a “level” to you Americans), and a chalk line. The guy next door was sitting out back with a few guests. I waved, said “Hi,” and then turned my attention to the garage. After a while, one of my neighbor’s guests wandered over. He introduced himself as my neighbor’s dad.
My neighbor’s dad told me that he was well-versed in the ways of siding, and he began to disperse his siding wisdom. My chalk line and level troubled him. Disregard level readings! was his advice. Siding should always follow the lines of the foundation! I understood what he was saying, and thanked him for the advice. After a little more conversation, he returned to his group.
Now, I have a particular way of working that could be called deliberate and thoughtful. I don’t like to rush into unfamiliar projects. I spend a lot of time researching, and looking, and thinking. My neighbor’s dad, who was keeping a watchful gaze over me, didn’t know about my way of working. He thought I was at the begin-attaching-siding stage. But I wasn’t! I was still in the measure-look-think stage.
I carried on measuring walls, snapping chalk lines, and checking the walls for level. I was not ignoring his advice, just scoping out the project before beginning.
The distinction was not apparent to my neighbor’s dad. Thinking that I had either not understood his advice, or was willfully ignoring it, he came back. This time, he made his points more slowly and loudly, in words simple enough for a dumb Limey to understand.
This time, it was harder to convince him that I understood. In fact, I don’t think he was convinced. I smiled and nodded until, crestfallen, he wandered off.
I hadn’t wanted to disappoint my neighbor’s dad. Apparently, when a Minnesotan offers unsolicited advice, anything other than full and immediate implementation will result in feelings of guilt and regret for both parties. Now I begin to understand the need for the usual Minnesotan reticence. It’s like siding for people, offering protection from external threats. Threats like being disappointed by your son’s neighbor.