Men, Women & The Karate Kid

Being twice as old as as some of my construction school classmates, I miss a lot of their cultural references. Anything short of fluency in the complete Will Ferrell filmography is a great handicap when dealing with young men, I have discovered.

Likewise, a lot of what I say to “the kids” slips through the cracks. Monty Python, for example. Not quite the cultural currency it was back in my first college days.

Taylor Swift seems to bridge the gap. Most of us heart her, whether we admit it or not. Occasionally, I catch the guys in my class—who range from about 18 to 47 years old—nodding along to 1989 as they bang together 2×4’s with a pneumatic framing gun.

The Peanuts Gang resonated with all ages when faculty and staff at Tennessee College of Applied Technology dressed up as Charlie Brown & Co, for Halloween (pictured here). Our Building Construction Technology class even built Lucy’s doctor’s office.

It turns out The Karate Kid is also a universal language. Here’s how I know:

A new young colleague was working on a carpentry project, and I was shadowing him closely, asking question after question after question, as is my habit.

How are you going to attach the top? Can you hide the screws? How did you calculate the angles? Could you use a Kreg jig? Will these braces support the weight? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera… I ask a lot of questions.

My shy colleague was not quite ready for my onslaught of curiosity. His face turned red and he answered sheepishly. It was not my intention to embarrass him. Quite the contrary. I am in awe of his comfort with the challenges of geometry and woodwork at hand. I just wanted to download everything he knows. Meanwhile, he just wanted me to shut up.

So I stopped asking questions and apologized. “Think of me as your Miyagi,” I said. Then, realizing that Miyagi might not translate, I added, “Do you know who that is?”

“Wax on,” he said. But an audible question mark suggested he had no idea why I was bringing the late Pat Morita into this.

“You think you’re in technical school to learn carpentry and construction,” I said. “But I’m teaching you how to deal with your future customers—people like me, who love what you’re making and want to know more.”

A fellow 40-something classmate was witnessing our exchange. Being the oldest people in the room, he and I often rely on each other to navigate this land of young people. We chat about old-married life and swap CrockPot recipes. I post pictures of him on Instagram so his awesome wife can see what a lovable (and handy) goofball she is married to. Anyway, he endorsed my Miyagi reference and concurred that a major part of any job in construction or cabinetmaking is going to be answering questions.

“Just think of me and all my buggin’ questions as training for your future,” I told my teenage classmate. “Fact of the matter is, you’re gonna spend a lot of time dealing with chatty middle-aged women.”

Then my 40-something comrade added, “And if you’re lucky, someday you’ll find yourself married to one.”

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