The Handy Headshaker

Picking up on the thread of a theme from earlier posts, I've been paying closer attention to criticism lately. Some think that I am too critical in general, but in a talk show world, anything short of glowing affirmation is often seen as a personal attack and insult. When I criticize, it's of something that to me seems avoidable or fixable and I am always willing to suggest an alternative. Having said that, I have retreated from criticizing people or things that are unwilling or unable to change.

I look like a grinning fool compared to one unique brand of critics. Have you ever noticed that handymen, plumbers, window, roof, flooring, other construction workers and other very blue collar guys have are always dumping on their colleagues' work? It seems like no job is complete until the expert-on-site puts his hands on his hip, shakes his head sagely. Then he will launch into one of these wry rants:

Whoever did this didn't know what he was doing.
Whoever did this didn't follow the building code (or other guidelines).
Whoever did this cut corners.
Whoever did this didn't know what he was doing, didn't follow building code and cut corners.
Whoever did (technical jargon) should never have done that with (other technical jargon that sounds vaguely irrelevant) like that.

Followed by: this should never have passed inspection and whoever did it should have been fired and you are lucky it didn't kill you. If it was done a long time ago, then a mini-lecture on the history of how bad things were done in the old days is forthcoming. If it was done recently, then they don't do things like they used to, how hard it is to hire good people and maybe a tablespoon of outrage. The Handy Headshake does not happen only in case of one having a problem and therefore inevitably inviting the guy to find some failing or error. This also happens when one is upgrading something or having work done on something that by all appearances is perfectly fine.

If you have not run into this often, turn on any home improvement show. They rip up an old floor and find incompetence and laziness. Inspect a roof leak and discover subterfuge and deception. Inspect a house and discover the results of alcoholic new construction crews. Apparently no one has ever built anything correctly ever and everyone else involved in building things is a complete moron. And building inspectors are all corrupt or too incompetent to breathe properly. I challenge anyone to mention an experience with a handy person who comes to do a job and marvels at the excellent worksmanship of everything. I bet Bill Gates has people fixing stuff in his ginormous mansion saying things like "I don't know what they were thinking when they installed this, but you never leave insulation so close to the can of a recessed light!"

Can you imagine doing this in your job? Shaking your head at every single piece of work that someone else has done mostly because you were not the one who did it? There are those who try to pull such things in office environments and other jobs, but it doesn't work because the other person is right there and often the complaints are bogus. For example, it would never work for the topping person at Subway to complain about the toasting job done on the bread, or the way the meat is laid out.

Now, some of this may be done just to boost the credibility and billing rate of the current expert-on-site. Maybe it's done to induce the customer to frantically throw money at the guy in hopes he corrects everything. Or maybe there really are no standards and these guys are all repressed art critics. Since they are usually agreeable and likeable guys, they are not the can't-be-pleased-everything-snobs, another critics group of note. And it's too prevalent to be some common personality trait.

Of course, often following on the heels of this wise dissection of the previous guy's poor workmanship (it's never the materials that fail, is it?) is the handy guy not knowing how to fix the problem, repair the damage, make right what once went wrong. How fast can a handy guy go from criticism to saying "let's see what happens if I do this" or "I don't know if this will work"? How can nearly all these guys can be genius enough to spot crappy worksmanship but clueless enough to not be able to suss out the proper remedy?

Once you notice the wry critic act about to begin, you will find yourself hard-pressed to not smile. The smart-asses amongst us may try to join in, or even pre-empt the headshaker by doing their own. Please don't do this. Also, don't call them on this little act: it's as impolite as snarling at salespeople that you have approached when they try to build some goodwill with you by making small talk.

Now, you might think that this post has come about because of some recent run-in with the handy type. Think again: I decided to do this when I have not any recent such experiences to make it more generalizable and to show that I do not have any kind of ax to grind. I actually find this complaining kind of adorable and reassuring. In fact, if one of these guys can't find anything to complain about, there is only one conclusion you can draw:

He's the idiot everyone else is complaining about.

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