Failing home ec

When my mother-in-law, Bernice Austin-Begay, went to high school, one of the classes she took was “Bachelor Survival,” which taught the boys useful home-ec-type skills they would need after graduation.

She recalled how some of the boys wanted to learn how to make garments – and one little boy who drilled holes in shells to make his own buttons.

More schools should teach subjects like this, things that would be useful in real life.

Too often schools “teach” a subject without actually imparting basic knowledge.

I mean, I had a double major in college and one of them was journalism. For four years I learned all about journalism. Except for basic things I would need to know on the job.

In between breaking Watergate-type scandals I quickly found I needed to know how to check police reports and property records.

My first day on my first job, I was sent to town hall to check out the deeds. That had never been mentioned in any of my classes and I didn’t know what to do, or what I should even be looking for.

Luckily there was a very helpful town clerk in Old Lyme, Conn., and I soon became a deed-looker-over extraordinaire.

I was less successful away from the workplace, however.

I had a winter coat I really liked, but the buttons had fallen off. Surely someone who could figure out how to report on property transactions would have little difficulty in sewing a few buttons.

I bought some needles and thread – I wish someone had mentioned thimbles back then! – and I set out to become a tailor. I pricked my fingers a few times, but that’s part of the learning curve, I guess. Besides, as George Carlin once said, it’s okay to prick your finger in public. Just don’t finger your … well, whatever.

When my flashing needle of fine garments came to its end, I was pleased with myself. I lifted the coat to admire my handiwork – and all the buttons slid off.

That’s when I decided I like sweaters better.

Now, another area where a bachelor-survival class might have proven useful was when it came to the culinary arts.

With a plethora of McBurger joints and pizza lifelines available, I didn’t starve, but I could have.

I remember when I bought my first microwave oven and decided to make myself some spaghetti. I watched in wonderment as my new microwave sizzled and hissed.

Finally, some inner voice told me something wasn’t right, so I called my sister, Hilary.

“Hey, Hil, when you make something in the microwave are sparks supposed to shoot out of it?”

How quickly I went from Chef Boyardee to Chef Boy, You’re Dumb.

Turns out you’re not supposed to put the metal can in the microwave.

That’s something I might have learned in a bachelor-survival class.

Now, as delightful as Twinkies and O Henry bars are, you can only eat so many thousands before you start to crave a home-cooked meal. I decided I wanted a baked ham.

After the whole microwave incident I decided it would be wiser to seek out advice before attempting any more kitchen derring-do. So I asked some of the ladies at work how to bake a ham.

“Does your stove have a roaster?” Judy asked me.

“What’s that?” I asked.

One of my friends drew a picture of a stove and showed me where a roaster would be located. Turned out I did have one! Now the general consensus was something like, cook it at 350 for an hour.

But Mr. Stomach argued that if I cooked it at 700 for half-an-hour I’d be eating ham that much faster. In times like that, Mr. Stomach often gets the better of Mr. Brain.

I ended up with a smoky kitchen and a lump of meat-like substance that was rubbery and much too difficult to chew.

For the most part I was done with

cooking, though once in a while I faltered in my resolve, and the results were Jonnycakes that were burnt black on the outside but gooey on the inside or cornbread muffins that could be used as doorstops.

Then there was the whole hassle about laundry. I’m not sure about this separating- the-clothes thing. Coloreds go in one machine and whites in another? Well, I’m against segregation so I would just put everything in together.

Kumbaya! We shall overcome!

But I couldn’t overcome the shame of wearing pink underwear when my whites somehow turned into varying shades of red.

Of course the advantage of being a bachelor came in handy in those days. Instead of doing laundry I had the money to just buy new clothes every week.

Over the years I’ve become older and wiser – and married. Now I have learned how to do household chores by doing everything Sara says, just the way she says to do it.

It not only prevents arguments that way, but I no longer have to wear pink underwear.

John Christian Hopkins, an award-winning novelist and humor columnist, is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. See his writings at

From John Christian Hopkins.