If a recent study is to be believed, American men are getting weaker. That, at least, is the sensational reading of it. A skeptic might point out that it only looked at college students, it only measured grip strength, and its sample size was small, but such critiques apparently weren’t enough to prevent my social media suggestions from getting clogged up with all sorts of sweeping generalizations about the decline and decadence of young people. I feel this gives me license to make my own sweeping generalization, which is that the authors of these pieces were overwhelmingly older men.
I’m not here to write a defense of people my age, though I am prepared to challenge any desk jockey to a Walking Up Hills After Pigs Contest. No, what struck me was the longing I felt at the blithe confidence that things were somehow both tougher and better in the past. It was like being on a boat and sighting a shore, distant but approaching; in another decade would I be ready to confidently dismiss the next generation, who may have implanted computers in their brains that make them literally a thousand times smarter than me, but who will have never swung a hammer, and thus will obviously be good for nothing weaklings? I can only hope, but I fear it is not to be.
The problem I anticipate is that I doubt I’ll be able to convince myself that the past was any better than the present. The single biggest threat to my fulfilling the noble human purpose of looking down on people younger than me is the sorry state of work clothes. As far as I can tell there isn’t a pair of pants on the planet that won’t thin noticeably at the knees after three months of moderate use. After six they’ll be frayed and falling apart. I suspect in forty years I’ll still be grumbling about this, but I won’t have the pleasure of remembering a time when people knew how to make things that lasted, and this lack of conviction will dampen any other scorching judgements I might otherwise rain down upon the youth.
The one possible exception to the sorry state of workwear is the company Filson. Though many of their products are oriented towards more towards lifestyle than labor, they do still make durable coats, vests, and pants. My wife gave me one of their very expensive work coats for Christmas two years ago, and the jury is still out on it. It has certainly lasted better than typical canvas chore jacket, but it also cost three times as much. Still, if it sticks around for a decade, and if their warranty is as good as they claim, it will be a sound investment.
Since I’m not old enough to be purely pessimistic, I will close by recommending their waxed canvas caps without reservation. If, like me, you both wear glasses and have to work outside even when it’s stormy (as it has been here for much of the last two weeks), having a way to keep rain off your face is indispensable.
So maybe I should hope that Filson goes out of business and I lose my current hat. That way, when I’m old and grizzled and read a study that finds freshman high school track athletes are worse at identifying the differences between an axe and a maul than they were in 1950, I’ll shake my head and think back on a time when men were men and when the brim of my hat didn’t fall apart every time it got a little misty out.
UPDATE: When I'd finished writing this post and was in the process of linking to the various products I mention, I discovered that Filson no longer produces the cap I own, pictured above. I'm on my way!