I attended my first Men’s Group meeting at my parish last week. The was the first such meeting in the three years that I’ve been going to this parish, which is actually an oratory or semipublic area set aside for private prayer and Mass. Covid prevented the group from meeting until now. The head of the group, an electrical engineer who serves as the head usher, led the meeting. He covered various housekeeping items, including security, which has become a problem because of certain homeless people. The men will now provide security, especially during all-night, Eucharistic adoration.
We also talked about exits and entrances, fire extinguishers, and emergency numbers. No one brought up the shootings at Robb Elementary School and the hospital in Oklahoma, but they must have been on everyone’s mind. They were on mine. Then the head of the group brought out what he called a “Just-in-Case” box, which contained bandages, gauze, alcohol swabs, iodine, antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, scissors, tweezers, ibuprofen, gloves, and two flashlights. I thought he should have called it a “Just-in-Case” case but decided not to be cute. As he went through each item I thought of the scene in Dr. Strangelove when the B-52 bomber pilot played by Slim Pickens goes through the contents of the crew’s survival kit (see “Major Kong” video below).
The last item he pulled out was a roll of duct tape. “You can’t have too much of this,” he said, holding it aloft. We nodded. Duct tape is a basic requirement for any emergency or first-aid kit whether for a family, crew, or oratory. I have used duct tape for everything from holding a screen door together to keeping my pants from falling down when my belt broke during a talk and removing cat hair from my cashmere sports coat.
Not only is it versatile (my granddaughter made duct tape wallets), but duct tape can bring the social classes together as they work toward the common goal of fixing something. I have in mind the headlight that the mechanics in Laramie, Wyoming attached to the front end of my Penske truck. They used duct tape. That it unraveled into a sticky, gray ball in a hailstorm on the interstate shouldn’t detract from the fact that it brought us together for one brief, shining moment in the trucker garage (see Bloomington Blues #2).
What may well be my chef-d’œuvre with duct tape occurred when my children were young and we flew back to my parents’ house in New Jersey for Christmas (see World Airways, Resurrected). My uncle and his wife drove us to the Oakland airport in our VW minibus. The problem, not unlike the hailstorm in Laramie, Wyoming, was that it had rained quite a bit that winter. Unfortunately, the gears in the large, retractable sunroof had jammed, leaving a 3-4-inch space in the roof open to the elements. As a stopgap, I sealed the space with–you guessed it–duct tape, intending to fix it as soon as I had time, which my wife interpreted as “never.”
Somewhere around Moffett Naval Air Station on Highway 101 the duct tape flew off and a gust of wind ripped off the roof and its interior panel of insulation. It sounded as if a bomb had gone off. The inner and outer roofs were now missing, having flown onto the freeway, hitting a roofing truck behind us and shattering its windshield. I’m not making this up. As it turned out, the contractor driving the truck had just picked up a bunch of undocumented workers and wasn’t interested in sharing any insurance information or involving the Highway Patrol. Since no one was injured, they quickly went on their way, the workers looking as if they had just had a near-death experience. We were left to brave the wind and rain in what had become an open bus on the freeway. Imagine sitting on the top deck of a London bus as it drives through a storm.
If I ever meet an industrial designer or materials engineer working for a company that makes duct tape (e.g., Duck Brand), I will tell them about my accidental experiments with speed, H2O, and duct tape. This isn’t as unlikely as it sounds. There are both types of engineers in my Men’s Group. I may bring it up at the next meeting. They may suggest I take an open course on the principles of adhesion or something like that, but I’m still going to tell them.
I also feel comfortable telling them that I plan on using duct tape for a more spiritual end: taping my mouth shut. I had gone to confession prior to the meeting and told the priest about having difficulty “curbing the tongue.” Duct tape may be just the thing. I’m surprised he didn’t suggest it.
Image credits: feature by Jackson Simmer; “Duck Tape” by Mike Mozart, August 25, 2014 (CC BY 2.0). Like fiction? Check out the “Mercury trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”