Skill Set | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Skill Set 

The essentiality of “essential.”

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In Esquire a while ago, Tom Chiarella ran down a list of “75 skills every man should master.” Of course, it is merely his opinion. And the subject lacks immediacy. Nevertheless, I found a few of Chiarella’s essential skills worth a comment.

For example, Write a thank-you note. I think this is a good one because like candles and aromatic balms, a thank-you note is the bailiwick of women. So a handwritten note from a man surprises and ingratiates. Whether it follows a job interview or cocktail party, a note bespeaks self-confidence and breeding.

The underlying assumption of Name a book that matters is that men read books. Not enough do, I worry. It used to be that men favored Hemingway novels, but I doubt that is true any longer. Cormac McCarthy maybe? Women are hooked on Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romances, so I suppose a savvy guy would skim Twilight or New Moon before a party. I would modify Chiarella’s wording of this particular skill to “name a book that has changed my life.” Walden would be near the top of my list.

Recite one poem from memory.
Of the list of 75, this one strikes me as having the most limited utility. There just aren’t many opportunities to recite. I knew a guy who could reel off “Casey at the Bat,” usually after a few beers, but requests for the verse were rare. So instead of memorizing an entire poem, I suggest learning a few literary sound bites. You can drop them into a conversation like a rock in a pool and benefit from both the splash and the ensuing ripples. One of my favorites is from Gene Wilder’s Willie Wonka, “There is so much time and so little to do.” Another comes from Bambi’s rabbit pal, Thumper, who advises, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” In this age of must-have gizmos, Liberace’s assertion, “the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys,” comes in handy. And when a crisis is at hand, pull yourself up straight and repeat the gladiator’s salute, “Morituri te salutant,” we who are about to die salute you.

Tie a bow tie. This is a good one for LDS readers who wear the white-shirt-and-tie uniform more often than the rest of us. A bow tie is a bold, self-assured fashion statement. Tying one is easy to learn. A clip-on is the equivalent of training wheels.

Don’t monopolize the conversation. This is truly an essential skill for men and women. The ranks of listeners are thinning as the ranks of talkers grow like Topsy. Who wants to listen to endless, egoistic blather? Train yourself to say, “So enough about me, what’s going on with you?”

Speak a foreign language. When Anderson Cooper spoke in Salt Lake City in fall 2008, a student asked him for advice. Without hesitation, the CNN anchor replied, “Learn a language.”

Chinese would be a smart choice, I think. Spanish, too, because the United States is the third-largest, Spanish-speaking country in the world.

Make three different bets at a craps table. If you make trips to Wendover, this one is important. A craps table is a lively place and the odds are better than those of slots or Blackjack. I once tried to teach myself craps from a book. I learned there’s no substitute for table time.

Deliver a eulogy. Do this with grace, thoughtfulness and a dash of humor. Rely on your own ideas. Quoting others is a crutch. Wear a bow tie.

Negotiate a better price. Haggling is a skill I need to cultivate. Developing relationships with local businesses is a step in the right direction, I think.

So much for some of Chiarella’s essential 75. Here are a few of my own.

Troubleshoot hardware and software. My reliance on Biff in Bangalore to fix my computer problems is a source of frustration.

Seek common ground. We live in a polarized world. You can’t convince me George W. Bush was a good president, and I can’t persuade you the Utah Legislature is out of touch with reality. So let’s devote ourselves to finding a middle ground of agreement. I concede Bush helped with AIDS relief in Africa; you admit Michael Waddoups has goofy ideas about restaurants.

Choose the right wine. Another good one for LDS readers who invite gentile friends to dinner and decide serving wine is gracious not sinful. The wine store at 1605 S. 300 West has an interactive computer which makes choosing easy. The rest of us take cues from City Weekly’s Ted Scheffler.

Summarize the problems in the Middle East. If everyone could do this, American foreign policy might become evenhanded. Then, Israelis and Arabs might be led to common ground thereby avoiding yet another cycle of tit-for-tat violence.

Serve as PTA president. When parents get involved in schools, kids get a better education. When parents organize, schools improve. When side-benchers step up to lead, organizations are energized.

Do your own income tax. Take on the daunting 1040 with a calculator, not TurboTax. If our congressmen had to do it, we might get tax reform before the next war flares up in the Middle East.

Install a child’s car seat. Because I hate to see toddlers trussed up like Hannibal Lecter, I purposely haven’t learned to deal with car seats. My lack of respect for these modern, child-safety measures has offended a few mothers.

So, too, might a few women consider this list self-serving. The Y-chromosome bias of the authors calls into question the essentiality of “essential.” No doubt women have their own list of essentials for men.

Private Eye is off this week. Reply to John Rasmuson at

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