Why are people so helpless?

Are we at last unable to do anything for ourselves, or have I just gotten grumpy?

That could be it. How can you not be grumpy, with the economy, Democrats committing fratricide (and sororicide, if that’s a word) and local governments demonstrating yet again that they’ve learned nothing over the last three decades?

Still, I’m on target with this, I think.

The other afternoon, I got in a checkout line at Scolari’s next to a woman who was attractive in the Caughlin Ranch mode: trim, perfectly coiffed, expensively dressed and not at work at 3 p.m. Her purchases partially filled two plastic bags. I could have ridden home with them on my bike.

She asked for, and got, “assistance” to her car. It was a BMW, which isn’t important, but her request has stuck with me. She looked to be in her late 20s, which could mean a meticulous 40. She clearly spends time in a gym, presumably on some machine designed to closely replicate actual walking. I’d bet she lifts designer weights. She could probably kick my butt.

Yet, for reasons I can’t fathom, she asked for help to carry six pounds of groceries 20 yards.

The same day, I got an email from a reader who wanted to know a good place to have his car detailed. He was new to Reno, and he’d seen my name and hometown in a magazine column.

“Couldn’t tell you,” I said. “I just run mine through the coin-op when I notice it’s dirty.”

I didn’t add that that’s about four times a year, and it’s just as well. From his reaction, it was clear he couldn’t conceive of a world in which a civilized man cleaned up after himself.

Where you really see the decline in self-sufficiency, though, is in simple tasks, those jobs every man—every person, since the enlightening ‘60s—used to do for him- or herself.

This came to mind when a new neighbor asked me to recommend a plumber. I do know a reliable company, but the price last time I called—one man, four hours, almost $2,400—means I don’t recommend it for anything less complex than a nuclear reactor.

“What’s the trouble?”

“Leaky faucet.”

Calling a plumber for that is like seeing a dermatologist to get your sunscreen rubbed on: very serious overkill. I got some washers from the junk drawer, a wrench from the shed and fixed his faucet in about six minutes.

You would have thought I’d cured him with the laying on of hands.

“How do you learn to do things like that?” he asked seriously.

He’s a nice guy, fixing up an old house on a budget. I’ve been there—I’m still there, far later than I expected. I would have answered if I could have.

The truth is, though, that I don’t remember learning to replace a washer or a light switch. I don’t think anyone taught me to tune a car (a skill for which the modern world has no need) or build a fence. My dad could do it, and my brother can do it. My sister rebuilt an engine, page by page out of the iconic How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by John Muir and Junius Scopulorum (which shows, by the way, that this was during the Nixon years, not back in Hoover’s time). If something needed to be done, and you couldn’t afford a pro, you just did it.

Probably you still could. I mean, if you’re carrying a load of debt and worried about your job and afraid the economy will take you down with it, maybe you could reach for a tool instead of a credit card.