I don’t know anything and can do nothing. I know what you are thinking: Grabois went to fancy college, he plays the French horn, he knows a lot of stuff, he teaches, he performs, etc. Digging down to the basement of this, however, you get this:
I play the French horn. It is made out of metal. I think at least some of that metal is brass. I do not know what brass is. I don’t know how you get metal out of the earth (you mine it, whatever that means) or how you turn that metal ore into the kind of metal someone (not me) can work with. I think brass is an alloy, which is a combination of metals, but I have zero idea how you combine metals. Then, you somehow shape them into this shape. Don’t ask how, because I can’t answer.
There are, of course, machine made horns. Machines bend the metal, I guess. They get powered by petroleum, which has something to do with ancient sea creatures buried in the ground. How they turn into oil I don’t know. That oil is extracted (somehow) and piped, I guess, somewhere. It is purified through some process unknown to me. It then powers the machines. I don’t know what that means. I push a button and my reading lamp goes on, but there are a million steps involved that I can’t see and don’t know. It might have something to do with the part of New Jersey just out from the Lincoln Tunnel. It must have something to do with lighting oil on fire, but if I lit oil on fire, I’d just get an oil fire. And forget about the machines that turn metal into a horn: no idea at all how that works.
Of course, there is much more to life than the manufacture of metal objects. Thankfully, I have a job. I go to work every weekday (by the way, someone has to figure out the calendar we use, and it is much more complicated than having a leap year ever four years, but I don’t understand how it’s done). I have a studio in a building. No idea what my building is made of, but it is so ugly it is probably concrete, whatever that is. Why it stands up is anyone’s guess, but it seems to have something to do with rebar. Back to the problem of what metal is and how you make it.
Occasionally I drive to work. Forgetting the mysteries of the internal combustion engine (not a clue), or even its much simpler predecessor the Wankel rotary engine (great name, but still impenetrable to me), let’s go basic: I drive on a road. I don’t really know what that is. I think it is made of asphalt, or maybe tar – I don’t know what either of those is, but I know that cement mixers (oy vey) carry the stuff, and you have to melt tar, which means making it hot, which means again burning something, probably oil, which leads us back to paragraph three.
I very much like to eat chicken, which grows under cellophane wrap at the supermarket. Seriously, I know there are chickens, and I guess you have to kill them and get the feathers off. I could probably do that, but it would take an hour or two. I’m sure there’s a machine that does it, but there’s that machine issue again (paragraph three!). Then, maybe a machine cuts them up, but maybe it’s a human that does it. Well, I can in fact cut up a chicken, though I don’t know how to take the guts out. I also don’t know how to make a knife. Part of it is metal and part wood. I guess the wood must come from a tree, right? Then it is somehow turned into a knife handle and somehow attached to the knife.
If all everybody in the world disappeared except me and my friends and family, we would have to find food. I guess that would mean hunting, which I don’t know how to do. There are probably enough guns around to provide the necessary weaponry for hunting (assuming they didn’t disappear with all the people). No idea how they work. A hammer hits gunpowder? Whatever that is? And a bullet is fired. It is made of lead, probably because lead is soft (why?), which makes the bullet more destructive (why?), or maybe because lead is cheap (why? is there a lot of it?) or easy to extract (but not easy for me). Maybe it is better to hunt with a bow and arrow. A bow is made of wood, and probably sometimes of some composite material (??). The wood is polished in some way – perhaps sand paper. Then it is painted. No idea what paint is. Maybe there’s some polyurethane on the outside, or shellac or something. Help. There is also a string that you pull, and when you come right down to it, I have no idea what string is.
Here are some things I could not make from scratch: cloth, any garment, a shoe, any piece of machinery, a candle (wax! What is that again?), a match (red stuff on the end, probably sulfur, which I think is an element, and I guess you find it in the hot springs at Yosemite, but that doesn’t have the ring of truth to it), a fire (if I didn’t have a match), a dwelling of any kind, a blanket, any vehicle (maybe a sled), anything made of metal, practically anything made of wood, anything made of plastic (including just making the plastic itself), anything made out of anything really (except maybe roast chicken out of raw chicken, assuming a fire miraculously appeared). I have no idea how to gather food. I guess you go to a farm, but in the woods everything looks remarkably inedible. I can sing but I’d be hard pressed to make an instrument. I can’t paint because I can’t make paint, paper, canvas, a paint brush, nothing. I can’t cut anything because I can’t make a knife.
You get the point.
For a guy with an expensive education and a good job, I am remarkably useless. I guess it is lucky that we have civilization and technology, for my sake.