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by Wendy Vapors, 5/26/00

DC: This is DCR, news meant for amusement.
A new study by the Institute for Important Information finds that Americans are becoming less able to perform routine home repairs, and are virtually helpless when it comes to fixing the highly technical gizmos which fill our lives. We are also increasingly reluctant to help another person in trouble. Taken together, these findings mean a majority of Americans would not jump-start another person's car even if they knew how, which they don't.
And that means the a classic American character, the helpful neighbor, the good Samaritan, the cheerful "everybody-in-town-knows-him" handyman is a vanishing breed. But in at least one small town, he's alive and well. Wendy Vapors reports.

(sfx: outdoor summer morning)

WV: I'm standing on on the main street of Haley's Mill, Minnesota on beautiful, quiet Saturday morning with a well known local resident who is about to have a busy day.
As the town wakes up … a passersby recognizes my guest and greets him warmly.

Passerby 1: Hey, Hands-on. How ya doin'!

Nelson: (heroic baritone): Fine, just fine. Thank you.
(calling) Hi Larry!

Larry: (off mic) Morning, Hands-on!

Nelson: (calling) Got any work at the barn …

Larry: (off mic) Nothing today, Hands-on.

Nelson: (calling) How about next week? Do you …

Larry: (off mic) Next week's all booked! Sorry!

Wendy: They call him "Hands-On" Nelson! And Haley's Mill mayor Andy Anderson says he's a local fixture.

Andy: Hands On has been available to help out with chores and such every day for … well it seems like the last 25 years.
He has a good heart. Generous spirit. Always wants to help.

Wendy: And when you talk to Hands On Nelson, it becomes clear he is certainly a one-of-a-kind helpful guy.

N: Any time! Anyplace! Wherever someone is struggling with a car that won't start, or a washing machine that won't spin, or a microwave oven that won't shrink things, there I am! And my only payment is the gratitude of those in need and the satisfaction of a job well done!

WV: Actually, I don't think microwaves are supposed to --

NELSON: Look! There's Phil! (calling) Hi Phil!

WV (startled): Where?

NELSON: Across the street! With the lawnmower! Come on!

(sfx: two sets of footsteps, constant trot)

NELSON: How're ya doin, Phil? Need a hand?

PHIL: (fade up) Oh, hey, Hands On. It's just a stubborn engine.

N (chuckling): I know a thing or two about these ….

PHIL: Well, every time I pull this cord--

(sfx: ppddddtt, sputter)

PHIL: --all I get is a little bit of sputtering.

NELSON: Let's take a look at it!

(sfx: clinking, clanking)

PHIL: Well, now … What I'm thinking is … it's probably the choke. And the fact that it's been sitting all winter.

N (muttering over sfx): Pull this out...bend this...oh! look at this! This is neat...put this over here...

MAN (uneasy): Maybe all it needs is fresh gas or something. You don't have to--

NELSON: There! That should do the trick! All right, Phil, let 'er rip!

PHIL: Okay...

(sfx: just the rope being pulled)

PHIL: Hey! Now it doesn't do anything! What th …!

NELSON: I'd say we smoothed out that sound quite a bit … no more sputtering! And all it took was a few small adjustments!
Come on, Wendy! Our work here is finished!

(sfx: two pairs of footsteps steady)

PHIL: (fade): Wait a minute!

Wendy: It didn't seem like his problem with the thingy was really … fixed.

NELSON: One thing I've learned … people don't like it if do EVERYTHING for them. Just a little bit of help, perfectly timed … then get out of the way and let them finish.

Wendy: In the three hours I spent with "Hands On Nelson" I saw him offer himself and his services unselfishly to at least a dozen townspeople. It seems … he doesn't do anything else.

Anderson: Job? No … Nelson doesn't have a job. He worked out at the co-op for a bit, but then they got new owners from out of town … and you know, if you're not from here … it's different.

Wendy: So he has no actual paid employment at any kind of business?

Anderson: That's right. Hands On's business is … well, whatever anybody happens to be doing right then … that's his business. Anything and everything.

Wendy: It's true! In my short time with him I watched Hands On Nelson get under a car to help a young man change the air filter. He came to the rescue of a woman who was trying come up with the right measurements for a cake recipe, tuck pointed the brick on a local church, helped the volunteer fire department coil up the hose, and that's not all!
When he saw computer trouble developing at the Haley's Mill Bank, he cheerfully stepped around the barrier and threw himself into the task.

(sfx: computer keyboard tapping)

NELSON: Hmmm. You say the program is changing all zeros to the letter"Q."

RECEPTIONIST: Thanks, Hands On, but we've got this pretty much under control.

NELSON: I don't think so! I'll just have a go at the keyboard here.

MAN: Ugh! Your hands!

NELSON: Yes, I'm Hands On Nelson!

MAN: No, your hands! They're filthy!

NELSON: Oh … I had a little thing with an automobile air filter …

RECEPTIONIST: We've called a computer specialist …

NELSON: Don't be silly. You can't wait that long!

RECEPTIONIST: No! I just told you that we--

(sfx: more keyboard)

N (muttering over sfx): Edit...preferences...clear memory...file...delete...alt-F4..."no." There!


MAN: Hey! It's gone. Where'd the savings records go?

(sfx: emphatic keyboard)

MAN: The backup's gone, too.

NELSON: But look at your screen! The numbers that are left are nice round zeroes!

RECEPTIONIST: (picks up phone, off mic) Roger, get down here right away!

Wendy: Over and over again, Hands On Nelson presented himself to help, like a knight in shining armor, never asking for thanks or pay of any kind!
So it's not surprising the people of Haley's Mill seem a bit embarrassed by this kind of "old style" helpfulness!

Anderson: People in town … sometimes when they see him coming, they lock the doors.

Wendy: Because they don't want to be indebted to him?

Anderson: Well …

Wendy: Have you ever received his generous help?

Anderson: (pause) I'd use him, except I have a son-in-law who's really good with tools. Anything goes wrong at the house, I save it all for him.

(sfx: outdoor summer morning)

NELSON: A mission? I don't know. It's a hobby, I guess. Maybe a calling. Sure, sometimes I wonder if it's all really worth it--(dreamy) but then I see something like that over there.

WV (apprehensive): Like what?

NELSON: A white picket fence with a green lawn behind it. In the middle, a father helping his little boy. They're putting training wheels on a bicycle. And it looks like they could use some help! Come on!

(sfx: footsteps quickly off, voices in bg)

WV: And so … As the world becomes less caring and less handy, at least one man continues to uphold the neighborly standard … always willing to help. Even though no one EVER asks him to pitch in, he's there, day in and day out, making himself a valuable and highly appreciat… highly visible member of the community.

(sfx: distant crash of bike parts)

BOY: (off mic) Stop him, Dad, stop him!

DAD: (off mic) Great scott! What are you doing?

(sfx: crush, rip)

Wendy: And if you don't believe that, all you have to do is come to town on any day of the week, and listen to the shouts of acclaim.

BOY: (off mic) My bike! Look what he did to my bike!

NELSON: No need to thank me Jimmy! Now you can ride around with all the other kids!

BOY: My name's Tyler and you wrecked my bike!

Wendy: I'm Wendy Vapors, and I'm reporting from Haley's Mill, Minnesota.

(sfx: summer morning out)


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