6 Simple Things Too Many People Don't Know How to Do
Juggling chainsaws or busting a pop-and-lock on a crowded dance floor are totally impressive talents, but unless you want to teach at clown college or plan on a career as a competitive breakdancer, they're not super useful. However, there are certain skills that are important to virtually everyone. If you haven't already, you really should make sure that these essential abilities are part of your repertoire. There's really no excuse not to know how to do things like ...
Even if you don't plan on ever competing in the 200m butterfly, you need to know how to swim. Your life or someone else's may depend on it.
Remember, when saving a life, it's always best to wear disturbingly tiny trunks.
Humans are born with the mammalian diving reflex, which greatly increases our odds of survival during accidental submersion. However, studies have indicated that our natural diving response only lasts until we're around six months old. After that, our abilities in the water need to be nurtured, like a newborn tree or gamer rage. For many people, swimming was one of those skills acquired before they even had a choice in the matter. My vague recollection involves being tossed in a pool, sinking, and thrashing around until I came to the surface with a newfound distrust of adults. While there are probably ways to teach someone how to swim that don't risk a visit from child protective services, it got the job done.
Please don't teach me how to fly next.
It's surprising when you find out that someone's made it to adulthood without the ability to even dog paddle their way around, but it's actually more common than you'd think. One out of every five adults can't swim, and nearly half of adult Americans can't swim well enough to save themselves. That's a whole lot of people floundering around if they suddenly find themselves in a Waterworld situation.
One of the more bizarre facts of Natalie Wood's already pretty bizarre drowning death is how, even though she and her husband Robert Wagner owned a yacht and often took it out on open water, she did not know how to swim. While the booze probably hurt her chances of surviving a "fall" into the water, not being able to swim certainly didn't help Wood's aspirations to continue enjoying the luxuries of air.
"Why are you throwing a donut at me? I'm so confused."
Swimming skills are relatively easy to learn: you float, you kick, you tread water, and at some point you stop screaming. So what's the problem? For many non-swimmers, the big issue isn't ability -- it's conquering the fear of water. And if you think you can just avoid pools, lakes, and water-based reality shows, you better think again. Seventy percent of the Earth is covered in water, and when non-swimmers unexpectedly end up in it, the results can be devastating.
Driverless cars are coming, but until that particular science fiction wet dream becomes a reality, if you drive an automobile, you better know how to park it. And no, pulling in headfirst or reenacting the "like a glove" scene from Ace Ventura 2 does not constitute an adequate parking job.
That's nowhere near close enough.
Even if you live in the midst of suburban sprawl with ample strip-mall-style perpendicular parking, there'll be times you'll need to parallel park. As courtesy to other drivers, and for your own sanity, it's best if you don't come like as a virgin awkwardly fumbling with their first condom. There's nothing more frustrating than sitting behind a driver blocking an entire lane of traffic while they air kiss a parking spot with no hope of actually landing it.
Unless it's watching someone spend nearly half an hour on video attempting to do it.
The California DMV no longer requires parallel parking on their road test, which may explain why I see so many cars circling my block searching for the elusive end spot (which they're not going to find often in Santa Monica), hoping to skate by with the totally bogus headfirst pull in. Even worse is watching a driver try to somehow magically subvert the laws of physics through sheer force of faulty repetition. Attempting the same misguided moves over and over again won't get your car any closer to the curb. And no, I'm not making another virgin metaphor here. Feel free to make your own.
I grew up on the East Coast, and at one point drove one of those obnoxious oversized SUVs. While my parking skills were okay before, once you have to handle a beast like that, you quickly become proficient at jockeying any vehicle smaller than a city bus. There's nothing more awkward than sitting in the passenger seat as your date unsuccessfully tries to get his car into a tight spot -- that is, of course, until you have to step in and park it for them.
Note of etiquette: never say "TA-DAAA" after doing this. Just don't do that.
Parallel parking is more simple geometry and patience than rocket science. Where people screw up is when they panic and rush. You can find step by step instructions all over the Internet, but the main things to remember are: 1) pull up parallel to the car in front of your intended space and line up your back bumpers, 2) make sure you're turning the steering wheel sharply enough, and don't unwind it too early, and 3) don't be nervous. Being unable to parallel park if somebody is watching you is like being afraid of having sex with the lights on -- it's something you'll have to get over, or you'll never be considered truly good at it.
Treating Google like the world's most convoluted spell checker doesn't constitute using it efficiently. Learning how to Google correctly will not only save you time and get you better results; it's also good for the environment. No, seriously. The number of searches you conduct each day actually contributes to your carbon footprint. Google estimates that the monthly impact of a typical user is equivalent to driving a car one mile. To calculate this, they consider an average user someone with a Gmail account who conducts 25 searches and watches 60 minutes of YouTube each day.
It's the equivalent of researching a single Cracked article.
One of the most common mistakes people make when Googling is failing to keep it simple. Save your expository musings for that novel you keep saying you're going to write. Avoid cramming a bunch of irrelevant info into the search box. Google doesn't need a backstory. In addition to limiting your search words, order them from most obscure to least. You should also familiarize yourself with the punctuation, symbols, and wording shortcuts that Google Search recognizes to make each search more effective.
If you really want to become a master searcher, Google offers a free self-paced Power Searching course, and for those already pretty confident in their Google Fu, there's Advanced Power Searching. No matter what you are looking for, the quicker you can gather accurate information, the better off you'll be. Just do us a favor and never, ever refer to yourself as a "power searcher."
Riding a Bike
When the apocalypse arrives, you're going to be really glad you know how to ride a bike. As the old chestnut goes: a bear surprises two guys camping in the woods. One guy starts putting on his sneakers. His friend says, "Dude, what are you doing? There's no way you're going to outrun a bear," to which the first guy answers, "I don't need to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you." Substitute "zombie" for "bear" and "bicycle" for "sneakers." And if that far-fetched analogy doesn't convince you, how about just how ridiculous it sounds when you tell people can't ride a bike?
Don't be the object of every first-grader's ridicule.
While it's often thought to be a universal rite of passage, there are adults who somehow skipped that particular milestone. As a kid, I taught myself on a hand-me-down bike with a coaster break. For those not familiar, that means braking is completely dependent on an intact chain. Since this bike was probably last tuned up during the Eisenhower era, the chain would frequently snap off, creating an "instant fixie" for six-year-old me. Thanks to this, I got very adept at controlled crashing. My go-to moves included: if you're flying downhill, look for a driveway that leads up, turn into it, and let gravity do its job. Barring that, bushes are better than trees or fences for impact stops. If you have the means, I highly suggest wrapping yourself in several inches of bubble wrap. You'll thank me later.
Kids are bit more resilient to crashing, but as an adult, you have much better options for learning available to you. Almost every city offers adult bike riding classes. And if you're too embarrassed to try it in front of a bunch of strangers, then borrow a friend's bike, remove the pedals, and just practice walking and gliding on it. Before you know it, you'll be Pee-Wee-Herman-ing your way around the apocalypse in no time.
Driving a Manual Transmission
Pretty much the rest of the world understands what America doesn't: using a stick shift is something every driver should know how to do. While most Euros learn to drive and take their driving exam with a manual transmission vehicle, the concept is as foreign to Americans as the four-week guaranteed paid vacation ... or not hating foreigners because of their weird driving rules.
And even though it seems to be going the way of cursive handwriting and not being a dick on the Internet, learning to drive a manual transmission is still beneficial for several reasons. It makes you a better driver. When you learn how to put the gearbox through its paces, you get a better understanding of how an automobile actually works. I'm not saying that you need to drive one every day, although some have argued that, at least for those new behind the wheel, it would make for more alert, conscientious drivers on the road.
That's fine, but which hand am I supposed to text with?
Also, you'll never know when you'll be required to drive one. On a trip back east, I happened to find myself in the back seat of a car pulled over for a sobriety check. The driver shouldn't have been behind the wheel, but the cops graciously allowed us to carry on as long as someone else drove us away. Possibly because I was sitting in the back, but more likely because I wasn't a dude, the cops asked my friend sitting in the front passenger's seat (let's call him Automatic Andy) if he could take the wheel. Andy hadn't been drinking, but it took some back and forth with the cops and me unhelpfully yelling "You're totally sober, why don't you drive?" before it finally came to light that Andy didn't know how to drive a stick.
Cue the record scratch. The cops seemed genuinely more disgusted by someone who couldn't drive a stick than by someone driving over the limit. There's a metaphor about America for you. Fortunately, I was sober and did know how, so after performing a battery of field sobriety tests that seemed to be more of a source of entertainment to the officers than anything else, I hopped into to the driver's seat, put the car in first, and we headed off to our next destination, where we spent the rest of the evening mocking Andy. Even worse, I later found out that the macho performance sports car he owned had to be special ordered from the factory in Germany to accommodate his need for an automatic transmission. Don't be an Andy. Just learn to drive a stick. Just do the world a favor and avoid that traffic light on top of the hill until you become proficient.
"Check it out. Someone left a sweet microphone on the console!"
Exiting a Conversation Gracefully
Being trapped in a conversation that's gone on long past the point of being bearable is one of life's more unpleasant experiences. And even if the banter has been enjoyable, it can still be tricky to end a tete-a-tete. Exiting a conversation gracefully is the Goldilocks of social interaction. Leave too abruptly and someone may feel slighted. Let the conversation drag on and the situation can snowball into a desperation avalanche. You need to find that sweet spot in between.
If you're engaged with a skilled conversationalist, no problem. They'll make you feel like rainbows and sunshine have been shooting out of your mouth as they gently Sherpa you to the closet group of people, then make a hasty retreat. However, if both participants are novices, leaving a conversation can turn into some kind of Mexican standoff of social awkwardness where you both end up swimming in each other's flop sweat. Continuing to feign interest while your mind is racing to find a way to politely exit is the type of scenario that will haunt you days later.
"I'm going to walk far away from you now. Here I go."
So what should you do? While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a few simple things that will help you make a smooth retreat no matter the circumstances: be proactive, be polite, and practice. Being proactive means taking the bull by the horns. Don't leave your social fate in someone else's hands, or you'll be standing there listening to them explain their new Diablo 3 character build for the next 40 minutes. If you want to leave a conversation, start sending physical cues, and no, that doesn't mean sighing, looking around the room, or simply spitting on them with a glare of revulsion. Be polite. You don't have to be disingenuous; even if they bored you to tears, you can still thank them for sharing their thoughts. Finally, you need to practice. Do it often enough, the graceful exit becomes second nature and participating in conversations become that much easier.
Otherwise, you're damning yourself to a life of nodding politely while learning everything there is to know about how to fully utilize the barbarian's fury skills.
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