There was a grey sky vanishing towards all the horizons as I walked out of the store, and crossed the parking lot, headed for my car on that dry but winter day. I had to remember what the car looked like. My wife and I had just bought it a few weeks ago. It wasn’t brand new, but was new to us. “Ah.” There I saw it, the white Chevy Lumina next to that woman with the … the … the … “Oh no.” jumper cables.
“Okay … okay relax,” I told myself. She’s not going to ask me. I nervously panned the parking lot and found not another living soul. Oh how I wished I believed in zombies at that moment.
Okay, you might be wondering what gives. Well … let me let you in on a little secret.
I … am not … mechanically inclined, unless by inclined it infers that I have a mountain ahead of me to learn of such, and if so, then by all means I am “Everestly” so inclined. Believe you me my wife was elated when I changed a doorknob unassisted. There was a roof-raising celebration like that of Time Square’s New Year’s Eve party. You have to understand; I had only recently acquired the talent of opening cardboard boxes without getting a paper cut. When gas stations had turned to self-serve I’d gone into a panic. I feared riding in a car alone, because I wasn’t sure I could change a tire, or to be more precise, work the jack. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having hundreds of cars go by watching you as you simply try to construct the jack consisting of no more than two parts and not having a clue, and pretending you’ve got it, for the audience, but knowing that that last guy who drove by is saying to himself, “That idiot’s got the part in the wrong spot.” and me only discovering that because it won’t go up.
Odd man out, that’s me. The small town that I live in is a homestead for Jacks of all trades … and Janes for that matter too. There must have been a license dictating this requirement to live here, because they all can do it. We’ve just finished mourning for sweet old Mrs. Abigail, one hundred and two wonderful years old, who had died suddenly when one of her cinder blocks cracked in the middle of an exhaust job and dropped the car on her. Rigor mortis set in around her wrench. Even in death they cling to what they know. I’m telling you, they can all do it … except me. How they let me in I’ll never know. It must have been election year and they were short one village idiot, but as I watch my neighbor tip over a large tractor tire on his front lawn to use as an above ground flower bed; I have to believe my term is up. But nevertheless, something so distasteful as putting a tractor tire in one’s front yard for decor I have to believe comes from being mechanically inclined.
Now don’t get me wrong; I have great respect for mechanics, I’d be a world class marathoner if not for them, but like the rest of the world, where there too are the knowledgeable, you do get an occasional birth defect and retardation. I know that I should have sympathy for my neighbor, since this is most likely the case with him, but it’s such a damn eyesore, and I still worry that any day now it will be turned into a family outhouse minus the house. Lack of cow manure never stopped a good garden … oh um … but now I’m straying.
I’m trying to explain to you that a fan belt is something that holds up a pair of pants and has Elvis written all over it, that a muffler keeps your ears warm, and the catalytic converter is represented by “c” in the equation E=MC2.
I told you I’m not mechanically inclined, perhaps mechanically resigned. I give up. Never bought a ride-on-lawnmower, because what would I do if it broke, beat out the neighbor for the most imbecilic lawn ornament? And worse, he’d probably try to outdo me and construct a weathervane out of colostomy bags and wet bed pans, but that would only imply a fetish, and I don’t want to go there.
So where was I? Right … trying to not help this poor woman with her car.
Oh good God in heaven, if she had only said, do you have any cables to give me a jumpstart, I could have said, “No, I don’t.” but she had the cables, and unless I was going to put my feet through the floor of my car and run with it like Fred Flintstone, I couldn’t deny the fact that I was in possession of a car that could actually do that … if I knew how.
Did I know how? My first image, at the sight of her and her two cables, was of a flying acid bath scalding us both unrecognizable as the battery exploded due to my misplacement of the cables. Yeah, I wasn’t too sure. I could feign tying my shoes and then get up and keep walking, disclaiming I even owned a car, wait a safe distance in a bush until someone actually capable of helping her did, and when that was done, retrieve my vehicle. Yes, I was that pathetic enough to go out of my way to avoid humiliation … but to strengthen my resolve towards that end, I told myself I’d be saving her from years of reconstructive cosmetic surgeries.
Now, with that sounding totally good and even better than good it finally dawned on me like a dropped atomic bomb that I’d hit a friggin’ snag. “Stupid.” While I had sorted out an escape in my daydreams, I hadn’t realized that I’d stuck my car keys into my Chevy Lumina’s door. “Damn.” She was coming over.
“Excuse me,” she said.
I could play deaf.
She held out the cables.
I could play blind … but damn I’d found the keyhole too easily, she’d never buy it.
“Could you help me?”
“Probably not,” I thought … oh come on, that was being honest.
“My car won’t start,” she persisted like a grumpy imp … no … no actually she was nice. “I was wondering if you could give me a jump.”
No, she’s an imp, a siren going to bash my ship into the rocks. I thought to myself, “Are you a man or a mouse?” I’d tried to be a mouse, but I’d missed that opportunity. “Okay, are you a man or a jackass?”
“Okay, I can help you,” I said. Wait wait wait … I was still thinking mouse when I spoke up as the jackass. I got that wrong. What am I doing? I’d confused myself.”
“Oh thank you,” she said, and suddenly the two cables she held looked like hay and oats. I’d gone into a quiet panic mode, but knew I couldn’t go back. I didn’t even know if I knew what lever to pull or what button to press to unlock the hood. “Dummy, dummy,” I kept rattling off in my brain, hollow enough to have stored that information if I had ever bothered. The embarrassing nightmare of the day I’d brought my car in for an inspection, and had been asked by the mechanic to turn on certain lights I didn’t know I had or where they could be turned on from, raced back into the forefront of my mind, feeding on my nerves like carpenter ants on a strictly nerve diet. But wait. The woman’s vision was blocked by the door. If I moved my hand quick enough under and around the dashboard, she wouldn’t know that I’d tried them all unless I somehow set off an alarm (Did this car have one?). I was betting and praying it didn’t, as a thunder cloud appeared over my head, and started slapping everything. I heard something clunk open in the back, but ignored it wisely as the hood finally lifted an inch. “Thank God.” The thunder cloud went away. As casually as I could, I got out of the car and came around to the front where she was standing with those two cables. It was like walking towards hell’s precipice. With any luck, I’d slit my wrist trying to find the latch hidden under the hood and die a peaceful death instead of this tortured one.
Damn, I couldn’t get my wrist in that far, only a finger or two fit. Of course if I took too long fiddling for wherever this hook was, she might start having doubts about how helpful I could be. Maybe suggest that she attach the cables to the battery herself. That would be good, but no, that would be rude, of course she wouldn’t. What was I thinking? She’d only take a few steps back to avoid the spraying acid bath.
“Huh?” I’d gotten it? Yes, I’d gotten it. The hood was free and I’d live to die another day, or as soon as it would come, which could be any minute, depending on when I started the engine, but not now. Again I turned all casual, disguising my disbelief that I’d found the hook. Besides the ten pounds I had lost to worry, I had to admit I was doing okay, and not looking bad either as potential fools go. Lifting the hood, I was pretty sure I could do that without killing myself, but I was making sure not to think that too loud.
So I lifted the hood with an air of uncertain confidence, and … “Oh friggin’ shoot me now.” I swore on a stack of bibles that I would sue that automobile maker for defamation of character, as it was apparent they were going to make me look the fool. I couldn’t be that stupid. Could I? The Lumina suggested it though. Where was the bloody battery? Had I opened the trunk?
I stood there and stood there, praying for an eighteen wheeler to jump the curb into the parking lot and dispel my guts like those left as roadkill, but clearly not unfortunate enough, compared to how I felt. I examined this thingy, and that thingy, something metallic, something rubbery … hey I told you I wasn’t mechanically inclined … but I couldn’t find it. “Oh, don’t tell me it’s right in the open and I just don’t know what it looks like,” I muttered to myself like a less than lucid baboon.
“What’s the matter?” the woman asked. I guess ten minutes of standing behind my own drool hinted that I was somewhat in disaccord on what to do.
Honesty? Obviously that’s the best policy when you can’t think of any lies that work.
“I’m sorry. This is a new car for me (any excuse to appear less asinine). I … um … can’t seem to find the battery.” At that moment I was praying that she was as stupid as I.
“You’re right,” she said, stepping over to take a look. “I can’t see it either.”
Thank you, God.
“Excuse me,” an unknown voice said. “I’ve been watching from my truck …”
“What the hell …?” I turned. “Crap.” He had a John Deere hat on. I looked over his shoulder at his truck. “Damn. It couldn’t have been an ice cream truck?” I whimpered to God. No, he was a pickup man.
They came out of the womb easily, already covered in oil. If there was ever an energy shortage, the world could scrape up the stuff off of a pickup man’s garage floor and solve that crisis. At a formal table setting, they put out wrenches instead of small forks to eat their desert. This is what they enjoyed, building and rebuilding cars, trucks … ATVs. I don’t even know what that stands for. I never hated any man in my life, but that man standing there with grease under his fingernails was Satan.
“… what’s your problem?”
“What’s your problem!” I yelled back at him … in my head. I may be stupid in some ways, but I knew he had access to a tool box and I’d seen those crime shows stating how the victim had been killed by a blunt instrument … and it wasn’t a guitar.
Now if I didn’t say anything, I would come across as a pouting baby, because she knew, that woman knew I could answer that question. I mean I was a pouting baby, but I didn’t want to come across as one, but I really didn’t want to lob a fat softball to him so that he could knock it out of the park unless it was laced with dynamite. And it wouldn’t work. I didn’t have a match. She looked at me. Was she thinking it was polite to let an ignorant man go first, or did she still have a shred of belief that I might actually have some mechanical knowledge and would be better suited in explaining why I’d drooled on myself and how I couldn’t find the battery? If it was the latter, then there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Of course the tunnel had probably collapsed and I was looking at an angler fish trying to bait its snack.
“Car won’t start?” the man recited the obvious … but then I thought again, maybe he was actually believing me too stupid to have figured that out on my own and was dropping some bread crumbs to lead me on. I was totally insulted … but all I could say, sounding very much like a dunce, was, “Yeah, the car won’t start.”
“You’ve got cables?” he asked, and right away I knew that he was definitely doing the bread crumb thing. Was it my imagination, or had he said those three words very … very … slow…ly? He took the cables from the woman and said, “Now you want to make sure you put positive to positive when doing this.”
Crap. He was not only going to solve the problem, and castrate me, but recite his whole library of knowledge pertaining to it like a rusted chainsaw with dull blades to do it. All I could do to calm my nerves was mutter, “It would only be manslaughter, only manslaughter.” However, I had taken note that he’d said positive to positive.
Holding out the cables, like a respected doctor with defibrillator pads, ready to bring someone back from the other side (I wish it was me. I had five feet of dirt on me and was six feet under by now), the man approached the engine … and stood there.
“We couldn’t find the battery,” the woman finally confessed for the both of us. I guess since I hadn’t, I was still the sinner.
The man stood there … and I, the unworthy reprobate, stood there … and she, the cleansed one, stood there, staring for another five minutes. “That’s the darndest thing,” the man finally said, after prodding around under the hood. “I can’t seem to find it either.”
Suddenly his tomato complexion faded to pure white as he lost his tail, and a halo and wings popped from him. He was my new best … very best friend. If this lovely man in the pickup truck couldn’t find the battery, who was I to say that the car even had a battery. I must have forgotten I’d been pedaling it for these past few weeks. And on top of that, I wouldn’t have to worry about the lawyer’s fee or the paperwork resulting from the lawsuit against the car company. I wasn’t that stupid after all. I hadn’t seen it, and it wasn’t there. Of course it wasn’t there.
The delightfully brilliant man from the pickup suggested that they use his truck for the jumpstart, having abandoned hope, while I was swelling with it, at ever finding the battery in my car. The woman thanked me for my kindness and we both laughed at the circumstance. The magic word was both. It was an amusing incident with no one to blame but the stupid car company.
“They want to force you to pay to have your battery changed,” she said. “They won’t let you do it yourself.” It was comforting to hear the ridicule directed at somebody else. I had to admit that I’d never changed a battery myself, even when I could see it. Of course I didn’t admit this out loud. Why ruin the feeling of still being safely secure with my mechanical ineptitude still in the closet. I had survived.
So seeing myself no longer needed here … okay, stop laughing … I know if I’d ever been needed, it was only a delusion … so seeing them through with me, I put down the hood and got into my car. I pulled out of the parking lot as I heard the woman’s car engine turn over … and smiled … and as I drove home, I found myself worrying less about what I would do if I ever got a flat tire. Had I found a sense of faith in myself … even if absurdly exaggerated? No, I was worrying more about what I would do if my battery ever died and I needed a jumpstart. That closet I was in needed a little ventilation.
Real: The situation of not being able to locate the car battery, the tractor tire in the neighbor’s front yard, my not being mechanically inclined … and the reaction to changing that doorknob was pretty close.
Not Real: Mrs. Abigail, may her imaginary soul rest in peace. Okay, maybe I went a little off the deep end with my emotional turmoil too. Oh yes … and I can open boxes without getting a paper cut … and for some years now.