Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

It Ceased to Be Funny When It Woke Every Neighbor in a Two-Block Radius

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OK, you got me. Score one for Loki. Or Lojack, or whichever entity is responsible for the timing and execution of automotive mishaps. Mischievous deity one, Thag zero.

I thought you had me last week when the mechanism for adjusting the height of the driver’s seat went kaput; it was annoying enough to make my posture cumulatively uncomfortable, but not so egregious as to require an expensive trip to the mechanic. Add that to the unresponsive buttons on the clock over the windshield – the clock that you’ve made perpetually forty minutes fast, regularly jolting me into thinking for a split second that I’m running offensively late – and you’ve got a good combination of nuisances guaranteed to dilute my joie de vivre just so.

You also could have stopped at the decaying paint on the hood and roof; it makes the ten-year-old vehicle look twice its age. Or the little dings and scratches juuust noticeable enough to appear as a serious blemish but not problematic enough to justify actual body work. Is it difficult for you to find just the right line to walk between outright hazard and mere bother? Is there a standard formula, or do you tailor your victims’ treatment to their specific personalities?

As a body of work, you already had what to be proud of; even my own children, as devilish as they may be, cannot muster the sustained psychological wrenching that you seem to deliver with ease. But you had more up your sleeve than mere nuisance, mere aesthetic or ergonomic offensiveness; several years ago you made that clear when I got a call from the police that my car alarm was going off, that I had better rush out of work to deactivate it. It turns out it was not the alarm at all: it was the horn, which went off on its own and would not be silent unless the car was running. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with the residents of the buildings nearby. I confess it did make for some slapstick comedy at the mechanic’s place, when the receptionist asked what the problem seemed to be, and the car proceeded to answer more emphatically than I ever could. It repeated the performance for the technician just as he stuck his head under the hood. That was more than five years ago, and I had almost managed to forget it.

So I had assumed your best days were behind you; what new and improved automotive hassle could you throw at me? Sure, we had battery failure and worn out tires and other routine tasks, some of them very ill timed indeed, but nothing really troubling. I was beginning to get complacent; cocky, even.

Then you took it to another level. You sure showed me. It turns out your little trick with the horn back in ’05 was just a warmup. Last night at two in the morning you did it again. Right under the children’s bedroom window. Right across the alley from the elderly neighbors and their grandkid. Within earshot of dozens of theretofore slumbering souls, there went the horn at full bore. And there I was, in my pajamas, out in the winter cold in my socks – of course you made sure this mishap would render the remote useless – fumbling with the key so I could get into the car and turn it on just to silence the beast. Your timing was exquisite: I turned the car on and off, then locked it and returned to the house; and you waited until I had engaged the door lock to sound the horn once more.

Out I ran, again, insufficiently clad for the elements, fumbling once again in the same manic way, beginning to think I had to spend the next few hours sitting at the wheel, until the repair place opened. What of getting the kids ready for school? What of sleep? Was carbon monoxide poisoning a risk outside?

As the adrenalin wore off and the cold made itself known ever deeper in my flesh, I pondered: Was this a rehash of the same old problem? If so, how did they stop it last time until the electricity tech could get to it? Wasn’t there a fuse somewhere that could be removed? It was near the battery, but where? Was that the panel? I can’t remove it! Dagnabbit! So now what?

There I stood, looking more like an idiot than usual – quite a feat, that – as the car idled and the neighbors emerged to glare and express concerned bewilderment, then go back to bed. Lucky bastards. Who knew how long I’d be out there? I rushed back inside with the car running to find the number for the roadside assistance people – naturally, it is liable to change every year as the insurance agent offers policies from different companies each year; which one would it be this time? There, right on page three of the policy. Excellent.

Dialing…what do you mean, my subscription to your service expired in 2009? This policy is a week old! Yes, yes, I’ll sign a waiver, whatever you want. Just send somebody to help me here. Within two hours, huh? Guess I’ll turn on the heat and get as comfortable as this malfunctioning seat will allow. OK, calming down. Slooowly warming up. Hey, this isn’t so bad after all. Maybe I can actually get some shut-eye, if this is really going to take two hours. Relaxing… beginning to drift…phone? Where’d I leave the phone? There! Hello? Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me? Yes, here’s my address…no, it’s a one-way street – you have to make a right one block before. No, mister, it hasn’t been a dead end for about ten years now; it doesn’t matter what your map says. Just make your first right and curve back around this way. OK, see you eventually. Relaxing again…phone? Again? Hello? What’s the problem, mister? Street’s too narrow? Uh, why don’t you just park up on the main street and walk over here?

Well, at least he got there quickly. Only he was even more clueless than I. That was a good flourish on your part, I gotta admit: having the only available roadside tech be completely unprepared for what he encountered, such that he managed to set off the damn thing two or three more times before realizing he didn’t have the proper equipment with him. That was the icing on the cake.

But the sprinkles on that icing? Well, that was my having to explain to him, this supposedly technical person, what the diagram of the fuse box said (at least he figured out how to open it) so we could disconnect the right piece (“Do you read Korean? How about English?”).

So kudos to you, god of automotive mischief. I fully anticipate the aftermath of this experience ensuring that I pass the threshold of spending more money, cumulatively, on fixing or maintaining this car than its original purchase price. That is, if they can manage to fix it. How did you get the high beams to turn on when the horn button is pressed? Well done.

Now you’re finished with me. It’s someone else’s turn. I hear that Ahmadinijad guy could use to be taken down a peg or two…


Written by Thag

February 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I used to have a car like that. Often it would save up all the problems for the times I desperately needed to get somewhere urgently. I was sure the engine compartment was inhabited by some kind of capricious sprite that hated the concept of internal combustion. The upside was that the car was so old it didn’t have any complicated stuff like an engine management system, and most of the problems were fixable with relatively simple solutions like chewing gum and gaffer tape.

    Jon Vagg

    February 6, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    • You had chewing gum? Luxury! Why, in my day…


      February 7, 2011 at 7:16 am

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