Tuesday, April 8, 2014
We're on a tight time leash: Megan wants to climb Tumamoc, the local steep hike to a radio tower, before going to teach at her inner city school; I plan to pick up lumber and PVC elbows for the vanity in the bathroom project before heading to the classroom myself; phone calls need to be made; papers need to be graded; memos need to be written; appointments are pending and need to be made. The list, as usual, is long.
Megan is out before the sun is up, dressed in her workout duds. I am packing up my book bag, charging the phone, the laptop, and getting the bike ready for a seven mile commute.
Then I hear the car. Wap. Wap. Wap. There is an ugly clunking sound as the motor mounts shudder under the wobble of the engine. The car wheezes and then dies. I hear it start, and again shudder a painful effort to run before dying.
I hear the car door close, the gate to the yard unlatch, and the back door open.
Megan enters, exasperated, and says "Pack rats..."
As I lift the hood, I see two plug wires severed, whole inches of the wires missing. A little nest of hood insulation is tucked into a cavity between valve covers and fuse box.
A fork in the mental road thrusts itself in front of me. He gives me a chest bump, a shove, a confrontation. It is the moment demanding my attention, my decision of how I will respond.
Down one fork lies the reflex to blame, to turn on Megan, to remind her that I told her the packrats would eat the wires if she parked here. The temptation to rage, to worship at the altar of adrenaline, activation, of energy, of railing at the world for withholding so much, for making my existence so miserable.
Down the other fork lies a response rather than reflex. This fork sees the problem and the need to deal with it, but not in anger. This path does not blame Megan or me or even the packrats but looks at options. What should we do about this?
I take a breath and look into the eyes of my opponent, my nemesis, my gift. I wait before telling him, "I've got this."
He smiles and says "next time" with his expression, before standing back, out of my way, to see what I will do.
I decide that I will attempt to drive the car to a shop before it opens, drop the key, and get to work.
I get the key, start the car, let it warm up, and put it into gear. It dies. Repeat. Repeat.
My buddy climbs in beside me, elbow resting on the door, window down. He would smoke if he had one. Let's see how you do with this, he says, not giving up. We have a ways to go and a lot can go wrong, no? he says, eyebrows up in mock fascination.
Then, the car runs when I put it into gear. As the RPMs rise, it runs smoother. I back up; the car stalls. I start, wait, try again. It runs. I slow for speed bumps; the car almost dies, but not quite. Now I have to get up over the hill to make it to Swan Road, where I can descend to the repair shop.
The little Toyota feels like it will shake the fillings out of my teeth as the car and I creep up the hill, my foot pressing the accelerator to the floor, my body rocking forward to gain more momentum. I think we will stall, but we make it.
The downhill is easy. Running on two cylinders, though, I am much slower than traffic coming down from the foothills. Cars close in on me, and I can see irritation as they signal to pass before flying past with a middle finger in my direction.
A yellow Lotus sports car (I am NOT kidding; I could not make this stuff up.) passes aggressively and swerves in front of me. I can see the driver is a young guy, delighting in his anger and ability to dust me and my dweeb of a car.
My companion looks at me, knowingly. What jerks, he says. Give 'em the fuckin' bird man. Let's hear some cussin', some energy. This totally sucks and you know it.
I want to say "asshole," but instead say "Buddha."
I make the turn into the shop just as the engine dies with a final "Wap!"
Megan picks me up and takes me, my bike, and herself, to work.
"That could have been ugly this morning," She said. "But it was lovely."
She put her hand on my thigh.
My buddy rolls his eyes and lifts the slightest hint of a Mona Lisa smile.
*This essay is dedicated to Ken Bacher: teacher, poet, example.