Let’s get something straight before I tell you this tale of impotency and frustration, lubed with plenty of dirt and grease. It may not make this blogger any less pathetic, but at least you will understand this story – and me – a little better.
My father is a master mechanic and I am not. There, I said it. He started down his personal road by tearing apart old engines to see how they worked. He found that kind of thing fastinating. That never interested me; at the time my old man was wrist deep in motor oil, I was bathing my brain cells in cathode rays, wondering why the castaways on “Gilligan’s Island” never got around to dispatching the show’s namesake, and hoping that Andy Griffith would some day be the President.
In some ways, though, I ended up more like a Gilligan than an Andy. When I became a car owner, my motto was simple: just show me how to operate it and whenever it breaks, I’ll throw money at the problem. This motto has caused me to dole out a lot of money that I would otherwise have saved if I had learned something about car engines beyond adding motor oil and replenishing windshield wiper fluid. However, for the most part, I have no regrets. Further, I have never bought into the stereotyping of men and their cars. Unlike the hordes of car enthusiasts in the country, I eagerly await the fully electric- and hydrogen-powered cars and the abolition of the internal combustion engine. With that said, read on.
A couple of months ago, when my car would not start, I called my auto club to give it a jumpstart. As the tow truck driver jumped my car, I pretended to listen as he told me who manufactured the various parts of my car, in what part of the world this car was assembled, and how he believed the only thing wrong with my car at this time is my battery. I couldn’t tell you anything about my car’s origin except that it has a Japanese name, but I did catch the last part of his rambling. He told me I could now drive the vehicle, but the battery would not hold a charge very long. I had a sudden attack of frugalness and decided to buy and install a new battery by myself.
The tow truck driver’s parting instructions were to drive to the auto parts store and have the staff check the battery and the alternator. Assuming he was correct and the problem was a dead battery, the shop would sell me a battery and even loan me the tools to do the swap right in their parking lot. How hard could that be? The parts store tested the battery and found it was, indeed, the problem. I purchased a mid-range priced battery and borrowed a monkey wrench from the guy behind the parts counter.
While I was removing the terminals from the old battery, a Honda Civic pulled into the parking spot next to me and an attractive blonde woman in a navy pinstriped suit got out of the car. She said “Hi” to me just as I attempted to yank the dead battery out of my car. To my embarrassment, it didn’t budge. I regarded the battery in a real masculine kind of way, but I was really trying to figure out what was holding the battery down – did the plastic of the battery casing melt onto the platform the battery was sitting on? I yanked again – this time in a rocking fashion — figuring I might peel it off the platform.
A minute of these rocking yanks continued until the woman in the pinstripes came out with an auto parts store employee and the battery-checker cart thing they used on my car earlier. The woman interrupted my rocking telling me I needed a ratchet and a socket to loosen the battery frame. (That’s what it’s called. Thanks, eHow.com!) She gave me a pathetic smile as if I was a pound trash puppy. “Right,” I said back too fast. The auto parts guy, through a chuckle, told me I could borrow the tools inside. I felt like kicking his cart over.
I came back out with a ratchet and a socket set and started feeling around for this nut I was supposed to loosen. Got it! However, I found out I could not loosen the nut because the ratchet handle was too long for the cramped area down between the battery and whatever was next to it. I kept trying though, making all sorts of clanking noises and dropping the ratchet a couple of times. It was the second time I was on my knees feeling around for the ratchet under my car when I heard another ratchet working like crazy. I stood up, still without my ratchet-from-hell, to see Miss Pinstripes ratcheting away. By the time I found mine, got up, and brushed off my knees, she handed me an extension saying, “I think you are going to need this.” The sympathetic look on her face had vanished and was replaced with one that would usually accompany a comment like, “I can’t wait to tell the girls this one,” holding back a laugh. I thanked her for it and proceeded to loosen the battery frame.
Another thing I learned that day, along with the fact that car batteries don’t just float around an engine, tethered by two terminals, is that the bracket is not one solid piece. There are actually three pieces to the assembly, not including the nuts. I also learned that when the piece you never really looked at in the first place loosens and falls off the assembly and drops deep into the bowels of the engine, you not only have a hard time reaching the thingy, but you don’t even know what you are looking for.
As I reached deep into my car’s engine guts, trying to find the mystery part, my face pressed against something very greasy, Miss Pinstripes, in a very small voice, asked for the extension back. By this time, whatever bit of pride left in me was as lost as the thing I was looking for. With my face still pressed against the engine part and my right hand sodomizing the motor, I picked up the ratchet that was resting near the radiator and pointed the ratchet, extension, and socket at her like a pistol. She pulled the extension off the ratchet and the socket off the extension, then proceeded to attach the socket back on to the ratchet. This exchange was done without me letting go of the ratchet handle. In any other setting I would have found this exchange to be almost erotic, but with half of my face in dirty grease and her failed attempt to suppress a giggle, it was anything, but arousing. Miss Pinstripes got in her car and drove off.
At this point, I walked into the auto parts store – my right arm and shoulder coated in dirty grease – and asked the three guys standing around the parts counter if one of them would help me locate the missing part. They all smiled and, as one of the guys walked out with me to the parking lot, I heard the other two whispering something about “Two-Face,” followed by hardy belly laughs.
While the employee and I were fishing around my engine, I told him that I thought Miss Pinstripes made off with their socket extension. Be advised, dear reader, at this point I really didn’t give a damn about the store’s property – I was still embarrassed that a woman, professionally dressed, did a battery swap without a hitch and I was still here. The employee told me she had brought her own extension and then finished by saying, “…some people come prepared for this kind of job.” That hurt, but not as much as asking for the store’s extension to finish the job.
When I finally did finish the job and drove off with a new battery installed in my car, I navigated directly to the closest Jimboy’s, greasy face and all. As I inhaled two el Gordos, an order of taquitos, and a large Diet Coke, I took comfort in knowing that eating is one thing I know how to do well.
What a great story! I’m somewhat lame in the mechanics department as well, but I absolutely refuse to work on a car anywhere but in front of my own house, where no one can tell that what I’m really doing for two hours under the hood is trying to change the headlight.