driving in the dark


One of my favorite little sight gags in movies is from Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH. There's a scene where a hotel is hosting a village idiots convention and across the front of the hotel is a sign that reads "Welcome Idiots". It's a joke that kills me every time I think of it, but it's not so funny right now because after what happened about an hour ago that sign would pertain to me.

I've always been proud of my ability to understand most stuff. Sure, I got lost when we went beyond calculus in high school, but I was smart enough to know I wasn't going to use it, and since lifetimes are finite things, I knew my hours were better spent on establishing relationships with humans rather than numbers. There's always been a satisfying practical base to my behavior and my sense of the big picture has long been in living color. In emergencies my head is cool, my actions deliberate. For occasions that would usually cause panic, I keep a phrase from my flying days in the back of my mind -- "First and foremost - fly the airplane."

I drive a car as if I were flying an airplane. Smooth steady maneuvers. Thinking ahead. Safety. This is why when something like a headlight goes out on my wife's car I like to fix it immediately. Even though it's a car with fog lights that could substitute for the missing lamp, the prudent course of action is replacement of the bulb.

Since my wife will be out late on business tomorrow night, tonight was clearly the target schedule for the fix. I even had a brand new halogen bulb hanging above the workbench in the garage, ready to pop right in. In true Squadron Leader fashion, I was prepared.

Curling a Snakelight around my neck for perfect spot illumination, I opened the hood of her car, and went to it. The right headlight is just ahead of the air filter, leaving little room to work around the socket holding the bulb. As I struggled to remove the old bulb, I cursed the Japanese manufacturer who apparently believed the car would be worked on only by small men with tiny hands. For twenty minutes I twisted and turned and fiddled with the little bastard to no avail. Then I did something I hardly ever do -- I asked my wife for help.

She was only too happy to assist me.

Viv has always enjoyed mechanical puzzles, and since her hands are smaller than mine, she was the prime candidate for the task. What the team was giving up in strength it was gaining in access. She assessed the architecture of the situation, went in and fiddled for a while and decided it was time to call Mike, the mechanic who lives across the street.

Having followed the directions on the light bulb package, I knew this was yet another example of the Secret Conspiracy among automobile manufacturers which allows car owners to progress only so far in auto repairs, then leave them stranded mid-fix, physically spent and emotionally exhausted, and desperate for Mr Goodwrench.

Viv put in the call.

A couple of minutes later He emerged from the darkness, strode up the driveway, and assured us that this was a simple fix. He dove in. His hands, weathered, calloused, played wires and socket with virtuosity. Strength and wisdom combined and sooner than you could say 'Steve you feeble klutz', the new bulb was in.

Now it was time to see if it worked. These little halogen numbers can be tricky, you know. The say don't touch 'em with your fingers because it will leave oils on the glass making it superhot and ruining the bulb. But I was careful. And that reassuring click of the mechanism locking into place filled me with confidence that once again my wife would drive safely through the treacherous dark.

Mike went around to the driver's side and twisted the headlight knob. Floop. It shone with brilliance. The replacement was a success.

But... um... there's... just one problem...

We'd been working on the wrong headlight.

There are moments when it seems like within a fraction of a second my entire being shrinks to a tiny stupid blop or blip or bleep, a miniscule splink of a man so mind-bogglingly dumb that the only sound that can be heard is that of jaws flopping onto the ground all around me. In this instant I achieved supreme blockheadedness. This was bigtime dumb, snot-throwing stupid.

"Oops." I said.

"What'd we do, replace the wrong one?"


It's times like these that convince me that I married better than my wife did.

We set about making the correct repair, all the while keeping a close eye on stupid-boy to make sure he didn't feel so bad about himself that he'd try right then and there to slit his wrists with, oh, say a basketball.

Mike was nice about my being a moron, assuring me that no one really likes a perfect person, and that he'd be kind when telling the rest of the neighborhood about it.


Today's Music:

"Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" -- Joe Pass -- PORTRAITS OF DUKE ELLINGTON


Wisdom of the Day:

... the earlobe to earlobe grin has been completely reborn."

-- BMW print ad