The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WHAT EXACTLY IS AGLEY, ANYWAY?: The best-laid plans of mice and men, Robert Burns once wrote, gang aft agley. For those of you unfamiliar with Burns, this famous line from Burns’ ‘To a mouse’ is, when you come right down to it, simply Murphy’s Law in Ayrshire dialect, Mr. Murphy not yet having promulgated his famous law at the time Burns wrote the poem. Murphy was a young man then, brimming over with enthusiasm, as young men are wont to be, and confident that there was no problem so great that it couldn’t be made even greater with the injudicious use of pesticides, peanut butter, and onomatopoeia, a belief that has been the basis of more than one successful career in the civil service. It wasn’t until much later, when time and life and popular mechanics wore the poor man down to a stump of his former self, that Mr. Murphy came to his singular contribution to existential philosophy. Having the IRS audit his income tax returns for the past 34 years did nothing to improve his attitude and I am sure it was the rare day when Mr. Murphy did not wonder privately why he’d ever bothered leaving Ireland.

Now you are, no doubt, wondering what all of this has to do with the price of tea in China, and the answer is nothing, really, I am just spouting off as usual, but the thing of it is that I had a whole bunch of ideas lined up to go for posts and I have not gotten to any of them due to a sudden spike in the aggravation index. The aggravation index, for those of you interested in statistical conundrums, is a method of determining just how irritated you are at any given time. It is a ten point scale, with 0 representing a state of complete harmony, a point of near-karmic bliss and love of one’s fellow human beings, and 10 representing the point at which you have decided to take a chain saw to that rotten little kid who’s been whining and crying and in general annoying you all day about one thing or another until you can’t take it anymore. I usually average about a 1.5 to 2.3 on the scale; any lower than that and I wouldn’t have anything to write about here and any higher I wouldn’t want to write about it; the memories would be too painful. So, Tuesday night I go to my local Barnes & Noble superstore and waste an hour looking at books I have no intention of buying, and then I walked over to the supermarket to get the gallon of milk and the razor blades I actually left the house to buy. I come back, put the milk and razor blades in the trunk, get in the car, and turn the key in the ignition…and then, suddenly…BOOM!

Having now piqued your interest in such a crude literary sound effect, I should point out that there wasn’t any boom. There wasn’t any bust, either; there wasn’t anything. The battery, an original member of the Ford Taurus team that has spent the past six years keeping me on the road, had died. You may not consider this much of a problem, but I loaned my jumper cables to my mother’s next-door neighbor four years ago and I still haven’t gotten them back from him yet. Faced with the problem of staying all night in a parking lot, which is not as bad a fate as it might sound, but it was one I always prefer to miss out on; you never know who you are going to meet in parking lots—you come upon all sorts of known miscreants like robbers and thieves and life insurance salesmen in bookstore parking lots, all of whom I would rather not meet in the course of a day, if I can help it. Therefore, I immediately went through the number of people I knew I could rely on to pull me out of my predicament and finding them all a bit wanting, I called my mother, as any good boy should, hoping against hope she could rouse the neighbor to bring the cables and a car to help me out.

But alas and alack, and just how many of life’s little troubles get blown completely out of proportion by the lack of a lass is a scientific problem that does not get the attention that it should, the mother had gone to bed and now I had to listen to myself telling myself to leave a message after the tone and Mom would get back to me as soon as she could. This, I knew, would be sometime the following afternoon, an unappealing prospect, to say the least. So I hung up on myself, which an odd sensation, really; most people love the sound of their own voices—there is an expensive asylum for those who have this problem to a truly manic degree in Washington, D.C.—and here I am swearing at the voice on the other end of the line in the same voice that was telling me to leave a message after the tone. My circumstances decreed, however, that I not spend a lot of time thinking about the strangeness of confronting one’s own electronic Doppelganger; I was no further along than when I called home and the store would be closing shortly. I then called my brother, hoping against hope that he would be home instead of out with his girl friend that he won’t bring home to meet our mother, in and of itself not a good sign, but that is just my opinion, you understand; I could be wrong about her.

The brother was in fact home, and he was in full possession of his jumper cables, and what’s more, he would be more than happy to drive the twenty miles or so to Barnes & Noble at 10:30 at night after a long and mostly frustrating day at work and help me out of my jam. At least this is the sense I got once I picked out the assorted profanities, blasphemies, and scatological references from his answer. Be that as it may, however, he would come and help. So it was just a matter of waiting for him to arrive, which time I spent holding color slides up in front of the Barnes & Noble sign, said sign making an excellent light table, especially the capital B and the small E in Noble; the ampersand was not as good as I thought it would be, but then it’s not a real letter, is it?

At length the brother arrived, jumper cables in hand, and he hooked his operational battery to my utterly diseased one. The resultant jump, however, did nothing for my car and he gave it another blast. This time the battery responded with an anemic buzzing noise before fading away. The brother, now perturbed by my battery’s refusal to charge, gave it another jolt, this time revving his motor and calling my battery names that I shudder to repeat in mixed company. This time the battery responded with a half-hearted rev and a vroom, and the engine turned over and all was right with the world…except that it wasn’t.

Halfway home, with the brother following close behind me, I began to get numerous warning lights flashing on my dashboard, and I do mean numerous. Lights I didn’t know I had were flashing like Christmas trees. I correctly surmised, given the signals that something was wrong with my car; you’d have to catch me pretty early in the morning for me not to pick up on this fact. I pulled into the local Indian-owned gas station, a cheery place offering gasoline, newspapers, junk food, and pornography for the weary traveler, and pulled up to a pump, whereupon the battery once again pooped out. The brother, himself pooped out from lack of sleep, screamed at my car, and then we did the whole jumper cable thing again. This time I’d have to settle for the anemic buzz; I’d have to drive home in this thing taking the shortest route I could think of, which is what I did.

I should point out to the motoring public that the power in power brakes means electric power, and although my brother explained to me that the electricity that powers all such automotive functions comes from something called the alternator, the battery plays an important role in this process as well. I learned this as I drove the shortest route home, which involves going down a very steep hill in a car where the high beams became the very low beams, multiple warning lights popped on just for the fun of it, and my car, which usually is a warm and caring piece of machinery that wants to save the whales, voted for John Kerry, and gives regularly to charitable causes, became a tormenting devil out to see just how high my blood pressure could go in ten seconds. There is nothing quite like the dawning horror that comes when you start going down a very steep and winding hill in a car with limited braking and steering power and you realize that at this juncture, it’s too late to rethink this situation, you can’t get out of the car. You’re going along for the ride, bubba, whether you change your mind or not, and pumping your brake like you were keeping time to Jimmy Sturr’s polka band ain’t gonna help.

I wish to report, however, that I did make it home with no visible bumps, bruises, or other abrasions. My brother did want to know what the hell I thought I was doing going all over the road and flying down the hill at that speed. I told him that I was sort of curious as to whether or not I would survive the ride and I wanted to make it interesting. This is the sort of thing I say when I am no longer in danger of wrapping my brains around a tree. When I am in danger of wrapping my brains around a tree I am usually screaming for my mother. It’s not dignified, but at times like that I am usually not spending a lot of time worrying about my damn dignity.


  • At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Neil said…

    This post was the closest you've come to an action movie. What happened with the car? Or is that the sequel?


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