Tuesday, May 30, 2006

dirty adventures in fear (or large man under a car)

tonight i tried to do something i am not good at but for some reason i feel like i am supposed to be. i tried to fix my car.

now, my dad raised me to be comfortable under a motor vehicle and my brother and i spent many a day on the wet ground watching my dad fix something or other under one of our family cars. we had the buick station wagon, the gmc jimmy (which was my first car and even the mention of it brings back fond memories of reckless driving and spinning donuts on the beach), and my personal favorite, the 12 passenger ford econoline van. we spent the most time under the van, which always seem to run fine when you drove it, but somehow my dad was able to communicate with the van in a secret language that only he knew and would announce on flawless saturday mornings that my brother and i were going to help him drop the fuel tank...again. we would groan, he would threaten, and eventually we would all end up on our backs staring up at the vast complexity that is the underside of an automobile.

my dad is a good mechanic and my younger brother nick has inherited this gift. while i am not completely inept (i can work wonders on the printers at the office), i generally take my cars to get then worked on because i always end up calling my dad or my brother to come help me.

now, working under a van is not very cramped. it is like one of those 8 room tents you can buy at costco: even i can stand up underneath them. working under a van (i'm talking about a real van, the kind homeschoolers and polygamists drive, not one of those sissy minivans) is almost comfortable, especially if you are my dad. the men in my family are large, so we need a good amount of space to work with, preferrably cars with "you must be this tall to ride this ride" signs next to them on the car lot. i broke this rule when i got married and tonight the wisdom of my father once again shone bright.

well, i should back up a minute. i wasn't actually trying to work on a car i purchased, i was trying to work on a car i inherited when i got married. this particular gem is a 1997 dodge intrepid, white in color, and forever immortalized in the words of my grandmother as "a sporty car." well, about 2 weeks ago this sporty car decided not to start one day and had intermittently not started ever since. in that time i have casually asked friends to come check out my car problem and the consensus has been that i needed a new fuel filter. no problem, i say with a casual smile, while underneath my suave demeanor a sweat of van-like proportions begins to form on my inner forehead. a new fuel filter.

since i have gotten married i have felt more compelled to act manlike and take ownership of my lawn, my cars, and my trash cans. so far the jury is still out, but i think i am doing ok. so when this challenge arose, i decided that i would give it a decent go. today i picked up a fuel filter after work and then picked up a special tool for replacing fuel filters from my friend and former roomate dave. i got home, put on my man clothes and went out to prove my manhood below the intrepid.

as i was preparing to jack the car up with the tire jack, i wondered if my neighbor across the street was watching me. this neighbor seems to be the type of guy who could assemble an engine in about 15 minutes and casually uses words like "differential" and "axle." before i even began i was already worried about what the other guys were thinking about me. this tranlates in my life to many things: when i swing a bat, talk about my job, or mention my house projects. this insecurity leads me to think that if only i could swing a hammer better i would be that much more of a man. i counter with the argument (that i am having with myself) that i am providing for my family, making wise financial decisions and succeeding at my job. but tonight those arguments fade as i approach my crippled car, fuel filter in hand.

i successfully jack up the car to accomodate my body and immediately the memories of working with my dad spring to mind. while i never was that happy about working under the car, i don't remember feeling fear. as i pressed my face to the gravel of driveway and slid my bod underneath the frame of the car, a horrible thought possesses my brain: what will i do if the jack fails? the answer is "nothing." i would be able to do nothing but have my face crushed by this car that so ominously rests above me. and all of sudden i get dizzy and the pit of my stomach is seized with an urge to vomit the dinner i have not yet eaten.

i hastily squirmed my way out from under this hulking murder machine and gathered myself quickly. no big deal, be a man. and really, i wanted to do this. i wanted to walk inside the house and tell my wife that i was all done and the car was fine. i wanted to succeed and tell this story to my grandchildren one day and see their eyes light up. i became uncharacteristically stubborn and shoved my way back under the car and began my task. i was immediately dizzy and the sweat began to pour from every place on me while i clenched my teeth and fought with the foreign terrain.

in the end, i didn't fix it. i gave up when i tugged on the same hose for ten minutes and nothing happened. but when i came out from that cave of metal and dust, it wasn't because i was afraid or because i was stupid. it's because i made a decision to ask for help doing something that will probably baffle me until there are no more cars.

so tomorrow night my father will come to my house, we will jack up the car together and he will get the job done. he's no pro, so there will be grunting and an occasional outburst of angry language, but in the end he'll show me how it's done. and i'll sit on the ground and wonder why i never got this gift, this ability to make cars work the right way. i'm not sad or angry about it, just curious.



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