My Brain Is a Troll

July 23, 2012 at 6:18 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
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“I can do that for you.”
I honestly didn’t even think about it at the time, but afterward I just couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth.
My ex had called asking about the status of child support for the month.  It’s a fair question–sometimes I don’t always have all of it, and she’s pretty good about working with me.  This month I wasn’t going to have “all” of it, in the strictest sense of the word, but in August I would be able to make that up–
“The reason I ask is–”
She explained that her car needs a fuel pump.  Our older son is a mechanic and *could* do the work; however, they’ve had a falling out over ridiculous family stuff.  Typically, a fuel pump is an expensive endeavor.
Well, hell–I had done my fuel pump recently.  Logically, therefore, I am experienced in this kind of thing.
“I can do that for you.”
It was too late; I was in.  We arranged for me to get the car from her second job that night–a Friday–so that I could start on it early Saturday morning.
My question was this:  so the fuel pump isn’t out completely–the car still runs?  Yes, apparently so.  Very rough.  Be careful on the drive home.  The thirty-five mile drive home.
She had already bought the fuel pump (which was four hundred dollars, for crying out loud).  To take it to a shop the total for parts and labor would have been eight hundred.
So I get up early Saturday and I start to work on it.  Okay, not really.  I got up around eight am.  I had intended to get up at six.  I didn’t actually start on it until eleven.
To change a fuel pump in most modern cars, you have to take out the fuel tank.  So, you have to jack the car up and then drop the tank down.  I eventually got the car up on three jack stands:  The back end raised up, and then the front of the side I had access to I raised so I had room to get under the car.  The front left wheel was still on the ground, and I had it blocked.
Okay.  So, to change a fuel pump you have to drop the gas tank, because the fuel pump sits inside the gas tank.  It’s held up by four bolts, but that is typically not the problem.  What *is* the problem is the other stuff connected to it:  the gas lines, the return lines, the wire harness, and so forth.
The fuel-line related crap will be my death, if I’m lucky.
I did dick around quite a bit on this job.  It shouldn’t have taken me this long–maybe my heart wasn’t really in it.  After I agreed to do it on Friday, I made that call to my girlfriend to explain to her what I had agreed to do.  She was cool with it.  I suppose.
But I worked on it and worked on it, and took a break and worked on it some more, and took more breaks.  I’ve skipped over a lot of what I did, partly because it was long and boring, and partly out of embarrassment over my incompetence.  Here it was after 430 and I finally got the fuel tank down and out and completely separated from the car.  By 530 I had the gas tank up on the tailgate of the truck so I could work on it, and had the old fuel pump removed.  After only 6 1/2 hours, I was exactly at the half-way point, and ready to begin re-assembly.  But–but it shouldn’t take as long to put it together as it did to take it apart.  A big part of that was the learning curve:  I was pretty experienced with this now.  What possible curves could I be thrown?
BY eight pm that night, I was ready to call it quits.  I was also ready to set the car on fire and climb inside it.  Why would I do that?  Why, to keep from getting mauled by bears, silly.  Simple logic.
Things had not gone well.
The new fuel pump had gone easily into the gas tank.  The gas tank was close to empty now, having gone through three separate siphoning sessions.  I had five small gas gans with a combined 8 gallons in them.  Now it was ready to go back in.
There are actually three pieces to this:  the gas tank, the heat shield, and the brace.  I don’t understand why they are three separate pieces, except perhaps to make my life more difficult.  I believe everything happens for a reason, and this is the reason for most things.
I have to pry, bend, push, force, twist, and finagle the pieces up into almost-position, going around miscellaneous parts like the exhaust.  Once in almost-position, I got the jack and the plywood to hold the tank while I fastened the bolts.
  “Talk about ‘bolts.'”
Talk about bolts?  Okay.  Four bolts hold the contraption up.  Two of them, toward the front of the vehicle, are easy to get to and don’t cause a problem.  The other two, toward the back, are assholes that mock me with an arrogant smugness that I expect from metric bolts.  Which these are.
They are in a position such that parts of the suspension apparatus blocks a direct path to them.  I can’t go straight to them with a socket and extension.
I did finally find a way with a universal joint–a tool for sockets that swivels about in all directions like a sexually confused screwdriver.  I get the tank attached.  Things are moving along swimmingly.  It’s about 630 now, and all I need to do now is attach all the little wires and hoses and connectors and things.  Easy-peasy.
By 8 pm, I had more than given up.  There is a level past demoralized.  Three steps beyond having the wind taken from your sails.  This was cellular defeat, a resignation on a glandular level.
I mean, how could–how does–why…why is this always my fate?
I started with what expected to be the hardest part, and at least I was right about that.  The other parts were in plain sight, but the tube to the fuel filler and corresponding filler vent line were positioned in a slightly inaccessible area, because why make shit easy?  In relative terms, the fill tube *was* easy, taking only 20 minutes of excrutiating and painful manipulation of a rubber tube onto a plastic circle.
Now for my descent into madness:
I would learn the name of the next part through my research online.  It was the “filler vent line.”  Obviously, the gas filler tube needs to be vented.  Okay, then.  I remember I had disconnected it, but I certainly don’t remember how, although I was certain there was a clip involved.  This right here, this little U-shaped piece of plastic.  It fits in the union somewhere–probably those little holes–and keeps it together.  That makes sense.  I’ve done this before.
Picture this:  You’re laying on your back, looking up.  That’s how ALL of this is.  Straight up there is the gas tank, and the filler tube and the filler vent tube.  They come from the gas tank, to your left, and go to your right and disappear.  What is blocking your view of them is a large and immovable piece of the car’s suspension.  I have no idea what it is, but I named it the “goddamn sonuvabitch.”
There is also a bar, or rod, that runs through there, that I’ve affectionately nicknamed “the other mother-fucker.”
Between the goddamn sonovabitch and the other mother-fucker I had an inch to play with.  An inch in which to stick a finger, which almost an inch thick–and push a clip into a tiny hole.
My fingers are beat to hell right now.  I tried to push the clip in.  I tried to balance it between my fingertips.  I tried a pair of pliers.  I tried another pair of pliers.  I tried these long, skinny tweezers I have.  I really thought those were going to work.
I tried a ball of tape, stuck to the tweezers, to hold the clip in the right position.  Didn’t work.  I took a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil and forged it into a tool to hold the clip at the exact angle I needed, bent to go around the goddamn sonuvabitch and past the other mother-fucker.
None of it worked, until I did the last thing.  That accomplished something.
The clip would occasionally fall out of whatever I had it in, trying to position it at this connector so I could push it in.  It would fall, bounce off of my glasses and then hit the driveway, which I was laying on.  I would pick it up, curse, and try again.  In fact, I was cursing a lot.  I was cursing so much that I had given up on American and had switched to Mother England.
“Bloody ‘ell!  Limey cunt!  Bugger off!”
All of this until the last time it fell.  After the last time it fell, I felt a sense of calm and serenity.  Because, after the last time it fell, I was done for the day.
It was almost 8pm, and starting to get dark.  I had already run the extension cord and the trouble light out to go under the car with me.  The concrete was no longer blisteringly hot, and although I had been protected for the most part by lying on sheets of cardboard, my legs and shins were scraped up and red from traversing the concrete, and the back of my head was tender and sore.  I had no idea if it was sunburn or friction burn, from dragging it on the concrete as I moved about under the car like a large, tempermental salamander.  Without a tail.
And so it was that I was making my last heroic effort to insert this clip into this connector, and it slipped from my grasp and it fell.  It didn’t land on my face.  It disappeared.
I put my hand up between the goddamn sonuvabitch and that other mother-fucker and felt around on top of the goddamn sonuvabitch.  I didn’t feel the clip, but I felt something else.
A hole.  Fuck me.
I crawled out and got out of the way, and then I took the light and looked around on the ground carefully to be sure it hadn’t fallen somewhere else.  No such luck.
The little bitch of a clip fell into a hole in the top of the goddamn sonuvabitch, and there was no way in hell I was going to get it out.  I am done.
I make that call to the ex.  Yeah, she has to work Sunday morning, but she can get a ride.  I promise to get it to her while she is at work.
But, of course, I’ve broken promises to her before…

Sunday morning I wanted to get up very early and start on it.  However, Saturday the thing had beaten me to death physically as well as spiritually, and I wasn’t anxious to climb back into the ring with it.  It was going to be a hot day today, also; Saturday I had been lucky that it topped out at 90 degrees.
I decided to have a look at it in the light first, and then head up to NAPA auto parts.
Now, the difference between auto parts stores may not be obvious to everyone–especially women.  But let me tell you that the difference is as nuanced and as important as the difference between, say, different clothing stores that a man might look at and say, “There’s no difference.”
If you just need some shit for your car, go to Autozone.  Or Advanced, whichever you happen to be pointed in the general direction of.  If they don’t have it at one of those, try O’Reilly’s.
If you need something hard to find, or you need a question answered, go to NAPA.  That’s where I went.
One guy working, and he’s busy.  I look around, then go stand in line.  When he gets to me, I explain what I need.  He takes me to the end of an aisle that I guess I didn’t look at.  I’ll start here, and figure out what I need.  Thanks.
I sat on the floor for about 15 minutes.  I’m working on a Chevy, but what I need looks to be marked Ford.  Plus there are different sizes, and the differences aren’t very big.  If I had the one I lost, I’d know what size I need.
If I had the one I lost, I wouldn’t need one.  Logic is a bitch.
I considered buying a package of all three sizes.  Find the one I need.  Make it work.  Fuckin’ aye.  Or…maybe there’s a better way.  On my way out I said to him, “I’m gonna go look again at what I have–I’ll be back.”
My plan (yes, odd to think that I actually have one, isn’t it?) is to grab the camera and the light, get underneath the car, pull the line back and try to get a good picture of it so I can figure out what kind of clip it takes.  Also, my plan is to undo the bolts holding the tank and let it drop out of the way–maybe I can get my hand up in there between the tank and that other mother-fucker, and find the clip.  At the very least, this room should allow me easier access, and I’ll be able to put the clip in.
So I do all of this–get the jack, undo the tank and lower it, get the camera and the light.  I’m all up in there now, and I can see, and I have room–this is going to work.  The two line pieces are together, but I know they aren’t connected.  I go to pull them apart to see–
They won’t come apart.  Well, wait, now.
I put the camera down, and hang the light.  I have both hands free and try again.  THE MOTHER-FUCKING-GODDAMN SONUVABITCH FUCKING ASSHOLE FUCKING BLOODY CUNT MOTHER OF ASSHOLE BASTARDS is connected.  Without a clip.
I hate epiphanies like this, when they come at my expense.  It’s like Bryan from yesterday morning left, and left the other Bryan to struggle with the shit all by himself.  Then–now–Bryan from Saturday morning shows back up with some coffee, acting all non-chalant, and has to explain to the clueless Bryan what happened.
“Oh, yeah, dude–don’t you remember?  That connector for the–what did you call it?”
“Filler tube vent line.”
“Yeah.  I left before you looked that up.  The connector for that didn’t have a clip.  You don’t remember?”
“No, asshole.  I showed up after you did that.”
“Oh, yeah.  Right.  Yeah, no clip.  You push the line in slightly, and squeeze the outside of the connector, and it slides out.  Easy-peasy.”
“I will rip out your fucking pancreas right now and eat it.”
“Why didn’t you just call me?”
I still wasn’t completely convinced.  After all, I am a liar.  I pulled on the connection again, from both ends.  A little play, as stated by spec, but connected.  “I’ll be Darwin’s adopted sister’s bastard child.”
I started to put it all back together, while pondering this issue:  I had that clip for *some* reason.  It *does* go somewhere.
Although it looked to be easy going the rest of the way, I wasn’t going to get my hopes up for any reason–because both the car and my other self conspire against me.
I got the tank bolted back up.  Again.
It looked to be just a couple of electrical connectors that snap back together, and these two gas lines.  Hey, one has a clip and the other one doesn’t.  Just drill a hole in my ribcage and fuck me in it.  Tendlerly.  Make me feel like a woman.
The connectors look identical, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.  I took the clip out of the one that had a clip.  Now I have something to match it up to.  I went back to NAPA.
When I pull up, there are no customers.  The one guy working by himself is having a smoke outside.  He  starts to put it out.  Pointing to my own smoke, I say, “Hey, you don’t have to rush off on my account.”
While we finished our fags, I gave him the abridged version of my sad story.  “So now I have a clip to match to.”
We look, but we don’t find exactly what we need in the packages.  However, above them are pieces of gas line with connectors, with clips.  They range in price from 16.99 to 24.99.  He said, “I think this is the one you need.”
He takes it up to the counter, opens the package, and pries it out.  It is an exact match.  Wow.
He said, “Here, just take it.  I’ll write this off as a defective return.”
“Really?  God love ya!  Thanks, man!  Thanks!”
I was still too…cautious–or skittish, actually–to get my hopes up for the entire project, but this part was going well.  Back under the car, I put it all back together.  Okay, then.  I pulled all the tools out from under the car…but there was no way in Somalia I was going to put them away just yet.
My girlfriend came out and we did the test–I listened at the gas tank while she turned it over.  Yes, I hear the fuel pump.  Of course, it didn’t start and I didn’t expect it to because all the gas was sitting outside the tank in my gas cans.  I poured the gas back in the tank.
Then I go to start it.  I don’t expect it to start right away because it needs to crank to get fuel back into its system–
It started up before I could finish that thought.  Awesome.
Okay, now I can take it down off the jack stands.  And take a shower.  And then return it.  It was now about 1230.  I had fucked with it for about three hours today, total.  Plus twelve hours yesterday, unless I’m bad at math.  Wait.  Nine hours yesterday.  If I had been smart, I would have been done after 5 hours.
Hell, if I had been smart, I wouldn’t have done the job in the first place, now, would I?
The book says this is a two hour job, maybe three.  That’s being a professional mechanic with all the tools and equipment available.  I’m not a professional.  All I’ve shown is that tenacity is not always a virtue.
I returned the car to my ex, and she was very happy, very grateful.  I guess that’s worth something.  I know I saved her about 400 bucks, and that’s a lot to people like us in days like these, when we live not quite paycheck to paycheck.  I’d rather have her on my side, have her cut me some slack when it comes to child support and so forth.  Maybe earn some respect from the kids for it.  I don’t know.  I don’t know why I did it.  I didn’t really think I was that good of a person–
And I still don’t.


The Day the Van Stood Still

August 7, 2011 at 12:07 PM | Posted in Journal | 3 Comments
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Detroit bought this 1998 Ford Windstar Minivan (3.8L) from my buddy Kearbey, at the same time we bought the Saturn. The Saturn is a different story.
The van has been pretty reliable. It does this odd thing on occasion where it acts like the door is still open, so the interior light will stay on (until you hit 17 mph) and the door chime will go off (EVERYTIME you’re going under 17 mph, like at a stop light, or stop and go traffic) but it doesn’t do this all the time. M–mostly when it’s cold or wet or both.
The alternator went out on it over a year ago, and it was then I had a supreme appreciation for the vehicle: it was phenomenally easy to get to and replace. Front brakes? Been there, done that. Twice. I’m not sure who is harder on the brakes…

Right at the end of June–right when I started my new part time job at the liquor store–I was driving the van to my bank job. When I tried to leave, it wouldna start. Fuck.
I came back later to try a few things. No luck. I called my son Mike, who is a mechanic. He told me something to try that made sense, even though it involved a big-ass hammer. Based on the symptoms I described, he said “Fuel pump.” I cringed, but agreed.
He said the motor in the fuel pump has a weak spot, and it just happened to stop on it. If I hit the bottom of the gas tank with a hammer while someone tries to start it, it could jar it enough to get past that and start working. I might be able to get by and not have to change the fuel pump for a while–it may never stop at that point again.
We tried it, with Detroit at the key and me at the hammer. No luck. Fuck.
Detroit has towing on her insurance, so we had it towed home. However, we waited a week until we got paid, because the way it works is, you pay for the tow and then they reimburse you.
As it turned out, the tow was completely free because the first 20 miles are covered, and it was only 17. So we wasted a week. Fuck.
In the meantime I drove the truck and got rides to work and finagled various things to get rides. We were down to one vehicle.
So I priced fuel pumps. I thought it would be 200 bucks or more, but I found it for 125. Cool. I wish I was certain it was the fuel pump. I was about 95% sure. I tried to get someone to come out and at least hold my hand through it. I gave up, bought the fuel pump, and started the process
Of course, it wasn’t easy. I’m not only not a mechanic, but as it turns out, I don’t play one on TV, either. Plus, if you’ve read the news, the entire Midwest is in the grip of massive heat wave. Between working two jobs and trying to find a cool time to do the work, I was have a hard time. On a Sunday when I had to be at work at 11am, I got up at 530 and worked on it for several hours. I didn’t get it done, but I made progress.
You have to disconnect the fuel tank and drop it down because the fuel pump is inside the tank. Again, fuck.
As I said, I’m no mechanic. But I’m willing to tackle anything. Tenacity isn’t always a virtue. Hell, the simple connectors for the fuel lines had me scratching my head for a while, until I figured it out.
Finally, I get the connectors. That was the hard part. The tank comes down and comes out easily. It’s made of plastic, and there isn’t much gas in it. I get it up on the tailgate of the truck, change the pump, and I’m good to go. I get it back in relatively easily, because although I’m stupid, experience helps and I’ve been here before. I get it all back together, check the hookups, reconnect the battery, give it a crank, and–
It doesn’t start. Fuck.
I try several times, for a few minutes. I’m getting nothing here. It’s cranking, but not getting any gas.
Maybe it wasn’t the fuel pump after all. Fuck. At that point, I was ready to give up. All the wind, she came out of my sails. Combine that with the heat, and I didn’t touch it again for a week.
I called a mechanic guy I know, Pat, who is an old friend of my dad’s. And by old I mean he’s about 75. He told me a few things to try. Okay. I was ready for another attempt. I was going to analyze it carefully, and narrow down the possibilities.
First, let’s see if the fuel pump is working or not. The simplest test is to open the gas cap and listen for it to whir right before the engine cranks. As I recall, that was the one thing that led me to believe it was the fuel pump in the first place. I had Detroit come out and crank it while I listened with the gas cap off.
Sure enough, I heard the fuel pump.
Sure enough, the fucking thing started.
Well, I guess that’s…I don’t know–a victory, maybe? That was Saturday. Of course, I go to test drive it, and the brakes are mushy.
Well, it was low on fluid before, and I had a leak somewhere–I figured it was somewhere in the area where I had changed the front brakes. Maybe something loose. I’ll look it, add some fluid, bleed the brakes–
I added fluid, and was still not getting pressure. I added more, and got nothing. I filled it up. Still no pressure. What’s this? Oh, brake fluid has sprayed all over the underside of the van.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I jacked it back up to investigate. It looked like it was in the steel brake line underneath the fuel tank. Did I damage one putting it back in? It seemed likely.
I decided to write all this down–now, at this point–to help me back up and regroup, and collect my thoughts and gain some perspective. No perspective yet, but I do have one hell of a headache.
We’re not up to the present yet. Sunday, I think it was, I again wake up early and have several hours before I go to work. I drop the tank again, and get at the brake lines. It actually looks like they are rusted or corroded behind the gas tank. It make sense–in the open spaces they can drip dry, but behind the tank, any moisture is going to be retained longer and cause corrosion. So, at least it wasn’t my fault, in the strictest sense of the word. Sunday night I took them out.
Monday night after work, I go to the auto parts store with the lines in hand, looking for replacement. I end up having to piece them together. Each one is over 9ft long. One is about 9 1/2, and the other is over 10. They are short-handed at the auto parts store, so the girl lets me go in back and worry out how to piece them. It’s hot–their air isn’t working–and I don’t quite know what the hell I’m doing even though I think I do.
I get the parts, and the special tool for bending the tubes. By the time I get home, it’s dark.

I decide to take Tuesday off from my day job. I call my boss and leave her a message Monday night, and then call Tuesday morning and talk to her. She’s cool with it. By the time I called–9am–I had been up for four hours working on it. I managed to get one line pieced together, but not the way I intended. There is some slack in the line. WTF? Okay, I’ll just bend that out of the way. That means I have to go back to the parts store for another piece. Fuck.
So then I’m trying to put together the other line, and something isn’t quite right. There are two lines running to the back, one to each side. The junctions for each of them TAKE A DIFFERENT SIZE FITTING. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
My receipts show I made four trips to the auto parts store that day. Although, for the last one, I got money back. Finally, I get it all back together. Looks like nothing left but the bleeding. That was about 10 or 11 in the morning.
Well, one thing led to another, and I didn’t get out there to bleed them until about three. Man, it’s hot. I get things set up, and then Detroit comes out to step on the brakes for me. We do the one on the left, and then it seems fine–it seems tight. We do the other back one just for the hell of it. Just fine.
Well. Maybe–just maybe–since it was all in the back brakes, the front ones don’t need to be bled. I’ll just take it for a ride to see. I start it up and roll back.
There are no brakes whatsoever. I can’t even stop rolling down the driveway.
I put it in neutral, let it roll to a stop. I had to turn the wheel to go into the street, more or less avoiding cars parked on the side. I put it in reverse, and back up a bit, and pop it in neutral. Still going. I feel like sticking my foot out. I pop it into drive, and I go forward. That’s the way I inched myself back into the driveway.
I get out and look under the car. Brake fluid is dripping promiscuously from three or four or seventeen different places.
I decided I would go out there again in a few minutes and do some damage control.

I ate lunch, got more brake fluid, and tackled it again. Either it was cooler, or I was getting used to the heat. I don’t want to become acclimatized to this shit.
I have a routine now. I jack up the back end. Again. I put the jack stands under it. Then I jack up the front left…again. This gives me more room from front to back. Once in a while I think about being crushed under the weight of the vehicle, and I wonder if that’s preferable to the mechanical discomfort I’m feeling. Christ, my head hurts again.
This is the third time I’ve done this part, so by now I’m pretty good at it. I disconnect the lines from the filler, disconnect the gas tank lines, and lower the gas tank just a bit. It looks like it’s just leaking in two spots: One of the connectors at the very front, and one just under the gas tank. Everywhere else seems good. That’s good news and bad news. The good news is, some of it is okay. The bad news is, I can’t just throw in the towel.
By now I’m a little more organized, and I have a plastic tub that has all the tools that I use for this job, which is surprisingly few: Fifteen millimeter socket for the tank straps, a nine for the hoses and also the battery, a small flathead screwdriver for some of the hose connectors, and for the lines themselves, a 13 and a 10.
Those little plastic pieces connecting the fuel lines–I’ve pulled them out and put them back in so many times–shit, one of them broke. It was shaped like a U, now it’s shaped like a J. Fuck.
Well, these are the new ones that came with the fuel filter. Do I still have the old ones? Yes I do. Okay.
From the places brake fluid is leaking, I am able to tighten the connections. Okay, maybe that’s all it was. I push the gas tank just a little (it’s supported by the jack with a piece of plywood on it) and I can get to that connector and tighten it a bit also. Hmmm. Okay. Anything else? Really? That seems to be it. I start to put it back together. The last part is the gas lines.
Oh, remember that plastic piece that broke? I don’t want the other piece to be stuck in there before I put it back together. I tilted the line to have a look–
And gas pours out, onto my face, and into my eye.
Why does good shit never happen in slow motion?
Ouch, this burns a little. In what would be probably my smartest move of the day, I went in the house immediately, limping because of the gas in my eye, and called for Detroit as I went to the kitchen sink and hit the cold water.
When I tell her what happens, she kind of over-reacted. She got the phone book and called poison control.
They said to flush it out with cold water. Check. For 10 to 15 minutes. Uh, check? The best way, they recommended, is to get in the shower and just stand there with the water going in your eye. It doesn’t have to be cold; it could be “comfortable.” How comfortable is water spraying in your eye that has gasoline in it?
The answer is “not very.” But I stood there, and I took it. I felt like I was being water-boarded by some really incompetent foreign agents. Poison control said they would call back in an hour and see how I was doing.
I’m fine, but I still have to go out there and put it back together. And then probably take another shower.
I put it all back together, and it’s now 8pm. In the summer, it’s still light out, but I have about 20 minutes of daylight left. I fill the reservoir, then run the trouble light out and call Detroit out to step on the pedal for me while I look.
The spot up front is still leaking. So is the spot under the edge of the gas tank.
“Okay. That’s good. You can stop.” I roll out from under the van once more, and start to gather my shit up. Detroit looks at me. “It’s still leaking. In two places.”
By the time I come back in the house, I have collected my thoughts and gathered a strategy. “Okay–we have to have the van fixed by Monday.” Monday is when she starts back to work. “I only work at the liquor store Wednesday night and Saturday night. I have Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday day, and all day Sunday. I am not defeated.

Thursday night there was an after-work function. I drank about 4 Margaritas in hour, then went home and fell asleep. Being old sucks. Friday after work I should have worked on it, and I was about to, I swear–
It started to rain. I’ll just wait.
Saturday morning, I gets up bright and early, see, planning to have a productive day beating this bitch down. Let’s analyze this: It’s leaking in two spots. Maybe that union is bad, back there…and maybe this other one is just bat-shit crazy and I should replace it.
Let’s see–which auto parts store have I not shown my face in yet?
Well, it doesn’t matter. In one trip, I stopped seven times at five stores. I learned a lot, but here is a synopsis:
*Engineers that design cars don’t give a flying fuck about the people who may have to work on them. If they tell you anything different, they are lying sons a bitches.
*Forget standard and metric. There is also a difference between Japanese metric and European metric. What’s the difference? Fuck you, that’s the difference.
*Everything on cars since sometime in the 80s is metric, except for when they want to fuck with you. Three-eighths of an inch is just a little bigger than 10 mm. Seven-sixteenths is right between 11 and 12 mm. Ask me how I know that. Go ahead and fucking ask me.
I finally have the last piece I need: a union that is European metric. Okay, then. I get back home and I bend the new lines that I have–
Because I had to buy some new lines because there is also a difference in the kind of connectors. There is flare tip and bubble tip. Whatever kind you have is going to be the wrong one.
–and I put it back together. It seems to go well. I have Detroit come out and step on the brakes while I look for leaks.
Success! Is it? Is it really? At this point all I hoped for was to not be mauled by a bear while I’m under the van.
I don’t have enough time to put it all back together. I have to take a shower and go to work at the liquor store. That was Saturday night, last night. I put everything away, and I’ll put it back together Sunday and drive it. I hope.

Sunday morning, I get up early and piddle around a bit. I’m not anxious to see what the gods of mayhem and automotive repair have planned for me today. By mid-morning, I’m on my back under the van.
Uhm…it looks like a drip or two in two spots. Uh…
I tighten them up at the same time that I ignore them. It ain’t easy, unless you’re me. I put everything else back together–the gas tank that I had lowered a bit and moved out of the way, and other random associated things that are probably important to the functional well-being of the vehicle.
Okay. Ready. Detroit comes out once more, and I bleed the brakes, also keeping an eye on the unions for leakage. So far, so good. The back is done. In between each wheel, I add more brake fluid.
And by the way, just adding brake fluid is a chore. See the first thing I learned about working on cars, above. The reservoir is under the hood, underneath crap, so I can’t pour directly into it. Funnel? No, a funnel won’t work either. I have a strip of metal about 18 inches long bent into a trough. I pour fluid on one end, and it pours into the reservoir like a Roman aqueduct.
I bleed the front. All good. All done. All right.
I’m going to take it for a test drive. I pick up the tools, but optimism is one thing that I’m not prepared for, so I don’t put them away. I lower the car to the ground, then get cleaned up a bit–face, arms, glasses, and the back of my head. I’m ready.
I get behind the wheel and I check behind me for obstacles that I could roll into and cause me to die in fiery crash. Here’s hoping.
I turned the key. Whir-rr.
It won’t start.
Of course, it won’t–it’s sat for about a month, running only twice when I knew I had it “fixed” before. I grab the keys to the truck and jump-start it. Okay. NOW are we ready to go?
Detroit is there to see me off. “You wanna come with?” I asked. No, she does not. She doesn’t want to take any chances and besides, she heartily dislikes when I needlessly end a sentence with a preposition.
I start to back up. I hit the brakes. It stops. Wow. I back up more. I hit the brakes. It stops again. I leave. My mission is to test drive it, put air in one of the tires that is low, and put some gas in it, because gas prices came down in the last couple of days.
I did all of this with no problems. My mission was a success. Not only was gas the cheapest I had seen it in several months–3.27/gallon–but as an added bonus, the check engine light that had been on for almost a year was now off.
It’s the little victories that keep you from going on a shooting spree.

Down And Dirty

December 15, 2009 at 5:30 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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I’ll go ahead and give the ending away–we survived the weekend without water.  But it wasn’t pretty, in more ways than one.
Detroit paid the Intarweb bill, so that’s back on.  The other bills loom large in the background.  I worked Friday night and Saturday night at Imo’s, which I will discuss later.  Friday wasn’t too bad, but Saturday, I really felt like I needed a shave.  And a haircut.  And a shower.  And a nap.
Detroit bought five gallons of water, and over the course of the weekend I filled the jugs up twice.  Once from the neighbor, and once from my sister’s house.  There was stuff I was supposed to do…but no water kept me from doing it because how could I get cleaned up afterward?
Just so you know–yeah, I’ve been peeing in the yard alot.
Plus, the stress and aggravation from having my water hose tied behind my back just put the brakes on any progress on anything I might have done.
Meanwhile, at my sister’s ranch, the high winds from a few nights ago broke window.  It was one that I had been meaning to fix…for about 15 years.  And you know, I had two replacement windows put in the other two bedrooms but not this one.  So, just how bad were the other two that this was the best one of them?  Cause this window has been shitty for a while.
She found a window on Craigslist and went and got it and paid for it herself.  In her mind, this was a triumph of high caliber.  Set the bar low, honey.  Her friend Lou has done windows before, and I haven’t.  So I figured we would do it together.  Actually, I figured I would do it and he would help.  As it turned out, he did it and I helped.  But I learned a new skill, so yay.
Actually, you could break it down into two new skills, because I also learned how to remove an old window.  We got it in, and it fit surprisingly well.  I’m impressed that my sister measured that accurately, and surprised that she was lucky enough to find one. 

It was dark, and we were done.  But I was supposed to do Detroit’s brakes today.  I had even bought the brake pads the day before.  I swore I would do them, even in the dark.  But when push came to darkness, I was ready to compromise.
I said to Detroit, “How about this:  Tomorrow, you take my car, and I’ll stay home in the morning and work on yours, and wait for the water to get turned back on.  Because at the very least, I need to shave before I go to work.  And after working on the car, I’m going to need to shower (more than I do now.)”
She agreed to this plan.  In the morning, she took my car to work.  With the brake pads in the back seat.
She called me later, and said hey, she found–
Yeah, yeah.  I know.  I just got back from buying new ones.
Monday morning was nice–and as I watched the weather–it was going to be the last nice day for a while.  I had to get this done.  But front brakes are not a big deal at all.
“How do you know it’s front brakes?  The noise seemed like it was coming from the back.”
“Because, 90% of the time, it’s the front brakes.”  In fact, even if your back brakes are bad, in most cases you don’t even need to change them.  Let it ride, let it ride.  However, I did check to make sure before I bought the second set of pads.
Jack up the car, take off the tire.  Yep.  Front brakes.
Go to store, get pads.  Actually, go to the second store, because the first store didn’t have them.
I opened the brake reservoir, and took off the caliper.  Uh…the caliper is a little stiff, like my dick.  You need to be able to compress the caliper to get the new pads in.  If you can’t, that means it’s locked up and that means you need to replace it.  I squeezed and squeezed with the big channel locks.  No go.  Let’s think outside the caliper…
I took the caliper completely off, and put it in a vise, and turned.  And kept turning.  Eventually, whatever was frozen broke open, and the caliper opened up.  Go me.  I finished that side, and moved on to the next.  Same problem with the caliper.  Fuck.  This time, it would not squeeze open in the vise.  I went back to Auto Zone, who again did not have it, and the guy was nice enough to call Advanced Auto.
You know, I had a whole story to tell about these two places, but I don’t really care.  The guy at Advanced must have been a manager.  He tried to sell me 31 dollar brake pads when I wanted the 14 dollar ones.  He said the cheaper ones squeak.  Well, asshole, that’s why Auto Zone sells the one dollar packet of grease for the back of the pads.  I said to him, “What, are you some kind of salesman?  I never pay more than 20 bucks for pads.  Never.”
I’m sure he feels that it’s his job to increase sales.  And to do that, he wants to squeeze every dime out of the customer that he can.  My philosophy is that I want to come back to a place that doesn’t try to squeeze me every time I walk through the door.  When I came back to them for the caliper, I picked up the brake lube as well.  “You should have just come here in the first place,” he said, trying to be charming.  That shit was not working on me.
I replaced the caliper, and had Brandon help me bleed the brakes.  Good to go.  I put it all back together, I put the tools away, and I pour out the little bowl I used to catch the brake fluid.  In the bottom was two little washers.  Fuck.  You’re not supposed to have parts left over.
Fuck, fuck.
It was noon, and still no water.  I don’t think I’m going to work today.  I called in and explained–but not about the parts left out, because I wanted to retain some dignity–and said I would work some longer days so I don’t have to take as much PTO.  They were cool.
Back to the van.  I figured out where the washers went–between the brake line and the caliper.  Off they came again.  The first one I took the tire off to get to, but when I put it back on, I thought, *Hey!  Maybe I can do this without taking the tire off!*  And I could.  And so I did.  I turned the wheel all the way to the left and got access.  Not a big deal.  I had to bleed the lines *again.*
And add fluid again.  Not a big deal, except the master cylinder was under the cowl and venting, instead of the hood area.  I could get to it, but there wasn’t enough room over it to tip back a cold one and pour it in.  I needed a funnel, a tube, and…a bungee cord.
I looked all over the garage.  I thought I had every freakin conceivable tool, but not a damn tube.  What I did find to use borders on genius.  A long, flat piece of sheet metal, bent to an angle, an “L” shape.  I had a trough.
I poured the brake fluid down the trough and into the reservoir.  Perfect.  Damn, I’m good.  When I remember all the pieces.

I took a break when I was done, and whilst I was chillin on the couch, the water man cometh.  It took him about three minutes, two and a half of which he spent in his van, filling out a form.  He got out, used a weird tool to open the thing by the street, then used this other long thing to reach into it and turn the water on.  He yelled up to me, “You should have water now.  Go check.”
I did.  We did.  I came back out.  “Thank you!”  He waved and left.  Three fucking minutes.  Three goddamn minutes.  They couldn’t have a guy come out Friday for three minutes?  I don’t give a shit what their fucking excuses are, it’s fucking bullshit.
I used the shower first.  Now, I feel pretty.  oh, so pretty.

Ground Hog’s Day

August 22, 2006 at 4:02 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | 1 Comment
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  You would have had to have seen the movie “Ground Hog’s Day” to get this joke:
I’ve seen the movie “Ground Hog’s Day” only once, but it feels like I’ve seen it hundreds of times. . .
As I sat and watched my car burn to the fucking ground on that brisk February morn, I thought back to the events that led to this day.  If  everything happens for a reason, I was at a complete loss for the reason for this shit.  Irony?It was July, 1993.  Here in the Midwest, it was the year of the flood.  Lots of things happened, and remind me to come back to this and talk about how I ended up in the hospital after being bitten by a cat.  Anyway, *after* I had been bitten but *before* I ended up in the hospital, me and the wife and two other managers from Domino’s and their wives went on a float trip.  I guess I’ll talk about that in the hospital story.
We got back from the float trip on a Monday, and the next day the wife goes to work in the Celebrity, leaving behind the Cutlass Cierra.  I drive the Celebrity, unless the Cutlass won’t start, in which case the wife drives it, and leaves me to fend for myself.  This is only fair, she reasons, since she has the vagina and is in charge of the distribution of sex.  The Cutlass had a problem which was later found to be a bad wire going to the ECM–electronic control module–the “brain.”  It was sometimes just would not start.  No amount of coaxing, fingering, licking, sucking, buying it dinner or expensive jewelry would get it to go.  Let it sit for minutes, or hours, or days, and it would start.  It was a miracle the guy who fixed it found the problem, but that was later.
So, this morning when she had left for work, it wouldn’t start, so she took the Celebrity.  Yet later, oddly enough, it did.  I was off that day, and it was hot, so I stayed in the house in the AC.  They come home (wife and daughter, they worked together), and daughter says to me as I stand on the front porch, “Where’s the car?”  She seemed surprised that I was home.
I laughed and pointed at the neighbors bushes, around which I could not see.  But I had parked it there, and there it sat.  I thought.

  Melissa says, “Yeah, very funny.  Where’s the car?”  I walk out into the hot afternoon sun to view around the bushes and see the spot where the car had been but was no longer.  A tell-tale pile of broken glass lay in the street.
Moth.  Er.  Fuck.  Er… .Shit.
The car had been stolen.  In broad daylight, no less, because they had left at seven AM.  I called the Jennings police (we lived in Jennings–look up “hood” in the dictionary) and they would send someone right out, since it was daylight.  We filled out a report, and the police officer very politely told us that there was no way in hell we were going to get any help on this.  Not really, but he might as well have said it.
  After that I ended up in the hospital because of the cat bite, and we were having problems with the phone.  When I got out of the hospital, I had to rewire the junction box in the basement for the phone service coming in.  But what it meant was we had intermittent to non-existant phone service for a while.
The wife would call the police station every day, using all the charms available to her (???), and inquire about the car.  It was paid for, and we were poor, so we only had liability on it.  We kind of needed to get it back.  Jennings police were award-winningly unhelpful.  They continued to dismiss what she said, and said they would call if they found out something.  Have we called you yet?  Then don’t call us.
That’s what we are trying to explain to you, you can’t call us; the phone is out.
Oh–Oh, okay.  We understand now.  If we hear something, we’ll call you.
We knew we needed another car, and began looking.
In September, or maybe October, I get a call from a towing company in Maplewood.  The guy says, “Hey, yo, I got dis car a yers, ya know?  I had da ting for tree friggin mundts.  So, youse gonna come an get it, or what?”
I said, “What?”
He starts to repeat himself.  I say, “Whoa, there, duder.  You’ve had my car all this time?”
I have to go to the Maplewood police station, show them proof of ownership, get the release, and take it to the tow yard.  The car has accrued 25 bucks per day for three or four months for storage, plus the 58 for the tow.  He’ll let me have the car for a hundred clams.  Okay, then.
But when I get to the Maplewood police station, the cop shows me the report, which I read carefully.  Stolen car recovered in Maplewood.  Reported stolen in Jennings.
Maplewood contacts Jennings, says we have recoved this vehicle, do you want to process it?
Jennings police said no.
Oh, it gets better than that.  It was recovered the SAME GODDAMN DAY IT WAS STOLEN!
The only good thing to come out of this was that since we only had liability, there was nothing to pay back to the insurance company for getting the car back.  So there we are with three cars.  As a bonus, the Cutlass will start without a key.  We get the Cierra fixed, we get an alarm on it, get a new steering column AND a steering column collar–kind of an after-market afterthought on GM’s part, where they realized there might be a problem if a 9 year old can hot wire their cars–and a new window.
This was early December by the time it was fixed.  By January 2nd, I had a window broken out of the car two more times, in addition to a window broken out of my daughter’s boyfriend’s car.  It was time to move, and we did, and that is another story as well.  We moved to Florissant, a decidedly better neighborhood.  In the meantime, I was driving the Cutlass Cierra, and we found someone to fix the intermittent starting.  The wife drove the new Cutlass Supreme, and we gave the Celebrity to our son Michael.  So–this was 94?  Yeah.
Christmas of 94, I got a stereo for my car for Christmas, a present from the wife.  I had it installed in the middle of January.  The car had a different problem now, where it would occasionally run funny.  I wasn’t really sure what the problem was.  It would barely run, like it needed a tune-up, and then all of the sudden it would kick in, and just run like normal.  It didn’t do it very often.  Someone told me that it might be related to some sensor or other equipment on the exhaust manifold.
The car ran funny once in a while, but who cares?  I had a bitchen new stereo!
On February second I was taking my son to school–kindergarten.  Wow.  It doesn’t seem that long ago. . .I could shine my car with all the nostalgia I wax.  Anyway, I start the car up, and once again it is running really rough, really bad.  But it is only a few blocks to school, so  I figure I can get him there and get back, and then look at it.  And this time I mean it.  Ever so slowly, it gets down the road.  It might be making some noise, but I have the stereo on, with one of my favorite discs in the CD player:  Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense.  Kind of an Anthem for me, if anything.
“Some things–sure can–sweep me off my feet!
“Burnin down the house!
“Here’s your ticket, pack your bags, time for jumpin overboard–”
I drop my little boy off at school, and then I leave.  The school is in the back of a small grouping of houses, too small to be called a subdivision.  The street we were on was a direct line from the main drag to the school, with a few short streets off of it.  I stop at the light, and the car dies.
I try to restart it.  No go, but I am hopeful that the smoke is a good sign.
Other cars pull around me, conveniently not making eye contact as they rush around me, leaving me stranded like a guy on a camel in the middle of the desert in a bad joke.
I let the car roll backwards and turn it onto the side street.  Meanwhile, more smoke rolls out from under the hood.  I turn the key off, which turns the stereo off as well.
“Buring down the house!–”
Thinking quickly–yeah, honestly, I was–I knocked on several doors.  No one home, no one home, no one home–
One lady answers the door.  “Excuse me, I was wondering if you might have a fire extinguisher I could borrow?”
Around me she peers cautiously at the smoke, now billowing out from under the hood like a Kansas City Barbeque.  “Uh–why don’t I call the fire department?”
Well, okay.  I mean, if you think it’s a good idea.  It seems a bit drastic to me.  Are sure I just can’t have a cup of water or something to throw on it?  She looks at me, then looks at the car behind me in the background barely visible in the cloud of smoke.  She disappears quickly into the house.
Soon, it’s a party.  A county cop stops by, and I inform him that I am the proud owner, and that the fire department is on the way.  He gets my information, and I thought I was going to get a ticket for having an unauthorized bonfire.  Meanwhile the fire department comes along and douses it with a variety of chemicals and so forth.  People gather in the street to watch my one-car stationary parade.  I throw some candy to the spectators.  A hotdog vendor from the streets of Manhatten arrives, obviously lost.  The mime may have been a bit much.
The cop takes me home, and I arrange for a tow truck to tow it home.  Why?  Didn’t I just have it towed away?  These are the questions my regular tow truck driver asks me.  Yeah, some people have regular doctors, or a lawyer on retainer.  I have a tow
truck driver.
The stereo was fried.  My expensive JVC stereo with all the bells and whistles was toast.  It looked fine, but the heat got to it.  There were smoke marks on it, and it would power up but that’s about it.  My CD ejected, and the last four tracks wouldn’t play.
I had a long go-around with both Best Buy and the credit card company.  Warranty-wise, I was screwed.  The credit card company would cover it, except it was an auto accessory.  Best Buy would have covered it, except for the fire, so they took turns
dropping me on my head.And this–this is why I believe in balance in the universe.  There is only so much happiness I am allowed to have.  New stereo?  No, you can’t have it.  Not for long, anyway.  And so many things in my life have been like that.  If I fix one thing, another thing breaks.  If I don’t fix it, things stay the same, balanced, pivoting me on a spike between moderate happiness and moderate frustration.  I’m not being superstitious–I have tracked this conspiracy against me.  I know.  *I know!*  Things go my way just enough to keep me from going postal, and they go the opposite way just enough to keep me from…what?  Keep me from what?
Complete bliss?  Complete happiness?  Complete heaven?  I can have some, but obstacles must be thrown in my way first.
And it scares me.  What must I lose, to gain happiness?  What next will be taken from my grasp?
The image plays over and over again, in my mind.  My car, burning to the ground, because I sought a small amount of joy.

I kept the burned up car in the driveway for over a year–a trophy, a cautionary tale–until the city made me get rid it.

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