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Of lugs and laughs

“I’m returning the rental car now,” my brother said. “So I need you to bring me back.”

“OK,” I said, trying to sound neutral.

This conversation took place last week in Vienna – Virginia, not Austria. My extended family was there for my great-niece’s Bas Mitzvah, which is how I got tapped for chauffeur duty, something I wasn’t the least pleased about.

The issue wasn’t driving, per se, but where I’d be driving.

Vienna, Va. is in the middle of the nightmare we call the Megalopolis – the uninterrupted urban sprawl that runs from Portland to Richmond, if not beyond. The thought of driving in that morass frightens me; actually doing it, gives me the Screaming Abdabs. But with blood being thicker than water and all, I had no choice.

“So which car is the best to drive?” I asked.

“The rental,” he said. “It’s new and was completely inspected. Nothing can go wrong with it.”

My brother is a retired pathologist, a profession he enjoyed and was skilled at. But based on his last comment, it’s a good thing he never pursued a career as a psychic.

At the car, he handed me his phone.

“Whatta I need this for?” I said. “I got my own phone.”

“This has the whole route on its GPS. If we get separated, it’ll tell you how to get to the rental place.”

I got in the car, put his phone in the console, adjusted the seat and started the engine. Then I cranked the AC up to the max. Aside from the weather being hotter than the hubs of hell, I was sweating bullets just thinking about driving in city traffic.

“Why me, Lord?” I asked, before I put the car in gear.

Either he didn’t want to answer, didn’t know the answer, or didn’t hear the question. Then again, with the sad shape of my hearing, He may well have answered, just not loudly enough.

Busted flat

My brother took off and I followed him.

In less than a mile we were out of my niece’s neighborhood and on a three-lane highway. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected; in fact, it wasn’t bad at all. The traffic moved steadily, slowly, and sanely. I started to relax.

Several miles passed with all systems go, when suddenly the tire pressure light on the dashboard came on.

I didn’t worry because I know that light can come on when the pressure’s only a couple of pounds low. And I still didn’t worry when it stayed on. But when I started to feel a vibration in the steering wheel, I started to worry. And when the vibration increased and I heard “thump thump thump” from one of the front wheels, I not only worried, I broke out in a sweat — a cold sweat. And it wasn’t due to the AC.

Since I was boxed in the traffic, I did the only thing I could, which was go with the flow. Meanwhile, I was looking all over hell’s half acre for a gas station.

There were fast food joints, box stores, a pawn shop, a medical building, a furniture store and — Voila! — a gas station.

I wheeled in, saw an air pump, and pulled up to it.

A sign on it was the city equivalent of “Welcome.” It said, “$1.50 for three minutes.” The free air in Hyde’s and Stewart’s felt as far away as Alpha Centauri.

I dropped in the quarters and started filling the tire. It rose slowly, music to my ears. Unfortunately, there was another kind of music — the music of bad karma and evil juju. It was a loud hiss coming from a pencil-size hole on the top of the tire. Clearly, it was curtains for the tire, which left me with one option — putting on the spare.

I called my bro to tell him what was going on, but he didn’t answer. Nor could he, since his cell was in my car.

Ain’t but a thing, I thought. Over the past half-century I’ve changed dozens of tires, almost all of them on old clunkers with wheel lugs rusted on by good ole ADK road salt. But this was Virginia. No rust, so no problemo.

I took out the tools and spare and as I hoped, it all went swimmingly. The car was jacked up, the old tire was off, the spare was about to be put on. Then I did what I’ve always done — I put the lugs into the holes in the rim. Or at least I tried to, because those suckers would not go in.

Finally, I figured the spare had holes smaller than the first tire. The rental company had put the wrong spare in the trunk. Now, even though I was surrounded by asphalt, I was up the creek … without a paddle.

Life in the

metaphysical lane

I’m not much of a believer in Things Metaphysical. You name it, I don’t believe in it. Tarot, pendulums, pyramid power, crystals, psychics, astrologers … But desperate straits call for desperate measures. So I did only thing I could — I tried to channel the psyche of my genius mechanic, Vern Friend.

I assumed a lotus position, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply and slowly, in and out, breath after breath, over and over and over …

Even though it was the middle of the day, with the sun beating on me like a blazing hammer, I lost track of time, space, temperature. It was as if I had ceased to exist as a physical entity and instead was something non-corporeal — an aura, a vibration, a metaphysical mote.

Then, my eyes still closed, something started to appear. It was taller than wide, of a dark green hue. Next, slowly, it assumed the form of a person — a person in green work clothes, with a gimme cap, a brass VW belt buckle and a slight crooked smile.

“Vern!” I cried. “Am I glad you’re here!”

“I figured,” he said. “So what’d you screw up this time?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Someone else screwed up.”

“That’s a nice change,” he said. “So what is it?”

After I explained my lug nut dilemma, he just stood there, slowly shaking his head.

“You drug me all the way down here for that?” he said.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” I said.

In his trademark gesture of dealing with people too dumb for words, he took off his cap and ran his hand over his hair. After he replaced his cap, he spoke.

“The lugs are fine,” he said. “Just is, you’re used to lugs with male threads. These have female threads. The male threads are on the wheels.”

“OK,” I said. “Now what?”

“Now you figure out how to mount the tire and I go back to Tupper,” he said. “You know I hate hot weather.”

Then he was gone and I was back in the gas station lot, sweatin’ my tuchis off.

It didn’t take me long to figure out how to mount the spare, and after the tools were in the trunk, I was on my way.

My brother was waiting in the car rental lot, a scowl on his face.

“What the hell took you so long?” he said. “You decide to climb the Washington Monument?”

Though he generally doesn’t think the worst of people, he almost always makes an exception in my case. But once I explained what’d happened, he was mollified.

“Since you’re the most mechanically inept person I know,” he said, “There’s only one way you could’ve figured that out,

“Oh?” I said. “How?”

“The way you always do,” he said. “You phoned Vern.”

“Actually,” I said, “I didn’t.”

“Really?” he said.

“Really,” I said.

He paused for dramatic effect and then delivered what he thought was The Punch Line of the Century.

“In that case,” he said,“you got a hold of him with ESP.”

Then we both started laughing.

And just FYI, I laughed a lot longer.

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