Honest Abe rides again

I think I took my first California Achievement Test in sixth grade, and then again in seventh or eighth. I don’t know if they still give them, but if they don’t it’s an educational triumph.

The CATs were a multiple choice test that were supposed to measure out aptitudes for all professions. How accurate they were, I’ve no idea. I only know I had my doubts then … and I still have them.

The jobs the test said I was supposed to devote my life to were never ones I was interested in. But it didn’t matter what I thought — only what the powers that be did. They embraced those tests with the fervor and devotion of the televangelists’ flocks — and with the same lack of proof they’d get anything in return but empty promises.

I remember only one job the test said I should pursue, and that’s because it was as funny as it was ridiculous. According to those sages from Cali, I woulda made one helluva taxidermist.

Looking back at those tests, I think I and my peers’ futures might’ve better served if we’d been tested for our lack of aptitudes. Not that they don’t become apparent down the road. But to push that metaphor to absurd extremes, if we’d knew it, early on, it would’ve saved us a lotta time in the breakdown lane, later on.

In my case, I would’ve been spared the frustration, humiliation, and skinned knuckles of my fruitless forays into the world of auto-mechanics.

Though my latest foray wasn’t fruitless, it WAS fruity.

Phase one fazed

Last week I decided that no matter how crappy the weather would be this month, it wouldn’t snow. And even if it did, it won’t stay. And thus, once again, it was time for me to be a big wheel, literally: I was getting my pristine 2002 Lincoln Town Car out of cold storage and back on the highways and byways, where it belongs.

I’d stashed it early fall so no road salt would destroy either its classy chassis or my fragile psyche. I figured the battery would have to be charged, and I was right. But having wrangled post-hibernation cars for the past 50 years, I’ve picked up a few tricks of the trade. One of them are always have a battery jump pack — which I do.

After I popped the hood and attached the jump pack, I got a shock. Not of an electrical nature, but an emotional one: The battery hadn’t just run down — it was dead. Croaked. Kaput. I then had one option — buy a new one. So I shlepped out to Advance Auto, got it, shlepped it back, and set about removing the old one.

It’s a simple task: You just unscrew the bolts on the terminal collars, remove the battery, and then reverse the process to put in the new one. At least that’s what you do when everything goes according to plan. But as Robert Burns told us so poetically and Celticly, “The best laid schemes of Mice an’ Men, gang aft agley.” And when it came to my battery removal scheme, things got real agley real fast.

First, while I had a socket set (necessary to unscrew the bolts) and it had fit every battery collar I’d dealt with for the past half century, it didn’t fit this one. OK, no sweat, I figured — I’d just borrow a set from the Titan of Tools himself, Jack Drury.

Jack lent me his set, I hied back to the car and tried various sockets till I found one that fit. Now all I had to do was snap the socket on the ratchet and I was home free, right?


The Other Me to the rescue

The socket fit the bolt head, but not the ratchet, since the former had a 1/4 inch drive, but the socket hd a 1/2 inch drive. I went through Jack’s socket set and found an extension that could hook up the socket to the ratchet, snapped the parts together and got a wee surprise: With the extension on the ratchet, it didn’t fit between the bolt and the radiator coupling. I tried to raise the handle, but no go. Then I tried to move it to the side, and again no go. I felt my pulse pound in my head, my blood pressure spike, my hand clamp on the ratchet with a death grip. My breathing ramped up, sweat ran down my forehead and my arms.

I took the socket off the extension, fit it over the bolt, and tried to think of some way to use it without the ratchet. Several people had told me they use Vise Grips or Channel Locks to crank on a socket. I had both tools, so why not give it a try?

I’ll tell you exactly why.

Maybe that’d work if you’re one of those guys whose CAT results told you you should be an auto mechanic. But if you’re me and you try to take a shortcut like that, it can only end in disaster.

I was at the edge of both Madness and The Moment of Truth.

I was losing my cool. And if I did lose it, I was going to do something incredibly stupid. I had no idea what that stupidity might be, only that it’d result in a real mess.

I slowed down my breathing, wiped the sweat off my face, and dismissed the idea of using anything but the right tool to get the job done.

Then I took the socket off the bolt and went to put it back in the toolbox and when I did, because I hadn’t dried my fingers, it popped out of my hand and dropped in the engine compartment. I thought it’d fall on the floor, but — Surprise! Surprise! — it didn’t. Instead, it was trapped somewhere in the bowels of the engine, and set to either fall out on the road somewhere, or raise hell with some moving part of other once I got the car started — IF I ever did.

“The hell!” I screamed, and heard it echo off the garage walls. I was as nuts as I was before, furious at the socket, furious at Jack for not having a 1/4″ ratchet, and of course furious at myself for bungling the operation.

Suddenly I found myself in the middle of an out-of-body experience, like the ones I read about in the Nitwit’s Guide to Enlightment.

I (or some aspect of me) was hovering above The Real Me, watching TRM about to do something incredibly stupid. Maybe I’d throw the toolbox at the windshield. Maybe I’d tear off the radiator coupling. Maybe I’d bust a headlight or two. I didn’t know what, specifically, I’d do, but I did know it’d be a masterful display of destructive dumbass.

Slowly, The Other Me floated down to TRM, who because I was psychically only half there, was standing stock-still, in some strange altered state. TOM tapped my shoulder, and whispered, “Don’t be a schmuck.”

And that was all it took.

Even though TOM had whispered in sotto voce, I heard him clear as a bell. And what he said resonated perfectly because since not only did it make sense, but he’d said it in plain Yiddish.

I’m proud to say I did what I was supposed to do: I walked out of the garage, got in my Honda and drove around for a bit till I cooled off. Then I went to The Mecca of Mechanization, better known as Evergreen Auto, borrowed the right tools from Ron, went back, and changed batteries.

After that, it was clear sailing all the way.

Honest Abe fired up in a flash, just as I knew he would, and I was psyched for Honest Abe’s Maiden Voyage 2024.

Wanting company for this great occasion of state, I plopped my pooches in the back seat and we headed out, in the style to which we someday hope to be accustomed.


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