Omens, Best Intentions and Flat Tires

SS_FlatIt’s 11:00 p.m., just got settled in from my day, it’s late for me, but I’m too cranked to let this moment pass.

So, I’m driving into work today. It’s 7:00 am on a freezing Monday morning, just running the drill. Same road, same destination.same-o same-o. I catch a fully lit fire engine in my peripheral vision, it’s coming off the ramp and slowing behind the yellow-orange “drivers assistance” vehicle that seems to be assisting no one. A momentary curiosity. About a mile back in the rear view, I see the fire truck pull back into traffic. Still lit. Well, me, I’ve got my own concerns, gotta’ finish my coffee before I hit the parking lot or else the whole well honed process will be thrown out of whack. Then I see it. A Toyota, on the shoulder to the right, engulfed in flames you only see in movies. The hot red-yellow tongues lick the cold black morning sky, two stories high. It’s surreal, mostly because of how well we’ve insulated ourselves against “nature”. You just don’t run into many flaming objects that you didn’t initiate. And of the entire swirl of thoughts that flashed into my tiny mind (concern for the owners safety, the ephemeral nature of life, how we drive around in rolling bombs, etc.) there was one feeling I couldn’t shake.

Nothing good would come of this day.

Now I ain’t’ superstitious (although I do love the Stevie Wonder song), and I’m not one for believing in the “ooga-booga” factors in existence. But I’m not blind to the underlying rhythms of life, and there are streams of portent that culminate in rivers of events. And this has been one of those years, so this was gonna’ be one of those days.

The year began with great promise, in particular professionally. I’d chosen to stay with my firm, because an opportunity had presented itself that would allow me to do three things that had eluded me in the previous five years (and had prompted my planned departure). Run my own shop, work in a cool, vibrant sector (the “web”) and teach. All with a group of the best people I’ve ever been associated with. Slowly over the year, things were stripped away, vital structural things that caused all of us to run for the “next best” solutions. This had a grinding quality (what’s the phrase? “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind to dust”?) which coupled with my inability to chance upon love (a big deal with us art boys) made for a somewhat annoying, and essentially “joyless” year. I ain’t whining, but the thing that’s been buggin’ me is that all this stuff’s monkeying with my Christmas spirit. And the ill omens of the day were just driving home this “Grinchy” feeling. I love this time of year, not for the greeting card sentiments, but for the very human concept of a time of giving, and joy in the simple fact of life. Preparation and time are a big part of this season. When a years gone well, I’ve already designed a Christmas card, drawn it, printed it and gotten’ my gifts at least planned. Here I sit on December 18 with nothing, and planning on, dear God, once again getting “store bought” cards. I wanna’ hurl.

Anyway, the point of this was today.

I pride myself on not only doing my “job”, but making things happen that would cause others to shudder in fear of taking the same task. And this season has found this particular point of pride wanting. Due to a number of reasons (excuses?), I find myself less than the stud muffin (work wise) than my ego would project. But, today, yes today, I was to turn that around by gum. Didn’t happen. What was to be a day of unparalleled, awe inspiring butt-kickery was squandered on the altar of bad process and the truly quirky and “ass munch” nature of html code. Lots of frustration, wasted time and flipping the “finger” at a computer that truly couldn’t care less. The day grew late, my best intentions lay flopping like a beached manta ray, but I had to go. This day was cursed, and it was time to put paid to this gibberish. Got my evening coffee and headed for the door.

The truck fired up fine. I popped that sucker into reverse and headed to safe harbor. Uh oh. Not moving quite right, sluggish. Is the break stuck? Roll out of the spot and head out of the lot. This just ain’t right, better stop and see what’s up. The left rear is flatter n’ a wet napkin soaking up coffee. Very cold. Gotta’ think. Being a man, the notion of paying for outside help is pretty much out of the question. So, trapped by testosterone, I set about righting a wrong with no notion of the details. Oh, and such details. The spare is wedged up under the body of the truck with a kind of “T” shaped contraption, held in place by an elegantly placed single bolt. Some time ago a crazed, drug addled hit-and-run artist was kind enough to crush my back bumper on my way home from a delightful evening with a beautiful woman. The woman’s gone; the bumper’s still bent, tucked nicely over the restraining bolt. The frozen tire iron in my oh-so-bare hands is just a little too big. Must have tools. The office is next door to one of those massive blank, oafish shopping malls designed for the lumpen, packed with pre-Christmas scramblers. I play “Frogger” through the packed streets and lunatic parking maneuvers. Hit Sears and start making the strange calculus (based on nothing but a glimpse of the rusted bolt, dark beneath the bumper) that’ll determine the “right” tool. The hurried bitterness of the shoppers is rubbing my “humbug” nerve bad, real bad. For all their frowns, I’d like to offer them the opportunity of changing my flat to give them much-needed context, but I’m just being a wad. Just get it done. So I settle on a monkey wrench (with a nice, red foam handle) and a pair of channel locks. Alarms sound, lights flash and the robot voice of the security system inform me, as I attempt egress, to return to the cashier to deactivate the magnetic “theft prevention” device on my “purchase”. Being accused of shoplifting by a machine (in league with my truck no doubt) was very close to the last thing I needed to hear, I glower at the security camera so they get a good look, and continue on my mission.

I lay flat on the black, cold, gritty macadam, and drag myself under the truck. Staring into the dark underbelly of the vehicle, my eyes adjusting, all the variables that could conspire to defeat my plans pop to mind. What if the spare’s flat? What if my dandy new tools prove impotent? What if I can’t dislodge the rusted lug nuts? Whatever.with the mood I’m in I might just grab a lighter and create a twin to the car-b-que I witnessed this morning. It all goes pretty well, my shiny new weapons vanquish the bolt, with a little cussin’ and beating the tire assembly swings free. I’m not sure when the design choice dealing with auto jacks swung from “big and efficient” to “small and annoying”, but I longed for the day when you could jack your car in eight cranks. The jack for my Ford Ranger Truck is approximately eight inches high and requires approximately two thousand, four hundred thirty turns to bring it into contact with the axle. It reminds me of the product of Soviet era toy designers trying to develop a steel “rubics” cube for the mentally challenged. I get rid of a few knuckles I don’t use that much anyway, and get it up. Changing a tire is a one-man job, unless you’re a NASCAR driver, you can’t really be “helped”. But I need to point out that many of the wonderful people with whom I work, offered what they could, and the simple moral support warmed me more than my quickly chilling coffee. My partner, Pierre, a man of island blood who feels about the cold the way I feel about brussel sprouts, kept me company for as long as his ears could take. And the wonderful Jenny, she of warm Panamanian blood, offered me the similarly pointless scissor jack from her car. But this was me, the metal, the cold and my own bad attitude and no amount of kindness was gonna’ put me in a good mood. I screwed, I grunted, I spoke crude words. As soon as the lug nuts were loose, I knew it was all over, nothing left but the almost Zen-like motions of a simple mechanical task. One thing following the other till that last, satisfying metal-on-metal squeak of the last lug snug back home. And, of course, the six thousand, forty-two counter-revolutions to flatten the jack.

As I drive into the night, I wish I were heading to warm lips or children curious to hear the tale of the “tire”. But I’m glad I’m alive, that I have tomorrow to make things happen and make such wishes real. And my wish to all of you is that you find your fondest dreams, and when life seems like a “flat” don’t look around for help, fix it yourself (and value those who offer you help) and know the strange comfort that life’s indeed what you make it.