Zen and the Complete Confusion of Modern Car Maintenance

#Bitterness

Thu, Aug 14th, 2003 03:00 by Leo N. ARTICLE

Some fifteen-years ago, my mother passed one of her many little bits of wisdom down to me. Today, since I am finally enlightened, I can pass it down to you:

Whenever you'll hear a word you've never heard before, you can rest assured, she assured me, that you'll hear it again within the next 24-hours.

This, naturally, never happened to me.

I was happily talking away with my friend Alyssa, when she mentioned liking ?Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie.? ?Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie? is a Canadian band that plays humorous music only Canadians might laugh at. Since I live in a constant state of digression, one of their songs I had just heard, titled coincidentally "Canada" came to mind recently. In this tune, the singer rants and raves about how great Canada is, and claims that one of the things that makes this country so fantastic is that mechanics never swear.

Cut to voice in the background saying: "Why, I crushed my hand in the manifold. Golly," or some such non-sense.

"Manifold," I said to myself, "now what the fuck is that?"

I had heard of the word used to refer to multiple copies of something, or the many features of an object. I never recalled hearing it in a mechanical context. Then again, I've met people that claim to be great English Majors and not know what "Albeit" meant, much less being able to put a sentence together. So I think I can be excused, at least this once, for my College-induced ignorance.

According to my dictionary, a manifold is a pipe that has several lateral outlets to or from other pipes. This sort of puts the piece coming out of the sides of an engine block, between the front wheels, taking the exhaust out to the back. Considering the matter resolved, I left the question "How do you crush your hand with that, anyway?" unanswered.

You're probably lost, right about now, wondering where this is going. Have faith. It will get a lot worse before it will make any sense.

With that out of the way, I now need to emphasize the important difference between "What?" and "What?"

The former, meaning "What did you just say?" is usually used when someone says something inaudible and you require them to repeat themselves. For example, you're on all fours, in a pool of blue jello and wearing a ball gag:

"Hmmm-hmmmm-mmmm-mmm," you say.

Jill Hennessy, wearing a tight and overly revealing leather dress, says:

"What?"

Because you, a gimp, made no sense (ball gag and all), Jill Hennessy requests a repeat before whipping you any further. You do so, possibly in English this time.

The latter use of "What" is used when someone says something that is perfectly intelligible but despite it all causes you to be surprised. Or question whether or not you've heard them correctly. In some situations, their sanity may also become debatable. For example:

"I'm breaking up this relationship since I do not want to date someone that has a lower income than I do," said your (now former) girlfriend.

"What?"

The sentence is understood, but it leaves you in a "Did I really just hear her say that?" state of mind, in this case due to the sheer stupidity and trivial superficiality of her reason.

Last week, after bringing my Ford Excreta back from the shop, I was discussing with my friend Sanjay how replacing the battery came to $150. Along with the fact that the clamps holding the battery needed a Ford-only tool and a specific Ford-made battery was required, the vehicle has decided to give me a hard time whenever I least need it to.

"Well, you know what Ford stands for," snickers my friend. "Fix Or Repair Daily."

After sending my knee into his groin as a reaction to his funny, funny joke, I realized that the problem with this car isn't that it keeps on breaking down on me. Whenever I open the hood, I have no idea what I'm looking at. With the old carbureted 86 Toyota Tercel, sporting only one piece of electronic equipment--the built-in AM radio--I can get greasy and dirty with it and get it up and running in no time with parts I find in my kitchen drawer. The Ford Excreta, on the other end does everything electronically. You need to plug it into a Ford computer just to see what's wrong with it. Fuel and just about anything else is regulated by little black electronic boxes, leaving more buttons and knobs on my dashboard than on most commercial aeroplanes probably.

As a gentle reminder of this, whenever I turn on the engine, all the lights on the dashboard come on as a test. There is one that I always stare at in wonder, before shifting into first gear and driving off. It says something like "Check Engine And Get A Loan: This One Will Be Expensive." The day that one stays on, this car is going off a cliff.

Yesterday, after a friend and I went to get ourselves some yummy Italian ice cream, the car started to develop low rumbling noises, making the Excreta sound like a Rice Burner. I ignored it, since the result from such pot-of-beans-boiling noises automagically enlarged my penis and had flocks of women chase after me.

The next morning the car sounded more like a tractor with a megaphone taped to the muffler than a cheap American import. After I pointlessly looked under the hood and concluded for the nth time that I still have no idea what I am looking at, I decided that, large penis or not, I had to bring the car in, lest the Smog Police stop me.

At Canadian Tire, the really old guy behind the counter asked me what seemed to be the problem with the vehicle.

"It's a Ford," I told him.

He nodded in understanding his wrinkly face. This guy looks so ancient that he was probably old when Ford released their T model. I bet he works part-time at the Royal Ontario Museum as Tutankamen.

So they take the car in and inform me it will be probably cost a fortune, require some extravagant dealer part that needs to be ordered specifically from Ford India--but New Delhi will be out of stock... That the vehicle will sound just as bad when I get it back and it will be ready sometime next year--or something like that.

A few hours later Canadian Tire calls me:

"Sir, we found the current problem with your Ford Excreta. Your manifold--"

"What?"

While the mechanic sat there repeating what he had just said, obviously unaware of the difference between "What?" and "What?" I marvelled at just how I got to hear the word manifold come back into my life within the last 24 hours.

"Tell me something," I asked him when he was done. "How do you crush your hand with a manifold?"

"What?"

"Never mind," I said painfully aware of which "What?" this "What?" was.

Incidentally, there were no manifolds in stock.

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