Saturday, January 11, 2014

Zen and the Art of Headlight Bulb Replacement: A Journey Through Time

I’m not what you’d call a handy person.  I have hands, two of them, and I use them in the fashion that society deems appropriate.
                But when it comes to using those hands to fix things in and around the house, well, that isn’t what you’d call a strong suit.
                I like to dabble though. When something minor breaks, I’ll usually pull out my jar of elbow grease and at least attempt to fix whatever it is that needs a-fixin’.
                And I’ll apply that kinda-can-do attitude with my car whenever possible.
                I know nothing about cars or how they work. If I opened the hood of my car and saw a team of hamsters in tracks suits poised on wheels, waiting for a larger hamster holding a tiny pistol to pull the trigger, I would not be surprised.
However, getting your car repaired is very expensive. So anytime my car has an issue that seems doable, like it needs gas or oil or hamster food, well, I’ll roll up my sleeves, tuck my pant legs into my socks and give it a whirl.               
And hell, there’s something quite satisfying about tinkering with your car.
Maybe it appeals to that prehistoric part of a man’s brain. The part that gets mocked on network sitcoms because it refuses to ask for directions, preferring rather to starve to death on America’s interstate system on its own merit, then find shelter with the help of another person.
That’s also the same part of a caveman’s brain that, when his foot-powered car broke, insisted on popping the hood and taking a look-see.
Now cars and caveman culture may not be my strong suits, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

The other day I noticed one of my headlights had burned out. My first reaction was to curse god and the heavens for dumping this travesty upon me when nothing bad ever happened to anyone else in the world.
Once I’d settled down, I gained some perspective on the issue. Maybe a burned out headlight didn’t rank that highly on the list of the worst things that have ever happened to human kind.
As my outlook cleared, I also saw the opportunity to get my hands dirty. After all, changing a headlight met my very strict standards of the kind of car maintenance I’ll attempt: If I messed up, the car should still go.
I went out and bought a replacement headlight bulb, which is harder than you think because there are a ton of different kinds of headlight bulbs.  With the help of the nice man at Pep Boys (finally managed to override the caveman brain after standing in the aisle and staring for 10 minutes or so) I found the bulb I needed.
Bulb in hand, I was set to do my Megan Fox from “Transformers” impression: Don my short shorts and lean seductively over the exposed engine of something.
But I had something to do that night so I put it off until the next day, just like that old saying encourages.
Trouble was, the next day was quite literally the coldest day the world has ever experienced. It was so cold that when Dennis Quaid’s son called him from New York to say he was in trouble, Quaid pretended like he was on his cell phone and was about to head into a tunnel.
Despite the temperatures, I ducked out of work while the sun was up, wandered across the parking lot with a mind to quickly change the bulb. I had a screw driver, I had a bulb, I had an owner’s manual (caveman brain not happy).
Unfortunately, the screw driver was not the tool one needed for that kind of operation. Also, the owner’s manual was lacking on some key details. After standing with the hood open for ages, my body and soul numbed by the fearsome cold, I gave up and drove home with my high beams on.
Then I put the process off for the rest of the week, because it was always dark and stuff by the time I got home and stiff and tinkering was sort of a daytime activity.      
I didn’t fritter away the week though. Whenever my caveman brain was off thinking about saber tooth tigers, I studied the owner’s manual and watched videos online. That way, when the weekend – the time god himself designated for tinkering – came, I’d be ready.
So on Saturday I went out in the driving rain, proper tools in hand.
The battle between man and machine was fierce that day. It was similar if not identical to the fight scene from the final “Matrix” movie. And like the final “Matrix” movie, when it was over, for reasons I didn’t fully understand, everything seemed OK.   
There are no words to describe the flood of pride that coursed through me when I turned the dial in my car and both headlights lit up bright. Sure, changing a light bulb is very nearly the smallest victory you can achieve in the world of car maintenance.  
But it didn’t matter. If there had been a saber tooth tiger around, I would have punched it right in the face and then bought it a shot of whiskey.
Like a man.

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