The Funniest Day of My Life
February 18, 2012 § 6 Comments
Penny had an appointment up in Newport, which is so close to the Quebec border, you can smell the poutine from Main Street. The boys and I settled in, me to cleaning the house and basically dithering around; the boys were immersed in some made-up game or another. It was generally understood that after lunch, we would engage in a long and vigorous rough housing session. The boys and I love to rough house, although I must admit, I loved it more when they weighed about 50-pounds less, collectively.
The phone rang at 11:25 or so. It was Penny, calling from a stranger’s cell phone (we don’t own one) in the parking lot of a gas station outside Newport. “The car broke down. I need you to come get me.” Sure. No problem. I was not perturbed, for these are the sort of things that happen, and they do not warrant upset. Besides, I had an entirely unjustified faith in my ability to get the Subaru running again. No doubt it was just a bad connection to the starter or something. I would swoop in, crawl under the car with a hammer and a screwdriver, give’r a few taps and turns, and the damn thing would fire right up. I would be my family’s hero, and what is better than that? Nothing, that’s what.
Newport is an hour away, which is not so bad, except that the kid we bought our Chevy from had seen fit to remove the catalytic converter and replace it with a straight pipe and one of those “cherry bomb” mufflers that sound like the friggin’ thing’s farting into a megaphone. It’s tolerable around town, but on the highway…. it’s like being inside a tuba or something. The other consideration (which wasn’t really a consideration, because what choice did I have?) is that the Chevy gets about 8 mpg. Newport and back would be nearly 100 miles, so we’d be vaporizing somewhere in the vicinity of $45 worth of gas. Ah, but we wouldn’t: Unbeknownst to the boys and me, as we motored blithely up I91 inside our 8 mpg tuba, this would be a one-way trip.
The car was done. And when I say done, I mean threw-a-rod-through-the-engine-block done. There would be no crawling, tapping, or turning. There would be no heroics. All of its precious lifeblood – oil – was pooled under the motor and when I turned the key, the engine made such a clatter, I dare say the Chevy was jealous. Or would have been, because a most-unlikely and almost-funny thing had happened: Mere feet from where the Subaru had taken its last, dying breath, the Chevy had decided that it too was weary of this world. It stalled and would not start and – believe it or not, but I promise that I am not lying – had spit most of its engine oil onto the highway’s edge. It looked like one of those spreading pools of blood you see in movies when someone gets shot.
I am not going to claim that I handled the situation with total equanimity. But I will say that even in the moment, Penny and I and the boys (especially the boys) made many a joke, in which our plight served as both setup and punch line. This was not one of those “we’ll laugh about this someday” scenarios; it was one of those “this is so crazy, there is nothing to do but laugh about it now” situations. It did not hurt that we’d known the old Subaru was due for retirement and had already procured a replacement (an even older Subaru, but in fantastic condition. I think), which was waiting in our driveway. If only we had a way to get to our driveway.
To make a long story only slightly longer, we relied heavily on the kindness of strangers (and my mother, who retrieved us) to extricate ourselves from this clustermuck. I find that this is always the upside of these sort of minor crises: It brings out the best in people, it provides them an opportunity to offer assistance and simple kindness. To simply be needed. We live in a culture of such convenience and abundance that these opportunities don’t present themselves as readily as they once might have (although I suspect they’re always out there, if only we look for them), and to be honest, I think we’re all a little poorer for it.
Later that evening, after we’d finally gotten home and done chores, I went up to the neighbors to pick up waste milk for the pigs. How was your day, they asked, and I sighed and shook my head and told them the whole story. And we all had a nice, long chuckle.