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Monday March 7, 2005

Dealing with car trouble

But Then Again...
By MARY SCHNEIDER

When it comes to the maintenance and repair of all things mechanical, I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of an ignoramus. For the most part, the innermost workings of a car are something of a mystery to me. Sure, I can locate the battery, the dipstick and the radiator, but all those rubber tubes and menacing chunks of metal are simply beyond me. 

When things conk out beneath my car’s bonnet, I’d like nothing better than to be able to call someone and say: “Please take care of this, I’m late for a manicure!”  

I’m sure Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t have to deal with things like flat tires and oil-changes and keeping her radiator topped up. When her car breaks down, all she has to do is press the SOS button on her mobile phone and her doting husband will make sure that everything’s taken care of before she can say: “Michael, I don’t like it here!” 

Since I’m somewhat lacking in the doting-husband department, I don’t really have anyone to whisk me away from it all when my car acts up. So when I recently found myself stranded far from home with a dead battery, I stared at my blank dashboard in disbelief and thought about the disadvantages of the single life. 

After I’d come to the conclusion that it would probably take a complete personality overhaul to transform me into something remotely marriageable, I turned my thoughts to the offending battery. How was it possible for it to suddenly die without any warning? I thought batteries were supposed to give some sign when they were about to expire: a wheeze, a cough, a splutter, a last anguished cry as the final vestiges of life slipped away. Was it possible that my battery was just in need of a little resuscitation to get it going again? 

I remembered someone saying that you should bang the top of an unresponsive battery with a heavy object, just in case the connections had worked loose. In the absence of an appropriate object, I contemplated using my fists but quickly changed my mind after studying the white, crusty formations on top of the battery. I then considered my shoes – a chunky heel might just do the trick.  

As I stood there with a shoe in one hand, poised to strike, I wavered. My footwear had cost considerably more than a new battery, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to risk of spoiling the leather with all that leaking acid.  

At this stage, the early afternoon sun was beating down so ferociously that the perspiration was dripping into my eyes. If I didn’t do something fast, I would soon be blinded by a sticky mass of half-dissolved mascara.  

Then, just as I was banging the battery connections with my shoe, a well-dressed man stopped beside my car. I looked up and smiled at him in what I thought was a rather alluring manner – the same manner that I thought would have men falling over themselves to assist me.  

He responded by quickly turning on his heel and heading towards a nearby shop. 

Ignoring this blatant rejection of my womanly wiles, I tried to start the engine again. Still nothing.  

I then glanced at my reflection in my rear-view mirror. Disintegrated mascara (extra black) circled my eyes. I had all the allure of someone who’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. 

It was obviously time to call in the experts. I phoned my mechanic and did something that I’m not all that proud of: I slipped into “woe is me” mode – another of my womanly wiles. My conversation went something like this: “You big, strong man. Me weak, little woman. You come and save me?” It usually works – but so does the prospect of selling someone a new battery, I can imagine. 

While waiting for my battery to arrive, I sought refuge from the relentless sun beneath a shop’s awning.  

I must have stood there for about 10 minutes, scanning the entrance to the road, when I heard voices behind me. I turned and saw a group of elderly men walking towards me. Ignoring them, I resumed my watch for my mechanic. 

“Look at the red-haired monkey’s bottom!” said one of the men in Hokkien as he referred to my derričre.  

Immediately, my ears pricked up. My very basic command of Hokkien can often be enlightening, especially when others assume that I can’t understand what they’re saying. 

Another old man grunted something in response, and I spun round to look at them. Just then, one of the group stumbled and fell off the pavement. Fortunately, he was unhurt, but his friends stopped and laughed. 

“Ha! You cannot look and walk at the same time! It’s too dangerous,” joked one of them. 

As I was thinking of something clever to say to them, my mechanic pulled up next to me and the moment was gone. 

“Do you think my bottom looks big in these pants?” I wanted to ask my saviour as he removed the expired battery from my car, but I thought better of it. Instead, I smiled at him alluringly. 

At least, I hope it was alluringly.  

 


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