A Dad in Distress

After years of whacking all the foul and indecent thoughts that pop up in my head, I think I’ve finally rid myself of the harmful little fantasy of rescuing a damsel in distress. In the fantasy, I would be puttering along in my pickup, rounding a curve at a responsible speed, when a car, hood up and flashers on, would appear before me on the roadside. As I peered into the billowing engine smoke, I would catch my first glimpse. “Lady ahoy,” my heart would leap. Turns out, the lady is none other than Jennifer Love Hewitt. Who would have thought she would have time to get away from the grueling schedule of Hollywood and do a little leisure driving in the boonies? Well, me, of course, it is my fantasy, but the point is if someone doesn’t fix her engine soon, she’ll miss her taping of “Party of Five.” 

So I slow down, roll down my window, give her the obligatory, “How ya doing mam? What happens to be your trouble?” She asks if I know anything about cars. I do, of course—again, this is my fantasy—so I pull over, get out, and cut my way through the engine smoke. Here, without coughing, I utter a few manly words like manifold, head gasket, and driveshaft. Then I fiddle with a few miscellaneous parts. Then I tell her to turn the key. The engine roars to life, purrs like a kitten. She thanks me effusively and even gives me a peck on the cheek (this is a PG website after all). Then I get to go tell all my buddies in high school that Jennifer Love Hewitt kissed me. 

After a thorough scrubbing of my grey matter, I’m proud to say I’ve finally rid myself of this chauvinistic fantasy. I thought about keeping it and just putting a disclaimer in front, like Disney+ does with Snow White, but I decided that doesn’t go far enough. Instead, I’ve completely banished and replaced it with a fantasy befitting a man in 2021. 

In a lot of ways, the new fantasy resembles the old one: namely, a car is broke down, mine, and a good Samaritan in a pickup truck pulls up beside me and asks if I need any help. Turns out, it’s Jennifer Love Hewitt and she happens to know a lot about cars. She utters a few manly words like manifold, head gasket, and drive shaft. Then she fiddles with a few miscellaneous parts. Then she tells me to turn the key. My Camry roars to life, purrs like a kitten. I thank her effusively, and we shake hands, after which I get to go tell all my buddies that I shook hands with Jennifer Love Hewitt. 

FYI: Being a happily married man, I had to run this new fantasy past my wife for approval. She approved it, so long as my engine is the only thing Jennifer Love Hewitt revs up.  

What Could Have Been

This morning I saw something that thrilled my heart. It thrilled me in that special way that only a fond remembrance of days gone by, of days once filled with possibility and potential, can elicit happiness from a career government employee. It was a little Ford Ranger with five, yes five, CB antennas. The cab window was stickered with reflective letters (like the ones you normally see on a mailbox) that said, “CB BOLLY-FOR-BARREL.”

While observing that mobile masterpiece of radio telemetry, a rush of nostalgia came over me and soon words of poetry surfaced from the nether regions of my mind (this is an annoying habit and why I don’t recommend memorizing poetry–there’s a lot better stuff you can store in your mind’s nether regions). 

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” I thought, and obviously BOLLY-FOR-BARREL took the road less traveled. In fact, I bet that little Ford Ranger has been down backroads no normal, self-respecting truck would dare travel, just to test the range of the radio. And I bet that little Ford Ranger is all the happier for it. 

There was a time in my life when I could have taken the less-traveled path of BOLLY-FOR-BARREL. It was third grade and my best friend, Garrett, and I were walkie-talkie enthusiasts. My walkie handle was TOP-TREE-CLIMBER, and he was RAILROAD-RED-ROOSTER.  Back then, the most expensive walkie-talkies weren’t nearly as powerful as the cheap ones today, so mostly I just pretended to talk to Garrett who lived out of short-range distance. He did the same, and at school we’d discuss our imaginary conversations at lunch. It was a great way to communicate. 

Eventually, however, both Garrett and I decided we wanted to upgrade from imaginary conversations to actual conversations, so we asked our parents for CB radios for Christmas. You would have thought we just asked our parents if we could run with scissors or stick a fork in an electrical socket. For some strange reason, our parents thought third-graders being able to communicate with long-haul truckers was a terribly dangerous idea. 

So for Christmas, our parents bought us scanners instead–a total waste of a major Christmas gift. The intrinsic problem with a scanner is you can hear others talking but can’t talk to them. So Garrett and I couldn’t communicate with the policemen or firemen to ask what all their different codes meant. And guess what: most truckers were rather taciturn; certainly, they weren’t nearly as talkative and entertaining as those in Smokey and the Bandit. In short, listening to scanner chatter wasn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds. Garrett and I soon took up other pursuits, like launching bottle rockets, fishing with crank baits with five treble hooks, and catching black widows in a jar–or, stuff a lot safer than CB radios. 

So, this morning, when I saw that little Ford Ranger with five CB antennas, I couldn’t help but imagine what my life would have been like had my parents had the good sense to buy me a CB. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what I do have–a nice little farm, a stable government job, a beautiful wife and a son (whose sleep pattern is improving)–but is it too much to ask for one, just one, CB antenna wagging from the back bumper of our Camry?

How to Achieve Complete Mindfulness and Live to Tell About It

I have a suspicion that most people who practice mindfulness, or living in the present, don’t drive jalopies. If they did drive a rust-bucket that at any moment could disintegrate and/or implode, they would already be masters at living in the present and could proceed to practicing other stuff. Their bodies would be finely tuned instruments, with hands sensitive to the slightest vibrations (specifically those in the steering wheel), ears perked (listening for the frayed serpentine belt to snap), nostrils flared (to detect even the faintest whiff of burnt oil), and tongues hanging out (to cool what the air conditioner couldn’t). 

Furthermore, I can’t remember the last time I saw someone doing yoga or meditating at a junkyard. People who pull their own parts already know how to contort their bodies to relieve stress, namely the stress of getting their cars back running. Early in our marriage, my wife and I got a yoga DVD and did yoga together once or twice to help me quit worrying. Admittedly, I could “worry a copperhead out of a copper cent.” That’s a common saying around these parts because we have lots of copperheads (plus lots of people with mere pennies, hence the worry). But the main thing I learned from doing yoga is warrior pose is nothing compared to “remove-the-water-pump pose.” 

The older I get, the more I find junkyards and scrapyards and even landfills to be oddly serene places. Wandering around a scrapyard looking for the perfect pieces of metal to weld together is a fine way to spend an afternoon. Watching giant bulldozers sail by at the landfill, with seagulls diving overhead and earth trembling underneath, could be as romantic as watching boats come and go in a marina, if only someone would put a bench at the dump site. 

And junkyards are great places for quiet reflection. Just last week, I visited our local U-Pull It and did some soul searching. A few days prior, I had experienced a moment of complete presentness when my 1996 Chrysler Sebring lost power going seventy miles per hour down the interstate. Because this phenomenon had happened before on less traveled thoroughfares, I knew nothing was wrong with the car mechanically–just that stupid sensor, the crankshaft sensor, had gone haywire again and decided to power down the vehicle with tractor trailers at warp speed all around me. I’m proud to report I kept my composure. I focused thoroughly on the present and piloted the Sebring safely to the roadside, only stopping to hyperventilate after the handbrake was engaged. 

So, a few days later I went to the junkyard hoping to pull a crankshaft sensor and ended up selling my Sebring for scrap. Having mastered mindfulness, it was time to practice letting go and moving on, specifically to a 2008 Toyota Camry with only 150,000 miles. 

We had some good times, the Sebring and I.