Out There: Spheres of influence

The car highlights my shortcomings. And for this, I blame my dad.

October 27, 2007 19:57
4 minute read.
Out There: Spheres of influence

herb keinon. (photo credit: )

Married now for nearly 22 years, the wife and I - like many couples well ensconced in middle age - have fallen comfortably into a pattern of daily chores. I don't really like calling them chores, rather spheres of influence. The wife has hers; I have mine. Hers include overseeing the education of the children, taking care of their health, making sure they are fed, clothed and clean. Mine consist of tending to the car and putting up the succa. On the surface it may appear as if I'm getting the better end of the bargain, but the surface is deceptive. Because while the kids are going in one direction, the car is going in another. As the children get older, their needs diminish - we've reached that blessed stage where each of our four kids can shower by themselves, make their own lunches and even do most of their own homework. But not the car. As it gets older it demands more attention, not less. Gone are the days when I could just take it in for a tune-up twice a year. So as the wife's spheres of influence are shrinking, mine are actually growing. Another reason why this distribution of responsibilities is not as unfair as it may seem is because my wife loves the kids. Sure, they can be annoying at times, somewhat demanding periodically, but you can't help loving 'em. And if you are going to spend a lot of time and energy on something, you might as well like the objects of your toil. Not so the car. I hate the car because of all the money and time it costs me; because I don't understand it; because any time anything goes wrong, I'm clueless and need to rely on others. And it's not just any "others" I need to rely on, it's "others" who speak way too fast and use words I know neither in English nor in Hebrew. These folk always leave me nodding my head in agreement with whatever they say while silently praying I've fallen into the hands of honest people. The car, in short, highlights my shortcomings. And for this, I blame my dad. MY FATHER, who had a good 18 years to get me ready for the real world, didn't give me adequate auto-mechanic training. Indeed, to this day I'm tool-challenged, not due to a severe lack of manual or mental dexterity on my part, but because he never taught me; because he never let me. When, as a boy, things needed fixing around the house, my chore was always to hold things. I'd hold the hammer, the ladder, the screwdriver, the pail, the paint thinner, and I'd hold the boards together. I'd hold the garbage bags open. To this day I hold things extremely well, but can't fix squat. When the family's cars needed fixing, my dad would open the hood to peer inside, and I'd hold the flashlight. Then he'd close the hood and take the car to the garage. At the garage, instead of encouraging me to learn car mechanics, he taught me how to manipulate the car's mechanic. I learned how to tip the mechanic, and I learned how to call him by his first name. "People like to hear their name, son, it makes them feel good," he advised, instead of teaching me about thrust angle alignment or torque converters. But even my dad's "call-him-Bob" tip hasn't helped me much here. "Stop calling me Motti," I thought I heard a mechanic say the other day, when I brought the car in and repeatedly called him by his name. "I don't know you." Yet under that crustiness, there lies - in at least some of the mechanics in this land - a heart of pure gold. I met one a few weeks ago in Meron. THERE WE were on a family Succot trip, when - for the second time in as many years - smoke started coming out of the hood. It was 9:30 pm, and I stopped the car outside a grocery store in town, concerned that my vacation would now be spent looking for a Galilee garage. I opened the hood and peered inside, as one of my sons held the flashlight. Then, out of the darkness, four loud, tough-looking youths approached. "Do you need help?" they laughed. "Be careful," I whispered to my son. "Who knows what they want." Actually, what they wanted was - well - to help. Not only did they assure me that the radiator didn't need replacing, they said the only problem was a small hole in a hose that I could fix if I would just unscrew this band here, cut that hose back there, and affix another clamp over on the other side. "I'd love to do that," I said, "but don't have the tools." Bereft of tools themselves, they came up with another idea: We'd push the car to a mechanic who lived a few hundred meters away. "Right," thought I, "a mechanic who takes house calls." Nevertheless, within minutes we were - in the thick of night - knocking on the mechanic's door. Perhaps it was because he lived in the shadow of the saintly Shimon Bar Yohai's tomb, perhaps because my newfound friends looked tough, maybe because I called him by the name on his door, whatever the reason, the mechanic grabbed a shirt and came out and fixed the car. No charge. I left that house elated, bursting with affection for my countrymen, full of a realization that the nosy and interfering nature of the average Israeli - qualities I usually only gripe about - has a wonderful up-side as well. For a fleeting moment I was happy in my sphere of influence; at least until the next gasket blows.

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