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When I arrived at work last month with smoke billowing out of the hood of my car, I knew my goose was cooked.
Anyone privy to the litany of less-than-ladylike expletives I let loose at the top of my lungs at that moment probably would have sympathized with my plight. Or at least chalked up my meltdown to understandable distress in the face of vehicular jihad; a normative response to what is accepted as a universally nerve-racking situation.
For the sake of honesty, however, I'd like to set the record straight. The truth is that my reaction had little to do with all the rational reasons I had for being enraged. Though there were many. Like having to rearrange my schedule to include phoning and waiting for a tow-truck. And having to brace myself for the exorbitant estimate and certain-to-be even bigger bill. And having, for the 10th time this year alone, to calculate whether the upkeep of my jalopy had become merely a losing, uphill battle against bankruptcy. One that was putting my overdraft into overdrive, and making me get from place to place on foot. Mainly to the industrial zone to pay my mechanic frequent visits and large sums of money with which he could continue vigorously renovating his villa in the south of Jerusalem.
As I said, though, none of the above was really at the root of my demoralization that day.
What was actually causing my malaise was the prospect of enduring the ensuing - inevitable - salt treatment to my wounds that would be administered by the most daunting and indefatigable of Israel's special operational forces: the advice-brigade firing squad.
During the best of times, one doesn't want to mess with a unit of such size and strength. When feeling vulnerable, one doesn't stand the slightest chance of surviving its barrage. And nothing beckons its bombardment so swiftly as a woman with car troubles. Within a split second of the sight of my steamy engine, several things suddenly - simultaneously - became self-evident.
One was that I was finished financing this bottomless pit on wheels, including if that meant selling it for scrap. (As someone who over the years has had three cars forcibly transferred to the Palestinian Authority for this very purpose, I figured that at least this time I could play an active role in negotiating a fair settlement where "realignment" of spare parts was concerned.)
Another realization was that I was done investing any additional mental energy in this Mitsubishi whose days in my care were numbered.
This meant forfeiting the great fun involved in fixing it up for the highest bidder; poring over Transport Ministry price-list manuals before taping a "for sale" sign on the windshield; comparing models and makes and mileage; taking hours out of my schedule to accompany prospective buyers to their garages to have it examined; and - my all-time favorite - bargaining to get a better deal.
Accompanying my epiphany was the anxiety-producing awareness of its consequences. In other words, along with the clarity of my conclusion came a cacophony of the criticism I was certain to arouse among members of the male sex who live and breathe for such golden opportunities. Especially when handed to them on silver platters by maidens-in-waiting like me.
A shower of imaginary "should haves" and "shouldn't haves" started shattering my eardrums so badly that I couldn't see straight, let alone hear myself think.
WHEN, I wondered, had I replaced the parental voice that used to be the sole proprietor of my superego with that of the bully battalion?
More importantly, what was I going to do to neutralize - or, in this case, neuter - it?
The answer to the first question was one I'd have to leave to Freud. As for the second: Whatever it was, I knew I'd better arm myself with it fast. Before the onslaught. In the tiny amount of time it takes to walk from the parking lot to the entrance to my office building, where I was in danger of encountering enemy agents. Self-proclaimed "experts." The guys who can rattle off models of cars faster than models can rattle off names of guys. The ones whose idea of name-dropping is to turn English nouns like "chassis," "carburetor," and "spark plugs" into Hebrew verbs at the speed of a Maserati. The dudes who bend down and show off their backsides while explaining in great boring detail the anatomy of a front axle. As though I cared. Or would be able to tell if they're full of it, or merely full of themselves.
The men who cup their hands around their mouths when they tell me to be wary of their counterparts or colleagues, all of whom appear to be clones of - or in cahoots with - each other.
Exercising caution against potential pitfalls under such circumstances is about as easy as avoiding an avalanche on a mountain road.
AS I collected myself and my belongings, I made a conscious decision. I told myself that cursing the collision course my cancer-ridden car was heading me for would get me nowhere. Nor was chickening out of the cockfight by taking a detour the right route.
No, this time I was going to take total charge of the steering wheel. Make choices based on my own taste. Make my own mistakes. Be the driver of my own destiny.
Empowered and liberated, I marched to my desk with purpose. Throwing my bag here and my papers there, I switched on my computer. Then I picked up the phone and dialed with determination.
"Daddy?" I whimpered into the receiver. "My car died."