Cardinals, Cars and Catastrophes

There comes a time in your life where you simply give in about certain things. That time, for me, is now — and the topic is cars. I’ve decided I like walking. I like it a HELL of a lot better than the alternatives I’ve had lately.

Friday, during my conference, my husband called to tell me the car (the old one) was making this horrible noise, and that he was going to try to limp it into our family mechanic. Our mechanic is great. He’s knowledgeable, fair, honest and reasonably priced. Not a combination one normally finds in an auto mechanic. He also has a network of specialists — for mufflers, for piston work, for foreign cars, etc. He does what he does best and seeks out other specialists to work with him on his customer’s vehicles.

Unless you are a first-time reader of my blog, you KNOW I admire that — after all, it’s what I do and it’s what I preach to others.

With that said, I was pulling out of the parking garage late Friday evening, after all the conference stuff was over — I was headed home. Except, when I turned the wheel to straighten up and drive out… there was this horrible *POP-BOOM* and then the engine smoked and I couldn’t steer. After about 30 minutes of wrestling, I did manage to get it back into the original parking slot so it wasn’t blocking the entire parking garage path to the upper and lower floors.

I called my father-in-law, and asked him to come get me. Granted, I called my husband first, to complain about this blasted car — we bought it just over a month ago and it’s needed a head gasket, the power steering has gone out, the air conditioning doesn’t work, and there have been a slew of tiny problems since — including the horn blowing on it’s own multiple times one evening and night and morning — then stopping on it’s own too. Like a horn-blowing ghost, that leaves me worried about electrical problems galore and sleeping very little that night. The event probably shot me to the top of the list of favorite people in the community surrounding the lake. Now, this! Haruuummphh!

So, a member of the family tells my father-in-law that it’s probably just the high-pressure hose for the power steering fluid. This makes sense to me, since where the *POP-BOOM* occurred, there is a streaming puddle of power steering fluid on the concrete. So, hubby tells me to leave it, that he will come up on Sunday and that he and his dad will replace that hose and all will be well with the world. In the meantime, I make other arrangements for being able to complete my conference. I decide that NOTHNG is going to keep me from this conference. I need it, I’ve earned it, and I’ll not be knocked out of it. I’m glad that this happened when I was pulling out of a parking slot, rather than when I was driving down the road. I figure, two cars ruined in one day — it’s got to get better from here, right?

So, my dad loans Wayne his car, Wayne’s dad gives me a ride and the whole concept of blending two families with a single marriage becomes amazingly clear — and I get a warm fuzzy feeling about that, even with the car complaints.

I spend more of this weekend walking than I’ve DONE walking in the last… well, several months. It makes me realize how happy I am to be FEELING good enough to walk again. It makes me thankful — in spite of the frustrations.

My father-in-law tells me that he’s surprised I’m so calm about losing two cars in one day — tells me he’s impressed. I tell him I’m simply too tired to be upset. The day before the conference started, I was up with a friend until 2 a.m. with a personal crisis that makes my life seem like a bed of roses. Even that makes me feel thankful. But, now I’m tired. Around 1 a.m., I close my eyes and fall asleep — to be up again at 5:30 to get ready for another draining — but amazing — day at the writers conference.

Come Sunday, after my event concludes, Wayne and his dad meet me at the garage. I arrive first and notice that the damn car also has a flat tire. Salt to wounds, insult to injury. But, I’m too tired to get angry. So I call and the men bring a can of “fix a flat” to get us by until we can get to a tire shop. Then, we end up having to get the car towed on Sunday — because it’s not such a simple fix, after all. And, towing a car out of a parking space in a low clearance parking garage — well, lets just say whole new can of worms, shall we? Add to that the fact that steering is extremely limited (read non-existent) and you have what should be a comedy routine. Dark comedy.

So, his father picks us up and we go back to his house, where my father’s car is parked. I want to drive, so Wayne hands me the keys — something about being foiled when I wanted to drive our car, AKA “The Lemon”, earlier in the weekend. So I turn the key and the car BOOM… “BAaaaarrUUUMMMMmbbbaaAAAAAARUUMMMMMM!” And I recoil and glare at my husband. “You BROKE my FATHER’s car?!!?!” I accuse. I’m no longer “handling this amazingly well” as my father-in-law had commented earlier.

“How LONG has it been doing this?!” I demanded. “A couple hours,” he admits, trying to disappear into the leather of the passenger seat. I feel like a bitch, but I can’t help it, all the calm is gone. I’m in “what now?!?!” mode. Wayne isn’t a natural mechanic. The wheel bearings on the car he was driving started screaming soon after he left the cabin, but he drove it all the way to Lexington anyway (over two hours away). Why? Because he had an appointment. His tone, when he told me this on the phone on Friday, indicated that it made perfect sense. To me, stopping the car and determining the problem makes more sense. But, we are different.

As for me, when I hear a “funny noise” — I start trying to figure out what the problem is. I can FEEL when the car’s vibrating funny, can TELL when it’s pulling slightly to the left, I notice a bump on a tire that’s unusual or a click when the car turns to one side or the other. I guess I’ve been limping along cars long enough to know that if you let a small problem in an old car slide — you soon have a HUGE problem. So, I pay attention. My husband… well, not so much.

Of course, he’s accustomed to newer cars. That might explain it. So, I’m glad I have been the one driving the “new car” — the LEMON. If he had been driving it, I would wonder when, at exactly what point, the signs of trouble had first appeared. Because, I would have KNOWN that the steering doesn’t simply “pop-boom” and go out. I’d have KNOWN that there were lots of little signs before the big disastrous one. And, I would have been wrong.

So, anyway, the muffler is GONE on my father’s car — while in my husband’s care — and I am still glaring at him. Then I recount the fact that with our luck with cars, that I’d REFUSED to borrow his father’s truck, despite my father-in-law’s insistence. Despite being called “stubborn as hell” and “pig-headed.” I simply assured him that he SHOULD be able to recognize those traits, being so close to them himself. Then I smiled and flatly refused.

Anyway, I take a deep breath and tell Wayne that we will have to fix Pop’s car tomorrow — that I’ll be damned if we will return a car with a problem that my dad let us borrow. I like to return things better than I borrowed them. Always. So, the tank always has more gas than it had (topped off if possible) and anything else I borrow is in better shape than when I took possession.

Anyway, I digress.

On the way home, I finally quit glaring at my husband (cause that makes it hard to drive), and I merely shout at him. Not because I’m angry…I seldom shout at anyone, I’ve outgrown that… but I shout because we MUST shout to communicate over the roar of the car. He shouts to ask me how the conference was. I shout to Wayne about my weekend, he shouts to me about working on the cabin with Pops. We shout together about my upcoming trip. He shouts to me that the beginning of the car problems was when he hit a cardinal Friday morning.

I look at him in horror. “You hit a bird with the car?” and he looks at me worried.

“Yeah, I couldn’t miss it” he admitted.

“Let me guess,” I say all sarcastic and edge-toned “This happened before the car started acting up, didn’t it?”

And he says “Yeah, why?”

“Because THAT is why we have had such car trouble this weekend… I cannot BELIEVE you hit a bird, a CARDINAL no less, with the car!” Still shouting over the muffler, but enjoying the impact that the extra volume gives this statement.

He looks at me, wide-eyed, and then his eyes drop into a slitted-angry squint “YOU are messing with me, I’m not that gullible!” he announces.

“The only thing that could possibly be worse,” I respond, “is if it were a bluebird — then it wouldn’t be the car and the finances, THEN it would be happiness and health!”

My husband is quite familiar with the belief in the blue birds of happiness that my family carries — so much so that he was delighted when he saw the first pair of bright electric blue birds on the farm after he moved in. He’s now one of us, he now accepts such things… like literal bluebirds of happiness.

Now, as a little back story… Wayne IS gullible… not as much as he used to be, but he is. I used to play (or was it PREY??) on that when we were friends in college. Case in point… the infamous “Potato Salad Story” involved him coming over to dinner when my mother was at my house, and he snubbed my mother’s potato salad. He wasn’t really socially smooth at 19 or 20, so he just said “I don’t like potato salad.” and then made a face at my mother. It was very uncool. It embarrassed me.

Mom went into the kitchen to get something (the timing was perfect) and I followed. Turns out she had something in her eye, and it made her eyes water, but she got it out. I chatted with mom a minute and knew it would take her a minute longer to come back out, so I got a brainstorm. I would fix the insensitive, anti-social behavior of my friend.

I snuck out and told Wayne… “I HOPE you are satisfied… my mother slaved over that salad. It’s a family heirloom recipe, German potato salad, made with mustard instead of mayo — and you tell her you don’t like it and MAKE A FACE!?!?!… NOW she’s in the kitchen crying her eyes out!” Then I looked distraught.

I told him (his mouth was all agape) that she had just recently been released from doctor’s care, and that so HELP me, if she had to go back to counseling because of this blow to her ego, and her first attempt at entertaining (along side me, for strength in numbers) that I’d never forgive him. I told him that he’d set her back days, possibly weeks in her recovery. Then I quickly excused myself and went back into the kitchen, throwing a glance over my shoulder and mouthing at him to eat the dang potato salad.

Back in the kitchen… mom and I came out together, her eye still a bit red and a smile still on her lips because of a joke I’d just told her. So, it was an odd facial combination and, in my estimation, it was perfect.

Wayne was alarmed. He took one look at mom and he ate the potato salad. He then told her that it was good, and that if he liked potato salad, he’d love this salad, and even without liking potato salad, this was ok, which is really high praise for potato salad… and he continued to go on fumbling over himself verbally for some time, until I kicked him under the table. I think my mother thought him an idiot.

I could barely contain myself (I nearly peed my pants). My husband (the boys’ father) played right along with it — Wayne was a mutual friend and the now-ex husband and I had only been married a year, so we didn’t yet have the boys. If my then-husband had only left it be… we could have kept Wayne going for hours… possibly days.

But no… he had to build up the lie into an insane proportion and told Wayne that she’d had shock therapy treatments and couldn’t stomach green jello at all, since that was what was served on the ‘treatment’ days and rambled on more…. so, of course, Wayne caught on.

The EX was always a lousy liar, and always considered himself a master. I’m a lousy liar, so I avoid what I don’t do well — but the potato salad tale… well it was of heroic proportions. I was so proud! LOL. It will remain my lifelong masterpiece. Having pulled off a whopper like that with such success, why compete with it? But sometimes… I just can’t help but to BS a bit…I always fess up… eventually.

I’m amazed Wayne ever forgave me. Why on earth he married me after that… (well, that and the time I told him everyone had to get an AIDS vaccination before they could register for classes at the University of Kentucky, knowing how Wayne hates needles) — it’s amazing he didn’t shoot me.

Of course, that may explain why it took him over 20 years to ask me. *hmmmmmm*

Anyway, even now I adore answering any seemingly obvious question he asks me with a bizarre story, and when he says “REALLY?!?!?” saying “No!” Which makes him grit his teeth and say “Woman! Stop it!” Which results in me enjoying a grand giggle fit.

I must be HELL to live with. :O)

Anyway, back to the Cardinal. Wayne knows we have what he deems “idiosyncracies.” For instance, you NEVER, EVER put shoes on a bed. NEVER. I’ve been known to fly across a room like a rookie sliding successfully home for the first time, to knock them to the floor before they can hit the bedspread. Am I superstitious about all things? NO. I don’t even consider myself a superstitious person — but I notice I’m getting a bit more eccentric as the years pass. I always did want to be an eccentric old woman someday… but I’d not intended to get such an early start.

I don’t avoid black cats. In fact, black cats and Siamese cats are my two favorites. I avoid walking under ladders only when someone is up there painting (in the same way I avoid walking under birds squatting on branches overhead — and for the same reason — white gooey blobs in my hair.) But, I’m not superstitious in the more common ways. Putting a hat on my bed is fine, just keep your dang shoes on the floor.

Anyway, the bird thing had Wayne upset. It had me upset. I remember something about a superstition about killing a bird with a car, but I don’t remember the details… so I created them. Don’t you wish YOU were married to a writer? LOL.

And, when we picked up Derrick and Alex, I said “Wayne…. tell Derrick what you did … tell him about the cardinal.”

And Wayne said “I hit a cardinal with the car.”

Derrick’s voice raised, “You didn’t hit it on the windshield, though, did you?”

“Uhh…. yeah.” Wayne replied.

“Oh nooooooo,” Derrick said in all earnestness. “That’s BAD. That’s awful… that explains about the car problems.”

Derrick is soooo my son. I nearly cracked a smile. But the fact is… there is a superstition about a bird hitting the windshield, about that being a sign of death, serious illness or near-miss of death in the family.

I didn’t remember all the details, but Derrick remembered hearing it from his Grandma Ginger on his Father’s side. I remember hearing from my own grandmother that a bird pecking at the window trying to get into a house meant death in the family. Anyway… I guess that there’s more superstition in the family that I realized.

So, we kept it up until bedtime. Then, I felt guilty, and told Wayne that although I knew there was some superstition about birds, cars, glass and catastrophe, that I had no clue what it was, but I admitted that thinking about stuff like that and “piecing it together” as a series of related events was just a part of the way I view life, it was the way I’ve always thought and probably always will.

He groaned something about “Oh, lucky you.” — but I know he was THINKING “Oh, joy, lucky ME!” and was considering hard the “until death do us part” utterance of a couple years ago. Good thing he loves me, better thing that he tolerates me. :O) He told me he was going to ask my dad about that superstition the next day to see if there was any validity to it. I said “Not Mom?” and he said that he TRUSTED Pops to tell him the truth. LOL. Guess he knows the Allen women well… once we got ya hooked, we enjoy the reeling in enough to make it go tortuously slow. Hehehe. But, we will always fess up… in a few hours. :O)

Yesterday, the shop calls — Wayne’s dad’s mechanic — their family mechanic. The piece we need (a plastic receptacle) can only be purchased by buying the whole pump. The part is another $175 (not including labor) for a plastic piece about the size of a teacup. I think… whatever, I just want it fixed. And I worry that I’d have wrecked, if this had gone out with me driving, rather than me pulling out of the parking spot.

This morning, my father-in-law calls me back. He tells me that they replaced the pump ($270 more bucks down the drain) and it was still leaking, so the mechanic puts it on the rack — and the entire rack and pinion system is out.

Apparently, I’m extremely lucky I wasn’t on the expressway when this happened. And now, I’m angry. It’s no longer a matter of money. It’s no longer a matter of inconvenience and frustration. Now, I realize, SOMEONE was looking out for me and mine — because if this had happened with my kids and my husband in the car with me, going 65 MPH down the highway, chances are pretty good we would have all been killed.

So, I pick up the phone, I call the man that sold me the car and I tell him the latest in this car saga. I tell him that the car is his — that I’ll pay the amount owed on the vehicle at the shop now, but it will be a cold day in hell before me, or mine, get back in that car. I advised him that I would not have the rack and pinion fixed and he could do as pleases with it, that I’ll pay for the work that the mechanic has done to date — and that he can HAVE the car back.

He assures me that we will work it out, tells me he feels terrible about all this. I think he’s being sincere, I really do, but right now, I see imagined images of my children and my husband smeared across the highway and I don’t really care. I’m headed to Ashville tomorrow and when I return on Friday, I’ll be leaving for Colorado for a month on Saturday a.m. He assures me he will “make it right” with Wayne while I’m gone.

I’m sick of being in the hole. I’m sick of being broke. I’m sick of throwing good money after bad. I’m making a good, respectable living and these bills keep me broke — but at least they haven’t killed one or all of us. I’m mad as hell, and I don’t think I’ll get over it anytime soon.

I think I’ll start walking more and driving less. And, now, I’ll probably think more on the bird thing… about that “hitting a bird on the windshield” being an indication of death or a near-miss of death. And, I’ll be more thankful today.