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My Wife’s Haunted Car and Other Things

9 Sep

by Roger White

 

Let me get this out of the way right here and now: For all the times I’ve been a smartass to any of you out there in reader-land, I convey my sincere apologies. I used to think that just about anything is fair game in the name of humor. I was not above smartassery if it garnered some hearty yuks. But lo, being on the receiving end of a smartass barb recently made me understand. Funny is in the eye of the bee holder. Or something. So there, I’m sorry. Long-winded explanation to follow.

 

The preceding paragraph came about because my wife and I recently became thoroughly convinced that her car is haunted. True! It’s all true. The old Honda makes a strange humming noise—using ok not wifeys carDave Barry caps now—WHEN IT’S NOT EVEN ON! I thought wifey had been hitting the cooking vodka a bit when she unloaded this on me, especially after I pulled up a chair on two occasions and sat next to her car in the garage and heard: absolutely nothing. But the other night, as I was emptying the trash in the garage, it happened. The old rattletrap hummed at me. It was kind of a pleasant hum, nothing menacing. But it was a hum nonetheless—coming from a vehicle that had been sitting dormant for hours. What’s even weirder is that it doesn’t seem to emanate from the engine. It’s an overall, ethereal sort of tune, as if the entire car just decides to hum. Lasts a while, then stops. Somewhere near B flat, I think.

 

Unnerved, and after a dip into the cooking vodka, I called up our mechanic. I asked him, after catching my breath and pouring myself another helping of cooking sauce, what in the world would make a car, that hasn’t been driven in hours, mind you, hum? (If you know where this is going because you have a smartass mechanic, don’t ruin it for the others.)

 

And Mr. Mechanic said: “Maybe it doesn’t know the words.”

 

Rimshot. Applause, applause. Another helping of vooking vokda all around. After he stopped laughing, which was a good long while, he switched into mechanic gobbledygook mode: “Could be your ABS relay switch stuck in regenerate mode or perhaps your evaporator coils releasing pressure. Have you checked that?”

 

“Uh, yeah. No.”

 

“Or it could be haunted,” he concluded. Again with the laughing. “Bring it in, we’ll check it out.”

 

Funny guy. He has a point, though. It truly could be haunted. The wife and I used to scoff and pooh-pooh such notions, but through our long, strange trips together, we have both become convinced that there are — well, let’s just say there are things beyond our knowledge as mere humans trudging about on this little planet. Another schot of kooking sschvodka, please.

 

Two very peculiar examples come to mind: (1) a photo of Edgar Allan Poe’s grave and (2) a spooky stay in Santa Fe, New Mexico. So, pull up a log. Some years back, Sue and I were visiting Baltimore. EAs graveWe had one of those old cameras that actually used film, the kind you gave to the drugstore clerk for developing. Before the age of nude selfies and all that crap. We had taken all the usual tourist photos: the Inner Harbor, Maryland blue crabs, a downtown mugging, and a shot of the grave of E.A. Poe. Yes, the original Stephen King. When we got the photos back from the drugstore, all was pretty much normal—ya know, some fuzzy, some out of focus, some pretty decent shots. But the shot of Poe’s grave was truly bizarre. The picture appeared to have flames coming up the bottom and sides, as if surrounding the gravesite. Hand on heart here. We know we still have it somewhere, but we cannot find it. It’s the only photo of the rolls that was out of the ordinary. Way out of the ordinary. It looked like it was on fire.

 

No. 2 is even stranger. If you’ve ever stayed in Santa Fe, you’ve probably heard how it is purported to be one of the most haunted places in North America. Old Indian burial grounds, the site of extremely ancient civilizations, the works. In the dead of winter one year (no pun intended), our vacation stay there was extended because we were snowed in. Inches and inches of deep, beautiful snow. Our girls were tiny, and they loved it. Sue and I were perturbed at the cost of our unintended extension, and our dog, Ralph, hated every minute of it. Something about the room we were in, at the Las Palomas Inn, gave our fat daschund an extreme case of the willies. He would whine and mommyhesitate every time we entered the room. He would piddle nervously on the front step. Then Sue woke up in the wee hours one night convinced that one of the girls was calling her. She heard a distinctive little voice calling out, “Mommy.” But our girls were sound asleep. When Sue told me the story, as we sat on our hotel bed, I decided to call our ghost’s bluff. “OK,” I called out. “If there is something or someone here, give us a sign. Now.” At that precise moment, one of the two sconce lights on the wall surrounding the bed came on. Came on, mind you. If a light had gone off, I could explain that one away. Bulb went bad, that’s all. No. One of the lights came on. Wifey’s my witness. I still shiver about that one. We changed rooms, then hightailed it back home as soon as the snow cleared.

 

Who’s up for more cookling vkoda? Whew. Seriously, do you have a story like this? One that makes you think, hmmm, there is more going on here than we know. E-mail me at roger.white@tasb.org. I wanna hear them. I’ll post the truly creepy ones. It’s almost Halloween, ya know. Right now I gotta go, I think the wife’s car’s humming at me again.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

It Takes a Village to Save the Squirrels

18 Nov

by Roger White                                                                              

It dawned on me the other day, as I was returning yet another socket wrench and assorted metric sockets to my neighbor Jim, that regarding many things about life and the cosmos I’m mostly talking out of my, uh, hat.

This particular moment of clarity came to me as I realized, watching my long-suffering and patient neighbor reseat his tools into their precise positions in his immaculate garage workshop, that as vociferously as I rail against modern society and pine for the days of yore, I would have lasted maybe a week and a half in the a slow squirrelolden times. My family would have lived under one of those quaint covered bridges. We would have subsisted on wild turnips and slow squirrels. Oh, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t even know how to trap a squirrel, much less cook the thing and eat it.

You see, I have no skills. Zero. Nada. Bupkiss. Save helping you proofread your short story or guiding you through the distinctions between the possessive apostrophe and the contraction apostrophe, I’m about as useful and handy as excess nose hair. I don’t build things. My attempts at simple home repair often conclude at the minor emergency clinic. I don’t use a miter box. I’m not even sure what a miter box is.

woopusThe point is, I understand now that I should be thankful to the Large Kahuna that I live in a time and place where hammering nouns and verbs into place can actually put food on the table for me and mine. I’m sure the squirrels are thankful, too. Especially the slow ones. Life in the era of barter and wampum and manual dexterity would have been a tad severe for yours truly. As Quint said to Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Jaws, “You have city hands, Mr. Hooper.” City hands, indeed. And a city brain.

And thus, with this dawning, came the glow of appreciation for guys like Jim. This may also be a Large Kahuna type of thing, but is it mere happy circumstance that so many of my family’s friends and neighbors are people who can really do things? I mean, criminy, there’s Jim next door, who can fashion anything from an acoustic guitar to a backyard deck from a piece of tree bark; there’s Matt across the street, who’s fixed our computer so many times that when I call him now, instead of saying hello, he simply says, “I’m coming.” There’s our friend Rodney the homebuilder, who put our bedroom ceiling back together that time I fell through the attic. And there’s neighbor Glen, whose truck has saved us so many delivery fees through the years that we’ve been able to buy a new dryer. Oh, about that truck this weekend, Glen…

You get the picture. Sans our friends and neighbors, we’d be out several grand a month just keeping the place running. Ya ever try to bargain with a refrigerator repairman by offering to conjugate his verbs?

I’m astounded at the amazing people around me—not just because they can actually accomplish the things they do with their minds and hands, but because they have such generosity of spirit. I think sometimes if I were Jim, and the clod next door rang my bell yet again beseeching me to diagnose his ailing garbage disposal, I’d seriously consider feigning a communicable disease. Or keeping the lights off until my nettlesome neighbor went away. Not Jim. Not Matt or Glen or Rodney. They answer every time.

i build sentencesSo yeah. Color me humbly mindful that it takes a village. It takes a village of wonderful folks to keep me from having to wear “Will Edit for Food” signs on the streetcorner. I’m earnestly thankful. As are the squirrels, I’m sure.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Dead Cars Are Today’s Coalmine Canaries

9 Sep

by Roger White

 

You see them more and more these days: dead cars by the side of the road. Sure, the cops and the towing companies attempt due diligence, but they can’t keep up now. There are just too many croaked clunkers all over our highways and byways. I sat and thought about it the other day; you know what the proliferation of all of these deceased vehicles means, don’t you? That’s right, we’re all poor now. Well, 98.8 percent of us.

 he dead

It’s just like the canaries in the coalmine. Miners in our grandpappies’ day used canaries (those brave little birds) to make sure the air was breathable in their unbelievably dangerous underground offices. If Tweety Pie stopped singing and was suddenly on his back with his widdle feet in the air, it was time to haul out of there—the air had turned bad. Well, all those roadside stalled Chevys, puffing smoke with their widdle tires in the air—they’re today’s coalmine canaries. It ain’t good, folks. The air has turned bad.

 

The simple reason for this phenomenon is that our economy is barely breathing. There’s no more economic oxygen. Prices for staples such as groceries and gas are unacceptably high; cost for basic medical care is astronomical—and the whole system of for-profit care is at the very least misguided (and at worst, utterly evil); wages are stagnant; and jobs are about as scarce as an untattooed NBA player. Add to this the fact that the stock market today goes haywire anytime a terrorist sneezes in Yemen—and everyone’s retirement account is somehow inextricably tied to the market—and you have all the makings for a slippery slide right back into 1929, only perhaps worse.

he dead too 

Hence all the inert autos floundering near parkways hither and yon. It’s all about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, 21st-century style. People are barely keeping their heads above water. It’s all most of us can do to feed the family, pay the mortgage, and keep the electricity on. Ancillary things, such as regular car maintenance, swiftly fall by the wayside when the money is just not there. And so, kaplunk. The trusty old Ford keels over because its financially strapped owner couldn’t afford to change the timing belt—which, by the way, costs approximately a cool grand including time and labor and all the extra nebulous charges your friendly fix-it shop always manages to throw in.

 

Unfortunately, we can’t really hightail it out of this particular coalmine, can we? And from all appearances, it’s a damn deep mine. In many ways, it’s downright disgusting. There truly is no middle class anymore; there are the mega-uber-wealthy, comprising less than 2 percent of the population—and there are 250 million shades of poor in these United States. The average corporate CEO income today is about $4,615 per hour; minimum wage is $7.25, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

the trapMore and more of us are carrying four- and five-digit credit card balances and are using credit cards often to pay not for entertainment or the occasional luxury item but for groceries and monthly bills. In many cases, it’s unavoidable. My neighbor down the street recently posted on Facebook that her electricity bill for one month was more than $400—and her home is less than 1,900 square feet. AARP magazine noted that in 1963 a 49-ounce box of laundry detergent cost 69 cents; today, it costs $8.00. A movie ticket in 1963 was 86 cents; today, just under $10. Even adjusting for income, we’re much worse off now than we were 50 years ago. Boy, it’s getting tough to breathe in here.

 

Keep your eyes on the roadside, people. The air has surely turned bad.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Our Winter Trip–to the Tune of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’

7 Jan

by Roger White

 

Come andHere We Go listen to a story ’bout a man named Rog,

For their winter getaway got the car out the garage,

Packed the family up and drove to Santa Fe,

But here’s some weird stuff that happened on the way.

 

’Bout five in the morning just outside Fredericksburg,

With temperature readings like an Arctic iceberg,

Steering got squirrelly and a tire went POP,

Two hundred bucks later we leave the tire shop.

 

We Is NowhereOn I-10 past Sonora I decide to take a snooze,

Wifey’s at the wheel, what have I got to lose?

I wake and we’re smack in the middle of nowhere,

Fifty miles from a town with no gas to spare.

 

Fort Stockton’s now roughly thirty miles away,

With the “Empty” light on we both begin to pray,

Then out of nowhere an Exxon comes in sight,

We laugh and we cry and soon forget our plight.

 

Up 285 into old New Mexico,

Night begins to fall and the wind begins to blow,

There in the darkened road with no time to stop,

We almost run over a New Mexico cop.

 Stop in the Lame of the Naw

Fuzz, that is. Black uniform. Gun and all.

 

Well, the next thing ya know we’re into Santa Fe,

Wife and I relax while the girls go out to play,

We realize we’re now about a thousand in the hole,

For Christmas, we figure, we’ll give the girls coal.

 

Anthracite, that is. Black fuel. Fossilized carbon.

 Everybody loves Coal

Heading back to Texas we drive all day and night,

With fast food in our bellies the car sure smells a might,

We all begin to wonder why this far we did roam,

Next year we figure it’s best to just stay home.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

He Won’t Ask, So I Will: Can You Help Out Ol’ Bob?

14 Aug

by Roger White 

Sometimes, my frenetic fellows, there are things more important than humor. Not often, but sometimes.

In the 93 years and four days that I’ve been penning this potpourri of philosophic punditry, I’ve been serious with you only three times: (1) upon the enactment of Prohibition; (2) when Roger Staubach retired; and, of course, (3) when Irene Ryan passed away.

 

It took me months just to dip my toes into a cement pond again after Granny was taken from us.

Alas, I come to you with a heavy stylus again, and your stylus, too, will droop when I share with you this woeful story of one family’s misfortune over this sullen summer season. I know this family well; they live in my neighborhood. The dad provides a modest living for his wife and two kids; however, he’s proud and would never ask for help. But let me tell you, friends, their situation is dire.

It all began in May, actually. The family patriarch—we’ll call him Bob—was trimming the front yard with his ancient but trusty weedeater. A sharp, brittle crack, like that of a rock breaking glass, sounded behind Bob. Upon investigation, Bob found that it was the sound of a rock, breaking glass—his car’s rear window, in fact, shattered to bits by a stone thrown from his trusty weedeater. Thus began Bob’s season of sorrow.

Just days later, Bob and his wife—we’ll call her Bobbie—decided that even though money was tight, it was high time to install rain gutters on their roof. Water had puddled in deep pools near their front door whenever it rained, and they worried about flooding and uneven settling of the house’s foundation. Less than a week after the gutters went up, during a sudden downpour, the family’s cat—we’ll call him Mr. Bobs—was seen eyeing the living room ceiling with peculiar intensity. Upon investigation, Bob found the ceiling leaking like a Watergate informant. Bob and Bobbie ran outside to witness all the rainwater from one roof funneled into one tiny spot on the roof below it. It was like Niagra! That’s what Bob said. When they came back inside, the shellshocked couple saw that a refrigerator-sized chunk of the ceiling had collapsed onto the living room floor, sending Mr. Bobs and the dog—we’ll call him Bobsy—scampering to safety. The living room was a quagmire of plaster, sheetrock, soaked insulation, raccoon droppings, and not-so-drywall chunks, all in a nice, fetid stew. The gutter guys blamed it on the house’s “bad flashing.” Bob began to develop an eyelid flutter.

It was about this time, during hostile negotiations with the gutter people, that Bobbie’s ancient but trusty vehicle began coughing and uttering noises not at all reassuring. Upon investigation, Bob’s mechanic diagnosed several near-terminal illnesses, maladies that could be cured only by a new timing belt, front-end alignment, major overhaul of the magna-gasket-crossover valves, complete johnson rod replacement, and other wallet-invasive procedures.

And, of course, all of this comes when the family’s oldest daughter—we’ll call her Bobette—has come of driving age and is steadily, maddeningly lobbying for a vehicle of her very own. Upon investigation, Bob and Bobbie have learned that insurance for young Bobette will come to a monthly sum that is approximately the equivalent of the family’s home mortgage.

Wait, that’s not all. Oh, no. As July melted into August for this ill-fated family, they noticed the ambient temperature in the house steadily creeping higher and higher, to the point where everyone began huddling near the freezer pretending to hunt for frozen burritos and ice cream. Upon investigation, Bob found the home’s A/C unit passed out in its little garage closet. No pulse, nothing. Dead from overexertion. Prescription: new units, inside and out—and, of course, new dinner menu: Ramen, beans, hamburger helper. As cousin Eddie says in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Don’t know why they call this stuff hamburger helper, it does fine just by itself.”

Indeed. And if that wasn’t enough—for this family, I mean—they’ll be paying off the full set of braces for the youngest—we’ll call her Bobina—until the year 2106.

These are good, decent folks. Bob would never ask, so I will. Won’t you help out a neighbor in need? Just contribute what you can—five bucks, a buck, a Whataburger coupon, whatever. Just send it to me, and I’ll be sure that Bob and Bobbie get it. God knows what autumn has in store for us—uh, them.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Mr. All-Day Sucker-Head and Your Friendly Fix-it Shop

6 Jun

by Roger White

Our little family was tooling along this year, struggling to stay within our monthly budget while juggling life’s big-ticket items—you know: braces, home improvement loans, countless teenage daughter items, summer camp fees times number of children squared, etc., etc.—when the two most feared words in all of suburbia’s lexicon knocked us flat.

Car repair.

Funny thing is, it all started with just a broken brake light. I’m sitting in my wife’s car at a stop light, waiting to turn right, when a smiling woman pulls up next to me and says, “Hey, your right rear light is out. Better get it fixed, ’cause the cops will stop you for that.”

Instant adrenaline panic overdrive. The cops! Where?

Ever since I was a teenager, having a cop stop me for any reason has always struck fear deep in my heart, even when I was doing absolutely nothing wrong. Readers of a certain age will remember the CSNY lyric: “Like looking in my mirror and seeing a police car!”

So the wife and I promptly hightailed it over to our nearest franchise fix-it shop, thinking that a broken rear light costs, what, five bucks maybe?

Hah. The franchise fix-it shop guys saw us coming a mile away. I should have known. I can’t think of any other scenario where I feel so much like a life-sized walking all-day sucker than talking with the mechanic man. I’m thinking I’m not alone on this.

I believe that auto repair types begin sizing you up for the big squeeze the minute you walk in the door.

“Hello, sir, I see you and your wife have a Honda V6.”

“Uh, yes.”

“Does your model have the actuated re-inverter or self-regulating?”

“What?” Off guard, I blurt, “Actuated, I think. Really, we just need a brake light…”

“Uh oh. Actuated.”

(The other guy behind the counter sadly shakes his head at this point. The choreography is keen and well-executed, I must say.)

Still, I play along, because I don’t know enough about cars to bluff them, and they know that I don’t know. Furthermore, I know that they know I don’t know. You know?

Dang, I should have said self-regulating. We’re already off on the wrong foot. “Well, it may be self-regulating, I’m not sure.”

“No, you said actuated.”

“Is that going to be a problem?” I ask.

“Depends. What are you in for?”

“Busted rear light.”

“Hmmmm.” More head shaking. Some computer clacking, looking in reference manuals.

We left the car with the fix-it shop crew, said three quick Hail Marios to the Great Grease Gods, hoped and prayed for the best, and went about our day. I tried googling “re-inverter,” but all I got was something about how to design a death-ray gun. When we got the call that the car was ready, we swallowed our gum, put on our all-day sucker heads, and made our way back to the garage. A different guy behind the counter gave us a bill that was a good 25 percent over the estimate. On the bill was a hefty item—I kid you not—that was labeled “service fee,” on top of labor, parts, tax, recycling charges, oil disposal fee, and all the rest.

My wife, always the braver of us, questioned this item, noting that the estimate was much less than the sum before us.

“This is way over what you said,” Sue said right out loud, turning all heads in the shop. I cringed. In a western movie, this was one of those moments where the piano player stopped playing and the saloon grew deathly silent. “What is this service charge?” A tumbleweed rolled eerily across the shop floor.

I expected another stern, condescending talking-to about how variable fluctuations in the world of auto parts derivatives combined with the situation in Libya, hourly swings in crude oil prices, and our particular vehicle’s unfortunate re-inverter configuration all coalesced in the time it took to repair our rear brake light to necessitate an additional service charge. But the guy looked at the bill, looked at my wife, and said, “Huh. Don’t know what that is. I’ll take it off.”

Booiiiinnng. That was the sound of my brain leaping out of my skull and bouncing on the floor. How many people, I wondered as I chased my brain across the floor, pay this “service charge” without a second thought?

“By the way, you need new struts. They’re bleeding onto your brakes. That’s about $600 without tax.”

Flush with new confidence instilled by wifey, I took my turn. “Oh, no you don’t. I know how you guys operate. Struts. No such thing as struts, I bet.”

I got some looks of approval from some of the other guy customers as we walked out of the shop. I think they were looks of approval, anyway. I had a bit of difficulty getting my all-day sucker-head in the car, but we drove away with a bit of salvaged pride. Struts, indeed.

“Hey, what’s that noise, hon?”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Oak Hill with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.