Lifestyle

Channeling My Inner Lug Nut

Girls don't do this kind of Mr. Fix-It stuff, but, damn it, I did

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When I was a kid, I had no interest in what Mom did around the house. I never learned how to fold "hospital corners," when to add fabric softener to the wash or how to iron a blouse. Instead, I took an avid interest in my father's activities.

By day, Dad was a mild-mannered podiatrist. On weekends, he metamorphosized into an unlicensed (but fearless) carpenter, electrician, plumber, gardener and auto mechanic. From the age of 8, I served as his assistant, fishing wires through walls, handing him wrenches and marveling at his mechanical ingenuity.

"How did you know all this stuff?" I asked.

Dad would just smile, which led me to believe that the male of the species is born with lug nuts. Accompanying him into the musty depths of his basement workshop was more enthralling than the "girl stuff" that absorbed my older sister.

Around the age of 12 or 13, my hormones kicked in. I lost all interest in playing Mr. Fix-it. I had better things to do, like talk for hours on the phone, paint my nails and meet friends for bottomless Cokes. By the time I learned to drive, my eyes glazed over when Dad attempted to show me how to change the oil and check tire pressure. Girls don't do that. Instead, we wave five-dollar bills at gas station attendants.

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When my car made funny noises, I took it in to be serviced by guys who spoke in a jargon that was as foreign to me as Swahili.

"Ma'am, it's you're catalytic converter ... digital storage oscilloscope ... kukomaa tumbili."

When my father was still alive, I could call him and get a second opinion. These days, I just hand over my credit card and dreams of retirement. That was until the other day when the locks on all four doors of my Saturn began opening and closing of their own accord. It sounded as if I was transporting a troupe of flamenco dancers. Clickity, clickity, clack! Clickity, clickity, clack! Was this my car's death rattle?

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Granted, Saturn went belly up in 2010. which means my car is as extinct as a T. rex. It's also 16 years old, which in human years is 108. But this baby has less than 80,000 miles and it gets me where I want to go. I remembered the intensity with which my father regarded his vehicles, poking around under the hood and trying, in vain, to pass his knowledge onto me.

"How many miles do you get to the gallon?" he would ask of my latest ride.

I had no idea. All I knew was how many miles were between one Dunkin Donuts and the next.

The only dealership that still serviced Saturns informed me that diagnosing the problem would set me back equal to the cost of one to two cashmere sweaters. (That's my personal rubric for the rate of inflation.) This, of course, didn't include the cost of actually fixing the problem which, I gathered, would be in the neighborhood of a dozen or so cashmere sweaters.

Shaken but not stirred, I searched the internet for answers. First, I found solace in an online forum of fellow Saturn owners. Naturally, all the posts were written by men, determined to fix the damn clicking on their own. None of their efforts worked. But one hinted at an interim solution. Remove the door lock fuse. But, hey, I didn't know my car even had a fuse box, let alone where it was located and the idea of messing with it frightened me.

YouTube videos scared me even more. Mechanics in overalls showed how to disassemble a car door as if they were carving a turkey. Instead, I went to dealerships — not for diagnostics, but to buy a new car. After shaking hands with salesmen at three different lots, I experienced the kind of remorse felt by married men who contemplate trading in their wife of 20 years for a newer, flashier model. Yes, she's hot, but how's her brisket?

I went back to the online forums and videos. How hard could it be to pull a fuse? I consulted the handbook that came with my car for the first time. Whaddya know? The fuse box is located on the passenger side of the "hump" on the floor. With trepidation, I popped open the fuse box and, following the diagram, I pulled out the one that operates the door locks. It was as tiny as my little fingernail.

The clicking stopped. Admittedly, I no longer had "power" doors. They were now manual, same as the cars of my childhood. I held the tiny fuse in the palm of my hand. This? This $3.99 part is the unfathomable technology which required computer diagnostics?

I felt a rush of empowerment. Girls don't do this stuff. But, damn, I did. My geriatric Saturn won't last forever, but there are some things I'm going to do before getting a new car. Like buying a cashmere sweater.

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