First Friday Fiction — Old Faithful

I buy used cars. I take good care of them, and I try to keep them as long as I can. Until recently, I had been driving a car that was built during the last century and was older than my two youngest children. Recently the repair bills were becoming too frequent and too big. I decided to visit the used car lot and trade Old Faithful for something a bit newer.

I looked at a lot of cars and test-drove a few, and finally made my selection. The price was more than I expected, and the trade-in for Old Faithful was pitifully small—would you believe five dollars? Still, newer wheels were what I wanted, and newer wheels were what I brought home that afternoon.

The next morning I was astonished to see Old Faithful back in my driveway, right behind the newer used car. I had to wait until nine o’clock to speak with the dealer, but I called him from work right at nine. He was surprisingly dismissive over the phone. “No, J,” he told me, “no one drove your car back to your house. It must have found its way back overnight.” I shook my head in disbelief and asked if he wanted me to bring it back. “Don’t bother,” he said. “We found almost seven dollars in spare change in the seats and under them. Nothing else in the car is worth our bother.”

I wasn’t sure what to do next. I don’t need two cars—the insurance alone is too expensive in my neighborhood. Finally, I decided I would have to abandon Old Faithful. I asked my neighbor to follow me in his pick-up truck. We went to the mall, I parked Old Faithful, patted it on the hood, and got in my neighbor’s truck.

The next morning, Old Faithful was back in my driveway again.

My neighbor and I tried all sorts of tricks. We tried leaving Old Faithful in the state park, knowing that the gates would be closed at sunset. The old car still made it back to my driveway. We took it to another town, but ten minutes after we got back, Old Faithful was back as well. We left it in a parking garage, and somehow it still came home again. Everything we tried—disconnecting the battery, deflating the tires, even emptying the gas tank—only managed to slow it down a little bit. Old Faithful was determined to return, and I had no way of stopping it.

Finally, I told Old Faithful to my regular mechanic. He had worked on the car for years and knew all its faults and all its needs. I started telling him what had happened, but he interrupted me to look at the car himself. He opened the hood and looked at the engine, he kicked the tires, and then he started the engine and listened to its sound. After thinking quietly for a minute or two, he turned to me and said, “Well, J, I know what I would do if this was my car.”

“What would you do?” I asked him.

“I’d go ahead and buy another car,” he told me.

At first his advice seemed silly, but my mechanic is a wise man, and he’s never given me bad advice. So now I have three cars crammed into my little driveway. Old Faithful seems happy, and the other two cars don’t seem to mind sharing me with it. I just wish I knew where to find the money to take care of all three cars. J.


Animal behavior

Animals in our neighborhoods do curious things. Often the assumptions we make about their behavior are wrong. We are wrong because we assume these animals think as we think. Animal thinking is different, which is why we often misunderstand the animals around us.

When an emergency vehicle goes down the road sounding its siren, many of the dogs in the neighborhood begin to howl. I used to think that they were howling because the sound of the siren hurts their ears. I recently learned that they are responding to the siren on an entirely different level. To them it sounds like a message. By howling, they are helping to spread the message. Their howling is in no way an objection to the emergency siren; it is assistance in doing the job of the emergency siren.

Sometimes woodpeckers pound on the metal standpipe on the roof of my house. I used to think that woodpeckers were stupid birds-they could not tell the difference between wood and metal, and they could not learn the difference even after days of pounding on the metal. I recently learned that the woodpeckers are sending messages when they bang on the metal standpipe. They are announcing their presence to other woodpeckers and claiming their territory by their sound. In a natural setting, woodpeckers find hollow trees that amplify the sound of their pounding so they can claim their territory. We have made it easier for them to announce their presence and claim their territory by giving them hollow metal pipes to pound.

Mrs. Dim uses a blower to clean the deck behind her house far more frequently than necessary to keep it clean. Every day, several times a day, even when it is wet, Mrs. Dim runs her blower. I used to think that Mrs. Dim was just being annoying because that is her true nature. Either that or she had some kind of compulsion to make noise. After learning about dogs and woodpeckers, I began to understand Mrs. Dim. Like other animals, she is using noise to claim her territory. In a canine manner, she is making sure that the rest of the neighborhood knows where she is. The sound of her blower has nothing to do with keeping her deck clean. It is simply an announcement to the neighborhood: “Fear me, all you neighbors, for I am Dim.”

Animal behavior is endlessly fascinating in all its forms. This has been your educational essay for today. J.


A repair gone amiss

We got through the weekend with the line to the ice-maker and water-dispenser inoperative. Tuesday on my way home from work I stopped by the hardware store and bought the right connector for the water line. (I brought in the section of line that was leaking to be sure to buy the right connector.) Only four dollars and a little bit of work, and the repair would be almost as good as new. Or so I thought.

The men who helped me at the hardware store noticed that my cutting of the line had not been smooth. “You want to make sure to have a clean cut, or the connector will leak,” they warned me. Following their advice, I recut the line, slid it into the connector, and turned the water back on. Success! The connection was not leaking! I was ready to push the refrigerator back into place when I saw another puddle forming. This leak was coming from the adapter—a piece of plumbing that connected the house line to the line that came from the refrigerator, which happened to be different sizes. I shut off the water again and took apart the adapter. I found that the line had corroded right at the adapter. I cut off the corroded end and started to reassemble the adaptor.

The house line would not fit into the adapter.

For about an hour I struggled with the connection, trying to find some way of getting the line into the adapter. I pressed as hard as I could. I tried various tools. I even softened the plastic of the house line in a flame. That looked as if it was going to work, but when I turned the water on again, the line blew out of the adapter immediately. Of course I turned the water off again and cleaned up the latest puddle.

I took a break to eat supper, then returned to the job. A new puddle had formed while I was eating, even though I had left the line closed. I checked the cutoff valve under the sink, loosened it and tightened it again, but a trickle of water was continuing to flow down the line. By this time, I could hear water hissing through the valve even when it was turned off as hard as I could push it.

I know my limitations. Replacing a leaking shut-off valve is outside of my skill set. I grabbed the phone book and called a local plumbing firm. They warned me that there would be an extra charge for coming after hours, but I agreed to pay the extra charge. Meanwhile, I had a one gallon bucket and a two to three gallon waste basket. I let the line empty into the waste basket, and when the waste basket was full—every fifteen to twenty minutes—I let the line empty into the bucket long enough for me to dump the waste basket’s water down the sink.

More than an hour later, the plumber arrived. I explained the problem to him, and since I was paying him to take care of the cut-off valve, I figured I might as well ask him to connect the line to the refrigerator too. He was not the kind of worker who wanted to visit while he worked (or to be watched), so I used the time to study for my Wednesday morning lecture.

After he had taken care of the valve, the plumber told me that he wanted to replace the entire line from the valve to the adapter with copper line. He wanted me that the old plastic line was going to continue to deteriorate, and the next leak might be in the wall instead of under the refrigerator. Of course I agreed. He had the job done in less than an hour. I haven’t checked the price of copper plumbing by the foot, but I can report that my four dollar repair ended up costing me in the ballpark of four hundred dollars.

On the other hand, we have a working ice maker again, and it is fed by copper line that should not disintegrate for many years to come. J.