My Scrape with Death

Me holding a steering wheel and looking terrified

The Build-up

My huge, beautiful, Ford van had loud steering. I took it to my mechanic and he diagnosed it as a failed steering gear box. I said, “At least it is not the rack and pinion.”

The Flashback Scene

You see, my father worked for 30 years at Goodyear. I remember him talking about the great expense involved in a rack and pinion replacement. It sounded like the hip replacement of the car world. When a person’s car was sick, friends would whisper to each other, “I hope it isn’t his rack and pinion.”

Back to the Present

My mechanic said, “That van doesn’t have a rack and pinion. The gear box is its ‘rack and pinion.’ So, my son, you get to experience the great expense you have feared since you owned your first car.” (The last sentence was not spoken, but I know he was thinking it.)

The Boring Part

I had the gear box replaced. Our mechanic is about 10 miles away, so we had trouble finding time to pick up the van. Nikole and I finally had time to pick it up at 5:30am on a Monday.

The Plot Thickens

Driving the van home in the dark, I wondered if there was a little play in the steering wheel. I attributed it to being hypersensitive because of all the money I had just spent. When I drove under a street light, I was surprised to see that, though I was driving straight down the road, the steering wheel was aiming to the right… I mean way to the right. I should have been careening into Lake Onalaska. I decided the mechanic probably forgot to center the wheel.

Later, I made a left turn, and when I straightened the van on the next street, the steering wheel was aiming a little to the left.

Oh Great Brainless One

An intelligent man would have screeched to a halt and run from this possessed vehicle. But, being free of meaningful brain waves, I just kept driving it and wondering.

The Week of Bliss

I called my mechanic and made an appointment to have it looked at the next Friday. I suppose he thought I was a little light on brain waves, or he would have asked me to bring it in right away.

We drove the van all week. Nikole drove it full of little kids and a couple old ladies 50 miles per hour to our Wednesday night church thing. She thought it steered funny.

My Scrape With Death (not really)

On Thursday evening I was driving Edward to the Onalaska YMCA for swim practice. I kept telling him, “This thing is steering really weird.” I turned right and the van hesitated before making the turn. I felt like I had to correct a lot to get it going straight down the next road. (This might be a good time to read the section labeled “Oh Great Brainless One.”)

We drove by my mechanic and I wondered aloud if I should pull in, park, and call Nikole for a ride home. But I didn’t. I dropped him at the Y, and sat in the parking lot wondering what to do. I had dreams of going to Farm Fleet to get chicken food (because I know how to party). But a 65 mile per hour highway lay between me and Farm Fleet. I decided to drive slowly through town to get a cup of coffee and wait for my kid to get done swimming.

I passed the on-ramp to Highway 53, and wondered if I should just chance it. Thinking about how bad that might have been sort of makes me sick. I get the same feeling when I think about the time I almost drowned in Swift Creek.

I got to Panera Bread and pulled into a parking spot. I was not happy with how I was centered between the yellow lines. I inched the van forward and turned the steering wheel to the right. I felt a snap, and the steering wheel became a freewheel. It spun effortlessly as if it were not connected to anything. I rolled down my window and craned my head out to look at the front wheels, and indeed, they did not turn when I spun the steering wheel. I said in my head, “Oh God. What would have happened if this would have broken at 50 miles per hour? Thank you, that it happened in a parking lot.”

A Few Sort of Humorous Parts

I drank coffee in Panera as I waited for the tow truck. I wondered why people were looking at me like some sort of pariah as I swaggered back and forth to the coffee carafe and my table. Finally, I caught my reflection in a window and I was wearing my neon yellow biker jacket. I am sorry. I was layering. I forgot I had it on under my fashionable The North Face coat. I look normal in my neon yellow jacket when I am with 20 of my biker friends on the road, each of us in our own neon jacket. But in Panera, I looked like a freak wearing a street sign.

(Warning: there is a naughty word in this section. Cover the children’s ears) When the tow truck guy arrived, we exchanged the pleasantries usually shared by burly car guys. Then he asked, “What is the problem?”

I said, “It doesn’t steer.”

He asked if he could check it out. He got in, started the engine, and turned the wheel back and forth. He looked at me incredulously (Tow truck guys always do that) and said, “You have steering.”

Rather than give him a lecture on customer service, I just struck a pose like a teen-aged girl, pointed both index fingers at the left front wheel and said, “Yeah, but check it out!”

He stuck his head out the window and turned the steering wheel and said, “Shhhhhit! That sucks.” I agreed in less vulgar terms.

Is It My Mechanic’s Fault?

With mild difficulty, the tow truck guy got my un-steerable van onto his flatbed truck. He delivered it to the mechanic’s now closed shop while I drank coffee and waited for my beautiful wife to come and pick up me and my son.

The next day, I pondered how my mechanic would grovel and apologize for installing a faulty gear box. He would probably offer me free oil changes for life. Then he called and told me it was not the gear box he installed. It was my stupid Pitman Arm.

So, I got to buy a rack and pinion AND a Pitman Arm. My mechanic said that in 30 years of mechanicing, he has never replaced a Pitman Arm. He did not know they could wear out.

So, as usual, I am Mr. Special. The guy who breaks the unbreakable. The guy whose rack and pinion wears out. But at least I’m not the guy who sailed off the road into a cement wall because his steering failed at 65-miles-per-hour.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

An Unfortunate Miscalculation In Cold Weather Riding Apparel

A cyclist frozen in an ice cube but still riding

I drew a sketch of a frozen cyclist. It is not meant to look like anyone we know

This past Saturday I went on a little bike ride with my sister. My crazy sister is turning 60 years old next year, and decided she wants to ride 60 miles on her birthday. She asked me if we could train together sometimes, and I thought, “Lady, I could ride 60 miles before breakfast and again after lunch.” (I don’t struggle with pride. I am just awesome.)

I was a little late to Laurie’s house and we began our ride at 3pm. It was 51 balmy degrees. I wore two long sleeved shirts and a jacket on top. I wore fleece lined tights on the bottom. I thought, “I am going to roast out there.” And I would have roasted, if it were 51° at 3pm in June. But it was November 27, and the sun was laughing and saying, “Look at the idiot in the yellow windbreaker. I am going to bed soon, and he is going to be a popsicle. (Hey, why is that hot chick riding with freaky, yellow, twig man?)

We started out heading north through Winona, Minnesota, and after a few miles, I noted that it felt cooler than I thought it would be. I kept telling myself, “I can feel a little cool for a couple hours.”

When my sister’s phone announced, “You have gone 10 miles,” my torso announced, “I am freezing.” I was glad I wore my winter gloves. I thought back to when my sister asked if I was going to wear my fleece jacket… my beautiful, red, fleece jacket that right now was hanging uselessly on the back of a chair in my sister’s dining room. Why hadn’t I worn the jacket?

The sun was in South America now, and the temperature was dropping fast. I was trying to hide my frigidity from my sister. Around mile 15, I swung my arms around trying to force blood into my frozen fingertips. My sister asked if I was cold. I confessed I was getting cold. I asked, “Are you cold?”

She said, “No, I’m fine.”

How was she fine? She had no windbreaker and she was wearing thin, leather driving gloves. I am the seasoned cyclist. Why am I the one hurting? And I had no idea where I was. Were we 10 miles from home, or 2?

A few minutes later, we rode up to Winona Lake, and I knew we were close to done. My sister asked, “Do you want to ride around the lakes, or head for home?”

I said, “I think I must head home.”

Oh the knowledge that we were on the “downhill side” of this ride gave me renewed strength. I was the great explorer headed home for a hero’s welcome. I was going to live!

Three miles later, my bike was leaning against the garage door at my sister’s house, and I was running for my street clothes. With my ice cube fingers, I put on every bit of clothing I had. My sister made hot coffee, and after I drank that, she fed me hot chili.

I drove home with the heater on full blast, drinking more hot coffee.

My Take-Aways

  1. Do not trust natural fibers! Trust chemicals. Wool long-sleeved jerseys do not keep you warm. Wear the polyester Polar Fleece.
  2. Don’t leave your neck gaiter in the car, Sir Edmond Hillary! Stuff it in your jersey pocket, just in case.
  3. Always bring coffee money!

 

Bee Stings Don’t Hurt That Bad

I want to apologize to my children for every time I thought, “Come on! It’s a bee sting. Get over it!” I was stung as a kid, and it wasn’t that bad.

Today, I was riding with the high school mountain bike team. I was dominating from the back, as usual, when someone stuck an ice pick in my forehead. I realized I had been stung, and, man, did it hurt? I wanted to ask the other guys, “Does anyone mind if we stop so I can curl up and cry for a while?” (I didn’t. I kept riding and trying to look tough.)

man snarling but thinking about crying

I’m not crying… on the outside

The pain grew and I kept thinking of my kids and how little sympathy I have for them when they have a run-in with a bee.

Now I am blogging, with a throbbing red forehead… that itches! And I am getting less sympathy than I deserve.

I am sorry, kids. You are right. It hurts.

Epilogue

After deciding to press on with the ride and not cry, I was doing my usual thing where I drift farther and farther off the back of the group of fearless young people. I felt a drip of sweat slowly running down my eyebrow. A moment later I realized that it was actually my six-legged assailant crawling down past my eyeball. I smacked him off my face in a reflex action and also sent my glasses flying off into the forest.

I stopped… fell farther off the pace… found my glasses… and resumed the chase.

Tiny

Bug reading under a mushroom

The illustrationFriday.com word of the week is “Tiny.” I have been checking out mushrooms on my walks with Jack the Dog. I was glad to finally have an excuse to draw one.

Formula for an Awkward Conversation

  1. While checking out a customer, laugh at his email address because it is pw.schmuck@something.edu.
  2. Notice too late that the domain is .edu
  3. Realize in horror that .edu addresses usually involve real names!
  4. Glance through customer profile and see that indeed “schmuck” is the nice man’s name.
  5. Change subject to the color of the customer’s shirt, while you pray that the ceiling caves in so you can stop thinking about what a SCHMUCK you are!

Nascar Carpool Mom

Drawing of Nikole in old time driving gogglesDear Mrs. Hale,

Can you explain the following quote to me?

“Wow, Dad. Your speed is a lot different than Mom’s.” Your daughter Claire uttered this quote as I drove down sleepy Farnam Street. Another of your daughters stuck up for me, saying, “Lighten up, Claire! He’s going the speed limit.”

Here is another quote I enjoyed: “Dad, why are you driving so slow? Mom would floor it and then screech to a stop in front of Isaac’s house.” Note to my readers: this exciting depiction describes the first forward motion of the car, and it takes place in a 50-foot trip down our gravel alley.

Finally, as I rolled serenely to a stop in front of the high school, Claire said, “Dad, that took you six minutes! Mom gets us here in four.”

Why do I share this story?

I think you should know there is a menace on the road. He drives the speed limit. Be careful you don’t rear-end him as he placidly drives down West Avenue.

Disclaimer:
I have the best wife ever… she bakes, she sews, she teaches. I just think a woman that amazing needs to be teased now and then.

Why I Am The Best Dad Ever

12 Reasons I am the best dad.

  1. I was not angry when three little girls woke me up way too early and invited me to breakfast with them. (Mother and teenagers are gone for the day.)
  2. painted-eggsI helped the little girls blow out eggs, so that later we might paint them for Easter decorations. Poking holes and blowing out the contents of an egg takes much more time than cracking the shell on the side of the pan. But I endured. After all, I am the best dad.
  3. I let the girls pour syrup on their scrambled eggs.
  4. I let the girls bring another girl child into my house for the day, because “it has been so long since we have had a play date.”
  5. I made cheese quesadillas. (Even though an evil doctor has prohibited me from eating cheese, I will make you cheese filled delicacies and watch you eat them.)
  6. After lunch, I taught a session on drawing the human face in profile.

    Four pencil drawings of a girl's profiles

    A spectrum or illustration stretching from youngest to oldest student (except for the instructor’s example on the left). Claire wants me to tell you that the drawing on the right is by 10-year-old Ruthie.

  7. Later, I let my Bethany realize her dream of teaching me how to make marbled paper using shaving cream and food coloring. Because there were four students in her class, I was obliged to donate my last can of shaving cream. I don’t mind growing a beard. Many good dads have beards.
    Girls making marbled paper

    Four girls wasting one man’s shaving cream

    Marbled Paper

    The fruits of our labor

  8. I could have started my homework. I could have worked out. But instead, I took the girls to the library. We checked out picture books.
  9. When we got home, I vowed I would get to my homework. But we had new books. I just had to try a few out to see if they were any good. We sat on the couch and read books.
  10. In the evening, Bethany and Lydia made “mailboxes.” A mailbox is a handmade envelope, taped to the wall. (I envision a 24 inch circle of plaster falling off the wall when those mailboxes are pulled down someday.) Into this mailbox a sibling might tuck little notes of appreciation. As soon as the mailboxes were hung, I was waylaid by Lydia. “Dad, how do you spell ‘best’?”
    “How to you spell ‘sister’?”
    “How do you spell ‘ever’?”
    “Thanks, Dad, now I’m going to draw a picture on this side.”
  11. When they had finally gone to bed, I had my chance to get to work. But, I was drawn to the mailboxes. I found scrap paper and made little cards. Of course a card needs a hand-drawn illustration on the cover. I wrote notes thanking my two youngest for the fun day. (I left out the part about keeping from my work and fitness goals.)
  12. It was 11pm. The day was done, but I set up my indoor bike trainer and readied some reading material. As I was about to mount my bike, my son came down the stairs and said, “Dad, did you forget you were going to come up and read to me?” No. Of course not. The book was very exciting. We had to read two chapters.

So here I am at midnight. I should give up and climb in bed. But, in stubbornness, I insist on doing one thing for me. I will write a blog post so that all my selfless acts today may be turned selfish and scream, check me out! Best dad ever.

I Forgive You

Portrait of Jack the Dog
A post by guest author, Jacko Nagurski

Reflections of a beautiful dog

Drawing of an angry dog

I know you don’t hate me because you are evil. You hate me because you have no other way of coping with my great beauty. You look at your reflection in the water dish and see a dogface. Then you look out the front window and see me walking by, and you feel rage. You see a dog whose lips hang down and cover his teeth, as is the fashion these days. You see hair that has the decency to grow around, rather than over, my eyes. Every morning, I climb out of bed ready for the cover of Field and Stream Magazine. While you… even after hours of expensive grooming, you could elude the dogcatcher indefinitely by laying next to a mop bucket. But your scrub brush appearance is not your fault any more than my super model body is my own doing. So, I will not judge you. I will not return your scorn, for I know it comes from a broken heart. But take heart, my friend. Someday in Dog Heaven, you will live for eternity with a perfect body — one like mine.

A Saturday With Wet Feet

The YMCA Frostbite Swim Meet

Drawing of ed on the edge of the pool with a stopwatch

Drawing of a nervous man. Is he holding a bucket and a piece of cake? Or a stopwatch and a clipboard? It depends on which of my kids you ask.

I volunteered to do timing at my kids’ swim meet this weekend. It was -2° outside. But after entering the Y in my Inuit costume, I changed into shorts and a t-shirt to brave the tropical pool room. I wish the kids could learn to swim without splashing. I’m like, “Hey kid. I’m giving up my Saturday to help out at your race and you thank me by launching eight ounces of pool water onto my foot? You’re lucky I brought a change of socks.”

Timing for the prestigious Frostbite Swim Meet is tense. I kept saying in my head things like, “Okay, this is a 200 meter race. That’s eight lengths. Okay, he’s on his sixth length, I think. Oh crud, my lane is in the lead! I can’t look at the other timers to see if they are getting ready to hit the stop button. Okay, okay, I will try to discern if he is setting up for a flip turn or a reach for the wall. I HOPE THIS TWERP DOES FLIP TURNS!” I needed muscle relaxants by the time my morning shift was over.