Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How To "Rig" Your Life

Stephen Delopoulos--"She Held My Hand" (mp3)
Billy Bragg--"I Keep Faith" (mp3)

We like to make fun of the previous owner of our house (now 16 years gone from there). He was a classic do-it-yourselfer, and being the jejeune home purchasers that we were back then, we were more enthralled by all of the new things he had done, from playroom in the basement to huge new deck in back, than we were in carefully examining his craftsmanship.

In short, Gene (his real name) rigged everything.

A definition: in our family lexicon, the verb "to rig" means that one has found some partially-thought-out shortcut for making something work. And, implicit in that definition is the idea that if you "rig" things, you also make do with things that no longer work.

What Gene knew is that when you do things yourself, you don't have to bring out a County Inspector to make sure that your work is up to Code. He also knew, which we didn't, that it might be worth it to put a shitload of work into a house in order to be able to sell it. Once long gone, it doesn't matter anymore if the basement is going to flood several times each winter, if the huge deck is going to trap moisture against the back of the house and cause it to rot, if the homemade drainage system for the washing machine flows upward rather than downward.

Almost all of the money we've had to put into our house, or plan to, is because of the results of Gene's rigging.

But the fact is that I, too, am a rigger. Not every modern man is a home improvement specialist, so if you don't know how to fix things, you at least have to figure out how to get by, do without, or rig a temporary solution.

Though I fancy myself a pretty good cook, I may be even more proud of the fact that I cook all of those meals on a stove where only one and a half of the 4 burners work (one works part of the time if you really slam it into the socket). Though I don't know how to create drainage system, I can dig a ditch and create a wall so that most of the laundry water drainage won't run back into the house. I can put a bucket under a leak. I can make a toilet whose innards are falling apart keep flushing with a rusty safety pin. I can paint over anything without conscience.

But to paraphrase someone who might have once said something famous: "He who lives by the rig, dies by the rig."

And so, two weeks ago, I found myself on an interstate past Louisville, Kentucky in a Toyota Camry whose basic systems had been compromised, even though it was still running. Drive up mountains and it will overheat. Drive too fast and it will overheat. Drive in the hot temperatures of that day with the air conditioner on too long and it will overheat. But I had figured out those parameters pretty quickly, and so, through constant negotiations between speed and heat and altitude, I had made it over 300 miles and was feeling pretty good about my chances of making it another 180 miles before stopping for the night. I was driving 65 miles per hour and feeling socially responsible that I was getting 35 mpg, something I'd never done before. Yep, I had it licked. A little hot and sweaty, but the music was blaring and I was feeling good.

That was when I hit the dead stop of all lanes on the interstate. I'd just had my brakes done, so I coasted to a smooth stop and prepared to wait it out, windows down, a/c off. Yeah, I sat for awhile and it was hot, but the car didn't overheat while idling and I had a cup of ice left over from a Panera drink and I was alone, so I was as patient as I can get when traffic stops. Soon enough, traffic started to pull forward, so in preparation, I put up the windows, switched the a/c back on and prepared to resume my course. When the car in front of me started to move, I, too, put my foot on the gas. The car clicked and died.

Now, there are two things that I've yet to tell you about. First, that there is a problem with the battery in the Camry, that postive post on the battery has worn down and the cable cannot be tightened enough to keep the charge flowing solidly, so that if it gets jarred too much, the car loses power. Now, I once had that thing rigged, with a piece of string that pulled that cable to the right and kept tension on it and kept electricity, flowing, but, in between then and now, the car has been in the shop and they have derigged my rigging. Second, that over time, since it's a 1996, both handles on the front doors have broken off and you have to put the window down and open the door from the outside. Which you can't do when the battery connection has slipped. So, I'm sitting in a dead Camry in the middle of the interstate and cars are beginning to honk behind me and not only can I not start the car, I can't even get out.

It is the Perfect Storm of the "rigging" lifestyle.

The only solution is to slither between the seats to the back and to slide out the back door on the passenger side hands first, walk around to the driver's door, open it from the outside, reach inside, release the hood, open the hood, pull the left battery cable as far to the right as possible to try to get a connection, close the hood, get back inside and try to start the car. By that time, cars are passing me on both sides of that left lane of the interstate, shouting derisively and raising their hands like "What the f*#k?" and no one offering any help because I am the last impediment to their getting back up to interstate speed. But, yes, the car starts, and, yes, I start driving again.

At some point, in 10 days or so, I will have to drive back home. I will have to negotiate altitude and speed and heat. But, most of all, I will have to confront once again the consequences of being a "rigger." And though I probably will make it home, the process may not be pretty.

Happy birthday to my wife on her birthday, she who "held my hand" and "keeps the faith" as I rig us through the days.


Anonymous said...

this is almost as good as when you met us in Asheville in some "rig" that was burning oil and had a rear tire with a slow leak. Well, I think we found out that the tire leak wasn't as slow as we thought.

Daytimerush said...

Oh wow! I was sweating with you through this story. I have been there, done that, many times since I started driving. My family keeps cars till they die!!

troutking said...

1. please make "jejeune home purchasers" your fantasy football team name this season. or jejeune anything for that matter.

2. at any point during this escapade did you think about the nearly new subaru forester in your driveway?

Billy said...

I'm literally sitting here, in my office, laughing and fighting back tears at picturing you sliding ungracefully into the backseat while every single driver passing is trying to come up with any reasonable explanation for your behavior.

I guarandamntee you none of them said, "Hmm. I bet both of his front door handles are broken, and that's the only way he can get out. Poor lad."


Aryl W said...

Love this story! I've got a 94 Infiniti (190K miles) that has a broken driver's side door. It can't be opened without tearing off the sheet metal at a body shop (estimate $245), so I climb over the seat. I should be embarrassed, but every month when I don't write a car payment, I'm not.

I love that I'm not the only on who rigs my car.

Aryl W

daisy said...

Love, love, love this post! There is a 1982 Datsun (yes, Datsun) Sentra sitting in my garage. The driver side door does not open, but since it is too old to have elctric windows you merely have to roll down the window to escape.

This car was my husband's first car and first love. When we moved 2 years ago we had an agreement that the Dookey car(we used to call it something else then we had kids)
would only make the move if it could drive the 100 plus miles on it's own...if not we would give it to good will. I was sure this was my chance to be rid of it.

The battery had to be jumped, but it started and made it up I 85 doing about 55mph all the way to our new driveway where it stalled and has not started since.

Every once in a while as I walk by the Dookey car small pieces of it fall off onto the floor. I used to collect them, but now I dispose of them as it may be the only way the car ever leaves my garage!

jed said...

seriously Bob, you need a "new to you" car. this is the post of my 76 year old dad who won't buy another car.

Bob said...

Jed, my older daughter, my younger daughter, and, for the most part, my wife, all drive new to newish, very reliable, vehicles.

jed said...

"new to you" does not have to be the same as "newish." i think a nice 2002 model will do nicely. i will probably be looking for the same shortly....or, maybe a scooter?

The Kentuckian said...

Andre was right about you.

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