Monday, February 5, 2007

I Need a Squeegee

“Please back up, please!”

That was me this morning, speaking aloud while sending intense messages by mental telepathy to the guy in back of me so that he would back up into the hydrant space and give me enough room to get into my spot after the street sweeper came. The street sweeper had to stop again for the guy to get out and move garbage onto the curb. (We should start moving it for him.) And through traffic got involved. (Those cars should just learn to hang back until the alternate-side parkers have finished their ballet.) The guy behind me cooperated, and then I asked the person ahead of me, a young black woman in a white VW Beetle with New Jersey plates, chatting on her cell phone, to please pull up a foot, so that my new friend would be safely out of the yellow zone.

Whew! 7:41 and all is well.

The sun rises over a building at the farthest end of the block at 7:46 and lights up the guy in the car behind me, visible in my rearview mirror: black, with a lean face, mustache, and stocking cap, he leans back with his eyes closed, bobbing his head to music. Dangling from his rearview mirror is a miniature white-fringed banner with a black diagonal stripe on a red ground: the flag of Trinidad and Tobago. Suddenly, as if he suspects someone is watching, he performs a little auto maintenance, vigorously buffing his dashboard and polishing his steering wheel, making everything shipshape. He reaches over to tuck in the sideview mirror on his passenger side. He turns on his windshield wipers and washes his windshield.

I wish I could do that.

It seems I took off on a 360-mile round trip on Friday having failed to do routine auto maintenance. I am due for an oil change and had been meaning to get the car winterized since November, but I couldn’t think what “winterizing” might entail—that is, until I flicked on the windshield washer and nothing happened. Then I got worried: if the windshield-washer fluid had evaporated, what might have become of the antifreeze?

I stopped at a gas station in Connecticut. Since it was already close to four on a Friday afternoon, the mechanics were off duty. The man at the register, however, told me, “I guarantee you won’t have any problem. Cars these days are good to thirty below.” I bought gas and windshield-washer fluid, and popped open the hood to fill the reservoir. I don’t look under here very often, and there are lots of things with twist-off caps . . . Then I spotted it: it is the one shaped like a bottle for collecting urine. Blue urine. It didn’t seem to hold very much, though. And then I happened to notice the two tiny hoses, like Fallopian tubes, that are threaded up the underside of the hood to those pinprick-size holes that the fluid jets out of to splash on your windshield: they were not attached to anything.

So I performed an emergency roadside repair, splicing the severed ends of the tube together, using the same roll of transparent tape I’d used to fix my headlight. (I have grown extremely wary of the construction barriers—heavy-duty planks nailed to railroad ties—since one of them snagged me.) The operation was a success: the system was passing fluids normally. The snow started in the last hour of my drive, but luckily, while it hovered and swirled mesmerizingly ahead of me, it (or I) had some property whereby the snowflakes didn’t land on my windshield.

On Saturday, I brushed the snow off the car (New England got three inches) and changed the dressing on the headlight, using a combination of duct tape (which matches the body of the car) and packing tape. Unfortunately, in my zeal to clean the windshield, I handled the wipers too cavalierly, like a baton twirler, and the next thing I knew I had dislocated a windshield wiper on my passenger side.

So now I’m spending the afternoon at an Auto Zone in Worcester, and consulting my Owner’s Manual on how to change wiper blades (page 84). This is the sort of thing that takes me a long time to figure out, so when my hostess’s eighteen-year-old son came home for dinner, I asked him if he’d do it. “Couldn’t be easier,” he said. But he was back in a few minutes to say that he couldn’t attach the blade, and he thought maybe the arm was broken.

Fortunately, Sunday dawned clear, and I didn’t have to use the windshield wipers on the way home, although, because the roads had been salted and all, it would have been nice to give that disgusting windshield a squirt once in a while, especially when I was driving into the sun. There was nothing wrong with the driver’s side wiper, but I was afraid that if I turned on the windshield wipers in their half-crippled state, I might cause more damage.

It happened once that I tried to foil a squeegee guy at an exit from Central Park by turning on my windshield wipers. Squeegee guys can’t work when you have your wipers on. But this squeegee guy had already lifted one of the blades, and the little motor that sets the wipers in motion was overwhelmed at being asked to move the wipers back and forth when there was no windshield under them. I heard a distinct click, and it gave up. (Who knew that windshield wipers have their own tiny motor?) So I saved a quarter by not giving anything to the squeegee guy, but I wound up paying something like ninety dollars for a new windshield-wiper motor.

It is cold in the car this morning. If someone was watching me in his rearview mirror (which I feel confident is not the case), he’d see my evil-eye collection and the puffs of steam that are my breath. An SUV from Virginia comes down the street, dips in and out of the hydrant space, and continues down the block without braking

7:57: Trinidad and Tobago puts the Club on his steering wheel (I have one of those, but it’s in the trunk). He gets out and stands on the sidewalk for a while—he’s wearing a black tracksuit with white racing stripes—and then leaves. The woman ahead of me has to exit her Volkswagen from the passenger side. Her car flashes its lights at me after she’s gone.

No cops today. I turn on QXR for a moment, to make sure I stay till the dot of eight, and catch the final triumphal notes of Holst’s Suite No. 1 in E Flat for Band: a march. There were four spots available on my super parking block when I got back at around 4 P.M. yesterday, Super Bowl Sunday. I am thus empowered to continue my pursuit of a healthy life style until the weekend.


erieblue said...

What is your evil eye collection?

MJN/NYC said...

I guess it's actually protection against the evil eye. I have one blue "eye" bead dangling from the rearview mirror on a yellow ribbon, and a set of worry beads that are all evil eyes. Greeks have them in their cars. The bus drivers have whole curtains of beads at their windshields. I got my first evil eye in Corfu, and the evil-eye worry beads were a gift from someone who obviously thought I needed all the luck I could get.

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