Thursday, September 24, 2009

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

I left for school yesterday morning at the regular time. 6:30. In my brand-new, 20-year-old Volvo station wagon. I made it 4.3 miles before that Swedish marvel of engineering died.

I walked two miles back toward home before a very nice fellow, who also happens to run our town's transfer station (see: dump), picked me up.

I was wearing dress shoes, pants, and a short-sleeved shirt. It was going to be close to 80 yesterday, the weather report told us, so short-sleeves made sense. But not at 6:45 in the morning.

The road I take to school is a narrow, two-lane back road, lined on both sides with trees. It has a pretty yellow double line down the middle, sometimes it's even dotted long enough to allow a car three or so yards to pass, but otherwise the road seems to have been built by the owners of Six Flags, all up and down and sharp turns and deep plunges.

At 6:45, as I was driving, the radio went out suddenly, then snapped back on. And then it went out for good. I looked at the dash and all of my lights were out.

Me: Wow, those wacky Europeans and their sophisticated foreign cars.

I got to a stop sign, dropped the car into first, stopped. Looked both ways. Started to drive. The car sputtered, lurched, coughed, groaned, hitched, burped. In Swedish, of course.

I put it in second, thinking, hoping, it was just, you know, not awake yet. Needed to clean out the old Volvo lungs.

I got another hundred yards before the thing just died. I steered it off the road and sat there staring at the steering wheel. Maybe Volvos just do this? Because surely it wasn't broken down. Not a Volvo. Not a Foreign car. Domestic vehicles shit the bed on me all the time. But I had heard that cars made everywhere else were built to last 250 years, if you change the oil every 120,000 miles.

I turned it over and it sounded like I was dragging a dead body over a tin roof.

Me: Fucking cocksucker! I was duped!

I got out, slammed the door. Stood, hands on hips, looking at the car, pissed. As if the car, somehow, in its European sophistication, would actually feel guilty for letting me down.

Walked around to the passenger side, got in and hunted for the fuse box. Because I suspected in was electrical. I'm no mechanic, folks, but I'm not retarded either.

I couldn't find it. It's a Volvo, I thought to myself, the goddamn fuse box is probably somewhere clever, like inside the fucking steering wheel, or hub cap or sun visor. it's not. I looked there too. I popped the hood. I stood in front of the engine, scowling. Like I knew what I was looking for. There was an engine in there, I knew that much. Some hoses and wires. Looked an awful lot like domestic car engines to me.

Me: Goddamn fucking Swedes.

I looked up the road, in the direction of where I was heading, and then I looked down the road where I had come. Like I was deciding in which direction I should go. If I walk to college, I'll get there Thanksgiving. If I walk home, probably by 10:30. That would mean missing history, but I could salvage the rest of the day.

I start walking home, my breath making little puffs of swear words in the air. In Swedish.

We only have one cell phone, and Corrine keeps it with her. There's no need for me to take a cell phone to college, where it will be off most of the time. I make a mental note to get a second phone. Preferably not Swedish.

Cars zip past me in the foggy cold air and I wonder to myself "Do you people really believe that I am out for a morning stroll with dress shoes, dress pants and a striped short-sleeve shirt on?"

No one stopped. Not a soul.

Me: I hope you drive off the fucking road into a tree and your eyes get eaten by a fisher cat!

Of course, all I can think about is Stephen King going for a walk a few years back and getting clipped from behind by a man in a van. It nearly killed him. Stephen that is.

I jog to the other side of the road, to face oncoming traffic.

Me: Now, if I get hit, I can at least see it coming and maybe flip the driver off just before I die. I hope he's Swedish.

A mile in and my feet hurt, my legs are cramping and I'm light-headed from not having eaten anything. I usually get something to eat at school. And a coffee. Coffee! I haven't had coffee yet. Now I'm livid.

I look at my watch. It's 7:20 and I've only walked a mile. I do the math in my head (now that I'm taking math as a college course, I can do reliable math in my head. College rocks, man!): One mile in 30 minutes. Three miles left to go = piece of shit fucking Volvo Swedish losers.

At two miles, a truck stops next to me. It's The Guy From The Dump. I don't know his name. I just know he's the resident refuse engineer. The one who helps me understand the science behind corrugated cardboard versus brown paper bags, metal versus tin foil, and kitchen waste versus other forms of waste. That, and I like how he says "Put it in the Hopper!" It comes out "Puttitinthehoppa!" It sounds tribal swear word.

He takes me to High Street and we talk about the weather. He doesn't even ask me why the hell I'm dressed up for a stroll in the middle of Sumner. His wife kicked his ass when he got home from work that night, I just know it.

His wife: Whatdoyamean, you stopped for someone? Who was he? Why was he walking? He could have had a gun. He coulda been a molesta.

Him: Oh, just Puttitinthehoppa!

I get home and tell Corrine the story and she and I do our ritual native profanity dance, the one we always do when something shitty happens to us.

Then I take our van to school. On the way, something interesting happens. I get to about 15 miles from school and come across a man walking.

I stop. It's Yosemite Sam. I swear to God.

Me: Need a lift?

He says, toothless, wearing a cowboy hat, something utterly incoherent, but he's smiling.

He jumps in. He says thank you but it sounds like "Sank Ya"

He's wearing dirty overalls and a chamois shirt beneath them. He says he works "Aways back, at the Fahm."

I presume he means farm. Some sort of farm. But he does not smell like a farm, all cow shit and pig shit etc. So I naturally think he's lying and has a sharp metal object tucked into his chamois sleeve.

Me: Walk this way every day do you?

He tells me and I manage to decipher enough from him to learn that he gets a ride to work every morning at 4 a.m., but walks home because his shift ends before the others. And that it takes him two hours and 45 minutes.

Me: Holy shit!

He is probably in his mid-seventies and he explains that he must work part time because any more and he'll lose his social security.

So now I feel like a complete asshole for even complaining about anything, ever.

I drop him off at a corner and he points to his house a hundred yards away.

Him: Thassit! The blue one! Sanka ya! I can git m'laundry done 'cause you saved me a few hours and they're always too busy by the time I get home....


I don't think about the Volvo for the rest of the day. But on my way home, I think of Yosemite. I didn't get his name. But I can see his house when I make the turn to head home. And I wonder if he got his laundry done.

My life is a good one.

My life is a great one.


  1. Puts things in perspective. Doesn't it babe?

  2. Nice way to start the day.

    The "dump" guy was either Bill or Phil and no they're not twins. If he kept yelling "what" then it was probably Bill.

    Doesn't it SUCK when your car breaks down? I usually have all three of my kids and my husband is always out of state.

    Makes me sad that so many elderly live so FAR below poverty and there is NO way they can ever get ahead.

  3. Okay, I know the death of Volvo was really sucky, but I'm really tired, and really sore, and it made me laugh for the first time in three days. It was totally worth it. For me, anyway.

    You have GOT to figure out how to make money writing about all the crappy things that happen to you. It's literally some of the funniest shit I've ever read.

    On a related note, what did you do about the Volvo??

  4. That of course begs the question, Mary Ellen...tired AND sore?



    I want to go to THAT college