(Ed. Note: Get me talking about politics, it’s over in about four paragraphs. Get me onto a car as a metaphor for life, and you get this. I promise it will be three installments (four max) and next week’s will be posted earlier. If you missed the first part, here’s the link.Thanks for reading. -Doc)
I remember hearing once that every breakthrough happens
about six seconds before a breakdown. If you miss that moment, you really lose
The car was in pieces, the time was running short and I
realized that despite the sheer volume of bloodletting I was performing, I was
never going to get this thing out without cutting a few corners.
Or a few pieces.
Honda requires that you remove the entire plastic housing to
best access the heater core. I said “OK, that’s fucking impossible” and instead
removed all the screws and clips I could before standing on the housing and
bending it down and out of the way.
Honda notes that in removing several parts of the steering
column, the screws on the inlet and outlet tubes can be slid out of the holes
in which they rest. I knew that was borrowing trouble unless I had an alignment
machine and about three more days with Mr. Goodwrench. Thus, I slid under the
dash, pulled out all the additional rubber insulation and pressed the tubes
down and away from the firewall with a prybar.
The thing was moving, but then something occurred to me:
Honda had done a shitload of plastic tapering with the casing for this heater
core to make things fit a certain way. Do it their way or don’t do it at all,
this plastic seemed to be telling me.
This wasn’t going to work. I had done everything I could.
She was going to Wally’s.
I flung a wrench across the room and screamed, “GODDAMMIT!”
at the top of my lungs. I started kicking tools, cords, portable lights and
everything else I could get a foot on.
Who the fuck designs a car this way? I screeched in my head.
Who the fuck… If that fucking plastic shroud, which serves no goddamned purpose
wasn’t fucking there I could…
I found my six seconds with about a second to spare.
When the Missus and I lived in Indiana, we had a toilet that
would leak from the tank into the bowl. After about a good couple hours of not
being flushed, the tank would dip low enough to trigger the float to engage and
thus force the water to start refilling the tank. This usually happened in the
middle of the night, waking us both up and pissing us off to no end.
I had no plumbing skill at that point, but I had a “Good
Housekeeping” repair manual that was bought with a gift certificate to a local bookstore. I looked at how to go about
disassembling and reassembling a toilet. It seemed easy, provided you had
another crapper in the house in case you needed it and that the plumbing was new enough to have
a local shut-off valve next to the bowl.
We had both, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
About half way through this, I found that apparently another
amateur plumber was responsible for assembling this porcelain gem. My book
clearly stated, “On the plastic nut between the bowl and the tank, do NOT use
plumber’s compound or any other sealant.
Apparently what this guy’s book said was, “Load the hell out
of the nut’s threads with epoxy or some other shit that will never come off.
Hell, you don’t plan to own the house forever, do you?”
I tried to remove this 3-inch plastic nut in about four or
five “approved” or “suggested” ways, only to find that I had cracked the nut
and yet was no closer to removing it. Thus, it was broken and yet not broken
With sweat dripping from every pore of my body and feeling
like there was no hope, I had a violent epiphany: If I couldn’t turn the nut, I
could break it somehow.
The “somehow” became an old tree saw I had inherited from my
great-grandfather’s house. It had a jagged blade and a reversed handle, making
it the only weapon in my arsenal capable of sliding between the bowl and the
tank to shred the plastic and separate these entities.
I was hunched over the bathtub, cradling the bowl in my lap,
hacking at the nut and screaming, “Get off there you fucking cocksucker!” when
my lovely wife came home from work for a brief lunch.
“What the hell are you doing?” she asked. A concise question not
With the calm and stillness of your average serial killer, I
turned slowly to the door.
“Please leave now,” I said. “You don’t want to see me do
I managed to break through without cracking either piece of porcelain and
a few hours later, you would have never known what it took to get us a
Thus, we established the rule in the house: If you want me
to fix something, you can’t be around to look at me while I’m fixing it. That
will only make both of us crazy.
The car’s epiphany was a simple one: If the plastic is
impeding you, get rid of the plastic.
The harder part? Answering the “how” portion of this
I looked around the garage for about ten minutes, weighing
the pros and cons of every tool I had. Even the old tree saw came out for a
The problem with the problem was that there was no room to
move under the dash of the car. Even twisting a screwdriver or turning a wrench
took special effort.
So what I needed was something to remove plastic that moved
on its own and that would be able to handle the rough stuff. In other words, a
It was at that moment that I wasn’t sure if I was crazy or
brilliant, but I figured in for a penny, in for a pound.
I grabbed the rotary tool I kept in the garage for special
projects. Usually, I used it with a hook and loop pad and did detail sanding
with it. Today, I was going to use it break some shit.
I swapped out the pad for a long thin metal blade with a set
of jagged ends on the top. It had the look of a set of barber’s clippers, only
slightly more deadly.
I plugged it in, slid under the dash and held on for dear
The first cut slid through the plastic and grazed the piping
of the heater core. The sparks kicked back and flew at my eyes.
For some reason, I didn’t notice.
The following cuts took out nothing but plastic, wads of
ruined black crud flailing about. I cut and I cut and I cut.
Then, a literal breakthrough.
The tubes were exposed and could move up and down. The
heater core was sliding around in its sheath. Still, it wasn’t free. The bends
in the tubes prohibited me from just popping the core out. If the tubes were
there, the core wasn’t going anywhere.
In for a penny, in for a pound.
I cringed a bit and averted my eyes and gritted my teeth.
I’m quite certain I looked like a porn actress who was waiting for the money
shot she had loudly demanded a few seconds earlier.
I pressed the vibrating blade into the metal tubing.
The car and the tool both screamed their disapproval. Smoke
began to snake out of the point of friction as the tool cut through the metal.
The tubes began to vibrate and let loose with what little coolant was left in
the core. Green liquid splashed everywhere as I notched through the first tube
and entered the second.
The second tube snapped free from its soldered connection to
the core. It bounced around harmlessly while attached to the end of the blade
before it fell harmlessly to the floorboards.
I shut off the tool and ran around to the other side of the
car. I tugged on the core, once, twice… A pop rang out as part of the plastic
sheath broke off and more green slime oozed out of the open holes at the core’s
I had it out.
The next two days were a whirlwind of calls to parts places,
junkyards and people I knew who knew people. Eventually, we located a new
heater core for about $80 and I had about a day or two to figure out how to get
it in there.
After basically disassembling my car with a chainsaw, it
dawned on me that I couldn’t reassemble it in quite the same way. Even worse,
some of the damage I had done under there might be detrimental to the
The problems kept adding up. The core didn’t fit right. The
lines wouldn’t line up with the holes through the fire wall. The jagged plastic
was threatening to poke through the core, which would negate the point of all
After about four hours, I managed to have the core in its
proper place, but the core lines wouldn’t go through the firewall. I had to
take The Midget to karate and then I had a ton of work to do. The Missus had
been sick most of the day. Everything seemed to be devolving.
If you ever spent any time in kids-based karate class, you
know you need a few things to survive: headphones and Advil. Of course, I had
neither and the spawn of other people had pushed me to the point of wanting to
castrate myself in the parking lot with a beer can tab.
My head pounding, my child chattering and my stomach empty,
I drove us home. Daylight was waning and nothing had been accomplished that
When we arrived, all I wanted was something to go right. My
wife, feeling better and able to talk for the first time in about two days,
decided to take advantage of her newfound health to ask me 6 million questions
about everything and anything.
It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t a smart move on my part. It wasn’t
But I completely lost it on her.
She sat there stunned.
“Are you off your meds or something?” she asked.
“Look,” I told her. “The Stang is broken. My computer is
broken and won’t be repaired for a month if that. The Civic is shot. Your
mother needs stuff. The kid won’t stop yammering and NOTHING HAS FUCKING WORKED
RIGHT TODAY. The only thing that is holding me together by the tiniest fucking
thread is the idea that I will somehow, some way pull two metal tubes through a
fucking firewall and make that fucking core fit.”
She looked at me like I was demented. Truth be told, I was.
I was waiting for her to call me Captain Ahab.
“Go,” she said, dismissing me with a wave of her hand.
Time goes by a lot more slowly when my wife is pissed at me.
In this case, that was helpful because I managed to do a lot of work in a short
period of time.
Don’t ask me how, but I managed to get the lines back
through the firewall of the car and hook up the hoses. I put the plastic pieces
back together as best I could and got most of the car assembled. Normally, I couldn’t
sleep until I had tested the system, but very little of what was happening to
me these days could be classified as normal.
I left the car and went inside. The Missus was still
“I’m sorry,” I told her.
“Don’t tell me,” she said not bothering to look up. “Tell
your daughter. She’s not sleeping because she thinks Daddy is mad at her.”
I opened the door to The Midget’s room. Her bed was lofted,
but I could see a flashlight beam weaving through the darkness as she read
aloud to herself.
“Hi Daddy. I’m sorry I was bad…”
Christ, that hurt. I climbed up the ladder to her bed,
clearly exceeding the weight limit Walmart had placed on this fine item. I nestled in next to her and cradled her in the nook of my shoulder.
“You weren’t bad, honey. Daddy was. I shouldn’t have yelled.
I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
“Oh… It’s OK. You were just having a bad day.” She looked at
my hands. “Did the car hurt you again?”
“No, honey. That’s from before.”
“Oh. Can I have a bednight snack?”
“Sure. Go pick something out from the pantry.”
“THANK YOU!” she squealed as she hugged me quickly and then
scurried down her ladder.
I know there will be a time in life where some snuggles in a
loft and a bednight snack won’t cure all her problems.
I’m really not looking forward to that.