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Assault and battery

June 27, 2008
By Bob Seidenstein,

Almost all amateur psychologists will tell you that as a coping mechanism, denial is both counter productive and self destructive.

Wanting an expert opinion on the subject, I consulted my pal the psychotherapist, Dr. Russ Shefrin.

"Ah yes, denial as a coping mechanism?" he mused, stroking his chin and sounding faintly Viennese. "It can indeed be counter productive."

Then he paused for some more chin-stroking, looking into the middle distance before he continued.

"And it can also beah, shall we say, self destructive."

Which left me wondering where any of us would be without expert opinion.

On borrowed time

I don't know the whys of denial, but I do know the whens. And one of them is dealing with car woes.

A typical example: Driving along, you suddenly hear a faint "clickity-clickity, click, click, click" from under the hood.

No biggie, you figuretill 20 miles later, when that sound has changed to "clackety-clackety, Klock, Klock, Klock." And then, 10 miles after that it's, "Klunkety-Klunkety, CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH!"

What to do? Simple: Turn up the radio as loud as it'll go and try to gut it out the remaining 250 miles home.

Of course, as any mechanic'll tell you, you should've stopped at the first sign of trouble and called a tow truck. But due to good old denial, you didn't, and now what would've been a straightforward $200 repair has become a $2,500 rebuild.

And so a few weeks ago, when I went to start my car and there was a full-second pause before it turned over and fired, I didn't do the sensible (and obvious) thing, which was accept that my battery was on the way out. Instead, I reminded myself that my memory and hearing aren't what they once were, so I probably just "misheard" that pause.

When this scenario repeated itself several more times over the week, I stayed in denial - until one pause lasted a full three seconds (and I'm talking three seconds as in "one thousand oneone thousand two"). Then my blood ran cold as I had to face my oldest enemy - reality.

I looked at the battery and saw it had a two-year guarantee, which had expired a year ago. Clearly, it was living on borrowed time and I had to get a new one.

OK, you say, no big deal: You just get a new battery, right? Wrong. It was a big deal - an assault on my psyche, as it were.

A Dope in the hood

How could changing a car battery be any kind of deal, let alone a big one? Well, it never was - until now.

Over the years I've changed batteries hundreds of times, but only in the one model of car I drove - pre-1970 VW Beetles. Due to a quirk of Teutonic engineering, those batteries were under the rear seat, requiring extreme autokinetic skills but no mechanical ones. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my new car, a 1997 Honda.

Actually, the issue's not the battery itself, so much as what surrounds it. I look in the Honda's engine compartment and it makes as much sense as the Electoral College.

So while disconnecting the battery looked like a simple operation, danger lurked in the outlying areas. There are computers, relays, switches, hoses, wires and gadgets galore - not to mention at least two notoriously fragile Takahashi cylinders. And what perchance would happen if I accidentally hit one of those things? Would it short out the electrical system? Shut down my fuel pump? Blow up my power steering fluid reservoir? Or maybe in a perfect storm of mechanical maladroitness, it'd do all thatand more?

I had no idea how possible such a grim fate was; I only knew I was not about to tempt it.

I planned to start my car, and if that worked, to drive it to the parts store.

But if it didn't start?

Over the phone I explained my dilemma to the embodiment of empathy herself, the Amazon Queen.

"You're such a weenie you can't take out a car battery?" she sneered. "Want me to come over and do it for you?"

"Whatta ya talking about?" I tried to sneer back. "You actually thought I was serious? You believe that, maybe you wanna have me sell ya some oceanfront property in Arizona."

Then I laughed, maybe a bit too loud, said goodbye and hung up.

The right man for the job

So there I was, the Lone Dope. It was just me and my battery, both of us in need of help and neither of us sure how to find it.

The next day, as fortune had it, the car started on my first try and I immediately drove to Advance Auto Parts. There, I was greeted by a pleasant and helpful young man named Greg, to whom I explained my problem.

"Well, let's go out and test it," he said, which he then did.

My battery was in the same shape as Bob Dylan's voice - not quite dead, but not worth a comeback tour, either.

Back in the store, Greg got out the catalogue and went over the choices of new batteries with me. I got a good, dependable one but passed on the A.J. Foyt gold-lined, diamond-studded, personally-autographed Anniversary Issue.

"All right," Greg said, "so do you want me to put it in or do you want to put it in yourself?"

"Um," I said, as if actually debating the issue.

"We install batteries free," he said. "It's a customer service."

"Oh," I said. "Customer service, eh? Well, sure. Why not?"

Ultimately, I figured it'd be a great benefit to Greg - give the lad vital experience dealing with the public.

He, of course, did it in the blink of an eye, and within minutes I was back home, sitting in my chair, sipping a cool root beer, when the phone rang. It was the AQ.

"So," she said, "did you need a new battery?"

"Of course," I said. "I told you it was kaput."

"And you actually figured out how to install it in your car?"

"Sure did," I said.

"How'd you ever manage to do that?"

"Oh," I said, smugness oozing from every pore, "it was so easy, it's beneath my dignity to talk about it."



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