The other day a friend of mine posted the following message on her Facebook wall – “If there were no aggravations in life, life would be dull and boring.” I thought about that for awhile. Did I agree? Not really. First, I can’t say that I’m ever bored. Most days I’m more likely to be frustrated because I can’t find the time to pursue all the interesting activities out there in the world. I’ve got my outdoor interests and my indoor ones, pretty convenient for someone living in an environment when outside conditions can be challenging in at least two seasons if not more. But dull? I understand dull. For me dull means unexciting. Rote. Something you can do without much thought. I definitely have a place for that in my life. The past couple of days have been chock full of hassles. Truly, a little dull would be a fine alternative. I can explain.
I’ll start with my car. My car had been on the road for five years before I bought her. She’s twenty years old now. I bought her for durability, reliability and long life. I’m not one of the people who really cares about vehicles, aside from their ability to get me from one place to another. I drove a lot of beaters in the early part of my driving life, ones that generally cost $300 or less. When they died, I said thanks and moved on to the next one. My dad drilled it into my head that cars were a wasting asset that wound up worthless in the end. I heard him. I only had one new car in my life, a Chevy Celebrity station wagon with a way-back, a seat in the rear that faced traffic from behind. We bought it when the kids were young. They loved to sit back there, waving at everyone and having great adventures. However that car was awful. The “service engine soon light” came on at 10,000 miles and stayed on until we got rid of it at 80,000 miles. Everything broke at least once. No more new cars for me. My next car was a used Toyota Camry which I drove for 217,000 miles. My kind of vehicle. And then came this Honda.
Back in the old days, before cars got sophisticated and computer-laden, Michael routinely disassembled and reassembled our vehicles. Our dining room table often had a couple of containers filled with carburetor parts soaking in smelly fluids. He always explained what he was doing and over the years, I picked up a lot of knowledge about cars. I developed some confidence about identifying their issues and always am glad to feel somewhat competent about understanding the essentials of how they work. That’s been a great comfort, especially since Michael died.
So a couple of weeks ago, my aging vehicle started acting strangely. First the interior overhead lights started turning themselves on and off at odd times. Then a warning light that indicated the door was open when it wasn’t started flickering regularly. What really got weird was when my horn started honking when the car was locked. I figured there was an electrical issue, some sensors going haywire, always a challenge to diagnose. But I looked up all the symptoms anyway and found a part called a door jamb switch that seemed to be a likely culprit for all the weird happenings. So I called the local Honda dealer, figuring they would have the mechanics most likely to rapidly make the repair. When I arrived to drop off the car, I mentioned my research to the service manager who told me that a full computerized diagnosis was necessary before jumping to conclusions. Okay. That wasn’t unreasonable. After a day of analysis I was told that indeed, a more expensive computer panel needed to be replaced, to the tune of $565. Well, that’s certainly less expensive than buying a different ride so I approved the special order and brought the car in on Friday for the repair. When I called late in the day to see if it was ready, that same service manager said yes, but… he then asked if I’d seen a memo he sent which had an additional recommendation – the replacement of the door jamb sensor. That would cost an additional $211, installed. I hadn’t seen any memo. Now that’s what I call an “aggravation.” I told him we’d discuss that recommendation when I saw him.
When I went to pick up the car, I was presented with a labor bill for $164, bringing the total of my repair to $729. I asked to see the service manager and told him that I was going to be extremely displeased if this expensive repair failed, instead of the mechanic having tried what I’d asked him to do in the first place. And I also said that I wanted to see how well the first repair choice worked without paying for something else. I can’t say I was surprised when I drove about twenty miles before all the original problems resurfaced. Now, tomorrow morning I have to call Honda, initiating the complaint process for trying to recoup what I spent, as well as getting an actual lasting repair done. I have to say that I view this kind of annoyance as a big drain on my energy. All it does is take time away from doing what I really enjoy. A dull day in the garden would have been just fine with me. Instead, I’ll be hassling with my car and a service manager who will probably be sorry we ever met.
The morning after I picked up my car I went off to the first farmers’ market of the year, hoping to find a hydroponic tomato which just had to taste better than the pale imitations carried by grocery stores during the winter months. Alas, for the most part, produce was still pretty sparse, not surprising after our exceptionally long winter. What I did find, however, was a woman with whom I worked for about eight years back in the late seventies and early eighties. The two of us were a classic mismatch and to be frank, I ultimately got to a point when I told my boss she’d have to choose between us as I couldn’t bear working with her. She wound up getting fired but still found her way to a better work life than she had during our time together. We were never unfriendly but we’ve rarely seen each other over the past thirty years. When I greeted her, she sort of exploded with emotion, telling me that her husband, a person I never met, had died six months ago. She said she was trying to figure out how to live like me, as a widow, and then began talking about where she’d donated his remains. In the midst of all that she blurted out that I was the best person who worked in our office which needless to say, felt incredibly odd as I was instrumental in getting her fired. What an uncomfortable experience. I certainly didn’t feel like I was having an average vegetable-buying outing and couldn’t wait to escape this awkward conversation.
After the farmers’ market, I stopped by the dry cleaners to pick up my winter comforter. I pulled into the drive-through where I described my item to the attendant. He retrieved it and as he came toward my car, started to describe why it was never a good idea to use a pea-shooter or any other weapon to hit the eye of a customer, whether or not that customer was wearing soft contact lenses. What? I tried to keep a bland face and kindly said, “it sounds like you’ve had a rough day.” He responded by telling me he was always talking to himself, asserting control over his hostile impulses. I had no idea what was happening with this person but in today’s crazy violent environment, I have to say I was even more eager to leave there than the farmers’ market.
My next stop was one of my two favorite flower nurseries. At this time of year I’m looking to fill in empty garden spaces to create a cascading blooming effect that requires as little attention as possible during the coming months. I call it defensive gardening, trying to avoid being a weeding drudge by limiting room for them to get opportunistic. I’m always happy to find a few new plants and would have been delighted to be where I was, except for the fact that as I was getting out of my car, I noticed a funny mark on my big toenail. When I reached down to check it out, the entire nail came off in my hand. That was a disgusting and unexpected surprise. I’ve had painted toes for over a month so whatever caused this to happen was hidden from view. I don’t know why I couldn’t feel any warning signs of underlying damage. But whatever – I just added this moment to the odd and annoying list. I was glad I had a bandaid in my car to cover my tender and unattractive skin. I went and got a few plants anyway.
My last task errand of the day was getting my second bivalent Covid booster, now available to people sixty-five and older, as well as those who are immunocompromised. A good friend of mine recently contracted Covid and after weeks is still contending with long-lasting negative effects of this challenging virus. I want to avoid this if I can and so I got my shot and went home to contend with the headache, slight fever and fatigue that I’ve had after every vaccination. I thought this was a fitting end to an annoying couple of days. As I said, I’ll take dull and ordinary any time. On to tomorrow’s challenges.