The New Woman In My Life I had despaired of ever meeting another lady like the one I had just lost, but as the counselors all told me during my grieving period, “You never know when she’ll walk through the door and into your arms”. Thanks a lot, guys. You just cursed me for all eternity. You were probably the emergency-drill coordinators for the Titanic, right? My last lady was no raving beauty, true, but this one is just plain ol’ butt-ugly. I’m sorry, but let’s be realistic here - skin cancer all over her nose, dimples and scratches all over her body, duct tape holding her rear together…she needs a LOT of cosmetic surgery – more than Michael Jackson has ever DREAMED of. But as I’ve always said (except of course on those occasions when I meet a REALLY hot babe), “looks fade in time for everyone; it’s what’s inside that really counts”. Besides, this new lady helped me beat my previous Personal Best for “Lowest Price Paid For a Running Vehicle” (“running”, in this case, being a highly subjective term). So let’s look inside… Inside, she’s comfortable enough – somehow, I thought a Japanese lady would be smaller. But there’s plenty of adjustment room for me and my long frame. Hey, she even has lumbar support! I twist the dial to provide that much-needed postural adjustment and instantly assume the shape of the letter “C”. OK – let’s back off on the adjustment just a wee bit, shall we? That’s better. Put the key in, start her up…starts right up…but then the Creepy Robotic Shoulder Belt snakes around and over me…I have brief visions of old black-and-white Tarzan movies where he fights the giant, coiling boa constrictor barehanded…and Lord, WHAT is that awful noise? Sounds like the mufflers the kids pay a fortune for, all throaty and nasty and raw and LOUD. (Yelling) BUT HEY – I SAVED A FEW HUNDRED ALREADY, RIGHT? MAYBE I CAN HANG WITH THE BIG BOYS SATURDAY NIGHT IN THE DAIRY QUEEN PARKING LOT. Put the lights on…um, the wipers just wiped. No lights. Maybe the fuse is…Oh, OK – the Japanese must reverse the light and wiper stalks. Great. I spend over 30 years getting used to one thing; now they throw something new at me. OK, I can deal with it. At least until the first time it rains at night – then I’ll be flicking my headlights on and off while staring through a waterfall. Pretty rough idle…oops, stalled. Re-start. Stall. Re-start…stall. Blip the throttle with my right foot – OK, she keeps turning over if I blip it when I idle. Should be fun at red-lights during rush hour. *sigh* Put her in “Drive” – hmm, shifter handle won’t go. I’m pushing the little button on the shifter…try, try, and try again. No go. That’s when I see the little slot next to the floor-mounted gear shift labeled “Transmission Lock Release”. What the heck is that? I open the glove-box door and thankfully find the owner’s manual. I read… If you cannot shift out of Park with the brake pedal depressed: 1. Turn the ignition switch off. 2. Remove the ignition key and insert it into the Transmission Lock Release slot. 3. Press and hold the key down, then press the button on the shift handle and move the shift lever to Neutral. 4. Return the key to the ignition switch and restart the engine. Awwww – I just got the damn thing running, too! Humph. Good thing I’m not using this as a getaway car. I mean, come ON – they KNOW you’re going to have a problem shifting into gear, so they stick a STUPID little WORKAROUND into this fine piece of precision machinery, instead of fixing the REAL problem? In its day (a while back, granted), this was a $16k vehicle – I don’t know many others in that price range, then or even now, that would have the audacity to stick a “Transmission Lock Release” slot in their babies. Might as well just put a “Press When Engine Blows Up” button on the dashboard, right? How about a “Depress When Creepy Robotic Shoulder Belt Begins Strangling You” switch? NOT to mention the facts that, since the shift handle AND the “Transmission Lock Release” are BOTH mounted down on the right side near your thigh – you need to be Rudolf the Rubber-Limbed Boy to do both at once, especially while still blipping. Oy. OK – finally start up, the exhaust explosions scaring small furry mammals for blocks around, and hit the open road – freedom, sweet freedom! Except here in Pennsylvania in February, “freedom” means watching out for black ice, especially when your two front tires are really just drag-racing slicks masquerading as all-season radials. WHEEEEEEEEE! Never knew this lady could shimmy like THAT! Hmmm...that “miss” that the previous owner told me about – it isn’t a “miss” like I know a “miss” – to me (who worked a year as a U-Haul mechanic and have nursed countless other ladies back to health over the years), a “miss” is when your engine goes “tick-tick-tock” instead of “tick-tick-tick”. No, this is a failing transmission-kinda’ “miss”. More like a “miss is as good as a mile” kinda’ “miss”. My hypothesis is ready to be tested when I hit the first uphill grade – yep, not shifting right. Just acts like a runner who hit the “wall” – wheezing, energy falling off precipitously, stumbling. Probably explains the little piece of duct tape covering the flashing “Transmission Needs Attention” idiot light on the dashboard. Yeah – THERE’S a great piece of Yankee ingenuity tacked onto Oriental precision. *double sigh* OK – I can live with all this. It turns out that when I’m actually in gear and moving along, it’s a great little car. It’s starting to warm up outside (they say 28 degrees for a high today), the sun is peeking out and I’m finally in a good mood (must be my new medications kicking in), so I flick open the cover on the moonroof. Yee-Haw! Sunlight! The fact that a few dozen dead spiders and flies fall on my bald head when I do so dampens my enthusiasm only momentarily. The REAL problem is when I get carried away and push the switch to OPEN the moonroof (I really should seek professional help one of these days). Oh, sure, IT works great – and my bald head is promptly covered in ice from the arctic slipstream flying by up there. Praying hard as I push the switch again, nothing happens – except my head turns two shades bluer. The inside of the windshield is starting to get a frosty glaze…push switch, push switch…dinosaurs are becoming extinct in the back seat…finally, the roof closes. Whew. The ice on my head starts melting down my face. OK – we have sunlight, comfy seating, the heat actually works…what’s missing? What does every red-blooded American expect as a God-given right when they drive? What often ends up costing more than the car itself? What is the main reason that 16-year-olds are so cranked about starting to drive? Tunes! Hit the power switch on the old radio, expecting to be enveloped in a symphony of soothing sound…instead, I hear a chorus of weird whispers behind me. Um, OK…pull over to the side of the road and I promptly stall out. Re-start, blip, fiddle with the balance and fade controls – still just a whisper. That’s when I notice that the volume control lever thingie is missing. Oh, sure – but the one for the scan/seek function is there. A sudden brainstorm hits – pull off THAT one and put it THERE… Twenty minutes later with bleeding fingers and the air heavy with oaths, I decide there isn’t much on FM anyway – I’ll just sing to myself. Of course I forgot to blip several times, so was re-introduced to the fine art of toe/heeling and “Transmission Lock Release”-ing. Finally get up a good head of steam, tool along for a few miles and pull up to an old diner that was really my destination all along (the omelets are to die for), park, get out and push the electric door lock switch – nothing happens (of course). Now, I’m New York born and raised – we don’t even DREAM of leaving our cars unlocked. In fact, we used to get insurance discounts for having The Club, The Rottie and The Nasty Mother-In-Law in our cars. OK – I push the lock button down manually – it refuses to cooperate, staying stubbornly upright and, I think, laughing at me. OK – BE that way! I hope some poor fool tries to steal you from me. *triple sigh* I decide to pass on the diner and just go back home to relax. Stupid me. “Just” go back home – as if you can ever do that. On the way back, if the gas gauge is at all reliable, it tells me it’s time to trade in my first-born for a few gallons of Shell’s finest. Pull up to the pump, turn it off (no blipping needed that time – I think she’s starting to warm up to me!), hit the fuel filler door button and go to pump my gas. Door doesn’t open. Frozen shut. Spend 10 minutes with my pocket knife carving ice sculptures. More bleeding fingers. While I’m there (and enjoying the break from blipping and bleeding) I figure I should check the air in the spare tire, and maybe (the sudden inspiration strikes) inspect the trunk so I can put my valuables in there, since the door won’t lock. Congratulating myself for my cleverness, I open the trunk, pull up the carpet and – ewwww, gross! It’s all wet and soggy and nasty and slimy…great. Must be a leak in the weather-stripping. I’ll have to remember not to put my fine antiques and historic manuscripts back there. I now have frozen, bleeding and SLIMY fingers. Ever see a grown man weep? Not very pretty, is it? Especially when he wipes away the tears with the aforementioned frozen, bleeding and slimy fingers…when I go to pay the clerk in the convenience store, he almost hits the hidden panic button upon seeing this big guy dressed all in black, with a dead-fly-and-spider-covered balding blue head and a tear-streaked face covered in blood trails and slime. He looks like an escapee from the local asylum, or a bad Halloween rendition of The Joker. Two grown women shriek, one little boy faints and a group of teenagers in a booth laughingly yells out “Excellent, dude!” I think they over-reacted. I didn’t look THAT bad. Getting back in the car and looking in the mirror, I confirm that yes, I DID look that bad. But she got me home again after an adventurous day, albeit with frozen, bleeding and slimy fingers, a partially-defrosted head, and a new respect for foreign cars – I mean, even with 144,000 miles on it (which figure is questionable since the odometer, along with the speedometer, doesn’t work since SOMEONE disconnected the cable), it still runs. After a fashion. All in all, a far cry from my glory days of rag-top Corvettes, turbo Porsches and plush Cadillacs, and I remind myself that if she does, by some heavenly intervention, get me where I want to go, none of the “bad” things really matter. Maybe this is all meant to be a lesson in humility – or yet another payment on my crappy karma. Maybe it’s some sort of metaphysical test of my character and the strength of my will. I know she’s only a stop-gap girl until the true love of my life comes waltzing through that door, right? Any port in a storm, like they say? It’s Kismet, isn’t it? We’re only marking time, correct? Hey – what do you want for $200? Marilyn Monroe?