May 2008 Archives

The Hapless Mechanic - Pt. 73
May 24, 2008 12:02 PM | Posted in: ,

So we come out of IHOP after breakfast this morning and Gene points at our car and exclaims, "you have a flat tire!" Even a mechanically-challenged person like me could tell that he was right; the driver's side rear tire was as flat as one of the pancakes I'd just consumed. The cause was obvious: we'd apparently picked up a nail on the way out of the neighborhood, something I had long before figured was inevitable given the amount of ongoing construction.

It took me a couple of minutes to remember how to drop the spare from under the car, while Gene pulled out the jack and related tools. While I was retrieving the spare, he broke loose the lug nuts. We jacked up the car and I began to remove the wheel. Five nuts came loose without a hitch. The sixth didn't. In fact, after a couple of rotations, it refused to budge.

I'm not sure what I'd done if I'd been by myself, as I've never experienced this problem before. Fortunately, Gene is an experienced mechanic and he immediately knew the only logical solution. "Break it." Now, if you've been paying attention, you know that's right up my avenue of expertise, but rarely have I gotten instructions to do it. So I put my back into it and snapped the stud. It was pretty obvious that when the tire had been mounted, the mechanic had gotten too aggressive with the air wrench and stripped the stud, and breaking it was the only way to remove the wheel.

One broken stud meant a more complicated repair than just a flat tire, but it wasn't a disaster. But my mechanical adventures never end so cleanly, and it was about that time that the car gently but resolutely fell backwards off the jack, something that is never A Good Thing. Happily, we were all out of the way and no one was injured, if you don't count the lug nut that I had re-affixed to the wheel while I was breaking off the damaged one. When we jacked up the car again, I found that it, too, was stripped. <em>Snap.</em> We're now down to four functioning lug nuts, and that's pretty much as far down that path as you want to go.

My initial plan was to take the car to a repair shop, but I ran across this video on removing a broken lug nut stud and this one on replacing a stud. The process seemed quite straightforward, and so I decided just to try it myself. In retrospect, I should have just hit myself in the head with a ball-peen hammer.

I drove -- gingerly, if one can actually do that -- to the nearest of the approximately 8,000 auto parts stores we have in Midland, and bought a couple of lug nuts, studs, and some Liquid Wrench. I returned home - still gingerly - and parked in the garage. The first order of business was to put on some good mechanicking music, so I hooked up the iPod and fired up some of Tommy Castro's blues.

I removed the wheel and immediately discovered why I had not chosen wisely. The videos linked above show a nicely disassembled wheel, sans brake drum. What it obviously didn't show was the agony that was associated with removing a stuck brake drum in order to replace the studs. I tapped and sprayed, sprayed and tapped, uttered a few incantations over the rusted axle flange, and tapped some more. The drum was still as tight as a, well, drum. So I resorted to the last thing you really want to do in a case like this: I set the car on fire.

No, not really. I called for help. I dialed Gene's cell number to see if he had any tips for getting the drum loose. He started asking a bunch of questions about whether I had done this or that to that or this, and not only didn't I know the answers, I didn't even recognize the questions. At that point, I figured the best thing to do was re-assemble everything and fall back to my original plan: pay someone who knows what they're doing and has the tools to do it with. But, being the all-around good guy and good friend that he is, he insisted on loading up his tools and coming over for an in-home consultation.

Long story shortened. Even Gene's tools and expertise couldn't loosen the stuck brake drum (it's too big for his puller), so we reluctantly agreed to give up the quest (it bothered him more than it did me). I've been putting off having the brakes on the Durango serviced, and this will give me an excuse to kill two birds with one impact wrench.

And, of course, this being a holiday weekend, I'll have to wait until next week to get everything back in order. Still, it's all fixable and nobody got hurt, and that makes for a successful mechanic experience in my sad history. What I'm worried about most of all now is what the term "stripping a stud" is going to do to the Gazette's search engine traffic, IYKWIM.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, folks!

No one ever accused me of being on the cutting edge of anything. I'm behind the curve in all areas of life, slow on the uptake. I defend myself as intelligently cautious; those who know me would say that I'm just clueless. Anyway, I offer that as an excuse as to why I'm just now posting about a book that was published in 2003 and which has been mentioned many times by many better bloggers and writers.

First, I have to give credit to Jim over at Serotoninrain, who was the first to get my attention about Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. Jim is pretty much the antithesis to me when it comes to books, as he's always the first to find the good stuff, and you'd think that by now I'd learn to just immediately go buy and read whatever he recommends instead of waiting, like, five years. (I'd link to some of his posts that referenced the book but I think they were pre-Wordpress and therefore not searchable.)

But, then, it occurred to me that not everyone I know is as cool as Jim and it's entirely possible that some of you haven't read Blue Like Jazz either. This post is for you, especially if you are a Christian (or if you're curious about what it means to be a Christian).

Listen carefully: read this book. It takes just a few hours -- a Sunday afternoon works great -- and I promise that you'll come away with some new ways to think about Christianity. More to the point, you'll be challenged to look at your own flavor of Christianity through a new lens, and particularly if you grew up in the Bible Belt in a mainstream evangelical church.

Miller opens his heart and allows the lifeblood to spill onto the pages of his book as he describes what it means to be a sinner held fast in the arms of a loving God. His witness and testimony isn't powerful because of his theological or hermeneutic prowess; it's powerful because he tells what Jesus has done for him.

Along the way, he also manages to entertain the reader; this is no dry and somber work. It's often playful, even juvenile in a Dave Barryish kind of way. One of my favorite passages is taken from a chapter about money, where he describes what it's like to be a poor writer (this passage could, by the way, apply to bloggers, with the exception of the overstatement of how much they get paid):

Writers don't make any money at all. We make about a dollar. It is terrible. But then again we don't work either. We sit around in our underwear until noon then go downstairs and make coffee, fry some eggs, read the paper, read part of a book, smell the book, wonder if perhaps we ourselves should work on our book, smell the book again, throw the book across the room because we are quite jealous that any other person wrote a book, feel terribly guilty about throwing the schmuck's book across the room because we secretly wonder if God in heaven noticed our evil jealousy, or worse, our laziness. We then lie across the couch facedown and mumble to God to to forgive us because we envied another man's stupid words. And for this, as I said before, we are paid a dollar. We are worth so much more.

Christianity Today describes Miller as "Anne Lamott with testosterone" and compares Blue Like Jazz with Lamott's excellent Traveling Mercies. I wouldn't disagree; both books are now in my "read again every so often" collection, both for the writers' skill and for their messages. (Miller shares Lamott's dislike for Republicans and corporations, although he's not as rabid about it. The strength of my recommendation for this book is directly proportional to the negativism with which you assimilate this observation, as it gets right to the heart of what Christians should be about.)

You may be wondering about the book's title. The phrase comes from an almost-throwaway line in a passage about the beauty of the Grand Canyon at night, where Miller describes the stars as "...notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz." He writes about jazz a few times through the book, beginning with the introductory author's note, where he relates how he never liked jazz until he saw a man on a sidewalk playing a saxophone for fifteen minutes, and the man never opened his eyes. After that, he liked jazz; the musician's love for it was that infectious.

That, my friends, is how we are to be about Jesus, never taking our eyes off him. Because that's the surest way to show others how to love him, too.

Summer is fast approaching, and that's prime novel-reading season. I've read three novels in the past month or so, something of a record for me, and wanted to share some observations in case you're getting summer book-buying fever. (Note: There are no plot spoilers in these mini-reviews.)

The Blue Star - Tony Earley
A review copy of this book arrived, unsolicited, on my doorstep in late February. I knew nothing about it or its author, and the jacket blurb telling me that the writer was also responsible for Jim the Boy did little to work up my enthusiasm for the thin volume. I finally threw it in a suitcase and determined to work my way through it during a trip, more out of a sense of obligation than anything else...and ended up kicking myself for ignoring one of the more delightful books I've had the pleasure to read in a long time.

There's nothing particularly dramatic or edgy about The Blue Star, which is set in a small North Carolina town during the run-up to America's entrance into WWII. Tony Earley has crafted a character-driven novel that's beguiling in its simplicity, and soothing in its pace. If you're a fan of Jan Karon's trillion-selling Mittford series, I think you'll find The Blue Star has the same ambiance. I recommend it highly for a stress-free warm weather indulgence.

Ant Rating: Rating: 5 Ants

The Good Guy - Dean Koontz
Koontz's novel is almost a year old, and so all of his fans have already read it. But if you don't fall into that category, and you're looking for an edge-of-the-seat "action/suspense" novel that grabs hold and doesn't let go, you won't be disappointed in this one.

Koontz creates one of the most creepily competent bad guys since Hannibal Lector, and pits him against an enigmatic-but-just-as-competent ñ are you ready? ñ good guy. The result is not art, but it's a perfect poolside page-turner.

Ant Rating: Rating: 4 Ants

Blasphemy - Douglas Preston
Then we come to this waste of paper by another well-known creative type who seems to be just phoning it in. Preston has authored (or co-authored along with Lincoln Child) some very good novels, but this isn't one of them. He's pulled in every stereotypical character and every lame plot twist you can imagine and concocted a big mess. My advice is to avoid it like the plague. Try Tyrannosaur Canyon if you want some of the same characters in a better setting.

Ant Rating: Rating: 1 Ant

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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