February 2020 Archives

The Hapless Mechanic -- Part 65,784
February 26, 2020 9:40 PM | Posted in: ,

I think we can all agree that most new or new-ish cars are not designed to permit under-the-hood maintenance by the average owner. I suspect that's not a big deal for most of us. Modern engines are marvels of complexity, but also are (usually) such paragons of reliability that the lack of specialized training and tools is not (usually) a handicap.

I've never had the need or felt the desire to tinker with the engines of our current vehicles. I know how to check the fluid levels and that's pretty much the only reason to even pop the bonnets nowadays...with one exception: I still replace the batteries myself. That's not a hugely complex job, right? You just loosen one or two bolts holding the battery in place, then remove the leads to the terminals, lift the old battery out, put the new one in, and replace the stuff you loosened earlier. It's what...a ten-minute job? Usually?

Not so fast, bucko. Literally, not. so. fast. I learned this week that at least one car maker has conspired to take even that simple task away from me.

The factory-installed battery in MLB's SUV celebrated its fifth birthday this month. Five years on a car battery is awesome, at least in my experience. I'm sure the mild central Texas winters help to prolong battery life, but whatever the reason, I'm impressed. I'm also very skeptical that there's much useful life remaining after five years, and so I headed to Walmart to purchase a prophylactic replacement.

I hauled it home in the truck, and after unloading it in the garage, I grabbed a crescent wrench and opened the hood of the SUV. And then the second-guessing started.

As an aside, alert Gazette readers will recall that my DIY track record aspires to be merely dismal. I have a knack for turning the most plebeian task into a sisyphean challenge, whether it's assembling a piece of furniture or repairing a weedeater or wiring a stereo or making toast. I've learned to accept my maladroitness...or at least to not be surprised by it. So I dealt with what ensued with a certain amount of resignation, and possibly some unrepeatable vocabulary.

Does your car have one of those space-age plastic covers that car manufacturers are employing so as to not offend our delicate sensibilities with their engine's mechanical nakedness? The SUV has one, and while it's wonderful for keeping the engine compartment clean, it really should be embossed with a warning to the effect of "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Would Enter Here To Do Basic Maintenance Such As Replacing The Battery."

I won't bore you [further] with a detailed list of the challenges I faced (although I can't help mentioning that I managed to drop a perfectly good socket wrench into a place in the engine compartment that can only be accessed by a complete disassembly of the entire vehicle). Suffice it to say that while I finally managed to replace the battery, I've had to follow up the procedure by ordering some replacement parts to rebuild the previously mentioned engine modesty panel.

I never had much mechanical aptitude, but there were always a few simple tasks that I could successfully perform. Even those have gradually disappeared from my repertoire, but I figured I could always count on the battery replacement drill. Now, even that seems to have been pried out of my bloody-knuckled hands.

Still, I remain defiant, and resolve to periodically go into the garage, raise the SUV's hood, and curse at the few engine components that I can still identify.

The Creaky Clarinetist
February 22, 2020 4:35 PM | Posted in:

I pulled this bad boy out of the closet earlier today:

Photo - Clarinet; aka a noisemaker to scare raccoons

This is noteworthy, at least to me, since it's been approximately thirty years -- THREE DECADES! -- since I made an attempt at playing a clarinet.

I was pleasantly surprised that none of the pads had fallen out, all the cork was still intact, and I spotted only one insignificant crack in the wood thanks to years in the dry West Texas climate and lack of regular oiling.

I miss making music. I began playing the clarinet in junior high, and by the time I was a senior in high school I had gotten pretty good. I don't have any natural musical ability, but I didn't mind practicing and I did a lot of it. Amazing how that can work out, right? 

I played a little in college as well, at least for the first couple of years. But I lost the ambition somewhere along the way, and stowed the instrument. I never completely forgot it, though.

Ten or fifteen years later, I was presented with a guitar...one strung to accommodate my left-handedness...and I noodled around on it for a while. I finally admitted the futility of teaching myself to play, and I didn't have the energy to look for a teacher who took southpaw students. Plus, chords are HARD...at least for a clarinetist. 

I still had the unsatisfied-if-suppressed urge to make some music. So, today, with MLB out of the house and me confined to it with a mild cold, I opened the case and assembled the instrument while sucking on the reed in an attempt to bring it back to life.

I ran my fingers up and down the keys and I have to tell you that they didn't feel as if I'd been gone for thirty years. I guess when you do something for a few thousand hours, the brain and nerves and muscles still retain some of that learned ability.

Making actual music come out of the instrument was a whole other thing, though. Any wind instrument player will attest to the fact that the muscles involved in the creation of a workable embouchure do not automagically stay fit. It's no different than trying to run a marathon after 30 years of sitting at a desk; the results are guaranteed to be painful. After about ten minutes, I was close to being a drooling slob. (Well, more so than usual.)


I was able to coax some actual clarinet-sounding stuff out of the instrument, and even more remarkable, I could match the notes on a page (or in my head) with the proper placement of fingers on the keys. I grabbed a couple of books of music -- a Baptist hymnal for tunes and a book of practice exercises for, well, practice -- and even if every tenth note or so was a squeak or a squawk (legit technical musical terms), I exceeded my admittedly low expectations for skill.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have been within earshot would be forgiven for thinking this was a hopeless endeavor, but for me, it was just successful enough to give me motivation to start practicing more regularly. I figure that if I did it once, I can do it again.

Y'all might want to pray for MLB, though.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2020 listed from newest to oldest.

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