Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Penultimate Battery Changers

My friend Shelly has a wonderful way of "suggesting" a specific course of action without actually committing herself to any part of the work. When we visited the white cliffs the other day, she said, "We'll take my rig, but we need to change the battery first. And by we, I mean you." 

"But I've never changed a battery," I protested. 

She popped the hood of her truck and said, "It's easy. Just remove these screws, lift the old battery out, put the new battery in, and then replace the screws. No problem." Then she turned and simply went back inside the house. That's what we call faith.   

Thankfully, I was not alone. I brought my friend Stephen to share my struggle with that old corroded battery. For a moment, we could only manage to look at each other helplessly. Then we argued over which one of us was the least likely to change a car battery. One of us said, "I'm the last one you'd ever expect to do this." 

The other said, "No, I'm the last." 

"Fine," the first answered, "Then I'm the penultimate person." Then we had to argue over who got to be the ultimate (the last) and the penultimate (the second to the last). Meanwhile, the battery sat unchanged inside the car. 

Using words like penultimate made me feel suyepi (white). The only reason I know that word is because of my experience with the Spanish language. I suspect the same is true of Stephen. 

Finally, I said, "How many gringos does it take to change a car battery?" And we laughed. 

In the end, we discovered that Shelly was right all along. Changing the batter really was quite easy, but just before she tested the new battery, I had a horrible thought. "What if we put the positive and negative connections in the wrong place?" I had a nightmarish vision of the car bursting into flames. But she turned the key and the engine roared to life. What a relief! 

We're both word nerds at heart, Stephen and I. We deal in words like penultimate, not in wrenches, metal bolts, or car batteries. Even so, it was very kind of Shelly to provide a well-rounded education in auto-mechanics.  

Later that day, Shelly took us to an abandoned mine shaft where we found a wrecked car from the 1930s. I thought about labeling these pictures with a joke about Stephen inspecting the damage after Shelly's car burst into flames. 

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