November 14, 2007

Every day I write the book

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, General Me, Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 10:29 am

This is a good month for blogging every day; in fact, it’s the month for blogging every day. Friend and blogfriend Kindle (first blog I ever read, hand to God) is taking part, for the second straight year, and has so far discussed films, fashion, food, and ESL teaching.  In similar news, a guy I know has started a blog chronicling his 20-day quest (beginning Saturday) to watch 100 great films, run 100 miles, and grade 40 student papers.   So you want to put that in your RSS before you forget.  Finally, Sarah Lawrence friend Phaea Crede has a blog which, while not technically a NaBloPoMo participant, seems to update almost every day, and also each entry is titled “Today in…” which feels pleasantly like syndicated news.

I recommend all three blogs, both for their own merits (this is projected, in the case of Days of Industry) and for the feeling of plenty that comes from having a new entry to read each day. Me, I don’t have the material or the wherewithal to blog once a week, let alone once a day. However, in the spirit of the month, here is something quirky and trivial you can read about me:

I’ve learned to ride my bike without hands. I know that I’m a little old for this, but but the circumstances were never right before: there are too many hills in Berkeley, and I’ve always been a late bloomer in terms of not being a pussy (I couldn’t watch Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or The Neverending Story until I was in my teens, e.g.). Now, though, I find myself in Long Beach, home of flat, broad, one-way residential streets, and since I’m in my late twenties it can no longer be said that I have my whole life ahead of me. So I started riding no hands – tentatively at first, then confidently. Now I can do it for a block at a time, and I’m starting to learn how to turn.

The funny thing, though, is how addictive this method is; it’s started to feel like the most natural way to ride. Now, whenever I climb on the bike, my first instinct is to put my weight back, and for the first time in my life I want to own one of those upright cruisers rather than a bike that makes you lean forward. It’s too bad unicycles are so dorky, because that’d be the logical next step.


December 25, 2006

Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail!

Filed under: Film and Video, General Me, Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 1:48 pm

Some notes on Christmas ’06:

 *We watched It’s a Wonderful Life last night.  I hadn’t seen it in years (except for the 30-second bunnies version), so I remembered hardly any of the essential details. It’s a good movie, despite some strange editing errors, and the ending is genuinely moving. However, there was a hilariously dated part near the end (spoiler warning, I guess). George Bailey is wandering around Pottersville, discovering one alternate-reality horror after another – his brother is dead, the downtown is a center of sin and misery, the place is called Pottersville – all because he’s never been born. Then, finally, he comes upon the final straw, the awful revelation that sends him racing back to the bridge to beg for his life back: his wife is unmarried at 35! And she’s a librarian! And she wears glasses!

I mean, when George asks Clarence “where’s my wife? Where’s Mary?” and Clarence doesn’t want to tell him, I sort of assumed that she was a prostitute or a burlesque dancer or something. But no, she’s just an old maid with her hair in a bun. And why would George’s absence make her wear glasses, anyway? Maybe it’s related to being a librarian, because reading is super-bad for women’s vision.

*I’ve come full circle from the Christmas ideal, where people give you things you like so you can save your money for things you need. The problem is that the adults in my life have no connection to things I like; it feels weird to ask my parents for albums they’ve never heard of, let alone the video games that they thought I was going to outgrow eventually. So the best Christmas presents I get these days are practical gifts – clothes, reference books – that let me save my money for toys. That culminated in my best present so far this year: a new set of hubcaps for my car, whose wheels have been naked (and gradually rusting) for as long as I’ve owned it. I was outside putting them on, hearing the neighborhood kids yell their favorite presents to each other: “I got the new iPod!” “I got an XBox 360!” Meanwhile there I was, hammering on my Christmas present, making an old car new.

*Finally, James Brown died. I was stunned; I had no idea he was 73, and even then he’s been such an icon for my entire life that it’s impossible to imagine him dead. Down here in Yorba Linda, I found out online; he died too late for the newspaper, and it occurred to me that my parents (who don’t get online very often) wouldn’t have heard. I planned to tell them during my “Merry Christmas” call, but I couldn’t do it. You can’t interrupt a gift-giving session with news like that.

January 26, 2006

Goooo Greased Lightning

Filed under: Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 12:14 am

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but back around New Year’s the subject came up, and, without really thinking about it, I resolved to pay more attention to maintaining my car, and specifically to do it myself when possible. Back in November or so, I bought Auto Repair for Dummies–my first purchase from that illustrious product line–and flipped through it, but never applied its wisdom to my car. Given that I’ve had the thing since September ’04, it was past time to get to know some rudimentary knowledge about its inner workings.

I don’t mean to sing my own praises, but I dislike owning something without knowing something about how it works. Compared to many people I know, I’m not very knowledgeable about computers, since I don’t know anything about programming or circuitry, but I still do some tech support for my family since I’ve learned as much as I can about working with computers. I like learning about systems of knowledge; insofar as I know anything about music or baseball, for instance, it’s because I just set out to absorb what I could about it from as many sources as possible. Even when I started drinking was systematic, mentally cataloguing drinks, brands, cocktails, etc., which paid off when I used it all to make my sister a drink guide for her 21st birthday.

However, the car is a special case, since my desire to learn about my car comes into conflict with my certainty that I’m always going to screw up anything I undertake with my hands, particularly anything mechanical. The advantage of learning about computers is that it’s safe and clean, and the most damage you’re ever going to do is some lost data here and there. The stakes are higher with a car, since not only is the equipment more expensive, but the risk to life and limb is present as well. Whenever I open up the hood, the sticker saying “Warning: Fans may start any time ignition is on” gives me pause, even if my keys are firmly in my pocket.

Certainly I allowed myself to be intimidated when, on January 15, I went out to finally make good on my resolution. Opening up the hood in my first attempt to actually learn where things were, the confidence I gained during my research evaporated upon viewing the ridiculous forest of hoses and valves. Even with the manual’s map of everything, I couldn’t find the air cleaner at first. I couldn’t figure out how to get at the belts, much less inspect them. I didn’t have any rags to wipe the dipstick with. The fear came in, as well; cleaning the deposits off my battery, I kept thinking I was going to electrocute myself or poison/dissolve myself with battery acid.

But I got there eventually. I did get the battery clean. I refilled my windshield washer pump. I found out that I had enough brake fluid, transmission fluid, and coolant, which was relieving: I wasn’t such a bad car owner that I had been blithely driving around without anything in my engine, even if I had been driving around blithely.

The big one, though, was changing my oil. Understand, before I got the For Dummies book, I didn’t know that one could change one’s own oil, nor even what changing the oil really entailed. (You pour out all the oil, see, then you add new oil.) Once I learned that I could, it struck me as essential that I do so, as a symbol of my newfound mastery of my vehicle. Not only was it my right as the car’s owner, it was my duty, and even if I could get an oil change for $15 with a coupon, I wasn’t going to let some stranger change my oil, any more than I’d hire someone to build an IKEA bookshelf or install Microsoft Word for me.

This was a project that took a whole working week, Sunday to Friday, and took me to Kragen Auto Parts three times and Ace Hardware once. I found the oil pan under the car (day 1) and bought motor oil, a drain pan (to catch the oil), a new oil filter, and an oil filter wrench (dollars 1-25); finding my car too low to cram under, bought a jack and jack stands to get at it (day 2, dollars 26-60); attempted to jack up the car but found I couldn’t get it high enough to put the jack stands under (day 3); went back to Kragen, where they told me that I had to jack it up from the side rather than the front, and where I bought a set of wrenches since a friend told me a monkey wrench wouldn’t do it (day 4, dollars 61-95); successfully jacked up the car and got underneath, but was unable to take off the oil pan nut (day 5); bought a spray to help loosen the nut and a mallet to hit the wrench with if necessary (dollars 96-100), but when I jacked up the car again and got back under there, I was finally successful without need of these aids (day 6). The sight of dirty motor oil splashing into the drain pan was the sight of cascading triumph. I wasn’t 100% successful–the oil filter wrench was the wrong size, so I had to change the oil but leave the filter alone. Still, though, it did get done. It should pay for itself in twelve or fifteen months, around oil changes four or five.

Getting under the car was that most magical thing, a new and intimidating experience. I took all of the safety precautions when jacking it up–blocked the wheels, checked it for stability before getting under it–but nonetheless I’m not used to having a compact car suspended a few inches above my face, and it took me a couple tries to get under and stay under. Disturbing questions (would I die almost before knowing it, or would it be the “lie crushed in agony” kind of thing?) occupied my mind until the challenge of the damn nut took their place (though even then I remembered my friend’s report that he knew someone who had knocked the car off the jack stands by trying too hard on the nut. For the record, it felt completely stable throughout). I was rewarded for my boldness, though, when a guy I knew passed by and we had one of those guy conversations about auto work–commisserating, sharing war stories about cars past. As a scrawny academic, this conversation made me feel much more adult (not to say masculine) than usual. This is a rite of passage for the modern man.

The other significant thing about the oil change (is any of this significant?) was that I performed it the day before I left to visit my sister in Santa Cruz, a 400-mile trip. The car ran fine throughout, but I still checked the oil at every gas station. (Which, I guess, you’re supposed to do anyway.)

It’s anyone’s guess whether this interest in my car, and the good habits that come with it, will last. From what I know of me, I think I’ll probably keep up with the technical part of it (checking the fluids, learning how to do a lube job, all that sexy stuff), since I love tinkering–I get a real thrill out of updating my software and even out of changing a printer cartridge–but keeping it looking nice doesn’t hold as much attraction as it should; the idea of washing it once a week feels like drudgery to me. This is of course related to a more general failing of mine, which is that I never feel like keeping things clean, even though it inevitably means more work for me later on. So perhaps that will be next year’s resolution.

But regardless of my behavior towards my own car, it feels really good to have the knowledge, and to share it when needed. My friend Joe got a flat tire during my oil change project–the tire had both a screw and a nail in it–and he enlisted my help changing it. So we learned how to do that together, and now I’ll always know, finally, how to change a tire.

To conclude this very long entry–why do I write so much when cars are involved?–I’ll give a few helpful and surprising tips that I’ve learned during my recent research:

–In almost all cars, the positive battery terminal also grounds the battery. Therefore, when disconnecting a battery, make sure that you disconnect the negative cable first and reconnect it last. If you disconnect the grounding cable first, and your wrench touches metal, it can fuse to the metal part. I learned that the easy way.

–You should always drive with your gas tank as full as possible. This keeps dirt and impurities out of the gas tank.

–Driving with a passenger window open increases air resistance, which costs gas mileage. An advantage of a sun roof is that it lets in air without slowing down the car.

–Liquid gasoline doesn’t explode, it burns. Gasoline only explodes when it’s mixed with air and ignited, which is what happens inside your engine. This means that a nearly empty gasoline can or tank is much more dangerous than a full one.

September 7, 2004

Who’s gonna drive you home tonight

Filed under: Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 3:53 pm


…yeah, I passed my test. It wasn’t exemplary, but it was good enough. I was still completely nervous throughout. My last tester, debriefing me after my failed attempt, suggested that I prevent nervousness by pretending not to be taking a test: “Imagine you’re just on a date with your girlfriend, and she’s telling you how to get there.” Well, this tester was a 5’6″ twentysomething woman, but even so, I couldn’t do it. I drove with my heart in my mouth the whole time, but there was only one place where I almost failed. (I took too long to brake and the tester did the “psychic brake” thing, stepping down hard on the floor but not saying anything that could be regarded as “tester intervention.”)

I congratulate you, my readership–you will never again have to read an entry about my driving test. From now on, it’s nothing but homework here at Tomemos.

August 24, 2004

My car is better than your shoes

Filed under: Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 1:24 pm

I failed my second driving test. I was freaking myself out, putting so much energy into appearing to be an alert driver, looking around like a neurotic poodle, that I didn’t actually notice things like, y’know, yield signs. Believe it or not, I feel pretty good about the whole thing (not to say I didn’t do some swearing afterwards)–I feel like I finally have the perspective & patience to I suppose part of it is that there’s no way now to take the test before I go back down south, so that bit of pressure is off. Anyway, I’ll re-take in a couple weeks.

So, it turns out I’m on my way back to Orange County as a non-driver after all. As a consolation prize, however, I have a car! I’ve bought Julie’s beleaguered red Neon in preparation for when I finally, finally, finally get my license. And I even have a name for it! In view of its many mechanical…intricacies, and in honor of the musical artist who gave us the song “My Hooptie,” I dub the–pardon, my–car, “Sir Fix-A-Lot.”

Rollin’ four deep, tires smoke up the block
Gotta roll this bucket, ’cause my Benz is in the shop
Four door nightmare, trunk locks’ stuck
Big dice on the mirror, grill like a truck
Lifters tickin’, accelerator’s stickin’
Somethin’ on my left front wheel keeps clickin’

(This is just tough love. It’s a good car. I like the car. It drives fine. However, it is true that I can’t take the drive test in it because the speedometer doesn’t always work.)

August 9, 2004

My friends all drive porsches, I must make amends

Filed under: Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 4:47 pm

I’m sorry that I haven’t been updating, but you see, not much has been happening. This has sometimes been good (lots of time to watch movies with Julie) and sometimes very dull (trying not to let on how little I have to do at work), but it adds up to not much blog material.

Now, I was hoping to update the blog today with the good news that I passed my driver’s test, but events did not cooperate; I rolled onto the curb while backing up, within five minutes of leaving the DMV. Now I’m on the phone trying to schedule another appointment–he’s so resilient! And stubborn!–and smooth jazz is playing. This can only be calculated to annoy me.

I’m confident I can pass next time–I only made one mistake, and everyone says I’m driving well enough to pass–but it’s a pretty anticlimactic result of all this build-up, particularly since learning to drive seems to be the only Big Summer Project I’ve made any progress on. Plus I get frustrated with failure very, very easily.

So yeah, not a bad summer–very good at times–but I feel like I’m idling (not to say spinning my wheels). I think in the future I’m going to stay in Irvine and teach during the summer. It’s kind of a devil’s bargain–interesting occupation, boring surroundings–but the fact is I’d rather have the free time, and maybe even use it on reading and writing essays in the like. After all, this is going to be a requirement eventually anyway. I’m glad I came back to the Bay Area for this summer, but it looks like it’ll have to be an occasional treat from here on.

…And I had the perfect title for the I-passed-the-test entry, too. Goddammit, how many song lyrics about cars can I be expected to come up with?

July 1, 2004

And if a double decker bus crashes into us

Filed under: Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 2:03 pm

I drove for the first time today! Julie took me into Emeryville in the wee morning hours, and I got behind the wheel in a big parking lot (parking lots occupy something like 75% of Emeryville’s surface area). There, observed by no one but Julie and several perplexed Toys ‘R’ Us employees, I drove around, tentatively at first but eventually working my way up to “kind of tentatively.” After a while, I drove a bit on surface streets in Emeryville and Oakland. I had one near accident (at one point I couldn’t find the brake pedal, but found the accelerator okay), and I rolled over one curb, but there were no catastrophes and my face will not be on the news tonight accompanied by the words, “..are still looking for the moronic driver of a red Dodge Neon.” Even when we accidentally ended up on a ramp that passed dangerously near the highway and other cars, I didn’t die.

So that gave me kind of a buzz. Actually, the buzz has lasted most of the day (it can’t all be the coffee I had this morning)–as pathetic as this will sound to you longtime drivers, I’m still struck by how little effort it takes to make a car accelerate, or turn, and I don’t yet trust myself to harness that safely (with good reason). At the same time, it’s exciting that, with the slightest pressure from my right foot, I immediately reach a speed it would take me thirty seconds to get to on a bike. So I regard the prospect of my next driving session with a mixture of excitement and dread.

The ultimate goal of my driving, of course, is to get to the level of comfort where I don’t feel compelled to write blog entries that are, to most of you, equivalent to descriptions of washing the dishes or making toast. Not there yet, though.

June 10, 2004

Roll down the window and let the wind know that you’re here

Filed under: Get your motor runnin' — tomemos @ 10:32 am

Ladies and gentlemen, after seven years of being eligible for one, four years of saying I’m going to get one, and one year of saying this time, I’m really going to get one…

I have a driver’s permit.

Watch out, you 18-and-older licensed drivers sitting in passenger seats: it’s legally possible that I’m sitting next to you, driving the car under your instruction.

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