I got a flat tire this morning. I have a lot of experience with changing tires. I live almost a mile in from a paved road and my “driveway” is like a ride in Disneyworld, especially when it rains.
For a while I was averaging a flat tire a month. I finally broke down and bought “tire insurance” after I got a flat on my way to get new tires. I’m pretty certain I’m in the running for Claimant of the Decade.
The tires aren’t hard to change on my Jeep. I must look like I can handle the situation, because about twenty cars drove by and no one stopped to help me…though I did get a few slow-downs and one thumbs up.
A car finally did pull over…after I already had my Jeep jacked up and the tire off. It was a guy and his wife. She told me that she made him stop to help.
While he finished the easy part, I asked him whether he would have stopped if she hadn’t made him. He said probably not…”You can’t take a chance on being accused of doing something wrong with some of these crazy women. You read about it all the time.”
Huh?!? Oh yeah…right…I read that headline in the National Rattler…right under the incredible story of the cat who could speak French.
Maybe I’ve been out in the sun too long…but I can’t recall reading countless stories about men who had heinous experiences because they stopped to help a woman change a tire. I’m sure there are isolated incidents, but this urban legend sounds like an excuse to me.
His wife asked him if he would want someone to stop and help her. I think he hesitated a little too long before answering yes. She didn’t react, just looked at me with the blank expression that all women have…I call it the “Universal Stare”…a visual shorthand that says: “What’s the point…and aren’t you glad you’re not me.”
I didn’t appreciate the art of tire changing. My father made me see the light. When I turned sixteen, he took on the task of teaching me to drive. He had black hair when we began. By the time we finished, he had a white streak and a twitch in his left eyelid.
He finally deemed it would no longer be a criminal act for him to take me for my driver’s test. In an end run, he threw in a monkey wrench.
The morning of my test we went out to get in the car to go to motor vehicles. The left rear tire was flat. The spare was laying on the ground next to it, along with the jack, which was in three pieces.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: You have a flat tire.
Dad: No…YOU have a flat tire…and before you can get your license, you have to know how to change one.
Me: (standing with my hands on my hips…looking all cute…wearing hot pants and my lowest platform shoes…for driving) Dad…look at me…when will I EVER have to change my own tire…”
My father took the keys and went into the house. I wasn’t allowed to get my license until I was 17. I did a lot of walking in that year. I also learned how to change a tire, change the oil and air filter, and jump the battery.
Years later, when I was living in Manhattan, my Dad would just hand me his keys and I did all the driving. He told me that it required blind ambition and a lead foot to navigate traffic in the city and I was perfect for the job.
Eventually I moved to Queens and my parents came down from Connecticut to help me paint my new apartment. My mother called me into the kitchen. “I just slapped a bug with the paintbrush. It ran under the stove.”
That whitewashed cockroach eluded me for months. I finally found his little carcass, legs up, right after one of my atomic boric acid raids.
My Queens apartment was in a beautiful brownstone, across the street from a huge apartment complex which turned out to be a project crawling with drug dealers and illegal immigrants. I had gone to look at the apartment in the daytime. The neighborhood was quiet and there were elderly people on the stoops and children playing on the sidewalks.
At night, the elderly went inside and locked their doors. Some of the kids became lookouts and hustled up and down the sidewalk for the drug dealers who sat inside their big cars…obeying alternate side of the street parking while pushing their wares.
Personally, I never had any problems with my neighbors. There were cops who stood at the corner every night and were familiar with my routine when I got off of the Number 7 train. I also learned how to say a few choice words in Spanish that let the loiterers in front of the bodega know I wasn’t buying and I wasn’t interested.
Every Saturday morning I would drag my laundry cart around the corner with my bag of change and do my wash. I went early, because if you didn’t stand guard over your clothes there was no guarantee you’d get them all back. As diligent as I was…I know I saw a sweater of mine on some chick walking down Queen’s Boulevard a week after I made the mistake of going for coffee while my clothes were in the dryer.
I was standing folding my clean towels in my bathroom one morning. I reached into my laundry basket to pull out another towel and I felt something go over the top of my foot.
“Well, there goes my cockroach free zone.” I thought…until I looked down. It wasn’t one of the large mutant roaches that I played tag with.
It was a boa constrictor…about six feet long and as thick as a baseball bat.
I have never again uttered a noise like the high pierced scream that came from me that day. It must have been one of those sounds only a dog can hear, because no one came running and pounding on my door.
I watched it slither into my linen closet. I shoved everything within reach in front of it and made a barricade…and then I called my Dad in Connecticut.
Me: Dddad…I have a snake in my apartment.
Dad: A snake? Are you sure?
Me: Yeah Dad…I’m pretty sure it’s a snake. I barricaded in my closet.
Dad: Don’t worry then…snakes don’t climb.
Snakes don’t climb?!? As he was saying this, it was climbing over the top of the barricade, it’s tongue flicking in and out.
Me: It’s climbing over the barricade…
Dad: Open your front door and shoo it out…it probably came up through the toilet.
I used a broom and “shooed” the snake toward the door. It took a detour and went under my couch. I called 911.
Me: I have a large snake in my apartment.
(The 911 operator was Spanish.)
Operator: A snik? Are you chur?
Me: Um…yeah…I’m chur it’s a snik.
About an hour went by and two uniformed police showed up. One was a little white guy and the other was a large black guy. I brought them up to speed on the status of my snake and pointed to the couch.
Me: It’s under there.
I was dressed in leotards, tights and leg warmers…so they humored me…and pulled back the couch.
The black cop’s hair pinged from the sides of his head like Buckwheat from the Little Rascals. The other cop backed up, almost out into the hallway.
Cop 1: How do you think it got here?
Cop 2: Probably came up through the toilet.
The snake was coiled and did not look very sociable. By now I had gotten used to it, and I did what I should have done from the get-go. I trapped it under my big wicker basket. The two of them supervised as I got a garbage bag around it. It wasn’t happy and kept striking inside the bag. I insisted on taking it to the zoo.
The curator examined my reptilian trespasser.
Me: Where do you think it came from?
Curator: Most likely someone in your apartment house had it as a pet. It probably got loose and got into the walls looking for food.
Me: That makes more sense to me. Everyone keeps telling me it probably came up through the toilet.
Curator: Or that too.
To this day, I always look before I sit…if you know what I mean.
My Dad showed up a week later with a shotgun for me to keep under my bed.
Dad: Don’t worry about aiming…just point and pull…whatever it is, you’ll blow a hole in it the size of a pie plate.
I never saw my Dad shoot a gun…let alone blast a hole the size of a pie plate into anything. He knew he couldn’t be there to help me handle snakes that might come my way…but it made him feel better to know that I could…and it made me feel better too.
I got a flat tire this morning…
I could have changed it myself.
I miss you Dad…big time.
Day three hundred and one…knowing how to change a tire…still learning how to handle snakes…