But if you try sometimes

August 15, 2007

When I was a kid, my mom would occasionally say things that would terrify me. Most of these things were actually lines from pop songs.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

“Give me, give me, give me a man after midnight.”

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

Aside from the second, which is just upsetting to hear your mother say for obvious reasons, these sayings scared me because even when I couldn’t articulate it, I could understand what they implied. Sometimes, you just have no choice about what happens to you.

This was hard for an ambitious whatever year old I was, and I was pretty much always ambitious. My goal, again unarticulated at the time, was not to end up like my mother. My life was going to be healthier, easier, richer, in a cleaner house… all around, better. I didn’t really want to think about things like the importance of timing, unplanned disasters as well as unplanned successes, or simply the amount of time it takes to learn how to stand up on your own two feet. Actually, I didn’t even know about these things. I thought somehow, if you were careful and did everything right, you just wouldn’t end up like my mother, with her credit card debt, her idiosyncratic car, her dead end government job in a factory town in the Midwest. If any of those things happened to you, it would be because you had not tried hard enough, simple as that.

I’m starting to see that’s not exactly true, although when things are going well it’s a pretty seductive illusion. Yes, I’m pretty sure you can already tell it’s going to be one of those blog posts, in which I talk about the most basic life events like they were earth shattering news–but if you haven’t seen it before, it’s new to you, right?

I’m not even sure how to introduce the two events I am going to discuss. I could say “it’s been a doozy of a week”–but really, what week hasn’t? More often than not this year, they are doozies. I guess I’ll just say, we’ve had two basic events on the more traumatic, less uplifting side of the scale this week.

Event 1: In which my sister loses $2700 dollars to a crooked landlord

Most of you already have the lowdown. Sis & bf went to a showing of a 2/2 cottage that a husband and wife were renting. The cottage was on their property, like the servants quarters that Mc Mansions in my in-laws’ neighborhood can no longer get away with. The place was dirty and had a hole in the roof, but the price and location were right. Sis & bf wanted it, landlords said give us a check for two months rent and we’ll fix the stuff before you sign a lease. Check was given, and a follow-up half month’s rent when the check (drawn on an out of state bank) took time to clear. Roof never fixed, carpets never cleaned. Everyday landlord says the lease will be ready, and then cancels. Sis & bf, two weeks later, ask for money back and the landlord refuses. Has probably already spent all of it. Yes, someone can just keep your money like that. It’s called theft. They are going to small claims court, but there’s no guarantee they’ll ever see a penny of that again. Bienvenidos a Miami!

Event 2: In which timing is everything… timing belts, that is

Thursday: D is driving down the turnpike, on his way to a teacher training day, when the Honda dies. Just dies, totally stops running. Fortunately he is able to coast safely on to the right shoulder and begins the long process of figuring out what his Triple A number actually is and getting towed to the mechanic.

Monday: We pick up Honda from the mechanic. Turns out the timing belt broke. That’s a 500$ fix, but the valves that the pistons damaged while unrestrained by the timing belt would cost another 1300$. And we are talking about a 1993 Honda Accord here–that would definitely go over its current street value. Is that technically what totaled means? Anyway, the good news is even with bad valves it runs… kind of. And it’s the “kind of” that is really bumming me out. What did I do to deserve driving another car that stalls at stop signs and jerks likes its having an epileptic fit while in idle? For now, it’ll still get me from home to work with a few “oh crap”moments along the way. In the near to midterm, it will have something else go wrong, and the question will again come up about whether or not to sink money into making it last a little longer or not. Or maybe we should try to get what we can in trade in before that happens. Or maybe I should invest in a bike and a helmet and a taser and start braving the traffic at least as far as a bus stop. While we’re at it, we could even try to figure out which of these two is the actual worst case scenario. A) We have only one working car for the next two years or B) at the end of two years, when we dream of moving someplace with public transportation, we have two newish cars with outstanding loans and not enough street value to pay off what we owe (the major downside to buying Hyundai’s right now is the resale, ’cause you can’t beat the price or the warranty). Of course, this all could have been prevented if we’d had the timing belt replaced before it broke, which would require either knowing to replace it (we didn’t) or having a mechanic who believed in maintaining cars over 100k miles who would think to recommend that we did. American mechanics pretty much assume that after 100k all you want are band-aids, not the kind of upkeep that keeps you riding in the long term.

Chalk it up to live and learn, but I am really not enjoying all this living and expensive learning. Especially when, in the back of my mind, this must all be my fault. Somewhere out there is a girl who got a marketable degree, didn’t move to south Florida, knew to be a hard ass about real estate and protected her sister from losing almost 3 grand for nothing, and remembered to change the timing belt. Every incident like these ones simply reminds me that I did not turn out to be her.

The one small consolation seems to be that after about three solid rounds of nasty life surprises, I’m learning to say oh well when I realize that. Oh well, I’m not that girl. Chances are that girl isn’t even that girl… but even if she is, and some of them are, I’d still rather take my chances on me, and my life, which currently includes a cat standing on her hind legs in my lap to reach up and put her front paws around my neck. I may not know jack about cars or earning a living, but I have a hugging cat.

Also, now that I’m beginning to expect rather than hope to avoid getting battered like a punching bag every other month, I’m also getting better at reminding myself that bad things do not happen just to me, and that for everything that seems bad so far there probably could have been something worse. The car could have been totaled in a wreck, which would have hurt the driver and caused our insurance to go up. Sis & bf could have moved into the place only to find out that a badly patched roof blew off during the upcoming hurricane season, destroying all of their stuff. Things could definitely have gone better, but they also could have been much worse, and we wouldn’t have probably “deserved” any of it either which way. It does just kind of happen to you while you are making those other plans about how you are going to make more money, run more miles, and really clean your apartment.

Still, when all the ways it could have been worse have been imagined and the war stories have been compared, deep down inside you’d still rather be the person this had just never happened to. You’d rather be the person who had never even imagined it could happen. That’s why the Stones were right, and so was my mom, and just like both of them I’m getting older and wiser.

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