Category Archives: Essay

Truck Repair Karma


I have marked this down as a karma thing.

Here’s what happened.

My truck was randomly “not” starting. I attributed it initially to bad batteries.

Nope. Bad starter.

So I checked out my car repair manual.  It looked like an easy repair.  So I ordered a new starter from NAPA and decided to go ahead last Saturday and replace it myself even though I had the flu and a fever.

And yes, I’m an idiot.

Three hours later, I finally tossed aside my 10mm box end wrench and muttered f*&k it.  As it turned out, replacing the starter wasn’t as easy as my repair manual had led me to believe.  There was one bolt in particular that refused to loosen.  It was located on the top of the starter; I was having trouble getting a tool on it, and enough leverage to break it free.  I’d tried every option I could think, and then some, but no luck.

I hate to admit failure, but sometimes its time to quit bashing yourself in the face with a hammer.  So, I tightened up the bolts I had managed to loosen, put away my tools, and backed the truck out of the driveway.   That’s when I noticed the wet patch on the pavement. My first thought was water, but upon closer inspection, I realized it was diesel.  Good grief.  Not only had I failed to replace my starter, I’d knocked something loose.  I locked up the truck, closed the garage door, and went to bed.

On Monday, though still feeling like crap from the flu, I called the local car repair place and they agreed to do the fix, using the starter I’d purchased, and also fix my broken fuel line.  I dropped the truck off the next day (courtesy a tow from my friend Tony).  A few days later, they called up and said it was ready.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Before I got a chance to object to price of the repair, the mechanic says, “Oh, yeah, we couldn’t use your starter.”

“Why not?”

“It was the wrong one.”

“I got it from NAPA,” I said. “5.9 Cummins turbo diesel….”

The mechanic shook his head. “Nope. They gave you a starter for a VW van.”

A starter for a VW van instead of a starter for a 2004 Dodge 2500 pickup truck with a 5.9 liter 24 valve turbo diesel?  Wow.  That wasn’t just wrong, but “way” wrong. Thanks to a reluctant bolt, however, I had only wasted 3 hours on the job.  I mean, what if I’d managed to get my old starter off?  And what if they bolts for the VW starter had actually fit my truck, and I’d ended up installing that?  I could have easily spent a day or more futzing around on this before giving up.

So, unlike most things in life. This all actually sorta kinda worked out.

I’ll go with that.






Don’t forget the Kleenix

It was Tuesday morning and I was checking out of the hospital after hip replacement surgery.  During the four hours I’d been knocked out the previous afternoon, they’d sawed off the end of my left femur, hammered a titanium spike with a new ball on the end into the exposed bone, and then sanded smooth and relined my hip socket with titanium covered in a hard plastic.  Once, they glued together the 8 inch incision, Humpty Mikey was put back together again.

Piece of cake.

So, I’m struggling to pull on my sweats with help from the CNA assigned to my room, a nice middle-aged woman named Danielle.  She said she was originally from Russia. That explained the accent.  In between helping me, she was bustling around my room, a free hand constantly shooing wisps of dark hair out of her eyes.

“Want these?” She held up the yellow post surgery socks I’d been wearing. They had the neat patches of rubber on the soles so I wouldn’t slip.  Not that I was racing around the room or anything.

“Sure,” I said.  Yellow happens to be my favorite color.

She stuffed them in a plastic bag.

“How about these?”

It was the hospital tooth brush and toothpaste.  To tell the truth, I didn’t really care one or the other. I was feeling really beat up from the surgery, and just wanted to get home.  I shrugged.

She glanced over her shoulder like she expected the Secret Police might be listening. “You no take,” she whispered, “they just throw away and charge you anyways.” She made a sound with her mouth.  “Poof.”  The way she said it she implied that if I was foolish enough to let something like that go to waste, then it was no skin off her nose.  I imagine she’d seen a lot of that.  The hospital I was at was located about 15 minutes north of the Microsoft campus, and about the same distance from one of the wealthiest towns in the country.  I suppose she didn’t know I lived on the cheap side of Puget Sound, and that when I was a kid my Grandma Ruby used to pick the meat from the fried chicken she saved for herself, making sure we all had enough to eat.

“Okay, fine!” I said.

That’s how it went the next few minutes.  Danielle moved around my bed. She’d hold something up,  I’d nod, and then she’d toss it in the bag:  unused pee container,  unused spirometer, a garment bag, and so on. Last but not least was the box of kleenix.

She tapped the box with her knuckles, and raised an eyebrow.

“Absolutely,” I said.

She smiled and tossed it in with everything else.

I was thinking about Danielle a few weeks later when the bills started rolling in. The retail cost of my surgery was over $75,000.  I paid much less thanks to the discounts they gave for my medical insurance, and what insurance chipped in, but still, the numbers were a shock.  From $25,000 for the hospital charges and $18,000 for my new hip. . . to $500 for the 15 minutes the hospital physical therapist spent with me.  I wish I made $2,000 per hour.

Last time I checked, our country spends 19% of our GDP on healthcare.  Way higher than other first world countries.  I don’t expect that to change. Here’s why. There’s no incentive.  Why would the big healthcare-related corporations want to reduce their profits? They’re banking on 19% of GDP. If that were cut to 15%, it would cost them millions – maybe billions – in profits.  They’re not going to stand for it, so their political minions complimented by their advertising/propaganda operations will keep us all confused, and make sure healthcare remains essentially unchanged in this country.

But I have my box of Kleenix.  I do wonder how much the hospital charged me for that? And when I need my other hip done, or one of my knees, I may go offshore.  I hear Thailand is nice.


DIY as an act of rebellion


I’m sorry to say that dependency is becoming the American way.

Why spend time and effort fixing something yourself when you can  A) Pay an “expert” to do it for you, or B) Trash whatever isn’t working and buy something fresh and new? After all, it’ll leave you more time to do really important stuff. You know, the kind of things you see all those gorgeous people doing on TV and the Web: sky diving, traipsing to exotic vacation locations, working out with their pals, gambling at the casino, and on and on.

After all, they’re worth it.

And so are you.

I get it.  I really do.  Hard to ignore the 24/7 advertising onslaught.  And some people just don’t like to get their hands dirty. Or may shy away from DIY because the repair involves doing something that is perceived as “dangerous.” Better to leave any risk to a well insured “professional.”  Or maybe it is a lack of self-confidence.  Plenty of advice on Youtube to counteract that, but still, some people fear failure and have been indoctrinated into leaving most things to “experts.”

There could also be more subtle impulses at play.  The one I hear most often can be boiled down to the belief that one’s time is so darn valuable why would they want to spend it fixing a dishwasher, or a leaky toilet, or something equally mundane and blue collar when one can hire some lackey to do it for them.

But getting it doesn’t mean I like it. In fact, in society’s mad rush to become more dependent, I’m marching the other way, along with a few other vagabonds.  From what I can see, we’re an odd quilt of men and women. We come from a variety of backgrounds and incomes even.  We may not get our news from the same networks, but we share a common interest in working with our hands and our minds.

Some of us are DIY by necessity. If I don’t fix it or build it, it won’t happen. We can’t afford to buy a playhouse for their kids; so we build it.  Others do it because they have an independent streak.  They could pay for someone else to do it, but what’s the fun in that?  And if you have kids, why model that kind of behavior?

This particular movement isn’t controlled by any organizations or political party. Anyone can join. . . anytime.  No need to start with something big like rebuilding a car engine, or fixing a short in your electrical panel.  Start with something else. Instead of ordering out, make dinner from scratch.  Next time you have a leaky faucet, fix it yourself.   Need to repaint a room.  Yeah, you can do that.  And if you don’t know what you’re doing, ask around, or spend some time snooping on Youtube.

So, if you’re ready, raise your right hand, and repeat after me:

I <ENTER YOUR NAME> do henceforth commit to a life of increasing independence from our political and corporate overlords and agree to follow the holy precepts of Do-It-Youselfism as handed down by our forefathers and mothers. I commit myself to a future of looking for opportunities for radical fun and learning new skills however innane by doing more things by myself with advice from family, friends and my community of brother and sister do-it-yourselfers.  So help me God (or whatever else you might consider holy).







I find uncomfortable. Most of the time I grin and bear it, but sometimes I need to strike out and demonstrate at least a small amount of independence, and if I’m lucky, maybe I can infect someone  else with an independent streak that might come in handy down the road.  Like my grandson, for instance.

Here’s a photo of he and I underneath my wife’s Subaru

A few thoughts post hip replacement surgery


I’m eight days from a left hip replacement, and thought I’d share a few takeaways:

  • I waited too long.  My surgeon said, “No one ever says they had the surgery too soon.”  I’ll add my voice to that chorus.  I waited too long.  Easy to understand now that I’m on the other side of the surgery. Some days I felt almost, well, good. And up until the last month or so before my surgery, I could walk 4 or 5 miles, and row my wherry even further.  Of course, I was wrecked for the day afterwards, each step a painful event.  But I could convince myself when the pain was just a background whisper that maybe I was just being a pussy.  I wasn’t.
  • You’re getting maimed, but it is for a good cause. Really.   This is a grotesque surgery.  You’re willingly choosing to have your body maimed.  Of course it is for a good cause. The hope is less pain and increased mobility.  But don’t overlook the trauma to your body for this surgery.  It all hit me a couple of nights after surgery.  I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t get comfortable. My body just hurt….everywhere.  And I was almost overwhelmed with a need to, well, just cry.  The best way I can describe it is that my body was weeping: Weeping in response to the violations that had happened to it a few days earlier?  Weeping in response to the lost portion of my femur? Or maybe I was just suffering from the side-effects under anesthesia for so long?  I don’t know.  But as strange as it sounds, my body was weeping.  So I decided to join in.
  • Exploring pain.   Pain is personal.  Duh, right?  But I suspect most people think that people get their pain, so when they say they hurt and they hurt really bad, everyone else automatically knows how they feel. But it isn’t so.  My bad may not be anywhere near your bad.  And I may empathize with what you may be feeling or going through, but I can’t feel what you’re going through.  If the worst pain you have ever experienced is a paper cut, then your physical pain perspective is incredibly limited.  A paper cut can hurt, but for someone hacking sugar cane with a machete, cuts and scrapes are an hourly occurrence and probably don’t even get noticed.   It might take losing a finger to get their attention, and come close to what the other person felt with a paper cut. Over time, I’d gotten used to my chronic hip pain. It was never at a static level, climbing and falling without reason on some occasions, and then spiking after some activity.  I resented the limitations of my hip, and up until the end, I was willing to put up with cost after I’d gone mountain biking, rowing, or walking with my wife. But by the end, even that cost was becoming more than I had the energy or will to deal with.  Most of the time, however, the pain was a background wind that I’d become accustomed to, and leaned into without even thinking.  But after the surgery, one of the things I first noticed was that the chronic noise of my arthritis was gone. Even after the pain killer in my joint wore off, it remained quiet.  Of course, it was replaced by the trauma of the surgery, but even that was less than the pain I had felt at times from my worn out hip. For the first time in years, my hip was quiet.
  • Pain killers. Pain killers have a cost.  Pick your poison. Tylenol is hard on your kidney; ibuprofen is tough on your liver. Or is it the other way around?  Opiods are in a class by themselves.  The sooner you can get off the, the better. I managed to avoid the Oxy, except for the pill I took Wednesday night when my body was grieving.  But be careful with even the OTC stuff.  Make ice your friend, if you can.
  • Find a really good surgeon who does plenty of hip replacements.  The joke goes like this:  What do you call the person who graduates first in his or her medical school class?  Doctor.  What do you call the person who graduates last. . . yeah, they get called doctor, too.  So find a good one.
  • Sleep is good. I had given up on ever feeling rested. I had completely lost hope. Pathetic, huh?  But that’s the way it was. I would wake five, six or more times a night. There would always be a time early morning when the ache in my hip, knee and lower leg would have me wrestling with myself and eventual drive me out of bed.  I tried different rooms, the Jesus Prayer, even copious amounts of Vodka. Nothing helped. I didn’t want to get hooked on pills.  I was stuck.  Pain is a pernicous teacher, and a real bastard. I can see what sleep deprivation can be such an effective tool of torture. I would be a coward. But now I am sleeping through the night.  And sleeping more deeply.  My spouse doesn’t disturb my sleep, and my dreams have changed from fragments into nighttime stories.  The ache behind my eyes is gone.  And inside, I’m just feeling, well, an “ahhhh” of relief.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does


Forrest Gump had it right.

Sometimes it can be so obviously stupid there’s no excuse.  And if you’re lucky, you get a wake up call with nothing worse than a good scare.

Like the time years ago when I was cruising down what I thought was deserted rural highway, driving an SUV with no brakes.

There it was. My first mistake. Driving a vehicle with no brakes. But instead of telling my boss to find another sucker, I did what I was told. I was young, ignorant and a lot of other things.

And thanks to my dad, I was also not comfortable with questioning authority.

I was also getting a break from driving a tractor all day. I figured I’d drop off the SUV, have a couple of burgers and a shake, and then catch a ride with the guy I was supposed to meet up with back to where I was working that summer, a big corporate farm located in the high desert of Southern Idaho.

Sometimes the thought of a burger and shake can override all reason.

But what I didn’t expect to happen was playing chicken in a vehicle with no brakes with a crop duster that was using a straight stretch of the highway as a landing strip.

So, there I was, cruising down the highway at 60 mph, seconds from running head on into an airplane.  I had enough time to know I didn’t want to crash into the propeller. With a twitch of my hand, I dumped the SUV into the ditch on the right, careened underneath the plane’s left wing, and then with another hand twitch, I was launched up the gravel covered side of a culvert that was blocking the ditch, and flew back out onto the road.  I was still doing 45 mph.  My left arm was still propped onto the window sill.  I coasted to a stop, and pulled over to the side of the road and waited there until the shaking stopped all the while keeping an eye on the rear view mirror. I didn’t want that pilot racing up and kicking my ass.  I then crept the rest of the way to the repair shop in Idaho Falls and kept my near death experience to myself.

The wasn’t the last time I did anything stupid the summer I worked as a farmhand at Beaver Creek Ranch, but I did learn about the importance of brakes, and the value of luck.

And I still wonder from time to time how that pilot might tell his side of the story:

“Well, see, I was flying crop dusters in Eye-dee-ho. It was that summer Nixon resigned. We were using the highway right near the fields we were working as a landing strip. You know, to refuel and load fertilizer and pesticides and such.  So, I come in for a landing and this crazy sonofabitch, instead of pulling over to the side of the highway and letting me pass like any right minded Christian would do, well, he comes right at me like we were playing chicken or something.  I didn’t have enough time to get in the air. Just closed my eyes, if you wanna know the truth of it. But at the last goddamn second, that fucker turns into the ditch, and my wing goes right over the top of him.  Clipped his radio antenna.  I figure he had to be one of those long haired draft dodging hippies on drugs or something. I near shit my pants. . . ” 










The loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial. It may be caused by head injury, infection, or blockage of the nose


Like most people, I take some things for granted.

The sun rising tomorrow morning?  Check. Death? Oh, yeah. Taxes? Ditto. My sense of smell? Well, that too.

Until I lost it.

I’m still not sure what caused it. Maybe the nasty, lingering head cold that tantalized me with false recoveries along the way is to blame.

Or maybe it’s something else.

My doctor figured I had a sinus infection, a leftover present from that cold.  Until an x-ray and then CT scan indicated otherwise.  He’s been left scratching his head.  And because doctors can’t be left looking like they don’t have any answers, he’s recommending more tests.

I’m wondering if chasing a reason is a waste of time and money.  I’ll either get my sense of smell back, or I won’t.

In the meantime, I best get used to living in a world that’s deprived of the kind of depth, color and dimension that only smells and taste can provide.  At my age, it is just one more loss to add to a long and growing list of losses.

How we deal with loss (or not), as a wise friend once said, is what defines us in the end.  I suppose that’s true.  Not the only thing that defines us, but certainly one of them. Of course, all losses aren’t equal.  Some are barely noticed (maybe they shouldn’t be, but they are) while others can be profound and life changing.

That’s how I’ve come to view the loss of my sense of smell. I didn’t realize how disruptive it would be to lose it, how much losing it would also affect my sense of taste, and how profoundly I would miss it when it was gone.

“Gotta enough garlic in this sauce?” my wife asks.

“I have no idea,” I say but what I’m thinking is “goddamnit.”

The heady aroma of simmering garlic. I can’t imagine a more perfect smell. One of God’s great creations, the smell of garlic simmering in a pan (along with bacon and a few other dozen things I could mention) are a joy to behold.  The wonderful emotions and memories that are evoked by those aromas. . . all gone for the moment.  When I crush a handful of the fresh oregano I grow in a container near the front steps and raise the bruised leaves to my nose, I smell nothing.  When my wife comments about the hot sappy smell of pine trees as we hike along on a mountain trail in the late summer, I nod and smile, but I can only imagine how it must smell.  I missed out on the first fragrance from spring lilacs, garden roses this summer, and the rich heady smell of blackberries this autumn. I can’t tell you how much I miss the baby smell of my new granddaughter, or the comforting familiar fragrance of my wife of many years when I nuzzle her neck.

I’ve also lost something more subtle: the way in which some memories are evoked by certain smells.  Of course, they’re still there in some hidden crevice in my mind, but there is something about a smell that can bring them back sudden, fresh and new.  I remember a few years ago, riding my bike on the back roads south of Walla Walla.  I crested a small rise, and then followed the road as it swooped down along a wet, cottonwood-lined ravine. The aroma hit me like a snowball in the face and I was six-years-old again, back on my grandparent’s Sunnyside farm, standing ankle deep in the irrigation ditch that flowed behind their farmhouse beneath the cottonwood trees that kept it shaded and cool.

Lately, I’ve started getting hints of smells.  Nothing more than sparks, but I hope they’re a sign that my sense of smell is coming back, and not just ghosts.

I guess the one thing I haven’t lost yet is hope.  By any traditional definition, it isn’t one of our five senses, but I like to think of it as a stealth sense, and perhaps the most important one of all.  And not just when it comes to lost smell.


TV via “Peasantvision”or how we got rid of DirectTV

antennaA few weekends ago, we finally dropped our satellite TV service with DirectTV.  I’d been agitating to do it for a few months. Notification of yet another price increase finally convinced my wife, Sandy to go along.

Ours is a fairly typical story.  We were paying for a bunch of channels we never watched, a handful of other channels we only rarely watched.  Prices were always inching up. Yearly cost for the privilege of having all those channels we never watched?  Nearly $1,000.

I’d reviewed the options, considered SlingTV or changing providers.  Comcast is the other option in our area, and we’d heard enough horror stories about them not to consider it.

That left internet-only options or a combination of new school, and old school. We went with the combination, “peasantvision”, TV via the antenna I installed on the roof, augmented with Hulu and NetFlix.

Turns out, the hard part was actually wading through the crap DirectTV makes you put up with when you cancel their service.  The actual conversion to broadcast was fairly easy. Here’s a summary of what I did.  Start to finish I spent about 2 hours.

  1. Start with this. Google “TV reception maps” and use one of the results to check signal strength in your area.  Check with friends and neighbors who have gone cable/satellite sober and see what they’ve done. If you have plenty of options, move on to step 2.
  2. Buy an antenna.  I paid Amazon $30 for a roof antenna. Again, plenty of choices here so read reviews and check with friends and neighbors who have already done what you’re doing.
  3. Install the antenna on the roof. For me, this was fairly easy. I took down the old dish (DirectTV didn’t want it back), and bolted the antenna to the already existing stand on my roof. I also reused the already installed coaxial cable, using a “splitter” to take the one line from the antenna and split the signal for the lines going to my TVs.  I pointed the antenna in the direction of the broadcast sources.
  4. Back inside the house, I installed signal boosters with each TV.  The coaxial lines from the antenna (formerly from the dish) then plugged into the “in” port on my signal booster. I ran another short length of cable from the “out” port to the antenna port on the back of my TVs.
  5. Last step, I then used the TV’s setup to scan for channels.  It found 49 of them. Wow.

That was it. We use Chromecast to watch Hulu and Netflix. There are other options that work just as well.  We’re now getting all the major broadcast networks including PBS, and a bunch of others.