Friday, March 20, 2009

Good Grief, Starshine!

Let us consider as Exhibit A the following list of some of the silliest songs ever written:

1. Good Morning Starshine by Oliver
2. Gimme Dat Ding by The Pipkins
3. I Wanna Dance Wit Choo by Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes
4. How Do You Do by Mouth & MacNeal
5. Chick-A-Boom by Daddy Dewdrop
6. Jam Up and Jelly Tight by Tommy Roe
7. Yummy Yummy Yummy (I've Got Love in My Tummy) by Ohio Express

If it did not violate numerous international copyright laws I would love to give you a link to these songs so those of you not of my particular generation could listen to them and see exactly how silly they are. These are songs that would make my children roll on the floor, howling with laughter.


Dad's Stereo: "Glibby-gloob-glooby, nibby nobby nooby, la-la-la lo-lo"
Children: (rolling on the floor) "Har! Har! Har! Hoooo! *Snort*, *Choke*, Har!"

Anyway, the thing you need to understand is that these songs have almost no artistic merit, make very little sense, and are extremely un-hip, if I can be so un-hip as to use that term. They would make many people's ears bleed spontaneously. They could kill Simon Cowell at 300 yards.

The other thing you need to understand is that I personally own all of these songs. Worse, I just paid 99 cents for one of them this very week. If I didn't already own them, and many others only marginally less abhorrent, I would be actively looking through iTunes and Rhapsody and, seeing if I could snap them up. Such is the pathetic nature of my taste in music.

Next, as Exhibit B, let us consider the following list of . . . Well, let's have you make your own. Go ahead: make a list of the most maligned musical acts of the 60's and 70's. No, really, go ahead and jot a few down. I'll wait.

*Hums the Pina Colada Song while waiting. . . .*

OK. Now I know your list contained at least the following three:

1. Barry Manilow
2. Neil Diamond
3. The Carpenters
4. Barry Manilow

(Yes, I know, but some of you really hate Barry Manilow.)

As you have already guessed, I own the complete collected works of all three of these artists -- well, the complete works up until 1985 or so when they quit recording the really good stuff. But the point is I really like them, despite what you and your sophisticated musical taste might think of me.

Finally, as Exhibit C, we have: The Entire Genre of Bubblegum Music. I like it. Quite a lot. This is how bad I am: I recently worked hard and long to procure the song "You Are The One" by the Sugar Bears. It was actually an MP3 taken from vinyl, and you can hear the pops of the needle hitting the dust and scratches.

The Sugar Bears are not real. They are animated characters. They are actually designed to sell cereal. But they cut an album in the early 70's. I
n the words of Frank Larosa:

Of course there is Sugar Bear himself, kingpin of the Post Super Sugar Crisp franchise back in the wild days when you could say "sugar" on national television. The marketing folks at Post cereals must have realized that Sugar would need a few companions to fill out his band. After consulting the top 40 charts of the day, they decided that what he needed was a tambourine-playing prostitute bear and a couple of drug-addled hippie bears to complete his musical ensemble.

According to Dr. Mark Hill, the vocals were actually performed by Kim Carnes (of Bette Davis Eyes fame) and Mike Settle, one of her partners from The New Christy Minstrels. They were backed by the same studio group and backup singers as The Partridge Family.

It is sick that I know that.

The point is, I actively sought out, and was delighted to find, a bad recording of a song ostensibly performed by a group that made The Archies look like The Rolling Stones (Archie would be Mick; Jughead would be Keith).

So there you have it: The ugly truth about my musical tastes. Perhaps in the future, I will blog more about some of the other music in my collection, not all of which is as lame as what you've seen here. In the mean time, if any of you have a song even worse than the ones I've talked about today, I'd like to hear about it. There's still some money left in one of my music store accounts.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Channeling Mr. Goodwrench


As I have explained before, my relationship with mechanical devices, especially cars, is not always friendly. And honestly, it's not because I'm completely incompetent mechanically. At various times in my life, I have replaced stabilizer bolts, shocks, rotors, and thermostats. I can change my own oil, put on new brake shoes, and set the gap on spark plugs. Once or twice, I have even fixed other people's cars. So I'm not a complete idiot.

But apparently, in a previous life, I somehow set fire to an entire fleet of chariots or something. And now modes of transportation in general are out for revenge. Of course, my cars don't do anything too blatant -- no failing brakes or fiery tumbling down cliffs. No, they attack my blood pressure instead.

For example, my Sentra decided not too long ago that it would be really funny if the spring that opens the hood when I pull on the release lever would just quit opening the hood. So now it takes two people to open it, one to work the lever inside and one to pull up on the hood at the same time. Doubtless my car had visions of my pulling the lever, then trying to run out real quick to pull on the hood. As if. I knew that wouldn't work after the third time.

So I outsmart it by sticking a pry-bar under the hood, which gives just enough leverage and weight to pull up the hood when I pull the lever.

And then the pry bar falls to the ground, ready to pick up and use again.

Additionally, in the "blood pressure" department, the Sentra has a driver's side window that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, so you don't dare open it in case the switch decides to short out and not close it. We also have a fan switch with two speeds: off, and high. Talk about two high-end "dealer only" repairs (I don't do electrical).

Chapter 1

Three weeks ago, on a Friday night about 11:30, my car decided not to start. It had been parked in my driveway for about 10 minutes, and it wouldn't start. After arranging rides for everyone who needed them in the next 8 hours, we made plans to tow it down to Firestone the next day.

Luckily enough, my family now has in it a Car Whisperer. There are those who call him. . . . Jake. And he came over the next morning just to take a look. Before he came, he called and said that if it was the starter, sometimes it helps to tap the starter with a hammer. So my brother and I tried to decide where the starter might be. I should point out that my brother is always willing to help with these matters, and in this case we took it in turns to frown, peer into the engine, poke at something, and walk around the car.

Now, I should point out that most of my good mechanical work has been on older cars, whose engines did not have to exist partly in hyperspace in order to fit into their allotted space. So it turns out finding the starter in a 99 Nissan is not as easy as it looks. Nevertheless I gave it the old college try. I found something near the front of the car that looked to me sort of like a canteen, which is vaguely reminiscent of a can, which is sort of what a starter ought to look like. It was underneath an aluminum shield, but you can see the side of it here:

In my defense, I want to point out that it did look like it had some electrical power going to it:

So I tapped on it, and wonder of wonders, the car started! Well, you can't imagine how happy I was. "Real Man, Armed with Claw Hammer (I don't own a ball peen), Repairs Own Car." All I was waiting for now was official validation from Jake the Car Whisperer.

Validation, in this particular case, came in the form of Jake telling me I had been tapping on the exhaust manifold.

Chapter 2

But, darn it, the car started, and that was worth something. To be on the safe side, I accepted Jake's offer to look it over, run some tests, etc. We took it up to AutoZone (AutoZone figures heavily in the story) and hooked it up to the meter. Turns out the battery was good, the starter behaved admirably under a load, and all seemed right with the world. Jake suggested that sometimes this (not starting) happens, and may never happen again. Goodness knows I was willing to believe that my car was capable of not starting just out of cussedness. So I chalked it up to sunspots and put it behind me.

Now, to understand the next part of this story, you need to know that about 16 months ago, in Red Oak, Iowa, the very same car decided not to start after I had driven it through a car wash. We let it sit for a while, hoping that whatever got wet would dry out and work again. And so it seemed to be. It started, and we rode merrily on to Nebraska. Where the "Check Engine" light came on. It seemed to run a little rough, so when we stopped for gas in -- Lincoln, maybe? -- we drove into town to an AutoZone to have them read the code. The code said we needed a new idle air control (IAC) valve, but they assured us that it wouldn't hurt us to keep driving and make it to Utah before we really replaced it. So we kept on westward, and eventually the "Check Engine" light went out, and we chalked it up to water or something.

But psychologically, the damage was done. In my subconscious, the IAC, the Check Engine light, and the car not starting were all tied together.

The Check Engine light had actually come on a couple of weeks before the "not starting' incident, and we had again taken it to AutoZone, and they told us that the code could mean any number of things, including the IAC, but maybe not, so there. And it started running better, so we made a mental note to have it checked out in March, when we needed to have it inspected anyway.

Until the car didn't start again.

Chapter 3

Well, I figured, if tapping on the manifold made it start, so might tapping other places. So I tapped away, and the car started, and I thought, "Well, my hammer and I can make it to payday, anyway. " Eventually, we started tapping it up by the IAC, and then eventually on the IAC, and lo! it suddenly became clear to me. For some reason, the faulty IAC was making the car not start. It was clear I needed to replace it. Back to AutoZone, and $160 later I had a brand new IAC to put in the next day, when it was light again.

That night, I made a run to Rite Aid with my son. The Divine Ms B, being sensible in most matters, warned us not to turn off the engine. But, as two males who had each tapped the car back to life numerous times, we were confident of what we could do with a claw hammer.

My brother came to our rescue in the Rite Aid parking lot when no amount of tapping would make the car start. I put the new IAC in by flashlight. The new IAC was clean and shiny. Hopes were high. My brother and I had given it our very best frowns.

The New IAC

The car wouldn't start. So of course we called the Car Whisperer. He came, he tapped (this time on the real starter, with his long pry-bar) and it started. So it was now clear that the starter was, in the words of The Princess Bride, "only mostly dead." And getting deader. Jake estimated it would start about 6 out of 10 times, until we replaced the starter. Still a few days left until payday, too.

Jake showed me the little gap in the manifold that was the only access to the starter from the top:

And I learned to use my pry bar to tap, tap, tap.

For a while, I seriously considered using a toilet plunger handle to tap the starter, under the not-as crazy-as-it-sounds belief that the Car Gods would be somewhat appeased if I just admitted that I had to carry a toilet plunger to start my car.

Chapter 4

In a couple of days, the Car Whisperer came over, and put a new starter in my car. We got it at AutoZone, of course. He had to do it from underneath, and bend a cross-beam to get at it, and probably had to use his tricorder to do a little work in hyperspace, but he got it done in less time than he thought (given my Car Karma, it's good to double the estimated time and go up one unit, e.g. 2 hours -> 4 days). But it all worked, and Jake has earned an assured place in heaven, if I have anything to say about it.


1. I claim I needed to replace the IAC anyway, and the check engine light hasn't come on again. So let me have that small bit of comfort, OK?

2. Last week, I dropped $2000 to rebuild the transmission.

Apparently the blood pressure route was taking too long.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Emergency Blog Challenge

Having just learned of this unique activity from the Discovery Channel this morning, I'm shouting out to Canoelover to see if he would care to comment on Interpretive Freestyle Canoeing.

Trying to spread some sunshine,