I took my car in for an oil change a few months ago and the mechanic informed me that a specific belt under the hood would soon need replacing. Parts plus labor would run me about $600. That’s $600 to fix something that I am not entirely certain exists. Awe-some.
I wondered how to approach this situation of the phantom belt and its very real price tag. Like all good suburbanites I rely on my ride and I want it to be in good working condition. But my utter lack of automotive technological understanding makes it impossible for me to know if perhaps I am being taken for a figurative ride to Suckersville.
I decided I was going to play this one smart. If I pretend I know what I’m talking about maybe the mechanics will back off and admit that my car is just fine (aside from a chronic case of cheerio crumb-itis). So at my next oil change I marched myself up to the front of the shop and said ‘Look, last time you said there was a problem with my transition belt, but I think you’re mistaken.’ After an awkward moment he smiled belittlingly and said ‘Oh, do you mean the timing belt?’ Yes, yes I do mean the timing belt you condescending oil changer!
So here is my problem. I spent a lot of time in school. Years of my life have been devoted to the pursuit of higher education and yet I still seem to lack the knowledge it takes to get through a day without thoroughly embarrassing myself.
Here is what I learned in school: How to name the subject and the predicate of a complex sentence. Here is what I should have learned in school: Basic car mechanics.
I can name all of the 50 state capitals (try me – I will perform at your son’s bar mitzvah for a mere $500 plus parts). But I once called a plumber when my toilet wouldn’t flush - he came, jingled the flusher, flushed it, charged me $80 and laughed himself out the door. Schools should teach plumbing for dummies.
It might have also been helpful during those years of algebra, trig, and statistics to learn a little bit about personal finances. Sometimes I get confused between our Roth IRA and our neighbor, Ira Roth. Mr. Roth is very nice, but he does not help me save for retirement.
In our early years, when our brains are the most impressionable and hungry for knowledge, teachers should not waste time on the brutality of the French Revolution, rather they should instruct us on how to find our keys when we are in a rush. How can one possibly eat cake when she cannot drive to the bakery?
Electives should focus on how to program the DVR. You’d think that I had gotten this stupid from watching too much TV, but you’d be wrong.
I am not a stupid person. I am interested in politics and race relations. I took college courses that had the work ‘intellectual’ in the title, and I know all the words to ‘Miss American Pie’, yet this does nothing for my worldly competence.
I would eagerly trade my knowledge of the water cycle for a deeper understanding of the rules of 4th grade soccer - when do they do a corner kick? Does the goalie have to stay in that box? Can he at least come out to hug his well-educated mother on the sidelines after a particularly brutal play?
I suppose it is ironic that my life might have been easier had I attended the school of Hard Knocks. I can define ironic. I can even point out the longitude and latitude of the school on a map. It’s about $600 away in Suckersville – population: me.