Failing Better

Fail better next time.

There are a lot of things going on in that sentence, and while it starts with the word “fail”, I believe it’s the most optimistic sentence possible. Sure it doesn’t glitter like “If you aim for the Moon and miss at least you will end up among the stars”, but what it lacks in grandiosity I feel it makes up for in gumption. I like to think of it as Camus’s fascination with Sysyphus as a hero — the eternal optimist for whom knowing success is unlikely; even impossible; cannot dissuade or deter his efforts — distilled into a handy throw away piece of advice.

I recommend against throwing it away. As I get older I realize there are no unmitigated, inarguable victories. That is now how life works. Each thing, when you are done with it, has failed you in some way, or you have failed it. Even in masterworks a virtuoso artist can see their own mistakes, second guess themselves: even if a thousand thousand people love every detail, there will be one thing you notice about your creation that you wish you could un-notice. A failure you wish could be blotted from the record, an edit you wish you could make in time. But you can’t. It’s madness to think you can. The only thing you can do is accept your failure, and make note of that mistake for next time. You’ll fuck up again, of course. But you’ll fail better.

Knowings hard won…

Leo Tolstoy says all happy families are alike, but that each unhappy one is unhappy in its own way. It’s an old saw but generally considered a good one, but after much meditation I consider it dishonest at it’s core. Each unhappy family is unhappy in _exactly_ the same way. They are stuck. Sure, every day things happen (fresh failures, new atrocities, reopened wounds) but from sun up to sun down, there’s something big that everyone knows shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be happening. It’s anathema to even imagine, but there it is, happily happening despite its wrongness, and nobody knows how to fix it, so everyone is miserable. Each happy family has these stuck things too, but they’re smaller, and sometimes they move around, and everybody can deal with that. That is all the difference in the world. But for the truly profoundly unhappy, the stuck thing is so stuck they can’t even conceive of it moving. Every act of the day is, in fact, conceived and develops from the stuck things fundamental motionlessness. It is the uneven rock which reality is built from. Self, direction, love, emotional awareness, logic, reason, humor, happiness, all of those sacred core concepts of human-being — Minimized, mocked, and twisted with malnourishment because of the energy required to keep this stuck thing stuck. Each member of the family may have a different stuck thing they’ve built their daily religion around, but rest assured it is there and Holiest of Holy in their minds, conscious or not. They have a mad master they must obey, and obiescence is first and foremost lack of acknowledgement. Horrific, systemic, in-human and in-humane inaction codified, crystallized and concentrated. They have created a shrine to this horror in their head, and their oblations to it are their own misery; their attention and energy drawn and dismembered by the galloping horses of ego and shame, their hours imprisoned in permanent panicked inaction by the twinned tethers of ignorance and inattention.

An unhappy family may have happy family members in it, as a happy family may have unhappy members, but the unhappiness that stems from an unhappy family life is deep, it has roots and runners that pervade each segment of the individual’s life. It is as if a kidney or liver or some other vital purgation and sanitation organ has shut down, and the natural waste management process has completely fallen apart, allowing misery to pile up in every deep nook in your head, inflaming minor slights and infecting sources of potential positivity with the fetid stagnant pus of doubt. This persistent negativity is of course incompatible with a happy life; just as soil too alkaline or acid twists and blights the plants that grow in it, any seed of happiness that germinates in this mire grows scorched, strange, and fragile. And of course with this fragility comes increased worry, insecurity. How can one dare rely upon their happiness when it is so wretched and withered, better to simply find another emotion to fix your life around, one you can count on to be there each day: shame, anger, sadness, regret. And how best to protect fragile happiness but by making sure that there are no big changes to upset your sense of order. And so begins a self sustaining cycle of excuse and ignorance based on a series of little white lies and logical dodges, all seemingly harmless. And again you are stuck, the crystalline nature of your central conceit; wordless powerlessness to an unsolvable wrongness; ties down each limb that could help you get perspective, develop self, or ask for help.

Getting perspective is first on that list for a reason. Nobody has ever asked for help who didn’t have a least a little bit of outside perspective about their problems. Nobody can really develop a sense of individuality without first understanding themselves as they understand others. Being able to understand how people perceive you from the outside, without the shading, depth and color of your internal monologue blaring over it, excusing and aggrandizing the entire time. Being able to sit with yourself and your actions and know that while in the moment and from the drivers seat they felt inevitable, righteous and intentional, out of their temporal emotional context, those same actions can be interpreted by others as erratic, irrational, even monstrous. Those same small, “inconsequential” but fundamentally ill-intentioned things done repeatedly in the name of protecting some shred of comfort amass to a war on happiness, both inside you and inside those around you. You have to accept that while you might have had the best intentions the whole time that the black weight of the whole is significantly greater, and altogether darker, than the sum of its parts. You have to accept those foibles and mechanisms as elements of self, and not excuse them, not logic them away. You have to acknowledge them. Apologize for them. Address them. Redress them. Redeem yourself for them. And most importantly, you must swear to never leave a thing unaddressed again. These fundamental “stuck” things make you feel awful for a reason, the answer is almost never to keep feeling awful.

I don’t know much. But I know this.

What I’ve Been Up To

Holding my tongue. For a very long time.

When people ask me about my family I talk about how nice they are, and how smart, and kind. Creative and giving and thoughtful.

But if they ask me if they should do business with my family, I have to make a face. It’s not that I don’t think that my family should do business. They should! But I cannot participate in any of it, and I cannot recommend that anybody sane do it with them.

They share the two most horrible and damning traits that you can have, in business – they presume, and they assume. They are bad communicators, post-negotiation deal changers, sweat-box sales pitchers, and immune to good advice. They will automatically presume _all_ the best case scenarios AND intentions when analyzing things, and never analyze the worst cases or possibilities out of fear. They are susceptible to advertising, seasonal affective disorder, political rhetoric, and are at the mercy of a mad, and maddening, ego. This I know by years of hard lessons in doing business with them — Things start off feeling good, spending money always does, but soon they feel too rushed, unplanned, and desperate, then communication breaks down, things start getting hidden, early assumptions become exposed to the acid-test of reality, everyone’s hidden agendas emerge, and soon the whole thing is a boondoggle. Too expensive to be a non-starter, too incomplete to be a failure, just an expensive and semirandom hoarding, purchased on credit, based on the satisfaction felt in a daydream. It’s just not fun, and _everybody_ loses.

So when my sister came to me to ask if she should go into business with my parents, I had to make a face. Actually, I made a plea. I felt like I was arguing for her life or something, and we had a very long talk about what it would mean to take our parents money and engage in business with them. But I should have known it was already in the bag, I’d seen that look before. Like my parents, she was already cozy inside her perfect future in her head, and I was yelling at her from an uncomfortable past. A grumpy ghost she could barely hear, giving her more good advice she’d ignore.

Now lets talk about help. I am a giver. A caring nurturer, you may say, maybe too clingy, but I will give you all the help you ask for and a LOT you don’t. But I can’t give help I don’t know is needed and I can’t give help ongoing without a known terminus. I can watch your dog for two weeks. I can’t know you think I’m gay and secretly in love with you and have been signalling that love by not ever ever putting my penis anywhere near you or talking about it or looking at you with lust in my eye. I can give you a hand with replacing your clutch. I can’t know that you only purchased the car because of the presumption that I’d be your fleet mechanic until you got tired of it. And all the help in the world, after the fact, can’t fix a truly fucking idiotic decision. There’s no bandaid to reattach a big toe. But I’m digressing here.

As you may know, I’m a bit of a car guy. I talk about it a bit from time to time and my house is adrift with tools and car shit. And this business plan involved the purchase of a bus, or trailer, to house the business. Since I had given my advice to not go into business with mom and dad and it was ignored, and no more help was asked, I butted out. I could sense the implied wish that I’d take the wheel, or at least want details. I didn’t want too many details, I was as supportive as possible without volunteering work, as had been my biggest regret in other business dealings with family. I was going with the flow. This wasn’t my mistake to make and it wasn’t mine to counteract, right? So when they told me they were looking for a bus I didn’t volunteer to look. I tried to stop my automatic helper-brain from searching craigslist for trailers and busses, I didn’t say I’d check it out or help. And one day it arrived, honk honk, in a cool blue paint scheme. Neat! A Micro Bird bus, 6.2 diesel, ready to go (be converted completely from a bus into a business maybe somewhere other than my front yard? No, no OK, in the front yard then.). They pulled it up in front of my house, and parked it, ready to start in earnest.

Now I’m not sure how many work sessions actually took place on the bus. I didn’t do anything I wasn’t asked to. I saw it was in sad shape, but ran well without smoke smell or drip. I didn’t offer any opinion. I might have helped lift one of the heavy pieces down. But what I do know is not much happened past the stripping of the seats before the first ticket. Turns out you can’t just street park a bus and start stripping it in the gutter! And it’s not a cheap ticket either. I don’t remember if I was asked or if I just volunteered, but I said they could put it in the driveway while they figured out what to do.

I pulled my car out of the driveway, and onto the street. And that was the last time in three years that I’ve been able to get in and out of my garage without shimmying sideways. In fact, for the first six months I couldn’t even do that! There was so little room between the bus and the house that you couldn’t pass a twelve pack of beer through the gap, but more about that later in the rant.

I don’t remember the order of events well after that, I don’t know the internal politics of the situation over at my parents house, but I assume it came down to a fight over spending money. My father likely reached into the “buy some happiness” jar and found there wasn’t enough joy bucks in it for whatever monumentally large television he needed. My sister had revealed some real deep doubts about the project, already thousands of dollars and practically two months old by now. I held my tongue. And while I was off dealing with some other part of my life, it died. Rest in peace, business, stillborn in my driveway. Wouldn’t have liked to have been a fly on the wall of that dinner conversation — if it even happened. With my family, it is sometimes safer to assume no conversation has happened at all, letting the huge rift sit heavy across the rest of time, even when something as large and physical as a bus is involved.

The bus became kinda part time storage, and evolved into a full time bummer. Then it languished. And languished. And became an eyesore. And began to break back down into the elements from which it was created. And still it languished, inches from my garage. Until finally one day I needed to get into my garage. I just had to. I was moving something into the house that just would be inconvenient to bring in to the front, so I tried to start it, and that’s when I noticed it wasn’t running anymore. Since it had long stopped being a potential business, devolving into a particularly ugly shed, I felt at liberty to see what was going on. I hooked it up to my charger, a no-go, the battery was past the point of saving, so I spent a hundred and seventy bucks or so on a battery, and brought it back, spent about an hour of googling “how to get a 6.2 diesel running that has been sitting way too long”, and I got it started. It labored to life, coughing black smoke everywhere, and when I depressed the brake pedal to put it into gear, brake fluid would actually spray out of something over the rear axle area. But the front brakes still worked enough for me to creep it forward out of my garage. Just four feet forward, two feet to the right, and four feet back toward the house that me and the bank own. The sickening sensation of piloting a six ton vehicle whose brakes drop to the floor and only provide marginal slowing, even at idle, is exhilarating, but not worth a repeat, and I recommend the only direction you drive one is _away_ from your house.

That’s the end of the story of the bus, basically. It sits, unstartable, where I last left it. That was two years ago that I got it running again. The last time I was under it, attempting to pull some of the heavy moss which mortars its sagging tires to the driveway, pieces of rusted metal fell from a leafspring mount to the ground, and I reached up in horror and put my finger through what should have been a quarter inch of metal, but was instead a candy blue paint shell over a delicate rust cannoli. I haven’t gone under it since.

What is the point of all of this? Well first off I have to bitch about it because it has been depressing me for four years. This entire thing was a ready made bummer that had ZERO days of fun optimism. I’ve felt like I can’t talk about it because at first I didn’t want to jinx it, and then I didn’t want to think about it, and then I just maybe didn’t want to hurt my little sister’s feelings. And the compounded mistakes, bad communications and insane assumptions of my entire family has come to rest as a decaying school bus on my decomposing driveway. And how did I get here? By being a member of my family. I was immune to the good advice I’d received in the years since it showed up — about how I needed to get the bus out of here, about how I should have reacted when the bus became a problem, about living with family members in general. I failed to communicate my logistical concerns AND MY EMOTIONAL NEEDS in a timely manner. And finally I was at the whims of my mad ego, telling me that there was some way that I could better the situation without having to announce my needs. And I feel a lot of shame about that. I feel ashamed that I let this, and some other recent fights with “family”, either adopted or biological, keep me from writing. I feel ashamed that I let their attention distract me from my voice and from my INDEPENDENCE, because over the past week I’ve gone over my blog archive and read back through it, and while I’m certainly no genius, I love the work I’ve done. I love my voice. And I love to write. And in a pathetic and self defeating cycle, I was “protecting” my family from my words by stuffing them down into my mouth, because everything else I tried wasn’t working, and the option of being the bad guy was just off the table. I just got quieter and sadder and less personal. Bland project logs and things nobody can feel bad about, printed gaskets and LED lamps.

That’s some Clark Kent shit isn’t it. That’s a Superman problem, to have to be good and protect everyone while not crossing any lines or getting anything smudged. Superman is a boring comic, and Clark Kent is a boring man, who hides his fantasticness under a damp woolen blanket of blandness.

But, I’m Batman, bitches. I’m not the hero you want, I’m the fucking hero you deserve. And it doesn’t matter if you’re on board or not, I’m gonna go find some truth and justice in the dark corners of my head.

Comments off, forever. Write your own blog post if you want a place to run your mouth too (I highly recommend it).

Loss

It’s not quick, there’s the immediate oddness of something out of place, but then you figure out what it is. It’s gone. Well, maybe not gone but it’s not where you left it. That’s the one thing you know for sure. Not where it ought to be. You doubt yourself at first, “well it didn’t just walk off”. You look in all the normal places. Maybe it got washed. Or… maybe it got put away, or stashed here? Finally you are looking in the abnormal places. Every cabinet, every drawer. You check and recheck because, obviously… things don’t just grow legs. Maybe it fell down back here.

So you look under stuff. Around stuff. On top of things. Inside containers. You look in unexpected places, places it would make no sense to find the lost item. But you are hoping now because you don’t want to accept that it has happened again. The feeling starts to creep into the bottom of your stomach, and you double search everything you already searched. You start creating elaborate secret areas maybe you haven’t checked. Maybe you should check the trash bag in the can, see if it fell in there. Maybe you should check the bags of trash outside to make sure it didn’t go out before you noticed. Maybe you should wash the muck from your hands and check all the drawers again.

Accepting that someone stole something from you is sickening. It is not the happenstance of a car change tray theft, the suddenness of a pickpocketing, or the abstractness of an identity theft; a burglarization in the place you sleep. While you were away from your house, somebody perused at leisure, coveted, and finally took their choice of your possessions. Just up and decided it was theirs. They deserved it more than you did, or need it more, or just wanted it more, or maybe just fuck you for not being here to stop them. Whatever the reason, it was theirs now and not yours. It has been taken.

It does not end. Ever. You wonder after that thing you lost every time you lose something new to theft. You add it to the tally. Things that people thought I did not deserve. Things people believed I could live without but they could not, charitably.

My home was burglarized twice when I was a child, once when I was too young to remember and once that I discovered, a bicycle stolen and recovered, a car stolen once, recovered months later after I had moved to another state and left for the state to deal with, and a significant sum (to the person who was losing it) of money stolen twice, and my dignity stolen, once very publicly.

These thefts uniformly happened while I slept or was at play. Each time it is a fresh shame, and one without recompense. There is no assailant to fight back against and the chances of the police finding who did it or what they took is about the same as the thieves growing some kind of moral fiber and returning the item themselves. Each time upon realizing what had happened, my stomach upturned, my adrenaline dumped, and I found myself utterly without outlet for my rage or my sadness. Today I simply shuddered in my kitchen, shifting my weight from foot to foot, sweating that piss on hot metal smell through the armpits of my shirt and clenching my fists. Without outlet.

In each case, there was nobody who cared as much as me and nobody to ask to repay. Since my first experience with the parlor trick of contacting the police to report a burglary, naively calling the station for an update a week later, a month, I have been disabused of the notion that there is a step two. There is only the maddening, sometimes-still-wondering-what-else-was-stolen-but-went-unnoticed stomach clenching shame of it.

I spent years letting these accumulated losses, my tally, turn me into a nobody, a person who stayed at home all the time, to protect his things. I had decided the decadence of letting my guard down for a moment must be a sin, because surely I was punished. It must be that the world saw my weakness and exploited it. I spent years turning into a nobody, with no friends to trust too far. With nobody to love so nobody could break my heart. A nobody with nothing worth having so nobody else would be tempted to steal it. A person so paranoid of the ill intentions of anybody not family, not kin, that I alienated everyone around me for a decade, clinging to a thief and manipulator I had adopted as kin, who helped keep me isolated and empty. Barren. And I thought that was freedom. It is a kind of freedom. The low down freedom of having nothing. Nothing ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free.

But now I have things. I always have, really, but I know it now. The shining light of my romantic partnership, the empowering and enriching nature of meditation and prayer, and my burgeoning understanding of what good friends do for one another has scoured my shitty myopic vision of freedom and liberty clear. It has scorched into my forebrain the meaning of words, beyond their literary definition. The meanings of worth, and of self-worth. Of protection and of sanctity. And of theft. What it truly is, which is disrespect made real. And the only thing you can really do in this life to make sure your precious things are not taken is to keep _them_ away from people who don’t respect _you_.

Getting Old on the Internet

I used to press hard for my friends and family to get on the internet, I early adopted and I beta tested and glassy eyed friends who just wanted to go for a bike ride half listened to my technodrone about this squawking little terminal window that was gonna change their lives. The meatspace crowd did not understand for the most part, and despite getting laughed at a lot but I made a few electronic friends in those greyscale days I still treasure, and had some experiences which changed the way I thought about LIFE. I was in love with the internet, nah, more like infatuated. Like only a virgin boy can be with something he doesn’t understand but wishes he could just embed his entire essence in. I knew this internet was the Next Big Thing but I had no idea what 15 years would mean in Internet terms. I still called it the web, so noob. We didn’t even have noobs then.

I don’t even know if we have noobs anymore.

But it’s fifteen years on now if it’s a day. I’m getting old on the internet, and slow. I am not angry enough to be right all the time anymore. I don’t have the vigilance. Or the time. But the internet is getting old too, and just like the living, breathing objects of my youthful affection, has only become more complex and incredible as time has gone on. A scar for every scam. A white hair for ever scandal. A wrinkle for every story. Each story a stitch in our co-created digital history. And when those stories turn out to be false or unreliable, the shame rends a huge nasty seam through our shared delusion of a more perfect society. And we have had so many seams rip.

And of course now the monsters have moved in. The same penny-ante publishers and media owners and wanters and thieves with the same money found out they could price truth out of my digital conclave just as easily as they could price it out of meatworld. It is easy to confuse people by offering them new lies in place of old truth. People are very easily confused. It is very easy to conflate word and deed when there’s nobody to tell you about the facts of the deeds, just a press conference in which the right word is massaged into the frontal lobe to make you ignore every press release about it in the future. A blessing of ignorance or a baptism of wrongthink that simultaneously excuses you from followup and frees you from worry.

I find myself studying the past now because I think we’re doomed to repeat it. And I think I might be doomed to hate the internet. Or maybe I’m doomed to hate people. But as soon as I feel like we’re doomed I hear another thing that makes me think maybe this communication stuff is OK. Maybe we reach too far and make too many compromises along the way. Maybe there isn’t a satisfactory ending to that cycle.

I used to press hard for my friends and family to join me on a platform I was clearly more adept at than they were, and now I’m having to go backwards. To learn how to move my world to the meat world, to make the problems there my problems, the people there my tribe. Because those are the important things, out there, to be right about. And to fret about when you’ve chosen wrong.

Jeep Goldblum: A Love Story

The AMC Cherokee is a fantastic design. There’s no denying it, the longevity of the platform and the cultish following it has developed in the forums and aftermarket are testament to the Mighty XJ. And while the Liberty may have finally gained an aftermarket for serious offroaders, the Cherokee lefts a preposterously big shoe to fill. Which is why I’m kind of in love with mine right now, I feel like an initiate to a boys club. The Pow Pow Powerwheel feel of driving it (oh, balljoints in solid axles, you are the worst.) is such a relief from the borrowed 98 Civic I’ve been schlepping (thank you Samantha Boogie! You are the best.) that I don’t even mind its various problems, which I have spent the last few weeks assessing and addressing.

I already talked about the dragging brake caliper, which is apparently common, research into which revealed some kind of simmering Jeep forum furor over steel pistons versus composite pistons. The condition of fluid and overall thickness of the pads told me the front brakes had been done recently, but they just reused the original calipers. I went with some Duralast/Cardone remans (composite – it’s what they had in stock) and new pads. Despite the dragging the rotors looked great, though the wheel unit bearings and front U joints all look petrified. I shot everything underneath with PB Blaster and crossed myself.

Even with free spinning wheels, it gets ludicrously bad gas mileage. I don’t drive a lot so it’s not a major problem but wowee can that sumbitch drink. I’ve been through a few air cleaners so far (see CCV below) but I finally went Wix. I’m trying to learn how to drive with a lighter foot (tough again because it’s so fun to romp on)

The 4.0 Continuous Crankcase Ventilation system is fully reverse-polish threaded and I fixed it with some other Jeep parts. Works perfectly so far, no valve cover trimming. I just went to the parts counter and got the PCV off a 1983 Jeep Wrangler with a 258, the grommet for it, and two feet of ⅜” fuel vapor hose. I already had a quick-connect air cool nipple which threaded perfectly into the intake manifold, though I could have just gone to the hardware store and gotten a nice brass one just as easily. Crammed the grommet right in the rear valve cover hole, where it deformed around the locking tabs and sealed “good enough”. If I buy a new valve cover to clean up and paint I’ll trim it for the Wrangler PCV. Maybe. Sealing up the leaking hoses dropped my idle about 300 rpm, and hopefully it’ll stop dumping oil mist on the air box, and PCV it into the fucking intake like it’s supposed to. The main problem with the very small hole the CCV system uses is that it just clogs instantly with crap and then the engine burps go through the only tube with vacuum, the front air tube to the filter box. The entire intake manifold of my jeep is slimed, as is the air box, the throttle body has a sort of oil varnish on it, and I can only hope that a few cans of carb cleaner will eventually erode that down into the motor to be consumed.

Did an oil change, pretty normal looking old ass pitch black dinosaur juice and an off size plain white filter that I was able to squeeze in like an old beer can. I switched over to some Mobil 1 5w30 and a Mobil 1 Gold filter. I’m gonna do about a thousand miles on this filter and do another change to a Wix. We’ll see how that, working PCV, and a good air cleaner affects the gas mileage. I was hesitant about switching to synthetic 5w30, but lots of people swear by it so I’m giving it a try. The hot oil pressure is definitely lower than with whatever goop was in there, but it never dips too low at idle even when driven/hot. I am still too afeared to see what it would be like with 0w30 in it, all I see in my mind is it leaking directly through the block like a filthy piston sieve.

Speaking of sealings and gaskets – I’m a huge believer in the gasket improvements the american auto industry made post 1996 ODBII or so, if there’s an updated gasket design for your motor, you should switch to it. I no longer dick around with cork valley end seals or any cork gasket, it’s sensor safe RTV over a paper gasket, regular old silicone for larger gaps, and anywhere I can just buy a fancy dry-install printed or steel core/mls gasket, that way all I need to do is make sure my mating surface is brake cleaner clean and it’s good to go. They’re reusable as long as you don’t dork them up, and cheap at twice the price vs errant boogers of RTV killing your car.

In that spirit, I switched to Lube Locker brand gaskets for my 8.25 (yes, I lucked out and got the good rear end again – that’s two for two) and it worked perfect. The gear oil was old, smelly, and had a little bit of water in it but it was otherwise as expected for old gear oil. The rear end had normal open gears, marked 3_5, which I assume is 3.55. Didn’t do the front end gear oil yet because the RTV looks recent and I’m trying to decide if I want to buy a whole front axle to clean up and swap in (see below). Seems like lockers for these go for a few hundred per axle, if I feel like I really need one (kinda going with no).

Also, due to some weirdness about how AMC/Jeep/Renault was doing when the Cherokee was being designed, it has a GM tilt steering column and the automatic is a Ford AW4. All the way to the end, GM tilt steering column. So they all take completely standard GM tilt steering column parts. But since Chrysler bought Jeep, they wanted to make a 4×4 that was all Chrysler, mating the 4.0 to the 46RH auto they had in their trucks (the ZJ Grand Cherokee), in the 93 model year, collapsing the line to just the ZJ in 96 (purely speculation but the sales numbers for the XJ spike in 97, which to me indicates that the 95 and 96 sales were supply strangled and not demand-maxed). Part of this desire was to get back to the standard Mopar parts-supply chain, so in 1994 they reclassified all their part numbers from the “standard” GM parts to Mopar parts numbers. For this reason, when you look up steering column parts or some other oddball soft lines for 94 and 95 XJ Cherokees, you get no part available, even though the store will clearly have a GM tilt column turn signal switch , just because the computer says that the 94 uses a thrice-restructured Mopar ultra obsolete part number 50503029243858182-D and lists no interchange. Annoying, but a good reminder that a smart person behind the parts counter or doing some research before you hit the counter will save you a lot of time.

I’ve still got a transmission flush, a transfer case drain and fill, and a bunch of universal joints and bearings to go through but they’re fairly cheap, just time consuming. Since it also needs ball joints (My philosophy on ball joints is if you didn’t do them and they’re not _clearly_ brand new? They could stand to come out.) and basically the whole steering, combined with a steady supply of <$100 D30 axles out on Craigslist it is tempting to just go buy one to clean up while I drive around on my old one. It’s not like it’s a boneshaker now, it’s just got a little lateral jostle when you hit something at speed. It’d also let me paint the axle and replace all bushings in it, even up to the steering pitman if I wanted – then just swap it in all freshly painted and clean looking. Other candidates for replacement? The rear leaf pack is totally flat, the front springs sag to the passenger side and all the shocks are cheap and/or shot. And if I’m doing springs shouldn’t I do a lift? It’s a bit dumpy in the butt now and I’d rather it had a bit of stance. Seems like two inches isn’t even really noticeable if you go up to 30 inch tires, but I’m forever afeared of vibrations and unhappy handling. Everything seems to indicate as long as you replace all your soft parts and steering ends, two inches doesn’t require anything other than longer bump stops and longer shocks, if you feel like it. I certainly don’t want a skyjakker look or anything.

The leaf pack is something I’m trying to figure out. I can get some name brand HD (HD in the truck world seems to mean 1.5” lift) replacements for ~$300 ($260 on the internet) or some cheese dick (stock height) replacements for $200 ($180 on the internet). I could go bust my hump in a junk yard pulling an S10 pack so I could make a bastard/rat/boost pack, figure if I want to just swap it in instead of pulling/fabbing/pulling, I am gonna spend a hundo in springs (four leaf springs @ $25) then $10 in center pins and $5 in cutoff wheels, $.15 worth of ibuprophen, $20 worth of bushings and clips, $72 to the swear jar, $10 in farmer dildos olde time lubricating spring paint, $10 in gas to get to a place that will sell me farmer dildos olde time lubricating spring paint. Even after we amortize back out the $72 and pay it forward into the reverse revenue cycle economy I operate on around here, you can understand why I am leaning toward having Amazon Prime me some fuckin’ Ranchos. Plus with the Ranchos I won’t have to wait around for one of my fingernails to grow back in after I smash it off with a hammer.

Oh and after watching the temp gauge top out around 150 and dip on some longer freeway stretches I bought a new thermostat because it clearly doesn’t have one in it now. And for some reason the low fuel light is always on. It’s actually not a bad thing because it reminds you every time you are driving to look at that gas gauge… suckin’ it down.

Interlude: BMC Edition

His soft round face and the white, tight cropped ring of hair around his head made him look a little like a worn-out Q-tip. Chubby, broadcloth over sansabelts. A nobody. He showed up while I was post coitally napping to buy some old MG parts I never used on my Datsun.

-You don’t like these much, I take it.

I don’t get his meaning. He points to my ancient motorcycle pile. I blush and stammer a bit. He laughs warmly and his middle waves.

-When I was young, I had a Bridgestone, if you know what those are. The twin. And one day I was doing a seat stand.

It’s hard to imagine this man young. And this old fat man in front of me could no more do a seat stand than I could breathe fire but there was a glimmer in his eye that said this was real. The mist of memory. He gestures to an unnoticeable spot on his finger and I bend forward to pretend to look.

-The whole bike landed on my finger there, and flipped over me. The triple tree on those was stamped so when I stood up I just grabbed the front wheel in between my knees and twisted it back straight again. Kicked it and drove off. Nothing injured but my pride.

And his pinky finger. I laughed and laughed and cut him a good deal on the parts. He said he’s gonna put it on this weekend and part of me hopes he’ll drives past, his little british car farting noisily through its new headers.

Jeepster: Gearhead Interrupted

It started with a first generation GMC S-15 Jimmy seen out of the back seat of the old Accord. Red over white, with a roof rack, and a swingaway spare tire with a metal gas can. The big flat sides and big windows, like a van kinda. But with big donut offroad tires and fender flares, not captain’s chairs and wood paneling. I liked it. My mom made fun of the name in some oblique way. My fascination with the Tonka Toy shape stuck, the unfortunate pubescent association of the General Motors truck and my mothers implied penis humor completely destroyed any youthful ideas of getting that as a first vehicle. So back to the original, neverending debate: DeLorean DMC-12 or The General Lee. Both timeless classics!

When I was first learning to drive my father was insistent that I learn how to drive “the right way” and I frequently had to perform wide ranging vehicular learning exercises. Memorizing the grid of streets miles in all directions and performing an oil change. Driving around a parking lot at high speed backwards, then launching forward and doing emergency stops until he was comfortable that I understood how the car handled. Understanding just happened to coincide with concerned shop keepers gather and pointing and trying to get license plate details. Ohhh memories. Anyhow, he took an opportunity with a neighbor’s 2nd Generation 4Runner, red again, and owned by pack a day smoking alcoholic idiots, so it was DESTROYED inside and probably outside too. I struggled to adapt to operating the clutch pedal and gear shift at the same time as I first experienced the dune-buggy like handling of a spring and shackle lifted four-bah-four with a three beer alignment, but it undeniably had… it. I binked a curb and it just went blorp and RAN UP IT. The hoonage potential was electrifying but the horrorshow handling and my own ineptitude with the clutch found me struggling and stalling it twice getting it back into the driveway. I walked away from it sweating and cursing, but the next time somebody asked if I could drive stick I said yes and I’ll be damned if I couldn’t. And now I knew that you could buy a truck and drive OVER stuff with it. LOGS AND SHIT. Epic knowledge for 16.

When I bought the baby truck, aka the Taliban truck, I originally dreamed of it as a 4×4 SAS project. Buy an old Datsun, do a leafer front and flip the rear axle plus Dana twin stick. Really, read the forums. It sounds great. Lots of finished rigs to look at. Tons of people have done an L20/L18 to a 4 speed and a Dana 20 with some offroad-shop fencepost driveshafts and had a ton of fun buggying, and it seemed like a laugh, especially when I was driving around in my 2007 Versa. “So easy” I thought, “I’ll just buy an axle and kinda line it up and weld on the eyelets square! But first lets get these weird old doors out of my attic and these old tires to the dump.” And there she sat. I helped a couple folks move with it, did a brake job and threw a Pertronix on it and my brother in law helped me put a weber carb on it. It ran like a top but eventually it needed wiring work and I bought a hot rod harness for it but never really… started on it. It seemed very hard now, to get all this petrified kingpin nonsense off and put a straight axle on the front.

I don’t even know how to weld really. So I’d have to learn that for starts.

And if I’m gonna rewire it I have to probably paint it. So I’d have to learn how to paint I guess. Red maybe.

And so I abandoned it. Well, I sold it, and dickered with the guy the way you’re supposed to when you’re done with a project car but I was glad to see it go. It was just too original and complete for me to be fucking around with and the only things I could do to it would lower its value. I was only gonna be bad to you girl, you weren’t meant for turbos and fender flares. Bosozuku dreams and stance-u? God I was gonna fuck it up.

And so I started finally looking for my red 4×4. It didn’t have to be red. But it had to be 4×4, automatic because I’ve clutched and shifted my way to my last back spasm, with room for four people or two and dogs or cargo. And it had to be small, I wouldn’t have any GMC Yukon class barge shitting on my driveway forever and since Chevy killed the Colorado that crosses off any modern GMs. I’ve had Fords and they’re fine but the Escape is a Hairdresser McSoccermom, and just as I mentioned re: Yukons, I don’t do fatties so we can write off the whole Explorer-Plus range. Dodge Nitro just… yeah lets just not talk about the N-word or the Durango for that matter. The Grand Cherokee is a porker that has only gotten uglier and more horrible with each passing year, the Liberty is the middle-manager but swears he’s gonna start camping someday counterpart to the Escape. So Daimler Benz Chrysler Renault whatever the fuck they are now, Pentastar Financial’s car branch has nothing to offer either.

So we’re out of modern “domestic”, patriotic and American economy supporting vehicles to purchase. On to the furreners and the old shit. Honda still makes a great minivan, even when they call it an SUV so no thank you to anything that’s not an Isuzu rebrand. While we’re on the topic of Isuzu – whatever they have now is huge and whatever they had back in the day was a little too rough and ready for me in the trim department. I wouldn’t turn down an old Trooper/TII in good shape but gooood luck finding that y’all. A Mercedes Benz G wagen? Hot. Like baller hot but what the fuck am I? A baller? And it will ALWAYS COST YOU MERCEDES MONEY PLUS A 40% MARK UP FOR BEING WEIRD TO FIX. A Subaru of any height or vintage won’t ever really be a 4×4, even though I hear they’re just a killer car. I may still own one of these one day, I love me a good boxer motor. Daihatsu Rocky? I mean of course I’d drive it, it looks like a GI Joe toy but when’s the last time you saw one of those that wasn’t either ridden to shit or about to be?

Unmolested first gen S-15 GMC Jimmies like I saw as a kid (and their GM Partner Platform vehicles) just don’t seem to exist anymore. I don’t know if the rust worm ate them, they started giving away Rancho lift kits with the purchase of a case of Skoal, or they all just got driven till they smoked and traded in during cash for clunkers but it seems like that first generation S-10 Blazer isn’t as plentiful as its counterparts in the SUV world. And that 4.3 v6 has a not great rep everywhere for like… everything. And the 700r4, at least back in the day, had a horrible rep when pushed. Nobody bought them with an iron duke 2.5 and a slushbox. The second gen is ugly as balls so big old mehquake on the classic GM options. Plus I just have a hate on for the General, second rate when new, the cars also seem to disintegrate in value faster than most of their peers. Bleh.

Ford Bronco is too big except for that super early 66 style. Ugh so hot, but too expensive. Again, who am I? The Bronco II has potential, the windows on the back are like… huge. They wrap onto the top of the thing like a greenhouse. But it apparently also rolls over onto its back like a dog that wants belly rubs and I like staying upright most of the time when driving so I guess Ford’s dead to me now too.

An old friend had a Jeep Cherokee XJ, I can’t remember if it was a two or four door, but it was definitely fun to drive. I did the ball joints and tie rods on it for him because he had some mysterious shake at speed (I now know it was probably the track rod bushing, which I didn’t check/know to check). He paid me half the cost of the 20 ton Harbor Freight press I bought to do the job, which sits 10 feet from me today, dozens of ball joints and harmonic balancer seal savers later, one of the least frequently used but undeniably lifesaving when pressed to service (do you see what I did there do you see it) tools in my shop. I remember the job being startlingly easy for a then-contemporary car. Working on my folks’s Honda was a comparative nightmare of hoses and wires, and every other new car seemed to have more crap to take off to get to normal service items. And it wasn’t like my old cars either, the Benzes and Opels and Corvairs and the like – they were simple but also not really built for fleet service. They were cars. This was more like doing a service on a tractor, it kinda WANTED you to be able to take it apart with regular tools. Like that was a design goal. I dug that a lot. In fact I ended up doing more of the front end than I originally told him I could because it was just so easy to get at. We got it aligned up the road and took it out for a spin and declared any shakes solved (it wasn’t, I don’t think, and he went on to replace other stuff, transmission mounts and motor mounts and the like), but his little white truck left an impression for sure. Dre sure seemed to like it too.

So I started shopping for my Jeep.

Next problem (and blog post): Uhhh the turn signals won’t cancel after you turn. We’ll talk about trying to navigate the parts catalog and car company politics.

Gearhead: Ongoing

The last few articles have been written with some authority because I am authoritatively good at basic, entry level mechanics. If it’s running I can keep it that way as long as the parts are available, and if the parts aren’t available I can kludge with the best of em. But I did not get here by playing it safe and sticking with what I knew, and I’m not that guy now. I bite off more than I can chew, I’ll keep a kludge far longer than is needed, I’ll endure a week of bus rides over a busted up back, and try to rush eight hours work into the two hours between work and dinner, or just make a rookie mistake that costs me $50 and two hours to fix.

Anyhow, I’m here to talk realness about cars, because working on them is hard work, it is difficult unless you have the right space to work on them, and it takes a lot of time, patience, screwing up, and fixing it. This one isn’t about what order you should put your wrenches on your hand truck or any kind of high mindedness about what vintage or origin of cars is easiest to work on. This is about the fuckups, kludges and failures.

My 68 Datsun, long suffering with little reward, now sports an enormous oil filter of unknown vintage which happened to be on the shelf when last I was feeling oil-changey. Actually that memory has a somewhat vintage feeling itself, now that I think about it. Maybe it’s time to fix that. It’s a big filter, I probably added a half a quart of capacity to the motor by using it and it fits right in the vehicle’s character, having been rescued from a barn only to find new life as the world’s most reliable dump runner. Sometimes if it screws on you gotta see if it works, sometimes you find out that the only difference in most older domestic oil filters is how tall the can is. Other days you spend five hours removing an exhaust manifold to replace it with a header, and then spend two hours putting that manifold right back in because the dozens of people online who swore up and down they had one in theirs were just lyin’. The difference between getting duped and learning something is all in measuring it yourself. Get out the visual aids if you have to. Getting in the car once is better than getting online a thousand times.

And it’s important to reevaluate your projects from time to time. In the time between when I started this article and today, the world’s most reliable dump runner has been sold and I upgraded to a 94 Jeep Cherokee. I need a dump runner less and less and a 4×4 more and more. I read a LOT about doing SAS swaps, how to mount a transfer case in an old 2×4 frame. It was fun to read about and fun to think about but when it came time to answer whether I wanted to have a hot rod Dodge or a hot rod Datsun finished, the answer was Dodge. So off to the next guy she goes, earning me $50 over my purchase price and not even washed.

And now about the Zebra. Princess Shamwow is stalled right now, well… not stalled but it appears I’m still digging my way to the heart of it’s problems. I tried to take it down the block to get some lugs busted off and it died 50 feet from my driveway, and hasn’t been able to drive more than 50 feet since. The battery just dies, there’s a huge short somewhere, I finally get it back into my driveway and begin digging into the harness. Despite the presence of super heavy duty “fleet wiring” on this particular dart, the main harness bulkhead power wire is shorted somewhere, and melted into the adjacent circuit at the firewall. The alternator is hot from the effort of welding wires together and the battery is only saved by the shittastic positive cable. I was dreading this, worst case scenario: I have to rewire an old car. Suck ass. Time to throw that piece of shit away right?

Ehhh nah. It’s cool, actually, I had a 12 circuit harness laying around already (these things are filthy cheap now and pretty good) and it only took me like 2 hours to pull every wire out of the car and cut off all the custom-looking plugs. It took another two hours to pull the forward and rear cable bundles through to their loom hooks. I will not lie — It’s gonna take a while to get all the plugs on; but I’m actually not that worried about it. I have heat shrink, a good set of crimps, a good stripper tool, and a huge bag of insulated blade connectors. I’m not even gonna tape up the harness, I’m just gonna ziptie every few inches to keep it in a bundle. I debated about how to penetrate the firewall, and I even went so far as to buy a Weatherpack 22 cavity military connector but it seems like an enormous pain in my balls to crimp 44 connectors and weather blocking jammers and still figure out how to cut this obtuse ass shape in the firewall if I’m not planning on plugging and unplugging the harness a lot. Which I’m not. I’m not planning on unplugging it from the car ever. There’s no reason to. The front clip never comes off the body on a Dodge, so I think I’m going with plan b. I’m gonna use the original firewall plug plate, cut off the old plug bases and drill a big enough hole to fit a ¾” PVC electrical conduit box bulkhead through, silicone the thing into place, then stretch a piece of bicycle inner tube over the whole mess and feed the wires through. Once all the wires are fitted, I’ll fill up the cavity with some more silicone, heat shrink that bike tube down onto the wire bundle and it’ll look mostly legit and be so much more reliable than the old wiring it’s ridiculous. But it is gonna be hard, and it’s currently still raining up here in Portlandistan and that is a huge ass bummer.

I also had a problem with my new Jeep on day one. The drivers side brake caliper was dragging and the brake was smoking hot after a drive from downtown. I limped it home slowly on residential streets and parked it, and sat down with the phone calling the dealership and trying to figure out of my warranty covered brakes, and how much a deductible was. They said that if I just paid the $300 now they’d have the truck come out and then it didn’t matter how much the rest of the work cost. Now, I understand better than most that not only are used car dealerships criminal enterprises, they are also part of a criminal network of warranty companies, shitty shops, etc, who are designed to take money out of your pocket first and then out of each others pockets in the long run. But $300 to start a brake job? The discussion of where the work would take place began to make my head hurt and I just hung up went to the Autozone on my bike and paid $40 for two new brake calipers and $10 for a bottle of brake fluid. Took me about an hour, meaning my hourly rate on that job was like $250 right? That’s top shop prices.

The next problem (and blog post): the turn signals won’t cancel after you turn. We’ll talk about trying to navigate the parts catalog and car company politics.

The storm was coming, high and fast in the desert sky…

Driving home, late at night in the Corvair. Past the whitewashed cross at the corner, with its base of hellfire red christmas lights. Past the big old conversion van with Waylon’s face on the side, tall as the man himself. The earscorching siren blips twice and the roller lights of the deputy’s cruiser bop red and blue chasers through the back windows and strobe like disco lights on Waylon’s weary smile.

“Shit. Fucking shit.”

The hot engine sputters and finally dies. I wait for the boots to grind across the sand scrabble pavement and keep my hands where everybody can see them. And before I open the window I mutter it again. A common refrain in those days for me.

“Five fat years and five lean years, that’s what they say in the book.”

And I didn’t know what it meant then, I said it bitter, to ask what historical richness had bought me this immediate poverty.

To ask of God why and when would mine arrive, when I’d have and not worry, when I’d slumber untroubled and toil endlessly as a machine on a track and never quaver with fear or in laziness slack. When I’d feel like this fire had purpose and direction.

To ask Him why these were the best years of my life as all His children kept telling me.

To ask Him to not exist at all, for all the good He does.

And now I’m lean and times are fat, and I say it now with a quiver, to ask what time will take from me to repay this immediate wealth.

To ask of God how and when mine was found, and to worry over when it’ll change. To ask Him to return to me the untroubled slumber of my youth, the strong back which let me toil without end, the ignorance of consequence which let me never quaver, and the aimless fire which burned out all laziness.

To ask Him why these were the best years of my life and how I could make them last just a bit longer.

To ask Him to exist. For all the good He does.