The apple has fallen far despite tree's best efforts

June 19, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

My father was very concerned that he pass on certain skills to me before he went on to his reward.

He wanted me to be able to keep a score card at a baseball game.

"Nobody will ever respect you if you can't keep score," he would say.

The score is two to nothing, I would say.

"Not that score," he would say, opening up the program. "Let's say the batter hits a ball, it bounces off the pitcher's toe and is fielded by the second baseman who throws the runner out. How do you score that?"

I gotta go to the bathroom, I would say.

"See, most people would score that 4 to 3," he would say. "But they would forget that it hit the pitcher! So you really have to score that 1 to 4 to 3! See what I mean?"

I gotta go to the bathroom bad, I would say.

My father wanted me to be able to start the charcoal for a barbecue without burning the house down.

"Use the least amount of lighter fluid possible," he would say to me. "Most people use way too much."

It's a gas grill! I would yell at him. I got rid of the Weber because you were always telling me how much lighter fluid to use!

My father wanted me to be able to change a tire.

"You'll need this some day," he would say on his knees, next to the car, grunting with effort as he tried to get the lug nuts off the wheel. "You'll thank me."

I'd rather thank the Triple A, I said. Why are you doing this? That tire is not flat. You'll give yourself a heart attack. Stop already.

"But that's the -- grunt -- beauty of it," he would say. "You don't have to wait for a flat tire. If you know -- grunt -- how to change a tire, you can rotate your tires yourself!"

And, indeed, there are probably two or three human beings in the world who rotate their own tires.

But they are probably the same human beings who drain the oil out of their power mowers at the end of every summer and rub cooking oil onto their no-stick pans like the directions say to.

But I don't want to know these people. These people spend way too much time preparing for life instead of living it.

And, yes, I can hear what my father would say: "So, Mr. Smart Guy, you're such a big deal because you don't drain the oil from your power mower? Do you know what that does to the spark plug?"

No, I don't know. Which is why I have an electric mower. And when my no-stick pans start to go bad, I throw them out.

"So all the landfills should be filled up with your no-stick pans?" my father would say.

No! I would tell him. And that's why I throw them in the Chesapeake!

Dad and I fought a lot.

I would watch him try to get those lug nuts off and each time he would say the same thing: "When they put the tires on, the idiots tighten them with an air wrench. So when it comes time to take them off, you need an air wrench to do it! So don't let them use an air wrench when they put them on."

And you know something? Dad was right.

Go ahead and run out to your car right now and try to get the lug nuts off any wheel. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Now, how many of you were able to remove them? (How many of you know what a lug nut is? How many of you know what a wheel is?)

See what I mean? You might be able to get one or two off, but one or two does not count when it comes to lug nuts. They all have to come off.

So I never bothered to learn how to change a tire.

But a few days ago, when I got a flat tire, I wanted to honor the memory of my father by doing the right thing: So I stripped off my jacket, my tie and my shirt. I got the jack out and the lug wrench and the spare. I made sure the car was on level ground. I put blocks behind the tires. I loosened the lug nuts on the flat. I jacked up the car. I removed the lug nuts. I took off the wheel. I put on the spare. I lowered the jack. I tightened the lug nuts.

Like hell, I did.

I went to a phone and called Triple A.

A guy came in 15 minutes.

He got an air wrench out of his truck.

You don't do it by hand? I asked.

"Are you kidding?" he said. "The idiots put them on with an air wrench. So you'll never get them off by hand."

In his own way, I think Dad would have been proud.

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