Squeaks, beware: There's a man with an oilcan

January 27, 2007|By ROB KASPER

This week I stalked a squeak. The ferocity of my effort surprised me. Normally at this time of year I am content to stay in an easy chair wrapped in a thick blanket, my only movement being to turn a page or twitch the remote.

Yet the other day as the wind sharpened, the sky grayed and flurries blew, I was in the alley, pulling the car apart.

I was on the trail of one of life's small but hectoring annoyances, the hidden squeak.

The squeak had made itself known to me every morning as my car climbed the dark levels of a downtown parking garage. Circling through the concrete canyons of a parking garage is already a soul-numbing experience, one that reminds you of the repetitive, treadmill nature of everyday existence. Then, on top of that, came the squeak.

Nagging and shrill, it was more of a cheep than a peep, more screech than screak, and it came from the back of the car.

For some time I tried ignoring the squeak, turning up the radio, switching the heater fan on high to drown it out. I thought I could adopt the "I-can't-hear you" ruse that has seemed to work so well for our presidents as they hurry toward the helicopter on the White House lawn and refuse to take notice of the questions shouted at them by pesky reporters. Ronald Reagan was a master of it. I was lousy. I heard the squeak at every bump, at every turn, especially the left turns.

Not only was the squeak irritating, it also undermined my self-image. I have many shortcomings. I don't text message; I don't know how to surf movies from Netflix. But I do stop squeaks. As soon as one makes itself known on the home front, say at the basement door, I am there, lubricating the hinges, restoring calm.

Some of this behavior is genetic. I come from a long line of squeak-fighters. One of my father's favorite implements was an oil can, a metal one with a long, flexible spout. Whenever something squeaked, my dad would call for that oilcan.

Stopping a squeak is also a guy thing, especially if it is in a car. One of the highest compliments a man can hear is that his car is "tight." Tight cars don't squeak.

Yet another reason for my adverse reaction to a squeak is poetry. Long ago I was introduced to the poems of A. A. Milne. One of my favorites was "The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak."

This poem tells the tale of Sir Thomas Tom of Appledore, a knight of old who had what today might be called "character issues." Sir Thomas was a coward, hiding rather than jousting, never going out in the rain. But he had one thing going for him, namely a reputation of being a silent knight.

"The men of Kent," the poem reminds, "would proudly speak of Thomas Tom of Appledore, The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak."

Then one day when a knight named Sir Hugh, whose armor also didn't make a noise, trotted past, Sir Thomas blew a gasket. He blindsided Sir Hugh, and tossed his rival's armor into a nearby pond, making sure Sir Hugh's armor was no longer "tight."

While I suppose I should have questioned Sir Tom's methods -- mugging and stripping a passer-by -- one message I took from the poem was that you should be proud of living a squeak-free life.

That thought was still with me this week as I opened the back hatch of my 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser and started spraying the likely sources of the noise with a can of WD-40.

I checked the area where the spare tire and jack are stowed. Half the challenge of changing a flat tire these days is locating where your spare is hidden in the car. The other challenge is putting the jack and its parts snuggly back in place. Because I have had no flats lately, all was quiet on the spare-tire front.

Then I saw a couple of coiled springs, buried under back seats, and the mystery was solved. Several weeks ago I had removed the back seats of this car to haul some cargo. Lots of vehicles let you do that nowadays. But removing seats from your car -- like being able to take pictures with your cell phone -- is a mixed blessing. It is a "convenience" that can cause problems -- privacy issues with the cell phone, storage issues with the yanked-out seats.

After my cargo-hauling moments, I got my seats back in my Cruiser. But pulling them out and then putting them back somehow had caused their springs to squeak.

That is what I finally figured out the other day, after weeks of squeaking.

A surge of satisfaction swept over me as I shot the lubricant onto the springs, quieting their shrill calls.

Now like Sir Thomas of Appledore's, my reputation is restored. I am known, at least in my household, as the man whose PT Cruiser doesn't squeak.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

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