John Boston | On Mice, Car Batteries & a Life on Hold

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Robert Burns has been the official high holy poet of Scotland for a couple hundred years. His pals called him “Rabbie,” with the annoying and obligatory Scottish rolling of the tongue. He wrote “Auld Lang Syn,” of which many worldwide sing at least the first verse passionately on Hogmanay. We normal people call Hogmanay, New Year’s Eve. “Auld Lang Syn” means “Times long past.” All these years and I had to look that up.

Burns also wrote: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

Taking the marbles from one’s mouth and repeating it in English, it translates to: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” It’s from a 1786 poem, “To a Mouse.” It’s an apology to mus musculus after Burns accidentally overturned the rodent’s nest while plowing a field.

Sometimes, we’re the farmer and, sometimes, we’re the mouse.

I had a heck of a day this week.

It started with one of those first thing in the morning Just Can’t Miss Appointments.

I missed it.

My car battery was deader than disco.

I call roadside assistance. After a few minutes of hold time, I’m instructed to donate 10 more minutes answering an online questionnaire, no easy task. I’ve digits the size of French bread loaves. Awkwardly, I answer questions like: “What’s wrong with your life that at your age you can’t afford a better car?” to “How come all your girlfriends and wives left you?”

The last question was easy. I simply texted: “I’m complex,” adding a shrugging emoji.

Imbecilic kazoo/elevator music annoys me while I’m on hold. Finally, I speak to someone I’m guessing lives in Sri Lanka. She asks questions, then apologizes. I’m not covered. Would I like to give her a credit card for an $80 fee for the jumpstart?

Wait. Time out. I’m covered. Platinum gold diamond double covered in spades. Monotone, she notes she subcontracts for another subcontractor who is not connected to my roadside assistance. Would I like to talk to my ACTUAL roadside assistance provider?

“Please, with sugar.”

I’m on hold. Again. Twenty minutes. I reach a human. In a sentence repeated over THE NEXT TWO HOURS, he thanks me for my patience. He’s in Texas, thank goodness, closer than the Arabian Sea. He peruses my file. He says: “Hm.”

“Hm — what?” I ask.

“This is real strange…”

What’s ‘real strange?’”

“You’re covered. Completely. I don’t see what’s the problem.” 

Without a “y’all,” he apologizes. He puts me on hold so he can talk to the offending subcontractor so she can authorize getting a ¡#&^@##_ºª¶¢!!! tow truck over so I can be fashionably late for my terribly important appointment. Another 10 minutes float away. He returns, apologizes, comments on my stellar patience. He’s angry. He was put on hold and the offending tow-truck-sending stooge in a rainforest land agreed that I was covered, fully, but that she had to charge me $80 because of a reason that my actual roadside assistance provider could not explain.

The Texan connects me to his supervisor.

More on-hold music. I start humming “Girl from Ipanema.”

Did you know she’s tall and tan, and young, and lovely?

I speak with a delightful executive with an effortless drawl. She promises to solve this, “Amen, boy howdy.” 

“Would you mind if I put y’all on hold, just a couple? Y’all’s sweet…”

On the phone now — one hour.

An hour.

The Tex-exec keeps returning with updates. Her frustration level is rising. She’s not supposed to, but she swears, mildly, Christian-like. It seems the paid-in-banana-fronds operator in a country with 100% humidity has put the Lone Star State administrator on hold and won’t connect her to someone above the rank of Sri Lankan corporal. It’s noted that I have patience. I’m thanked for that.

And on it goes.

Our final conversation, nearly two hours later, results in me getting a $100 American Express gift card, of which I could use $80 to pay for the jumpstart. I’ll get the card in “four to six weeks…” 

I thanked her.

For her patience, of course.

I immediately rejoined AAA. They were helpful to the point of sainthood. Within 15 minutes of signing, a mechanic jump-started my car.

So. I’ve missed my appointment. I can’t turn off my car. I have to buy a new battery.

My dealership wanted $350, plus installation. I pointed out that until my lottery money comes in, I was not driving a Bugatti Veyron and that non-dealership batteries cost $200 less. They said their batteries were special, guaranteed and would last until dinosaurs returned to rule the world.

“Then if you’re batteries are so good, why did mine die after two years?”

“Uhhh, hamina hamina hamina hamina,” said the dealership.

Many SCV places sell car batteries. Would I like to be placed on hold? None carried my battery. My day started at 7:30 a.m. It was 5 p.m. when my battery was installed. For $160. My Tuesday appointment? It’s Friday. Perhaps they’re still waiting for me.

The next upended mouse I see, like the poet Burns, I’ll apologize for his plight. I’m going to thank him for his patience.

John Boston is a local writer. With a new car battery.

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