Gurney's Inn
August 29, 2007

Low Tidings

I'm not what you would call "handy."

I blame this on my Catholic school upbringing. We didn't have Shop or Automotive classes, because they took away from our religious training. The prevailing belief among the elders at Saint Francis of Assisi Grammar School was the more formal religious training we received the more likely it was we would become priests.

This seemed to be working until the sixth or seventh grade, when our sex drives kicked in. It was then the fatal flaw of the priesthood became evident to each and every one of us.

It all came out the day Father Gerard came to recruit us for Cathedral High School, which was like the minor leagues for seminary school. In other words, you were in training to become a full-fledged priest. Father Gerard was by far the coolest priest there, and his recruitment pitch was solid.

For example, because the sports teams were made up of wimpy soon-to-be-priests, jocks like me would immediately make the starting lineup in every sport. They had a brand new cafeteria that served hot breakfasts, free. They had scholarships, which appealed to a lot of our parents who had gone half broke sending us to Catholic school. When his pitch was complete, the amicable, witty and urbane Father Gerard would field questions. It went well for about 15 minutes, until Tommy Raffienello raised his hands — I swear this is true — and asked loudly, "Will we be able to f**k chicks after we become priests?"

There was an awkward silence in the room. Needless to say, none of us ended up attending Cathedral.

While the public school kids were learning plumbing and auto mechanics, we were boning up on catechism and stuff like that. The truth is, religion permeated every subject.

Math class was like, "If Jesus confronted 12 sinners and saved five how may were doomed to eternal fire and pain?" In English, we'd get stuff like, "Name the predicate and subject in the following sentence: The Virgin Mary ascended to heaven to be at the feet of Our Lord." Even in geography, it was always about Jesus. A generation of Catholics thus know where Bethlehem and Jerusalem are but have no idea who or what Iowa is.

Anyhow, despite my obvious handicap of not actually knowing how to do anything, I am delusional, so I believe in my heart I can do anything. When I unveil a set of directions I am excited, like a little boy with an erection, I mean an erector set, trying to solve a complicated puzzle but without a clue how.

So it was the other day when I attempted to install my new Sirius radio adaptor. On the surface it seemed doable. I would screw the unit into its cradle, and attach that via the enclosed suction cup to a spot on my dashboard I could reach. I would run the antenna from the unit to the roof of the vehicle. I would then call up Sirius and have the unit activated. The entire process would take "less than 15 minutes," according to the directions.

Three days later, I was on the phone cursing Howard Stern, Sirius, and trying to cancel my subscription. (I also blamed my wife, Karen, claiming she took the needed Phillips-head screwdriver from my toolbox, which we both know was impossible, because I don't own a screwdriver or a tool box.)

It was during my screaming match with Sirius that I realized I needed to hook up my FM antenna booster, which I thought was either an earphone or perhaps an extension for my George Foreman Grill (which is still in the box three years after buying it because I can't figure out how to make it work).

Once that secret was revealed, I mastered the rest of the instructions and had my Sirius, with its 24-hour Grateful Dead channel, five stations for NFL football, and several channels devoted to truly filthy comedians.

Then Karen took the truck out for a ride. That's when the shit hit the fan.

I got the inevitable call at work. "What is wrong with you? No I'm serious. I need you to answer me. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THIS THING?"

I answered meekly. "Nothing."

"Then why is this, this THING stuck in the middle on the windshield so I can't see, and why are there electric wires all over running around my legs and head. Is this a booby trap? Am I going to get electrocuted?"

"Not unless you turn the windshield wipers on," I reluctantly replied.

The suction cup only worked on glass, so I figured the best spot was to stick it on the windshield, since it wouldn't stick anywhere else in reach. Then I ran the antenna wire across the windshield, down the side, out the door, and over to the center of my roof. Then I ran the FM Booster across the windshield the other way, setting up some kind of contraption (at first I thought it was some sort of birth control device) to help lure a stronger signal from my outside antenna.

Then the phone rang again.

"OK, I am going to KILL you! That thing is now on my lap, the music is blaring, I am tangled in wires, and I can't shut anything off!"

I meant to tell her she couldn't open the door without unhooking all the stuff but I had forgotten. I also forgot to tell her about the four feet of electrician's tape I have used to keep the wires under the seat from . . . just then the phone wrong.

"OK! I'm trying to stay calm. I'm apparently glued to the seat now. I am glued and entangled in live wires and I am frightened!"

"Sounds like some kind of spider's web!" I joked, though in retrospect it wasn't very funny.

The Sirius gizmo is on the shelf in the basement now, next to George Foreman's grill, and the patio table with the backwards legs, and the leaky clothes washer, and the bicycle with the crooked handlebars and the chain stuck in the rear wheel.

No, I don't know how to fix any of these things. But ask me how many Sacred Hearts it takes to change a light bulb.

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