Nature's revenge on a master procrastinator

June 03, 1999

For those of you who feel I deserve a kick in the behind, for whatever reason, it's time to celebrate, because the forces of nature have recently made that delivery for you. I share the story as a cautionary tale for anyone who's considering putting off a necessary job.

The story begins with "Brownie," my tan-colored '85 Nissan pick-up truck, the one my kids rode in from the time they were toddlers, strapped into their child safety seats, a truck that was so mechanically reliable that except for oil changes, I had it in the shop only twice in 14 years. Like all early imports, the body was beginning to rust, but I figured it would be a good first car for my oldest son.

But it was a five-speed and try as he might, he just couldn't get the hang of it. We spent nights in the school parking lot, Brownie jerking to a stop whenever he forgot to put in the clutch, or started out too abruptly in first gear. We gave up, and he got a used Escort with an automatic transmission. I kept Brownie.


Then came the second boy and this time mom didn't even want me to try teaching him the clutch. And so we bought a used Tempo, again an automatic, for he and I to share. It was time for Brownie, really beginning to corrode by now, to go. I talked to my body-shop guy about some patch-up work, so I could get a decent price.

That will be $1,000, he said, more than Brownie is worth, so I determined to do what I could myself, and sell the thing as-is. At this point, the driveway had begun to look like a used-car lot, so I put one of the vehicles in the back yard, next to what's left of the wood pile (we stopped burning two years ago) and figured to do something as soon as I got around to it.

The next time I went out back, I smelled gasoline, and wondered whether there was a leak in the fuel line. There were also some wires hanging down from under the back bumper, and the turn signals weren't working. Could vandals have torn up the wires?

Probably not, said the mechanic. It looked to him like an animal had been chewing on the undercarriage of the truck. Like a groundhog, maybe, I said. Could be, he said, noting that he'd had another customer whose car had been nibbled on several times.

I paid the bill and walked out to where I'd parked the truck. There was a faint path in the grass from the woodpile to some brush on the fence line. I pushed aside the weeds and there it was - a groundhog hole. I'd parked my vehicle right in the middle of their path, and they'd thanked me by chewing up my wires.

They've been around our place for a couple of years, but since we don't have a big garden anymore, we hadn't really bothered with them, except to mention to various hunters we know that it would be nice if they came by and shot the varmints.

But I know that since I'm not talking about anything anybody wants to eat, I've got to do it myself. As soon as I decide what sort of gun is appropriate and get around to shopping for it and filling out the paperwork to assure everyone that I'm not a mental patient or a criminal and ....

You get the picture; since this isn't work-related, these critters may die of old age before I get around to doing anything about them. I did manage to kill something recently, however, without meaning to.

Two weeks ago Friday I got called back to the office when one of the editorial page cartoons came out of the processor too blurry to read. I drove in, found the originals, which the shop staff pasted up in about five minutes. Problem solved, so home I went.

But just before I reached Leitersburg, a doe charged into the front end of my Tempo, like a tackler heading into the line at an angle. It's coming through the windshield, I thought. But when it hit the bumper, it cartwheeled off into the weeds by the side of the road. I pulled off the road and a young couple stopped to see if I was all right. I said yes, thanked them and then picked up as much glass as I could safely on the dark road, then rolled slowly home.

As I pulled into the driveway, in dim light from my one remaining headlight, something scurried from the side of the garage to the woodpile. I've got to do something about that, I thought. Right after I call the insurance company.

That was two weeks ago, and while I've managed to gather a wide variety of opinions (shotguns versus rifles, poison versus live traps) I haven't really made a decision on anything.

So let's review: Because I didn't get rid of a truck when I should have, I had to park another vehicle where I shouldn't have, where it was damaged by furry pests that shouldn't have been there, because I should have killed them a long time ago, unlike the doe, which I didn't want to kill at all. As I said, if you've been rooting for me to stub my toe in the game of life, just call me Stubby.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion page editor of the Herald-Mail Newspapers.

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