Sunlight Shining Through Cloud

The Meaning Of Life — Coldest-day-of-the-year version

Posted on: January 6, 2014

-23ºF. That’s the kind of temp that earns Minnesota its reputation. Factor in the wind chill, and it’s -60º. That’s the kind of temp that earns Antarctica its reputation. Yet, here I am … at home in Minneapolis with my wife and 500 channels of cable and a Christmas Tree that won’t come down until March, and a wind chill of -60. I’ve heard so many adjectives, I don’t know which apply: crazy cold, dangerous cold, historic cold, this-ain’t-fun-anymore cold.

Now, I’m pretty smart and I know a lot of things. I won’t bother you with the trifles you’ve been getting from  the media about cold weather consequences. What I know is that when things get this cold, things break. Take my car, fr’instance.

My little car has twice as many miles on it than it was originally designed for. Yet it keeps on going. Going so well that I’ve actually come to trust it; a trust hard-earned — we’ve done tens of thousands of miles on unpaved, dusty, gravel-y roads together. The car gets regular service, and I get chiropractic adjustments. The car has often taken me through dangerous weather, sometimes with precious cargo (wife). Just the other day, we drove for 24 hours through extreme cold from the middle of Montana to the Twin Cities. As its reward, I got the car’s tires rotated.

Then it happened: the power steering went out. All of a sudden, I was driving my mother’s red and white ’59 Nash Metropolitan again. A simple left turn was a smack-down wrestling match. This would not do, of course, as I had ceased wrestling so many decades ago. So I drove my little car (not the Metropolitan which was so much littler) straight to the shop. That was Friday.

This morning came the call. I was thinking cracked pulley; stretched belt; a couple hundred bucs; back to Montana tomorrow.


Oh, the pulley was cracked alright, and the belt was stretched. But the actual official professional diagnosis was “Timing Belt Tensioner Assembly.” The guy needn’t have said another word after Timing. I was already sorting through my vast storehouse of knowledge and had arrived at the critical datapoint: this was going to be expensive. And, of course, I was absolutely


$741.82 parts & labor. And they won’t fix it till tomorrow because of all the other cars that broke due to the weather.

Now let me pause for a moment to say that I’ve been blessed with a car that got us here safely before it broke. And I’ll say further that I am blessed with $741.82 to pay for the repairs. Even further than that, the world won’t stop spinning on its axis if I don’t travel back to Montana until Wednesday.

Being a naturally curious person, though, I Googled the parts and found them available for as little as $212.00 plus shipping. And herein lies the problem.

I am also blessed with supreme intelligence and a newly-discovered ability to do things with my hands (like building furniture, loft beds and such). Intelligence + ability = I can do this myself. And so I set about preparation for the job. I’d need

  • a rental propane space heater for the garage (frostbite, hypothermia. Hello?)     $37 for one week plus $25 for gas
  • a rental hoist with which to pull the entire engine out of its cavity     $150/wk
  • a rental set of tools (mine are in Montana)     $200/wk
  • a rental pickup truck to haul the above to my garage     $39 twice (here and return)

It was to be another fun project in which I would learn and accomplish a new thing. It all seemed reasonable and doable, too, until I streamed a YouTube video on how to replace the Timing Belt Tensioner Assembly for my car. It was doable alright, if you knew what you were doing – which I don’t. And this easy-to-do four-hour project could easily take me four days taking into account the redo’s to fix my mistakes. And, I realized, there were yet further costs: $0.97 for the bandaids, and an extra $150 for Sunday’s offering plate to cover the colorful language eminating from behind my garage door.

Since this post is a well-disguised lesson in calculus, I must correct my original formula: ‘Intelligence + ability = I can do this myself’ is incomplete. The complete formula is: Intelligence + ability + experience + tools = I can do this myself. (If using this formula in your college thesis, please attribute to Fred Marx.) Put another way, Intelligence + $741.82 = let-the-pros-do-it-right-the-first-time.

So here I am, at home in Minneapolis with my wife and 500 channels of cable and a lovely Christmas Tree that won’t come down till March, and a wind chill of -60. Maybe it’s crazy cold or dangerous cold or historic cold or this-ain’t-fun-anymore cold. But I don’t really care. I’m safe, warm, loved and blessed. Life just don’t get much better than this.

And I’m ever-so-slightly smug in the knowledge that the application of the second expression of my formula is actually the right one. It pays to be supremely intelligent.

9 Responses to "The Meaning Of Life — Coldest-day-of-the-year version"

Too funny (in a slap-me-with-reality sort of way)!

Hi Fred, It’s great to hear from you – I love the way you write. If you’re still having problems with the car let me know as I can potentially arrange a fix (my tenant at the farm owns a trucking business, is what I consider a master mechanic, and is equally held hostage from doing his primary trade by the weather). I apologize for not responding sooner to your earlier e-mail. How long are you planning to be in the area and would you have time for lunch before you head back west? All the best for a wonderful New Year. Kind regards, Mark

Mark Rieland Edina, Minnesota (952) 380-6644 (cell)

Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2014 21:04:58 +0000 To:

Thanks, Mark. The car is done and I’m gettin’ ready to boogie at the butt-crack of dawn. I’ll touch base with you again as soon as I settle in (or move back to The Cities, whichever comes first).

Enjoy the 500 channels and the warmth for as long as you can. BTW – Don’t forget to add the warranty associated with the professional performance in your formula.

Glad you will be back on the road soon!

You’re right, of course, Jerry. I’d need to factor in a warranty, plus insurance in case I burn down the garage, plus a new car to replace the burned-out car … and on it goes. I think my shop gave me a super-good deal on the repairs, don’t you?

My take on the cold after four months in Alaska:
+ 34 f feels cold; everything still sticks
+ 30 f feels very cold; masking tape doesn’t stick
+ 20 f feels great; duct tape doesn’t stick
+ 10 f feels chilly; super glue doesn’t stick
+/- 1 f feels refreshing; transmission sticks
– 20 f feels cold; diesel sticks
– 40 f feels very cold; door sticks
– 60 f no feeling; no sticking issues

+ 50 f feels cool; vinyl sticks well
+ 70 f feels nice; vinyl sticks perfectly
+ 90 f feels hot; vinyl sticks to all it touches
+ 100 f feels really hot; vinyl sticks to humid air
+ 110 f feels like a sauna; vinyl stretched & distorted, so is sign man.
Balance achieved
Gregson Signs

Between my brother, Michael, and Deborah, universal balance has been achieved. Can we all gather together and say, ‘Om’? Or would we rather sing ‘Kumbayah’?

Given our ages I think we should go all out and do “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

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