MR. FIX-IT: Our wife came home on Friday and said some guy had told her the brake lights on her 2004 Volkswagen Jetta were out, so the first thing we gotta do is go out and find that guy and kill him.

Man, as we have come to know him, has been around for 200,000 years, almost every one of those years without brake lights. You need water and air. Fire and a lever might be nice. And a spear. It's a long, long list before you get to brake lights. Pancake mix is about 600 positions above brake lights.

But such is our relentless need for luxury and our aversion to traffic tickets, that we decided to dedicate several minutes of our Saturday to replacing the brake light bulbs, which is something anyone can do. It's harder to make a sandwich than it is to replace brake light bulbs. We went to the repository of mankind's endeavors, YouTube, to find out how to do it: Guy on the video pops open the trunk, pulls out a velcro hatch that reveals the bulb housing, gently lifts out the housing, pops out the dead bulb, slips in the new one and he says, with 10 pounds of smug packed into a 5-pound bag, "There, you just saved yourself $100 in mechanics fees."

So, we go to the auto parts store and buy two brake light bulbs for $11 or so, which, after decades of buying things that cost too much, we have been programmed to believe isn't very much money, and we go home to replace them.

Long story short, life in our driveway is nothing like glorious YouTube life.


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We spent an hour doing what probably looked like an impression of an angry octopus trying to play bagpipes before we decided to unsave our $100 in mechanics fees. So, fairly glowing with a pulsating light of shame and defeat, we drove it to the dealer to have them do it.

You already know how this is going to end.

You already know that the mechanics aren't going to replace a pair of light bulbs, pat our wife's 2004 Jetta on the hood and send us on our merry way, wishing us and ours the best of this holiday season.

You saw it coming, from the minute we pulled into the service bay, that they would find "something in the tubes" causing the car's interior to get damp during rain and that they would have to "pull the header," which is $275 right there.

You're way south of surprised that the "control arm bushings" are worn out. (Nor are you terribly confident that there is such a thing as control arm bushings).

You're not sitting there spitting out your morning coffee in shocked disbelief as the guy details several other arcane horrors that have befallen the car over the past mere 58,000 miles, or that the mechanic, emboldened now at our limp acceptance of what's gone wrong, is no longer even attempting to speak English. He's speaking garage gibberish and continues to do so until he finally collapses, greed-sated, in exhaustion.

How could all of these things have gone wrong? "The car runs perfectly," we whined at the mechanic, as if we were expecting him to say, "It does? Oh, well, then forget it." Instead, he says, "Well, it's a 2004, so ..." as if that was the zany year when Volkswagen decided to just sort of haphazardly throw cars together using drunk lawn-mower repairmen for labor and to embark on a bold but doomed experiment with shoddy control arm bushings.

He could barely contain his glee as he told us the bottom line: "You're looking at about $1,875."

No, we're looking at Christmas dissolve into a Dickensian gloom. We're looking at Christmas morning, with whatever scraps of timber we can scrounge from the yard crackling in a dim fireplace as we tell the children that there will be no presents.

No iThis or iThat will be wrapped and set beneath the Christmas palm frond decorated with bits of gum wrappers. Not the Duncan Imperial yo-yo that Ray had been wishing for, or the Raggedy Ann that has been dancing through Hannah's dreams.

We will find whatever joy that remains of the season by walking out to the driveway, holding our steaming cups of hot and severely diluted cocoa, and, huddling around the weak warmth of the brake lights, offering thanks that, unlike those families less fortunate, we have, in this glorious season, new control arm bushings and a header with its tubes fixed. 

tgrobaty@yahoo.com, 562-499-1256 or twitter.com/grobaty