I did get the engine going by jamming the blob against the ignition while separately turning the shaft, though it took two or three minutes, requiring everything to be positioned just so while I squeezed the broken blob closed with my other hand so the battery would be engaged. Of course I
immediately made an appointment with the car dealership to get a new key made while I waited in the showroom for two hours continued using this method of starting, keeping a pair of square-nose pliers in the car to help facilitate the turning of the key. I have been doing this for weeks. It is simply how I start my car now.
I kluge. I am a kluger.
The dramatic apex of the movie “Apollo 13” is a scene where NASA engineers heroically figure out how to take a collection of astronaut junk and turn it into a lifesaving oxygen device. It epitomized the ultimate kluge, a term invented years ago by a computer geek, writing about computer stuff, and it meant using junk to craft a workable if ugly solution to a problem. It has since come to describe any MacGyver-type tinkering — making do with available material, however flimsy or random. That’s what I do, compulsively. There is nothing heroic about it. I procrastinate. I hate shopping. I hate going places to wait to have things done. Instead, I kluge.
The “n” key on my computer double-types the letter, so I
made an appointment with the Apple store to have it fixed have learned to hit N-Delete for every n. This has been going on 18 months. It has become second nature; nnot doing it just now took real concentration. The sidepiece of my eyeglasses broke off six months ago; I reattached it with an electrical wire I had stripped of insulation and re-employed as a hinge pin. Also, one nosepad fell off; now I just let the stem hit my nose, where it does only minor cosmetic damage. The alternative was going to Costco. I made the right choice.
You are thinking that someone as slovenly as I am must be a pain to live with. Ordinarily that would be true, but, in a stroke of good luck, my girlfriend is a kindred spirit. When Rachel once put on pants for work and found they were way too loose at the waist, she solved the problem by
visiting a tailor cinching them tighter with an office binder clip. Likewise, when she got a couple of upper thigh holes in another pair of at-work pants she went to a tailor again fixed them with duct tape. No, she didn’t put the pieces of tape on the outside of the pants — that would have been inelegant and unstylish — she put them unobtrusively on the inside of the pants, each covering one of the two holes. The only problem was that this put the sticky parts on the outside, directly across from each other, meaning they tended to stick together when walking, making a snowpants sound. A dedicated kluger must make accommodations and allowances.
(Rachel is far more tasteful about this than I am. I have a pair of old blue jeans I really like, but they have a hole the diameter of a nickel on the left butt cheek. I have solved this problem by making sure that every time I wear them, I put on blue underpants.)
One of my longest-lived kluges involves my hobby, which is fixing antique clocks. Old clocks are usually housed in old wood. Wood that has been repaired over decades and even centuries tends to have loose screws because the screw holes have been overused and stripped. There are pro products made to address this problem, but I have always done it by breaking off the tips of wooden toothpicks and jamming them into the holes, creating a tighter fit.
I know this all sounds bad, and I am embarrassed. I was particularly concerned with this when I visited my friend Edward Compton, who runs Ecker’s Clock and Watch Shop in Bethesda, Md. I consult Edward whenever I have a tough repair problem, because he is better at clocks than anyone I have ever known. He is the consummate pro. Sheepishly, I told him about my toothpick-in-the-hole kluge. I could see by his expression that he disapproved.
“I use a chopstick,” he said.
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