Virtue & Mischief: I think it was Kurt


Last week I made a business trip to Indianapolis. I visited with lots of University of Dayton School of Law alumni who work and live there, and a few other attorneys in the region whom I know from my law school or private practice days. These trips are always fascinating because I continue to learn so much about the places where my former students toil away and the varying kinds of work they do.

One, for instance, serves as in-house counsel for a corporation that manufactures drug and food products to animals; another is on the front line prosecuting drug-related crimes in Marion County; another is clerking for the Indiana Court of Appeals, and another works for the enforcement branch of the NCAA. I arranged for a large lunch gathering downtown as my final “appointment” for the trip, and—because it was spring break at the law school—a few students were able to join us and meet and learn from more experienced legal professionals in the area. All things considered, it was a successful venture.

I paid off our bill, shook hands and bade farewell to the final group of departing guests, and walked to my car—which, it should be noted, was parked just a few paces away from a 38 foot high mural of famous novelist/essayist (and Indianapolis native), Kurt Vonnegut, painted on the brick wall of a business on Massachusetts Avenue. In this impressive rendition he is wearing a maroon V-neck sweater, a grey topcoat, and a guilty-looking grin. I studied it a moment before entering my car and pulling away.

As I drove east on I-70 the rain came down harder and the traffic got thicker. Still, I was making reasonably good time as I approached the outskirts of Richmond, IN. Then, without warning, the cars ahead of me came to a complete stop. I and the east-bound brethren behind me abruptly pressed on our brakes as well, instantly becoming a not-so-happy band of motionless travelers stuck on an expanse of rain-drenched asphalt in east-central Indiana. After a minute or so I began to silently pout about my misfortune. I wanted to get home, change clothes, put my travel-related paraphernalia away, feed the amigos, and participate that evening in a church-related small group meeting. Sigh. No telling how long I was going to sit in this de-facto parking lot; better call Krista and give her a heads-up.

I dialed Krista’s number and connected to her voicemail: “….Leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” she crooned. “God bless!” Yeah, right.

“Say, hon, I’m in a traffic jam on the interstate outside of Richmond and I’m not sure exactly when I’m going to make it. [Brief gonging sound emitted from my dash]. Oh, crap. Umm, honey, it looks like a ‘low tire pressure’ light just came on. I’d better go. This could get, uhhhh, interesting. I’ll keep you posted. Bye.”

I had never encountered this warning light, and while it could have been a lot worse (e.g., the “You’ve thrown a rod” light or the “Your transmission is kaput” light, for instance) it still wasn’t exactly a positive development. Traffic began to move forward slowly, meter by meter, and I was able to pull off at the nearest exit and inspect my tires. The warning light didn’t designate

which tire (or tires) was underinflated (or why), so, while getting pelted by a steady rain, I performed a highly precise inspection of each: I looked them over and pushed them, one by one, with my thumb. As you’ll be unsurprised to learn, some people prefer to call me “Mr. Goodwrench” rather than the more pedestrian “Tim”. In any event, utilizing this highly technical approach, I determined that the left front was the guilty party and that I was likely to make it to the good folks (and real mechanics) at Schultz Motors without further mishap.

Because I know God cares intensely for me and for the well-being of my automobile, I prayed incessantly for the next half hour as I coursed through Wayne County, IN and Darke County, OH on my way to Schultz Motors. My eloquent incantations went something like “pleasepleasepleasepleaseGodletmegettheresafelypleasepleasepleaase”. And so forth. Hey, I reasoned to myself, it’s not exactly worthy of St. Francis of Assisi but it’s better than a string of 4 letter word saturated imprecations.

After a half hour of white-knuckling my way up State Route 121, I pulled up to the garage and breathed a sigh of relief. They discovered I was correct (the thumb test is almost always right) that the left front tire pressure was low, jacked up the Ford, and quickly found an offending tack screw lodged tightly in the middle of the tread. Within fifteen minutes the tack was removed, the hole was plugged, and the tire was fully inflated. I drove home and arrived no more than a half hour later than I’d originally hoped.

I showed Krista and the amigos the nefarious tack screw and told them my tale. “Where do you think you got it?” Daniel asked, genuinely fascinated.

“We’ll never know, Daniel,” I replied. “But I suspect Kurt Vonnegut had something to do with it.”

By Tim Swensen

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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