There was a time when I filled up the tank of the car every other Saturday without fail. That time seems to have ended, and if I thought I could get away with it, I'd blame the weather, which has been satisfyingly dry this winter; total snowfall, halfway through, has been a meager 0.1 inch, close to ideal for someone who can't wield any of the standard snow-removal tools anymore. And while December was otherwise pretty average — cold, but not hideously so — January has come off like Canada's Revenge, with north winds heading straight up your shorts. We've had four days with single-digit (Fahrenheit) temperatures in the morning. We're not quite on pace for the coldest winter ever, but I keep remembering 1977 through 1979, three wicked-cold winters in a row. (I got married in January 1978, during a near-blizzard. I should have suspected something was amiss.)

As an experiment, I moved my grocery-gathering from Saturday afternoon to Friday after work. The idea here was to save a trip out of the house: gas up every other Friday, hit the ATM when necessary, and each week finish up with picking up the food order. The problem last week was that instead of starting the rush at 4:35 or so, I was halfway to Edmond having my head shrunk, and I didn't get out of there until 5:00 or so. Well, fine; I'll grab the groceries and go straight home; I can do the rest of the hunter-gatherer routine first of the week. Besides which, it's cold: the high was a pitiful 32 and was heading downward toward the low teens, and I don't want to be standing out in the wind filling my tank. Sunset? 5:40. It's almost half an hour later than it was in early December, but once the last feeble rays of sunshine disappear, the mercury drops like the heavy metal it is.

Monday came, and then Tuesday; I had $25 or so in my pocket, and the gas gauge was pointing ominously to just barely above E. Wednesday I uttered a string of curses at Old Man Winter; I was paid back for my effort with a dreadful orange light on the dash, a light approximately the shape of a 1970s gas pump. Urgency having been introduced into the equation, I grat my teeth and pulled into the usual Circle K, and pumped just under sixteen gallons of Shell V-Power with Almonds, or whatever the hell it's called this year. I don't remember ever pumping just under sixteen gallons. And then I did the math: the tank, says the service material, holds 70 liters, which is about 18.5 gallons. Which means that, assuming the genuinely lousy 19.3 miles per gallon I got for that tank — when the weather isn't quite so hostile, I can expect about 21 around town &#@212; I could have expected another 48 miles before running on actual fumes. I didn't want to get that low, inasmuch as fuel pumps are expensive, but it was yet another manifestation of weirdness in that car: Nissan's little ambient-temperature readout is dead-on accurate down to -4°F, but the gas gauge is anything but linear. I decided to postpone the trip to the ATM one more day.

Thursday I arrived at the bank at 4:55, and there was a van in the ATM lane, and behind that van were two standard orange traffic cones. Evidently the machine was being serviced. I still had almost $20, so I figured I'd wait one more day.

Friday I arrived at the bank at 4:55, and there was a van in the ATM lane, and behind that van were no standard orange traffic cones, but the machine's guts were exposed to air and a mysterious-looking Man In Black was pointing things at it. Evidently the machine was being serviced. I wondered if this machine broke every day at this time. I knew the location of two other branches of this bank, noted that it's rush hour, you dolt, you don't want to go somewhere else, and pulled in at an angle that would make it possible to back out if I were still there at 5:15.

The man with the van departed at 5:14; I got my small wad of twenties and headed for Walmart to pick up the food order. One item was conspicuous by its absence; I compared the pickup manifest to the original order, and apparently I hadn't ordered it at all. No wonder it seemed so cheap.

And then I got home and sorted through the mail. The one item deemed worthy of opening was a hand-addressed letter from the shrink's office. For a second or two I fantasized: "I can no longer serve as your therapist, as I have fallen in love with you." Fat chance of that. Just the same, there was a check in that envelope, explained simply as "Refund." God only knows what Saturday may bring.

The Vent

  19 January 2018

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