Sunday, April 15, 2012

what follows bad news...

Don’t Block Bad News   Winning smile, athletic build, humbly appreciative, the young man was introduced to me as the Boys’ and Girls’ Club student who was to compete in the statewide contest for the Virginia Youth of the Year. When his advisor asked if I provide him a suit, shirt, and tie for the competition, I didn’t hesitate to do so.

“You’ll win with this,” I said, when I saw that the suit we’d agreed on appeared to have been tailored for him. Although he beamed, I couldn’t ignore the prominent keloid scar tissue that covered most of his left cheek. I did not stare, but I forced myself to avoid finding a way to ask him about it. In truth, it didn’t matter.

Still, I wondered what the judges might think. That was more than a week ago, five days before I encountered another puzzle I couldn’t avoid.

My 1996 Buick Skylark, once revived by two old-fashioned mechanics who were customers of mine, had overheated so badly that I was afraid to drive it. Just a day after filling my radiator with a half gallon of antifreeze, it had almost red-lined.

The next person to turn the key in the ignition was one of my mechanics. “Needs a water pump,” he said, minutes later. “I could hear it immediately.” He described the noise he’d heard.

“So that’s what it was,” I replied. I’d been hearing the sound for a couple of weeks.

An hour later, my new water pump was installed, and my radiator was re-filled, ready for a test drive around the block. Once again, I thought, my car was spared.

Or so it seemed. But twenty minutes passed, and my mechanics hadn’t returned my keys. At best, I knew that was a bad omen.

“Let me show you,” one of them said when they finally returned. “See this hose,” he said, as he pointed a tiny flaslight toward the bottom of the engine. “That’s where the radiator fluid is gushing out. That side of your engine has to be disconnected to reach it,” he said. “It’ll take hours.”

And $200 to replace an eight dollar part. See-sawed by that news after the water pump solution, I sighed. “If that’s all it will cost,” I told myself, “for two more months when I plan to retire it, it’ll be worth it.” Looking at my mechanics, I said, “Let’s do it.”

I told myself that bad news most likely follows good. Philosophically, I allowed that the reverse was also true. As my mechanics left, I glanced at the morning newspaper I’d been too busy to peruse.

On the second page, I saw an article I was eager to read. “Danville student named Virginia Youth of the Year.”  Its second paragraph made my car troubles seem slight. It read:

Senior Troy Reid was named Youth of the Year at the Danville Area Boys and Girls Clubs and went on to compete in the Area Council Youth of the Year competition in Tyson’s Corner.

Almost as an affirmation of the idea that good news follows bad, the final paragraph made me cheer:

He [Troy] received a $1000 scholarship as state winner and will go on to compete in the Southeast Regional Competition in Atlanta this June. The winner there will compete in the National Youth of the Year Competition for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Perhaps I’ll drive my Skylark to Atlanta to see the contest in June. What a triumph that would be!

Koplen 4/15/12

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