One of my favorite crackpot theories is the theory of the Warranty. This one came to me in a flash about five years ago.
Here’s the theory: When we are born we are like new cars; shiny, perfect, unblemished, and full of promise. Apart from the occasional childhood illness (measles, mumps, stomach virus), most of us go unscathed for a very long time. I would compare these childhood illnesses along with the occasional scraped knee, bloodied nose, or even a broken arm to the occasional early dent one gets in the parking lot. For all of these problems we are “covered”. That is to say, we can go in to the doctor (shop) and she’ll take a look under the hood (“say aah”), make a simple pinpoint the problem (diagnosis), and make the simple fix (splint, Pepto-Bismol, aspirin, or an order of bedrest). With rare exceptions, this is the physical condition of the body from birth to age 40.
At this blissful time in our lives, we can abuse ourselves anyway we want. We can go for long periods without food or glut ourselves on french fries and milkshakes. We can sit in front of the tube all day every day, then suddenly decide to get up and shake our booties at a club till four in the morning. We can pull an all nighter for a test three nights running and still find the energy to hang out in a mall the next day. We can drink. We can smoke. We can experiment with drugs. We can experiment with sex. Amazingly, every morning without fail, no matter what foolishness we have indulged the night before, the motor cranks up.
At age 40 (or thereabouts), your warranty expires. Depending on your brand (genetic makeup), there may be slight variations. But the pattern remains eerily similar. Our arms get too short when we read. Without exception, everyone I know started losing their perfect vision at 40. This is your warning. So you succumb to glasses or contacts, and you figure, “ no big deal.” At about 43, you start getting your first arthritic twinges. “What is this?”, you cry out as you slide to home or pick up a baby and your back goes out. The pain is excruciating. You tell yourself it’s a spasm and nothing more. Eventually, it passes into memory.
Somewhere around 45 you may notice that people have begun speaking too softly in loud restaurants. You begin to prefer the old-fashioned restaurants replete with heavy carpeting and cushy booths. The chic ambience of Planet Hollywood no longer interests you, since you would need a wall of Marshall speakers to hear and be heard above the din. That’s the heavy metal exacting its toll on your auditory system. (My husband can’t hear the birds in the morning unless they sing directly into his ear canal.)
One evening when I was 49, we had just finished a delightful supper with my in-laws at a sweet little Italian restaurant, when I got a stabbing pain in my abdomen. We were about to leave, and I couldn’t stand up. I thought it was menstrual cramps. As soon as we got back to Art’s parents’ house, I took four Motrin and lay down on the floor. After about half an hour with no relief, they took me to the hospital.
A CT scan revealed an irregular mass in my abdomen. Within a week, I was in surgery and I learned that I had uterine cancer. I can’t tell you what a shock that was. A lifetime of being in the peak of health with only the occasional blip on the radar screen – and then, this.
Okay. Fast forward. It’s four years later. I’m still here. And (thank God), in good health. I won’t take you through the cancer landscape today; that’s not really what this is about. I only bring it up to say – it shouldn’t have been so shocking. My warranty had expired nine years earlier. My vehicle had been nickle-and-diming me all that time. I knew it was only a matter of time before I needed a major overhaul; say a new transmission or a rebuilt engine, or at least new brakes.
I thought I was doing a good job of maintenance all along. I ate well, exercised regularly, and kept stress at a minimal. But let’s face it, before I turned 40, I barely gave it a thought. So I guess the sins of my wayward youth were catching up with me. I don’t know. Or maybe the problem was hardwired in genetically.
The point of all this is just to say – take care of your vehicle. It only looks rough and tough on the outside, but inside, it’s a very delicate machine. Go in for routine maintenance. Smoking corrodes the engine. Stop worrying so much about the paint job. Take her out and let her run from time to time. Feed her high octane fuel. And even then, be prepared. Take out an extended warranty (insurance) so that when inevitably she needs a turn in the shop, it doesn’t bankrupt you. And love your vehicle. It takes you through the roughest roads, and you can’t trade it in for a newer model. At least, not yet.