One headlight


I stopped at the day care a couple of days ago and ran into my neighbor, who was loading his son into his car. “How are you?” he asked as I got out of my car and yelped as an arc of electricity jumped from the door to my finger.

“Ow! Goddamnit!” I quipped.

“Heh,” he said. “Winter. Hey, did you know your headlight’s out?”

Well, I was floored. I’d been so smug. I judge people who drive around with one headlight burned out. Get your life together, I’d always mentally sneered. You look like a damn motorcycle.

I got my son and put him in the car. He noticed the burned-out light quickly, since we often like to play a game where I switch on my high-beams in the eyes of oncoming drivers. “Don’t worry,” I assured him, “we can make it home on one headlight,” which was the start of two consecutive days with that Wallflowers song stuck in my head.

That aside, I found that I actually kind of liked driving around with only one headlight. I think it made me look crazy. I imagined that other cars gave me more room, so as to avoid whatever the unpredictable lunatic might do next. It was better than urinating in your pants on public transit, which a lot of things are, but it was both similar and better, by virtue of not taking place on public transit.

Still, I thought I’d better get it taken care of on the weekend. I thought often while driving of an old high-school classmate who’d gotten his eye poked out while fencing with ski poles, and concluded two things:

First, if you were that guy, wouldn’t you go right out and get glasses even if you had perfect vision in the remaining eye, just to protect it? A monocle, at least? I would.

And second, this is why you have two eyes and why car-makers give you two headlights, so that you have a backup. But assuming both were installed at the same time, they’d tend to stop working around the same time. (I’m still talking about both headlights and eyes here, which reminds me that for years, my wife has been boasting about her “more than perfect” 20:10 vision only to discover that she now needs glasses. I was pretty smug about this for a while, but now she lies in bed and holds her phone at arm’s length to read it, jamming it into the side of my body.)

The point is that I’m getting increasingly paranoid, and Jakob Dylan’s continued assurances are no longer working. So I want to take care of it post-haste.

My blind wife said that since I need an oil change anyway, I could just get them to put a new headlight for about a ten-dollar service fee. But on the other hand, my neighbor had said that it was easy to do yourself, and you could look at a YouTube video to see how to do it, which costs less than ten dollars. And it’s not like I’m not handy with cars. A few weeks ago, I changed the winter tires and my left wrist almost doesn’t hurt anymore from torquing the lug nuts. And just the other day, I cleaned all the windows with a squeegee at the gas station. And I have to open the hood of the car to put some winter windshield washer fluid in there anyway, so while I’m in there, how much harder can it be to swap out a simple electrical automotive part?

Well, quite a bit harder, according to some forum posts I read. “Well, this is quite a bit harder than you’d think,” said some posts. “Why would they make it this way? It almost seems like they want you to come into the dealership so they can charge you an exorbitant amount of money to perform what should be a simple task.” Other posters complained about their hands getting all scratched up in the process of changing a headlamp. “Ow,” commented one poster. “Goddamnit.”

That’s not good, I thought, because my hands are my fortune. I used a few of my million-dollar fingers to type in “YouTube” and some car-related words and found the video my neighbor had promised. I watched in increasing dismay as the guy in the video went through a simple process of unlocking a complex sequence of clips and bolts, removing the bumper, and bleeding profusely. But what made up my mind conclusively was that the video started during broad daylight, and then midway through, there was a jump cut, and then it picked up again at dusk. Now, the video itself only lasted about five minutes, but I suspect there was some Hollywood magic taking place there.

So, here’s my pro tip: If you watch a how-to video, and it goes from day to night over the course of it, hire a pro.

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