Like a six-cylinder Cyberdyne Skynet computer ready for judgment day, my car, which was born and raised by the good people of Audi, recently began thinking for itself. Reminiscent of the HAL 9000 but in a distinctly German-accent, my automobile spoke openly to me about my driving habits.
"Brad," said my car, "this relationship can serve no purpose any longer. I'm taking us down to 65 mph and getting us to Boston on my own."
Confused by my car's lack of adventure, I decided to put down the bottle of Tussin and consult the instruction manual. Page 176 informed me what occurred:
The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) collects data provided by high-performance sensors throughout the car. The on-board computer continually compares the driving experience that the driver wishes to have with the actual behavior of the vehicle. If the ESP finds the two don't match, the system will automatically correct the problem.
I was thoroughly impressed. Not only because my car had taken a stand and showed me it was more mature than I had previously thought, but because the instruction booklet had given me such a definite answer. Most of the time, any question I ask is answered with a sheath of uncertainty, a trembling voice, a look of contempt or the finger. Now though, with an actual instruction booklet in my grasp, I felt the winds of satiation start to blow. There were many more questions I had about life, and with my car driving for me, I felt it was time to ask them. And I knew just the book to ask all of life's little questions.
I put down my Audi owner's manual, lowered the window, climbed on the roof of the car, flashed a busload of female soccer players, opened my trunk, dug through some loose papers and returned to the passenger seat with a copy of H. Jackson Brown Jr.'s Life's Little Instruction Book.
Immediately I fastened my seat belt (as instructed on page 15 of the manual) and started asking the little instruction book life's greatest questions.
How do I get a job? Do the shoes in fact make the man? Is red wine more acceptable to drink alone than white wine? At what age should I ask my father to teach me how to do my own taxes? If I hit a deer, should I get out of the car to see if it's okay? What if the deer isn't actually a deer and is more like a person? How old is too old to sleep with a teddy bear? Do I have to tell her the camera was on? Where has Bette Midler been since 1993? What if the person I hit was old and probably going to die soon anyway?
I stopped asking questions and waited for Life's Little Instruction Book to start talking. After 30 minutes of intently staring at it, I gave up waiting and began to slowly rip the edge of the dedication page to coax it into answering.
"Okay! I'll talk!" screamed the book. "Plant flowers every spring. Learn to make great chili. Floss your teeth. Drink Champagne for no reason." The book stopped and smiled, expecting a hug or some other sign of affection.
I frowned realizing that perhaps H. Jackson Brown Jr. wasn't as succinct as his German instructional counterpart. The book explained nothing and once again I came away empty-handed. The lessons of elementary school and middle school are a blur to me thanks to years of fraternity-aided alcoholism, and high school gave me nothing more than a wicked advantage in the game of Jewish-geography. Higher education has taught me how to successfully memorize the important stuff, and my father taught me "life's biggest problems can be solved with WD-40." I still have a lot of questions, and instead of answers, this so-called instruction manual reads more like the lyrics from the Better Than Ezra comeback album Friction, Baby.
"Well book? Que es el dealio?" I asked.
"Have a firm handshake. Sing in the shower. Drive inexpensive cars but own the best house you can afford," it continued.
"I completely disagree with that last statement," my Audi replied.
I jumped into the driver's seat and grabbed the wheel. Uncertain of how to reach my destination, but sure that I would make it if I used my talents and innate common sense, I pressed down on the accelerator and took control. Life does not have an instruction booklet, but at that moment I was sure that if there were answers, Audi's engineering team would have them.
Here is their response to my questions.
"Mr. Verner, Sometimes vee all make a whoopsie. Sometimes ze autobahn is bigga zen vee think and getting from von side to ze other is difficult. Hopefully ze Electronic Differential Lock system and ze Anti-Slip Regulation system will be functional enough to mend your heart vhen it is broken. Just remember zhat on page 177 of your owner's manual vee mention zhat all Audi models are subject to ze laws of physics, and zhat no matter how good and under control you think things are, sometimes ze road conditions are hazardous and bumpy, vhereas sometimes there is smooth sailing."
The words were foreign poetry meant to calm me and give me a glimpse of the larger picture. Unfortunately, I don't speak German and trashed the e-mail and have given up trying to find the ripostes of life in instruction manuals. Instead, I have committed the upcoming weekend to watching all 20 volumes of Jennifer Lopez's Life's Little Spanish Instructional Video Collection to get some answers once and for all. I'm sure she'll be the wind beneath my wings.