by Steve Van Auken

“I went to the dealership yesterday to pick up my new car,” my friend Bill told me. “I took along my hammer.”


Wait. What are you talking about?

“I told you. I needed a new car. I did all the things that the young people have figured out how to do. Because of the Internet, they are a lot smarter about buying cars than we ever were. I studied and picked the car I wanted. Then I figured out just how much the dealer paid for it. You never could get that kind of inside scoop before. Then I added a couple hundred bucks to that and sent emails all over the place asking dealers for just what I wanted. It took two months, but I got it. Then I made an appointment to pick it up and I figured, bring along the hammer.”


You are making no sense. You realize that, right?


“Yeah, you’re right, I could have waited ‘till I got the car home. But I figured, just get it done. So after we signed the papers, the sales guy brought the new car around. He got out and handed me the key and held the door open. I closed it again and took out my ball-peen hammer and hit
the driver’s door right in the middle, just above the molding.”


Bill, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason why you would hit your new car with a ball-peen hammer…


“Isn’t it obvious? A claw hammer is too big. A tack hammer is too small to do the job. To make just the right size dent.”


Sure. Just the right size. And what did you do then, light the dealership on fire?


“Don’t be stupid. You sound like the salesman. He yelled something and ran inside and locked himself in his office. He was just a kid, I didn’t expect him to understand. But I figured you would.”


You figured wrong. But I’m trying to believe you had some kind of reason.


“Of course I did. It’s about happiness, you chowderhead.”


Spending thousands of dollars on a car and then hitting it with a hammer makes you happy?


“No. But it makes it easier to be happy. Think of all the times you’ve worried about things that don’t really matter. Like kids walking on your lawn. Or leaving the house with your fly down. Or the driver next to you in the parking lot dinging your car. How much misery have you given yourself over the years? If I was one of these meditators or whatever, maybe I could just decide not to worry. But I can’t, so I help myself along. I put the first ding in my own door. Now I don’t have to park at the back of every lot. I don’t have to come back to my car and check all over it.
And I won’t have to be mad for three days when somebody puts the first mark on it. It’s pre- dinged.”


You’ve given this a lot of thought.


“I like to get out in front of my worries. You should try it. Then maybe you wouldn’t spend half your retirement check on every kind of insurance. And your wife wouldn’t be rolling her eyes every time you start talking about a meteor hitting the electric grid. Or how the clerk at the grocery store wouldn’t take your coupon for those vitamin pills that you don’t need.”


For your information, all the leading medical authorities say we aren’t getting enough cesium in our diet.


“This, from the guy who flunked high school chemistry twice. If you want to feel healthy, do what I do. Hang around with people who are less fit than you. When you go to the gym always sit on the bike next to the guy who has the newspaper spread over his handlebars. He could get more exercise sitting at home watching the golf channel. So you’ll feel good about yourself when you leave. If that isn’t enough, I’ll take you to bingo some time.


“Oh, and another thing. Never go to Florida.”


I like Florida!


“Forget it. It’s God’s waiting room. It’s a sandbar with condominiums. After you’re there for a week, you start to forget that there are things to do in life besides sit on the deck and wait ‘till it’s time to start drinking. Watching pelicans fly is nice. But tomorrow it will be the same pelicans.
You start to forget about real beauty, like the wind bending the trees in April or rabbit tracks in the snow. If you stop worrying that it will be cold here in February, you won’t need to go live where the biggest thing in life is figuring out which restaurant gives you the most shrimp on your
salad.”


Got it. I should learn to love slush and sleet. Any other insights from your anti-anxiety plan?


“Sure. Stop worrying about keeping up in the Kid Derby. Do you remember when we went to our 10th high school reunion? All the people who thought they were a big deal back in high school were busy bragging about their important jobs and their big houses. Then at the 20th reunion, their jobs and houses were even bigger. Now, every time I run into these people, what happens? They expect me to listen while they tell me how their kid started a hedge fund and made a billion dollars, and their 12-year-old grandkid just got admitted to Stanford.”


I know who you’re talking about. When I see them in the grocery store, I hide in the bathroom.


“Not me. I don’t worry about them. I strike first. I tell them about Bill Jr. I brag that, with credit for good behavior and time served in county lock-up, he expects to get out of prison in record time and his lawyer is pretty sure the government doesn’t have enough evidence to take those new charges to trial because he covered his tracks so well.”


But I know your son. He’s a home remodeler. He coaches tee-ball.


“Yeah, but they don’t know that. So I brag that way whenever I see these people. For some reason, it shuts them right up. They tell me it’s been great to see me, and they walk off like they just heard their Porsche is on fire.”


Okay, so maybe you’re not getting demented after all. Maybe you’re onto something. You make the first move to get out in front of the things that worry you. You do the thing first yourself, then you can stop worrying that it will happen. Just promise me one thing. Promise you won’t work this plan on everything that worries you.

Tell me you can live with the anxiety of keeping your fly all the way zipped.


Steve Van Auken has now lived in Akron long enough to give directions according to where things used to be.

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