Sunday, January 18, 2009

Where's MacGyver when you need him?

(originally published May 21, 2008)

It was like trying to teach a chimp to work a toaster.

That is, if a chimp had the slightest interest in learning to make toast. Which I doubt. It has opposable thumbs. It can hitch a ride to McDonald’s and have a sausage and egg biscuit for breakfast and read the morning newspaper if it wants.

“OK, here’s what you do,” I said quietly, leaning toward the gray-tinted window. I snuck a look around the parking lot and turned back toward the car. I pointed toward the button partially hidden in the arm rest and mimed a downward motion and said, “Just reach over and push that button.”

Safely belted into his car seat in the back, my two-year-old son just stared blankly like I’d said the words in Japanese.

I rolled my eyes and thought, Brilliant. The kid is a whiz with buttons but picks today to get stupid.

He can use the television remote to locate an episode of “Scooby Doo” any time, any place. If he knew the international telephone exchange for North Korea he could probably launch a nuclear weapon with my cell phone.

But tell the kid to unlock the car door and you’d think I had asked him to explain the concept of Minkowski’s Four-Dimensional Space and how it relates to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Um, not that I’d have any clue either, but I’d like to think if this guy Minkowski were standing next to me in the parking lot that very moment he’d be able to shed some light on how to get into a locked car.

When the keys are in my purse.
Which is sitting on the passenger seat.
Along with my cell phone.

And my son in the back seat, completely oblivious to the fact he may have to spend the rest of his childhood within that space unless I discovered a way to get into the car before he started high school.

I sighed and tried again. I leaned in close enough to fog up the glass with my hot, trying-not-to-panic breath, held up one finger and said, “Hey, kiddo, why don’t you hold up one finger for me?”

He frowned, held up two stubby fingers, waved them in front of my nose and said with great insult, “But, Mommy, I’m TWO! Not one!”

Thank you, Mr. Smartypants.

“I’m not a baby,” he added for good measure. He held up two fingers and repeated, “I’m TWO!”

“Yes, I know,” I quickly apologized. Crud. Why did I teach the kid to count?! From now on it’s a steady diet of Twinkies and “Spongebob Squarepants” and nothing else.

“OK, let’s use TWO fingers,” I said and held two digits up against the glass. I used my other hand and once again pointed toward the door lock. “See that button down there? Can you push on it with your fingers? Like this?” and punched the air.

He looked at me, looked at my fingers, looked at his fingers.

Then stuck both of them up his nose and laughed.

My forehead smacked the glass in defeat. In growing frustration, I thought about smashing the window to get in. However, two things prevented any further contemplation of that irrational plan of action.

One – it was my mother-in-law’s car.

Two – I was at the post office. On what was probably federal property. In an age of anthrax scares and post-9/11.

Chances are there were trip wires, German shepherds and surveillance cameras all over the place watching my every movement.

I circled the car and tried all the handles. Again. As if – by magic – one of them had opened since the last 14 times I’d checked them.

Defeated, knowing that MacGyver would have unlocked the car by now using a mild explosive made from a gum wrapper, a pen cap and a can of lukewarm Mountain Dew, I (needlessly) ordered my son to stay put and headed inside the post office.

A nice lady let me borrow her phone to call my husband and ask him to retrieve the extra set of keys. And it was so polite of the other patrons to turn a deaf ear to my husband’s loud laughter spilling from the phone after I’d told him what I’d done.

If only I had married MacGyver instead.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at

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