Tales from a Middle Aged Father: The Idiot Light

It was chilly enough that the water hose I cut into was stiff. My son, a six-year-old first grader, knelt beside me watching as I put the now 20” hose into the lawn mower’s gas tank.

“Don’t ever try this until you’re big like me, ok?”

“Ok, daddy.”

“Ok, here we go.”

I took a breath, placed the free end of the hose into my mouth, and tried the well-known method of removing gas from a tank through suction.

I was scheduled to go to the doctor that morning, a check-up, before work. Because of my appointment, I had been tagged to take my oldest son to school after his mother neglected to get him on the bus on time. The boy and myself marched out the door and to my little civic, both kind of excited about this moment where dad and son got to join in the ride to school. Normally, I was gone well before the boy was up, so this was a treat for him.

However, there was a snag. When I cranked my car, the gas needle didn’t move. It sat just below the “E,” and after a few seconds, the gas light came on. Immediately I tried the desperate calculations in my head to determine if that small space between the “E” and oblivion would get me to the closest gas station. After burning some precious petroleum trying to decide if I had enough, I shut the car off, and instructed the boy that we had to do something else.

I went to our other car to check its situation, and although it wasn’t as dire as mine, it wasn’t much better. So I did what I always did when stuck in a conundrum. I lit a cigarette, and laid out all possible scenarios that would land me at the gas station. Even though car number two had a smidge more gas, it also had a larger engine and at 7:30 in the morning, my math told me it would drink faster than my Honda; I would have to chance it. I needed to get the boy to school.

I went to the back yard to grab the gas can (it too was empty) so I could get enough for my car, when I saw my lawnmower – it was a giant John Deer monster with a massive gas tank – and that’s when my genius kicked in. I yelled for my son, and he came jogging around the house to see what I needed. I looked at him and simply said, “your dad has a plan.”

Being a six-year-old, he wasn’t too wise to the world, so whenever I did something mechanical or constructive, he typically watched with eagerness, wanting to learn how to emulate his father as so many young boys do.

But on this chilly morning, he saw something different in my eyes, and his own eyes reflected a warning I did not heed.

I told him to run inside the house and grab my knife from the kitchen drawer – it was an old pocket knife I’d had for years – and bring it to me. He hustled away, reluctantly but obediently, and brought the tool back a few moments later. By then, I had pulled enough of our garden hose out to make a small syphon tube that would help me get the gas from the lawn mower into the gas can and from the gas can into my car which would get me to the gas station for more gas and on to the school where I would write my son in as by now, he was going to be late.

It was a full proof plan.

I cut the hose and marched to the lawn mower. I laid the gas can on the ground and told my son, “once I get the gas moving through this hose, I’m going to shove it into the can. I want you to hold the can still while it fills up.”

He said, “Ok.” Then his mind started calculating. “How are you gonna get the gas moving through the hose?”

“I’m going to have to suck it out.”

His face, once again, should have been enough for me to know that this was not going to work. But I had seen my step father do it multiple times, and now, as I was a man (I was in my 20s – young and stupid), I could replicate the actions and prove a hero to my son by saving the day and getting the gas needed to move on down the road.

I placed one end into the lawn mower tank, and held the other to my mouth. I took a breath in anticipation praying to something that it would work. I put the hose in my mouth, and drew back.

As the gas failed to come through the tube once it abruptly flew out of my mouth, my son quietly asked me, “you swallowed it, didn’t you?” I said nothing, and instead ran into the house. In the bathroom, I reached for a toothbrush, and tried to shove it down my throat. His mother, who had seen the flash of an idiot running by her, came into the bathroom to find me bent over a sink trying to induce muscles to reject the petroleum from my stomach.

I was not succeeding.

She asked me what I was doing, and I asked her in response, “How do you make yourself throw up?”



She asked me why, and before I could answer, my partner in crime had arrived to inform her of the entire episode.

“You dumbass,” was all she said as she went into the kitchen, and brought back three glasses of water. “Drink all of this and then drive my car to the gas station.”

I did as instructed, and got the boy to school late. I made my doctor’s appointment and was assured I would not die or catch on fire if I smoked (I already knew I wouldn’t as I tried the method before I went, but I wanted a second opinion).

My son and I learned valuable lessons that morning.

Never syphon gas from a lawn mower.

Never shove a toothbrush down your throat.

Never tell a woman she is an expert in vomiting simply because she is a “girl.”

But most importantly: pay attention to that damn gas gauge before the idiot light goes off.

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