January 28th, 2006


Murphy's Law is Very Clear


Murphy’s Law can be very clear on certain points. Most of us are familiar with Murphy’s Law #1, which states that if anything can possibly go wrong, it will. There’s also Murphy’s Corollary #14, which says that if Mark Hunter attempts any manner of mechanically based activities, Murphy’s Law #1 will immediately kick in.

Then there’s Murphy’s Law #27, which was added to the list in 1923 by Murphy’s grandson, G.C. Murphy. What is Murphy’s Law #27? All I need to do is make one statement, and you’ll understand: I recently paid off my car.

Yup. Murphy’s Law #27 is the one that states, “Immediately after making the very last payment on something, it will break.”

According to the calculations I made last fall, my car would be paid off in February, 2006. I looked forward to this date with mixed feelings. I didn’t want to make car payments, but my car has been very good to me, and I didn’t want to see the poor thing start to fall apart just because I didn’t owe anything on it anymore. Still, I figured as long as the cost of repairs didn’t exceed the cost of payments, I was no further behind than before.

I have a foreign car, a Nissan. Granted that it’s hard to tell these days if a vehicle was made or assembled in America, but I take the easy way by defining a foreign car as one made by a foreign company. I’d rather have an American car, but the price was right back in 2000 – which means that was the only car I could afford. Since many foreign cars are assembled in the U.S., and many American cars are assembled from parts made in other countries, the only way you can be sure of having an American vehicle these days is to assemble it yourself.

That I wasn’t prepared to do – see Murphy’s Corollary #14.

It turned out to be a great choice, because the Nissan has been very, very good to me. I’ve owned one other foreign car, but it was made in France. This was before I learned of the French tendency to quit when the going gets tough. To its credit, the French car started almost every single time I turned the key – but whether it would then go anywhere was a crapshoot. It was a very safe car, because cars that won’t leave the driveway rarely get into accidents. It was also a very small car, which I often stored in the back of my brother’s Blazer after my car broke down along the side of the road.

I’ve also owned Fords, Chevy’s, Pontiacs, Dodge’s, and a funky looking white thing that my ex-wife sacrificed to the gods of utility poles. I have only one real requirement of my cars: They should start when I turn the key, and go where I steer. That’s about it.

My Nissan has done that admirably. But, as I watched with dread, the February date when I would receive my last bill approached.

In early January I was surprised by a letter from friendly bank personnel, who informed me that my loan had matured, and they would like all the rest of their money. Now.

I had no idea loans matured. I thought they came out of the bank fully grown.

I also had no idea how I would make a double car payment in January, but after some creative financing (thank you, friends and family who fed me), I managed it. Then, as if they still wanted to mess with me a little, the bank sent me another letter and informed me that I had overpaid, and here’s my $1.43 refund. Wasn’t that nice of them, to spend $2.67 on paper, envelope and stamp so I could get my $1.43? But they figured it was worth it, as they imagined the look on my face when I opened the envelope.

Now, from the moment I sent in that last check I’d walked around with the feeling that a huge, steel toed shoe was hovering over my head, ready to drop. To my surprise, the doors didn’t fall off when I sent the check. The engine didn’t explode when I received the refund. By the time the title arrived, I was so nervous that I scheduled an oil change, just so I could say I’d taken care of the routine maintenance and was in no way at fault for whatever was about to happen.

As I was sitting in the waiting room, contemplating the pluses and minuses of buying a moped, the maintenance guy popped his head in and said cheerfully, “Your car is done!”

I looked up at him, and my voice rose about five octaves. “Oh my gosh! It’s done? Finished? Over? What happened? I need to be with it, to say goodbye –“

“No, no, you don’t understand – I mean, we’re done changing the oil.”

“Oh … thank goodness, I thought –“

“And you’re going to need new brakes soon.”

I refer you back to Murphy’s Law #27.

“How soon?” I asked. “A few months? A year or so?”

“Within two weeks, unless you live for thrills and close calls. You could buy an anchor, but depending on what it hooks onto, that could cause more harm than good.”

The new brakes – and I doubt if I really need to tell you this – cost the same as a car payment. But that’s hardly surprising:

Murphy’s Law is very clear.