jump to navigation

Books–What Would MacGyver Do? December 27, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, how to, lifehack, Other.

My wife got me several books for Christmas, ’cause she’s nice and knows what I like.  I’m sort of in the middle of one of them right now–What Would MacGyver Do?: True Stories of Improvised Genius in Everyday Life, by Brendan Vaughan–having already finished another one.  She says that she picked it up as sort of a joke, because she calls me MacGyver (I am usually able to fix stuff), but it is actually a pretty interesting read, pretty good light entertainment.  I confess I’m a little disappointed by the stories in it, though.  This is not due to my own record of saving the day with a paper clip.  It actually comes more from my memories of my brother. 

So here’s one such story. 

My Brother, my Mom and I are trying to get to (if I remember correctly) the Berkeley Yacht Club to pick my father up from a race of some sort.  Mom is driving a grey Volkswagen Squareback, and I am 12 years old.  My Brother is 13.   We are probably lost.  We are traveling over Highway 880, approximately the section that came down and killed all of those people during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but it is 1976, so the main source of danger is the same as other California freeways–other drivers.  Suddenly, the car loses power (theoretically it had some to begin with, like 40 horsepower).  We drift to a halt off the left side of the road. 

We sit there for a while hoping that someone will stop and help us.  There were no cell phones in 1976, and nobody was desperate enough to try to find one of those widely separated emergency phones yet.  So this guy stops and he offers to take a look at the engine, which is in the rear end of the car.  He opens it up to look and Mom tries to start it up while he examines it.  He points out that fuel leaks from the side of a tube when she steps on the gas.  Upon further examination, the tube is old and cracked on one side.  He tries some masking tape on it as a patch, but nothing will stick to the gasoline-soaked tube.  He offers to go get a tow truck or something and takes off. 

After he leaves, my brother pulls out a bic pen.  He pulls the tube out of one side and notices that the bic fits nicely into the tube, with a little work.  Then, after asking Mom if it is O.K., “doesn’t seem like it could hurt,” he takes a pocket knife and cuts out the cracked section, inserting the pen into the middle, crammed into the tubes on either end. 

Mom fires up the engine and we continue on our way, still lost, but moving.

So far I haven’t read any stories in this book (I’m on page 50) that come close to this, and he was 13 at the time.  And it’s just the one I happened to remember first, there are dozens of others.  The book is still a good read, well-written and has some interesting tales in it.  My favorite thing about it has to be the memories it unearthed, though.



1. Cyndi - December 29, 2006

Now that is a spiffy story!

My dad is a master mechanic, and he taught me to always keep a pen in the car – they are very versatile car repair mechanisms. Once, at 4 in the morning, I broke down on my way to work in the mountains of Northeast Georgia in my 1980 Malibu and being no one else was out at that ungodly hour (I baked bread for a grocery store) I got to take apart my carbeurator on my own. After realizing the choke was stuck, I inserted the pen like I had seen my dad do a million times at work, and cranked the car. It drove the rest of the way without an air filter and with a pen in the choke, but it got me there!

I love stories of creativity and problem solving in action! :D Thanks for sharing!

2. caveblogem - December 30, 2006


Thanks for your comments and your story. My dad taught me things about cars, too. At your age, though, I was a little more forgetful of Dad’s wisdom. I’m not sure I could have found the carbeurator, much less taken it apart.

3. Cyndi - December 30, 2006

Bah, thanks for the compliment about my age. ;) My birthday is coming up and I’m feeling a bit old… this slow creep towards 30 thing sucks.

I’m 26 and I’ve virtually lived in my dad’s shop since he left the Air Force when I was 4. He’s the type to teach everyone he meets everything he knows and I’m a knowledge whore so we’re always together. It kinda freaks my husband out every now and again because sometimes he’ll be trying to figure something out and I’ll say “let’s go see my dad!” He (my husband) has been with me long enough, though, to know that my family is very odd and normally finds the weirdest answer to the most common question. It’s a gift.

4. caveblogem - December 30, 2006

If you think the slow creep towards 30 sucks, try the slow creep towards 50, Cyndi. The body falls apart, but I must say, I have straightened my head out a lot better recently than I was able to do at that age. At 26 I got married to a wonderful woman from my high school, perhaps the best decision of my life. But that was mostly luck, I think. I make better decisions now, more regularly, I think.

“Knowledge whore,” you make it sound like it’s a bad thing. It’s not.

5. Cyndi - December 30, 2006

*sighs* men are so lucky that they are like fine wine – they only grow better with age. At 26, I already have two bad knees from teaching martial arts for years, a cyst in my brain for God knows whatever reason, and a heart problem I was born with. Making it to 50 will be a miracle! I’m delighted to say that I married my high school sweetheart when I turned 18. He was 20, and we’ve been together 8 years this year. He, like fine wine, smoked cheese, and classic books, is much better with age. ;)

“Knowlege whore” is actually a very good thing. Everyone has a price, and I’d rather mine be knowledge than money or power. Money is just a waste of time – it’s a form of trade for things you may actually want one day. Money in the bank is either claiming power over others or power over fate, neither of which has any claim to honesty.

6. davidbdale - December 31, 2006

From such simple objects are these philosophies spun!

Speakng of which, both of you must read The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber immediately. I mean this instant. Put down whatever household appliance you are repairing with the threaded end of a broken lightbulb and get your hands on that book.

Regarding the disabled VW, I am worried. Those of us past (ahem) 50 remember well the Bic pen was drilled through with a neat little hole about halfway down the barrel. To shoot a good spitwad through a hollowed-out bic, you stoppered that hole with your finger.

The moment you finish reading Nicholson Baker’s The Size of Thoughts, I want you to lift the hood on that vehicle and check to make sure it hasn’t been leaking gas through the little bic-barrel hole since 1976.

7. caveblogem - January 1, 2007


I have ordered a copy of said book–two actually, one for me and one for my brother. I was scared not to after your rather forceful recommendation. I haven’t read any Nickleson Baker since Fermata, which was bizarre, but certainly a good read. Good god, that must have been the late 1980s. Always meant to look him up again.

Regarding the bic thing, thanks for your concern. I should perhaps have clarified that this was a “click” model, so it was in two pieces. I think you are referring to the model now called the “crystal” bic pen, which had no name at the time. Both pieces would have made crappy spitwad shooting devices, because one end of each piece was small and had a lip. The front end of it had only two holes.

In any case, I think that our mechanic, Mr. Potterzei, a charming man with an actual handlebar mustache, replaced the bic with appropriate tubing after we got home. And although this car may have lasted until the present day in the dry California climate, it was not the sort of thing one would lovingly restore. I think the squareback is largely extinct by now. It is kind of neat to think of this thing driving around the state, though, setting small fires as it goes, melting down speedbumps, erasing the lines in the roads, making puddles change into all sorts of swirling colors. Warms the heart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: