Uppermost House: Never use jumper cables in the bathtub

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

“It’s your daughter,” came the voice from the lady whose hand rustled through the shower curtain and dangled the phone in the steamy space over my head. So I reached up with dripping fingers and took the phone and put it to my damp ear and smiled and said, “Hello darling!” and then heard two of my favorite words spoken ever-so-cheerfully.

“Hi Dad!” Mandy said.

“Hold on a sec,” I said, reaching up and deftly turning off the dribbling hot water with my toes.

It turned out that Mandy’s friend had left her lights on and needed a jumpstart, but Mandy was a little uncertain.

“I can’t remember how to hook up the cable thingies,” she said.

Of course, I’d help her, I said, and quickly ran through the basic instructions. “Call me back if you need to, I’ll just be lying here, simmering,” I said. And then I set the phone on the side of the tub, twisted the hot water back on to a steady trickle, and went back to my book.

Three minutes later, the phone buzzed again.

“Yeah, hi again. Um, you know that whole red-on-red and black-on-black thing? Well I don’t see any red or black on my friend’s battery,” Mandy said. I told her I’d stay on the line and walk her through it. “Thanks, Dad!” Turned the phone to speaker mode and set it back down.

I explained to her about the black being connected as a ground to the car’s frame and that “the red cable will go down into the engine somewhere.” I heard her phone being put down, some muffled conversation, and then the phone being picked up again. “Yup, got it…now what?”

“Okay, now you should…” and so I went on with the stream-of-consciousness instructions again while Mandy and her friend fumbled around at the other end trying to clip red cable A to red post A, and so on. Their voices sounded weird, as if coming from around a corner and through a thin pillow.

“Wait; let me move my car closer,” I heard Mandy say once, and then a revving engine and soon a hasty new voice, “Good! You’re close enough now.”

Finally the phone rattled again and I heard my daughter’s voice loud and clear. “We’re all hooked up, Dad,” she said.

“Red on red and black on…” I began.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s all cool beans,” she said.

“Hey kid, you gotta get this right or the batteries could blow up and you’ll be horribly disfigured,” I said, perhaps a bit sternly.

“Ha, ha. I did just as you told me, Dad. I’m sure we’re all good.”

“Okay sweetie, now you sit in your car and rev the engine a little and tell your friend to start her car. And when it starts, leave it running for at least 20 minutes,” I said.

As I lay there in my tub, I’d already been a dad for 10,342 days. Our two children, Karen’s and mine, were grown now, gone except for visits; our influence had diminished from a steady moment-by-moment flow to hourly, then daily, and now had dribbled down to every few days for Mandy (in college far away), and even less for her brother (working a month at a time on a drill ship in Brazil). Yes, gone, but still so near. Flesh of our flesh, our blood theirs, closer than spikes driven into a tree, separated by states and hemispheres yet somehow we still breathed the same air — the best friends two parents could ever hope to have.

And so I soaked, warm and thankful and so proud of my daughter and her laugh and lightness and helpful spirit, imagining her there alongside a distant darkening evening road with her friend and her jumper cables correctly attached and suddenly I thought again of the electricity and batteries and the coming surge of amps and volts and the conductivity of water and realized, gosh, I probably shouldn’t be lying here in this bathtub.



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