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Nuts over prices and car trouble

October 10, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

You know what's expensive? Walnuts.

I was picking up a few things at the store the other day and noticed that walnuts are now approximately the same price as gold nuggets. My wife, Posh, had plans to roll some walnuts and goat cheese into a pork loin and throw the whole shebang on the grill. It's a tasty main course, the kind that triggers food lust. Pork, cheese, walnuts, a few sprigs of rosemary -- how can you miss? Except we can no longer afford walnuts.

"But isn't this walnut season?" I asked.

"You know, sport," she said dryly, "I'm not sure when walnut season is."

You know what else is expensive? Everything. They say that inflation is minimal, yet I just paid $7 more for a pair of sandals than I did a year earlier. Deals abound, sure. Armstrong Garden Centers has this offer where, for $16.99, you get all the pumpkins you can carry to the car.

Now, if only someone would offer this same deal on breakfast cereal or Chardonnay.

When Posh sent me out for the items the other day -- walnuts, milk, rosemary, that sort of thing -- we tried to predict how much it would all cost. I guessed $14. She guessed $18. It ended up topping $21.

This really ruined my weekend because I had planned to seduce Posh with homemade sausage: a little apple-chicken number you wouldn't believe. Trust me, I've seduced her with less (once with frozen waffles).

But with food being increasingly out of reach, I decided to skip the sausage seduction. To make matters worse, we'd had some car troubles earlier in the week as well.

That reminds me: You know what else is expensive? Brakes.

Those went out on the Little German on the way home last Wednesday -- some sort of power boost connection. Suddenly my car had the stopping distance of an ocean liner.

Now, nothing on the Little German is cheap. To have a mechanic open the hood and spit dismissively can cost you a grand or more.

I have made good decisions most of my life, except when it comes to cars, where I can be impulsive and too hungry, as was the case with the Little German. From the very beginning, the tiny roadster was all wrong for us: seated only two, with no room in the trunk for a bag of soccer balls or a batting tee.

Still, I forgot myself. The Little German is a beauty, no question. Sometimes the car glows, like a back-lit martini. With the top down (semi-naked), she still makes me virtually powerless (much like the engine itself).

Me and cars, ugh. Compounding matters is that I don't shop around, because I've generally waited too long and need a car RIGHT NOW. Other times, I spot something and become instantly smitten. The result: a passion purchase.

I bought a Jeep Wrangler once that way. Deep blue paint, denim seats -- you know the type. The only drawback was that the Wrangler wouldn't start in rainy weather. We lived in New Orleans at the time, where it only rained every other hour.

"Daddy, are we gonna drown?" the lovely and patient older daughter asked when the leaky convertible stalled once in a storm.

"Don't worry, sweetie," I said. "The lightning will probably get us first."

I'll never forget that afternoon. A stranger stopped and gave us a lift home. In New Orleans, strangers still do stuff like that.

Eventually, we reached the minivan stage in our lives. In the late '90s, Posh came home with a nice white one on a 30-year lease, pretty as a butter dish. We still have it.

We've taken two trips to Chicago in that vehicle, conceived a couple of the kids in it on the way home from fundraisers. I think there might be hamsters living in it too, feeding on stale fries.

We took it to Vegas last December to celebrate Posh's birthday. It's priceless the look of horror you get from parking valets when you pull into the Bellagio in a 12-year-old minivan that smells like dog hair and peanut butter. To get away, the valets would occasionally sprint into oncoming traffic.

Anyway, the minivan conked out the other day after only 210,000 miles. I was sitting at a light with my buddy Paul, and oil smoke started pouring out. It was as if we'd picked a new pope.

You should immediately pull over in such instances, but I drove the two miles home anyway. The old horse was dying, and it headed straight for the barn.

"I think I can repair it," said my mechanic Charlie, the only man left in our little suburb who can actually fix anything.

"You sure?" I asked. "Because I have no money."

"It might not be that bad," he said.

Head gasket? Piston rings? Prostate? At what point do you put down a beloved family car? It is the only second home we could ever afford. Part school bus, part hamster cage, that car has given us a lot of good times.

Now it's all in Charlie's hands. Be gentle, Hippocrates.


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