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The Goddess Speaks

By Nadine Kam

Tuesday, August 1, 2000

technical difficulty

I dread the end of July, not because of the usual end of summer-one step closer to the holidays reasons, but because July means my car safety inspection sticker expires and that means one more trip to the gas station for another round of humiliation.

This has nothing to do with my car, which at 10 years old, runs great and looks decent enough, despite an eight-month coating of dirt.

The safety inspection checkup is just one of the niggling details that have the sole purpose of making life more miserable than it has to be, but I never thought too much about it because my car would sail right through the pesky little tests.

I wish I could say the same for the driver.

It happened three years ago. Some garage guy asked me to turn on my high beam first.

Huh? Who uses a high beam in Hawaii? I sure didn't. I sort of knew what to do but I was so flustered, I forgot how to use all the controls. After much searching, I figured out the high beam thing, but when the garage guy told me to next turn on my right blinker, I turned on the windshield wiper. Then I turned on the left blinker.

Yikes. My car passed muster but the guy looked at me funny.

The incapacitation was so uncharacteristic. I drive this car almost every day. I am not a menace on our highways. I signal at every turn, and can determine left from right in a split second.

I don't quite understand the phenomenon because I've never been the type to lose my cool before school exams. And I didn't exactly choose a low-stress career. But when there was talk about doing away with the torture of car safety inspections, I was ecstatic. Of course it didn't happen. It's far too lucrative a racket.

LAST year, I started getting nervous again before the big car exam. That time, I asked a friend to tag along for support. Some support. He said the things the garage guy was probably thinking: "What are you doing!? What's wrong with you?"

Later, he said, "Do I know you? If I were him I would have thought you stole the car!"

This year he wasn't invited.

I thought my fortune would change, too, when a friendly teen-age guy approached. Whew. He made me feel comfortable and relaxed. I was going to ace this inspection yet.

But the kid disappeared and a grouchy guy took his place. This was a guy who didn't smile and didn't make small talk. He simply barked out those familiar terse instructions. Naturally, wires crossed once more. Headlights became blinkers became windshield wipers. I couldn't even find my horn.

I'll admit the same sort of thing sometimes happens to me in the office, where we work off of an intuitive Mac system and an archaic industry system known as System Integrators, Inc. A lot of new hires try to avoid SII as much as possible because using it involves a lot of tricky keyboard combinations to perform tasks.

I know SII too, but more by touch than anything else. It's pretty hard to convince newbies how easy it is to use the system when they ask how to find a story and I'm like, "Uhh, directory ... is it short path or long path? Then basket ..."

"Oh, that's real convincing," they say.

I've never had much sympathy for people who fared poorly on tests. I believed those teachers who taunted test laggards with such statements as, "Either you know it or you don't" and "If you don't know it by now you'll never know." Now I feel their pain.

My car must now last another 10 years. For if I haven't figured out how to get through safety checks with this old car, what hope will I have with a new one?

Nadine Kam is features editor.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
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