Out of the Box
by Avery Chenoweth
Eva turned the key. Nothing. Her face went blank, as if some basic principle of the universe had failed to show up, like gravity. Her face registered the same astonishment as if she had dropped the car keys but they fell up. She cranked it again.
Now, she looked at me, and we had the same thought--But this never happens!
The silence was eerie and disquieting. Mechanical failure always rings in a new reality. Just when you think things are going well, they aren’t. It’s a bit like falling out of the sky. It’s the ground-walking version of turbulence. Things just...fall apart. And there you are.
The door slammed. I looked at the driver’s seat; it was empty. Eva appeared in the rear view mirror marching behind the van. Across the parking lot a Jeep Cherokee sat under a tree, where a young man was taking out a fishing rod. Eva walked up to him.
“If a wheel falls off, investors want to know someone on the team can put it back on again.” My cousin’s advice prompted me to wonder how often I had changed a literal tire, as opposed to a metaphorical one.
So much of what we discuss is so abstract that many speakers search out old fashioned objective correlatives. The language moves from imaging the abstract to materializing it into an object you can hold in your hand. You hear metaphors like “toolbox” and “tools.”
The young man got his tool box. After gunning his engine, nothing was still happening. Eva’s car sat there as sullen and unresponsive as before, throwing a full blown sulk.
“I think the cables are frayed,” he said. He hoisted an actual tool box from the back of his car and set it on the ground. Its bed was studded with drop-forged tools, ratchets, bolts and steel bits. This was the exact moment when metaphors are born.
“Investors want someone who can think outside the box--do the unexpected. It’s not enough to change a tire. Sometimes you have to change your whole approach.” My cousin’s advice was not lost on me, but I couldn’t see how it applied to a dead battery.
But our new friend had an idea. “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pull out the battery from my car, and then put it into her car. Then we’ll try to start it up again.”
Neither of us knew that you could manually swap out a battery and bypass the cables--that was way outside the box. He came back to me wielding a small hatchet, which sent bloody endings wheeling through my mind. He used it to pry loose the bolts on both car batteries, and drop his battery into her car. Eva turned the key. The SUV roared up--as if its invitation to the White House had only just arrived--both cars ran on their alternators.
Eva paid him the ten bucks we had, and he urged her to take his cables just in case, though they didn’t work, really. I thanked him, repeatedly, wonderfully refreshed with evidence of genuine kindness. Not a serial killer, eh? Well, how about them apples.
We swung in and drove off into the breaking sunshine, laughing on a rush of gratitude for the kindness of strangers, now more than a line from Tennessee Williams. The tool box became more than a metaphor and his experience of how to work outside the box was more than design thinking. Gratitude is also more than a lesson, but a practice that amplifies the depth and duration of the good things that come our way. And, what brings the abstract and the actual together is the free will we employ to solve things together.
“I didn’t get your name,” I said, as we shook hands.
“Will,” he said, and that, too, wasn’t a metaphor.