It’s nice that some things fail and can’t be fixed

The other day I finally lost my front license plate for good.

I know, I thought it was tragic, too.

It had been hanging on very bravely for about a year and a half after surviving an intimate, low-speed interaction with the end of a guardrail in October 2010. (I was dodging a house on a two-lane highway; it’s not really important.)

Since then, my car — a “sandstone,” 2006 Chevrolet Cavalier (two door) — has run just fine, and the half-dangling front license plate had no ill-effect on its running.   For what is a very popular model of car, I used to confuse it with others in the various parking lots of the country. It was a year old but good condition. It was the same as every other like it.

After the guardrail I could spot it immediately in any row of vehicles. It was mine; I knew it and it me.

When I first got the Cavalier, it just impressed me with “new” technology. Growing up, my family always had plenty of vehicles for the number of drivers, but all were about a decade old so one was always breaking down and in the shop. From that experience, I wanted non-powered locks and windows I could afford to fix, but that version wasn’t available at the same price.

So now, yes, I have to open my door at drive thrus and let the worker know, “The window goes down just fine, but it’ll take two days for the motor to get it back up.” And the windshield fogs up precipitously, regularly, no matter how much I Windex the inside and out. The dashboard makes a noise when I’m at a stoplight from where the cracks reverberate extra loud and I have to tell passengers, “Don’t worry; it just does that.”

It’s all still leagues better than the car before that, a 1994 Chevrolet Cavalier (two door). It was purple with a decal down both sides. “The Purple Stallion.” The door leaked when it rained, ergo going through water (as in the Muskingum Creek) flooded the floorboard. Fortunately, it was the passenger side. Unfortunately, for the next three or four days, the inside stank of algae and rot.

While it’s necessary for things to function, especially automobiles, you don’t truly “own” perfect things because anyone could use them just as well as you. Just the opposite, perfect things own you because you’re always worried about something getting scuffed, chipped or otherwise degraded.

The Buddhists say, “Drink from the cup like it’s already broken.” Then the cup is yours because no one else wants it, and you’ll want it even more having remembered how it broke.

(Memory is worth more than mint condition.)

I was talking to a friend the other day about ebooks, and how I never thought I’d cross over into the Kindle world, but I had and read a book cover to cover. It was nice, though lacking somehow.

The amazing thing is that even though almost everything about ebooks is measurably better, the fact that they’re digital means I don’t think you’ll ever fully replace physical books or the shelf.

“Ebooks are sterile, mass-produced and uniform. They’re without flaw and stain; never can they be yours in the dog-eared sense,” I said.

In short, they’re perfect. In my friend’s words, “Uninteresting.”

They don’t wrinkle, their spines don’t crack, your favorite pages don’t tear or fall out from use. Once marked, they can be unmarked. They don’t fail.

And the truth is, we don’t love what’s perfect but what’s imperfect. At least when it’s ours.

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