My former boss once referred to people like me as “Hershey bars, because when you put a little heat to them, they melt.” He was right. I barely can tolerate the pressure of something as innocuous as an eye exam. It’s all those decisions.

“Is it better like this, or like this?” the optometrist asks. “How about now? Is it better or worse? This or that? Better? Or worse?” Over and over until I start to hyperventilate from the stress and I want to poke both my eyes out with a sharp stick just to get it over with. I once heard a stand-up comic say that she broke up with her boyfriend (who was an optometrist) because he kept asking those questions in bed. How annoying would that be for indecisive women like me?

At no time am I more aware of my tendency to cave under the presssure of relentless questioning than when I take my malfunctioning car to the mechanic. A mechanic diagnosing car trouble is a lot like a physician diagnosing a health problem. It begins when I present the mechanic with a symptom.

“The car is making a funny noise,” I tell the mechanic.

“What do you mean by funny?”

“Well, when I turn a corner, I hear a weird noise.”

“Is it a squeak or a squeal?”

“I don’t know; it’s just an unfamiliar noise.”

“Is it coming from the front or the back? Does it happen at slow speeds or fast speeds? When you take your foot off the gas, does it get better or worse? Does the steering wheel shimmy?

I was beginning to be sorry I’d ever brought it up. I wished the car had done something specific, dramatic, and indisputable, such as when I turned a corner the steering wheel snapped off in my hands. If this really were a physical exam, that would be akin to the patient’s head falling off and rolling down the street into an open manhole. Now there’s a symptom with no ambiguity. Anyway, the interrogation was on.

I could feel beads of sweat popping out on my forehead. It was like sitting on a witness stand and being interogated by TV prosecutor Perry Mason. Now I know why an interrogation is often referred to as “grilling.” I felt as if I’d been skewered and the rotisserie was slowly revolving over an open flame. If I were a Hershey bar, by now I’d be nothing but a stain on the garage floor.

“Did you hear a thumping or just the squeak?” he asked. “Have you checked the pressure in the tires? Have you hit any potholes lately?”

I was beginning to hyperventilate. The grill’s flame was getting higher. I could almost hear the dripping fat sizzling on the charcoal briquettes.

“What grade of gas have you been using? Does it happen when the engine is hot or just when it is cold?”

“Aaaaaargh!” I screamed. “I can’t take it anymore! I did it! Whatever it is, I confess! I kidnapped the Lindberg baby! I sank the Titantic! It was me who put the bop in the bop-she-bop-she-bop! I was the one who left the cake out in the rain! Shut off the propane and pass the barbeque sauce, Perry Mason, I’m done!”


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