Recently, I turned the ignition key in my pickup and nothing happened. No friendly roar of eight gas-guzzling cylinders. In fact, not even the friendly click of the starter relay. I knew immediately that I was in trouble. Thirty years ago, one phone call to a friend would have solved my problem. He would have been there in five minutes with jumper cables in hand. If he wasn’t at home, somebody else would have been.

Today, however, it seems that I have reached the age of “assisted living.” All of my friends are either deceased or have reached the same age as I have. I can no longer do anything that requires any stamina without assistance, a bad situation that I had been warned about a long time ago. An old man once told me, “Son,” he said, “getting old is no damn good.” He was right.

I quickly diagnosed the problem as a bad battery but on that particular day, I was waiting to enter the hospital in three days for hernia surgery, my second this year. I was told to do no lifting or bad things could happen, but no mention was made that the battery on my pickup would die.

I did the only thing I could do. I called my lady-friend for a little assisted living. One big problem is that she often needs it as much as I do. I needed a new battery, but first the old one had to be removed. She couldn’t lift it, and I was given strict orders not to. Nothing is ever simple when we get old.

Finally, we solved the problem after much thought and discussion. She managed to raise the battery up a bit and I hooked my cane under it and — with it braced on the air-conditioner blower — we flipped that sucker out. Getting the new one in place was mostly a matter of dropping it over the edge of the bracket. About all I could do I was say a short prayer that the thing wouldn’t break in a hundred pieces, leaving me with $86 worth of something I might sell to China if I was lucky. They do use a lot of lead in paint over there.

I could hardly wait to start my trusty pickup. But when I did, the engine had only one speed — wide open. Since I had been confined in the hospital and at home for about three months for another ailment, I assumed that dirt daubers had built nests in wherever dirt daubers build nests. It wasn’t safe to drive.

I had my assisted living lady-friend drive me to a mechanic. We discussed possible causes, wrecker fees and what I might add to a doctor’s bill, hospital charges and how long I might have to declare bankruptcy. The mechanic was not familiar with that, as no mechanic has ever been known to declare bankruptcy.

The day arrived for my surgery. I was wheeled into the operating room on a gurney and found the surgeon sharpening his scalpel on a large whet-rock, and before I knew it, my hernia was fixed.

As soon as I could, I got the pickup to the mechanic and left it. He called me later with good news. “I can’t find anything wrong with the pickup,” he reported. “The only explanation,” he said, “is that the new battery you installed had to get acquainted with your engine and now works fine.” That sounded reasonable to me, and there was no charge for his service.

In fact, I wasn’t even charged for new fluid in the turn signals, and that’s unusual.

Harry Marlin’s column is featured every Tuesday on the Brownwood Bulletin’s Viewpoint page. E-mail him at