The Irrational Machine

Every weekday morning at 7:30am on the nose, John Smith (not his real name) gets up from the same spot on his bed. He showers with a clean wash cloth, washes under the same shower head setting (light massage), and dries with a clean towel. He brushes his teeth with the same brand of toothbrush (Braun Oral-B, replaced religiously once a month), shaves with a five-blade razor (blade changed every two weeks), and eats the same breakfast (oatmeal with Splenda, and a hard boiled egg). Smith kisses his wife on the same cheek (left) every morning, grabs his briefcase with his right hand, and walks the exact same number of steps (32) to his car.

John is a likable guy because he is predictable. Moreover, he’s rational. John won’t surprise you, he won’t surprise his wife, and he certainly won’t surprise himself. He loves his life and his ability to understand and foresee everything that he may encounter. He’s not boring. He simply has everything in his life in order. He’s perfected his little spot in the world and nothing can go wrong. His only problem–and he doesn’t even realize it yet–is that he drives an irrational machine.

John bought a top of the line car yesterday. He loved everything about it–the color, the lines, the horsepower. It was everything he ever wanted. He stood outside his house for hours doing nothing but buffing it with a chamois and thinking how much it was going to change his life.

Something so perfect–so pristine–John imagined would do nothing but make his life better. In fact, he thought, it might even help him keep the order he had so laboriously created in his life. He knew he would have to take care of it, but that wouldn’t be too hard, right?

This morning John went out and put the key in the ignition. When he tried to start the car, six birds fell dead from the sky and landed on the hood. Tomorrow when he sits down in the car, the keyhole for the ignition will have disappeared. Three days from now, the car will be missing from its spot in his driveway. When he reports it stolen, it will reappear in his kitchen. He’ll call a contractor to solve the problem, but by the time John gets the estimate for car-removal, the vehicle will have replaced itself in the driveway. The next morning, John will start the car and make it to the end of the driveway. That’s when all the air will go out of the tires and the radio will play nothing but Pat Boone singing covers of Lovin’ Spoonful songs.

John knows cars, but he knows he is no expert. So, he will consult every book, website, and expert he can find. Every authority will offer different opinions on what might be wrong. John will try the cures for Ignition Induced Bird Failure (IIBF), Disappearing Ignition Disorder (DAD), and Acquired Pat Boone Sings Lovin’ Spooful Trauma (no acronym available). Nothing will work.

By this time two weeks from now, you will see John sitting his car weeping. He’ll be caressing the leather interior, poking at the ignition with his forefinger, and singing “Nashville Cats.” He’ll have given up showering with a clean towel. He will have a four-day growth on his face. His breakfast will be a hardboiled egg with Splenda or a can of Diet Coke.

And then one day, the car will return to normal without warning or explanation.

If this story seems ridiculous to you, you’ve never had a sick baby, the most irrational machine on the planet.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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8 Responses

  1. Wes says:

    Oh, I remember having to give little Hank back to the hospital so soon after we had taken him home. I scoured the net for reassurances that were fleeting. The owner’s manuals on these things suck.

  2. Drizztdj says:

    Last night going to bed at 3am after working all day yesterday and hearing my daughter cry just as my head hit the pillow snapped me out of my zombie/need sleep mode and immediately turned on daddy mode. She finally got some sleep around 4am.

    After years of this it’s automatic, yet I’ll see my body outside of itself if downtime doesn’t come in the form of alcoholic beverages on a dry deck with a little breeze and iPod softly shooting out music.

    Luckily the medicine for the adults is much easier to apply than for the child.

  3. pokerpeaker says:


    And your baby sings Pat Boone?

  4. Scott says:

    The good news, though? There are still plenty of humans walking around on the surface of the earth. We’re a pretty resilient bunch of motherscratchers. Your own personal anklebiter will soon be one of them.

    I can say this now, being a grandfather. Greatest thing ever.

  5. Bam-Bam says:

    I’m convinced that sometimes it’s the relentless search for the manual and/or instructions, that can bring one to their knees. Then the obvious sound of a defect in that lovely little engine, breaks us down the rest of the way.

    Always remember, the sporty suspensions of our little machines aren’t tuned for perfectly smooth roads anyhow. There’s some kind of failsafe built into them and apparently, it’s the same one that makes us spend so much time with the chamois.

    Ps… I can’t say I’m thrilled by the sound of “Pat Boone singing covers of Lovin’ Spoonful songs.” That sounds dangerously close to ‘shop’ muzac and if that is the case, may your time there be short and very, VERY productive.

  6. emme says:

    I liked this one a lot. I expect I’ll be thinking about it for a while.

    Hope the baby is OK.

    Best thoughts

  7. emme says:

    Forgot to add that I pictured the story as a Coen Brothers film.

  1. December 31, 2010

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