Champagne Problems

Written By: Phillip Lehans

“As long as my computer and car don’t die, everything will be fine.” That’s what I told myself back in January. How could 2017 be any worse than 2016? Coming off a lost season due to an emergency heart valve replacement surgery, there was little room for error when it came to balancing finances. Between exorbitant rent, roadside clam baskets and premium burrata, this place ain’t cheap. Comparatively, my life is pretty good, that’s not lost on me, though my existence is a textbook case of perception being light-years from reality.

As the seasons on the East End transition from catatonic winter to sobering spring, the first in a series of “champagne problems” began to unfold. As often is the case, teetering on the edge of insolvency is a way of life. By April, last summer’s earnings have long since vanished and one’s financial cushion has about as much value as the tip jar at Hampton Proctology. Just when I needed it most, with Memorial Day in sight, my iMac decided it had crunched its last byte. I’ve been warned that putting negative vibes into the universe assist in their coming to fruition. Had I jinxed myself? Exclaiming an expletive is arguably the most mature and least destructive way to handle such a setback. So yeah, “FUDGE!!” (Only I didn’t say fudge.)

After getting zero help from the crack team at the Apple store, I told myself, “most people do much more with far less.” It was time for me to do “more” or at least “as much” with “less.” By “less” I mean in true out-of-touch woe-is-me fashion, I reduced myself from a from a gorgeous 27” iMac display to my eye-bleed inducing 15” MacBook Pro monitor. So what if the screen isn’t as sharp, not as bright and my workflow is compromised because I’m hunched over this crappy little machine for hours at a time? “This Sucks!!” At least it has a superdrive so I can burn mix CD’s for my classic BMW 5-speed convertible! Like I said, champagne problems.

As I obsessively virtually configured and reconfigured my new ideal computer, I weighed the pro’s and con’s of getting one with an illustrious 27” display or settling for the lesser-in-every-way 21” sad version. With budget as a major consideration, there was a chance frugality would win out. As luck would have it, I landed a job where my services were bartered in an arguably lopsided transaction for a used 21” iMac. This should at least last me through Labor Day… famous last words.

The ritual of adding motor oil to my Bavarian ragtop was a constant reminder she wasn’t the pristine machine she once was. Her 168 horsepower engine was probably in the output range of about 140 but no matter. She was red, rear wheel drive, with a black leather interior, had 6 cylinders and a clutch. The hills of Old Montauk Highway felt like a carnival ride as I playfully matched the pitch of the revving engine to the songs on the radio. Life was still good. It was May. The top was down. Summer was coming.

Being the recipient of a new-to-me iMac, it was in my best interest to upgrade the RAM. Paying someone to install it didn’t seem necessary. Money was tight and the instructions were straightforward. Flip the computer over, unscrew a few screws, pull some tabs, put in the new part all while getting closer and closer and “SSscccrrraaatttccchhhhh…” “ARGH!!” The base had slipped down digging into the lens of my glasses, “Dammit!!” I exclaim. “Take a deep breath… it’s fine, it’s fine,” I repeat to myself.

Having not learned my lesson and while still licking my wounds from the RAM debacle, I also decided replacing the superdrive was well within my capability. My “new” computer didn’t have a functioning drive but I had fortunately cannibalized the one from my old machine. Small victories. As May became June and my expenses continued to surpass my income, my do-it-myself attitude remained intact. All that would be required of me for this miracle was invasive surgery on a highly precise piece of electronic engineering by a man with the skill set of a novice. Scalpel?

Feeling uncharacteristically courageous, I removed the screen, detached the monitor, unscrewed the bad drive, all while confidently disconnecting capillary-like wires from delicate electronic parts. Once the new drive was in place, I began reconnecting the various wires to where I could best recall they belonged. I began to sweat, drip, drip, drip. “Son of a bitch I bent this one,” I mumbled under my breath. Had I inadvertently killed my computer while trying to be a hero? After expertly bending back a vital component with the finesse of a seasoned tech nerd with tiny fingers, my computer was alive and well, albeit buzzing. “I’m just gonna pretend I don’t hear that.”

Things went fine for a few weeks, aside from the landscaper backing into my car and breaking a $327 taillight. Looking ahead I decided to remain optimistic. (Needless to say that was the last time I saw the aforementioned landscaper, he knows what he did.) I transferred all my files to my new computer, work was picking up, and my bimmer was freshly waxed and polished… but a storm was brewing.

Despite the fact I had plugged my “new” iMac into the best powerstrip money could buy, a passing seasonal severe thunderstorm spelled the end of the latest addition to my little business. With a flash of lightning and flicker of the lights, my computer fell silent. A $39 second opinion from the guys in Amagansett confirmed my diagnosis. My CPU was DOA.

Birthday’s mean you can spend money with marginal guilt. It’s easier to justify certain expenditures when you have the “it’s my birthday” excuse to fall back on. Though I didn’t build my dream machine, I did treat myself to a new computer. I opted for another 27” behemoth. Internally it’s not the jacked up beast I would have liked but at least three years of AppleCare had me covered. I was back in business! The 15” MacBook Pro was again exiled to its plush laptop bag. Things were lookin’ up!

One of the benefits of having an old car is that under the hood, everything still looks like traditional car parts. This supports the illusion of owner serviceability. As I pride myself on being a fairly capable modern man, I decided after five years it was time to replace the air filter. Perhaps the 28 horsepower my car was being robbed of was directly related to my negligence. My excuse for not remedying this sooner was because a Sag Harbor mechanic had advised I not mess with it until I had replaced my intake bellows. This part had been ordered over a year ago and was still sitting in my trunk. Being out of excuses, I summoned my inner Pep Boy and got to work. What turned out to be a relatively simple procedure filled me with a sense of one-ness with my car. She sounded happy. She could breathe easier, accelerated more quickly and with her oil topped off, I was sure she’d be good for another 100,000 miles.

Summer was in full swing. It was August. My computer was humming, my car was purring and it was time for an iced coffee. A quick run to Starbucks helps break up the day when you’re chained to your desk. I put my iMac to sleep and woke up my BMW. Little did I know we would never make it to Starbucks.

Pulling out of my driveway, I cruised down Springs Fireplace. I made a quick right on Jackson Street, a fast left onto Three Mile Harbor and pulling about 5 G’s onto Oak View Highway, off the gas, on the clutch, shifting from first to second, off the clutch and back on the gas, accelerating up the hill pulling about 3000 rpm’s and THUMP!!!! “What that F*?!” My car rolled to a stop.

As my little 3-series made her way to Amagansett on the back of a flatbed, I wondered if my pessimism had willed its demise, or if reclaiming those 28 horses had been too much. I try to remain positive but Murphy’s Law seems to find a way. As the mechanic delivered the somber news that my car would run me about $4,000 to repair, I decided it wasn’t cost effective and I should send her to the great autobahn in the sky. I gathered my personal effects and said goodbye, ceremoniously removing the BMW designation from my keychain.

As fortune would have it, my father was good enough to loan me his supersexy Camry until I can find an affordable fitting replacement for my German classic and as I write this on the beach in Montauk at sunset, my heart is warmed as I think about how awesome is going to look on my 27” 5K display!