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James R. Stout

Clint Was Right

            Clint Eastwood once said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” I agree with that 100%. I know mine. The truth is our limitations change over time given our experiences and the aging process. I once could work on my car doing maintenance and repairs. That was when shade tree mechanics dotted the landscape of any given neighborhood. I changed the oil, replaced broken parts such as a generator, alternator, solenoid, water pump, master brake cylinder, radiator, and other items on car models from 1962-1978. After that, cars got too complicated for me. And, to be honest, I never liked doing the repairs. I did them because I couldn’t afford to pay for someone to do them. You just haven’t felt pain like the kind of pain that comes with slipping a slotted screwdriver and digging a furrow in your other hand while working outside in 13-degree weather.

            I have more limitations today than ever before because of the aging process. Climbing on a ladder is out of the question. Could I do it? Maybe. But the chances are I would lose my balance and perhaps break something in a fall. So, I don’t climb ladders anymore. Even my musical abilities have suffered because of arthritis. I’m not as fast as I used to be. In short, I know my limitations. Let me tell you about a time when I didn’t know my limitations and it caused me to be quite embarrassed. I can laugh about it now, but at the time I wasn’t laughing much.

            I was 21-years-old and being trained as a locksmith. It was a trade that I thought could be a possible fallback occupation if I didn’t become rich and famous as a singer-songwriter. As it turns out, neither one of those occupations would sustain me. I was sent out to change a lock on a restroom door of a gas station that had been damaged by someone kicking the door open. The dispatcher figured I could change a lock out. If only it had been so simple. The gas station was in the heart of an area in Houston called “Montrose”. It was even then known for its “colorful” reputation. The fact is it was an area inhabited by a great many homosexuals during a time when they were not as accepted as they are today. It was also known for having residents that were in all manor of businesses. There were the record stores and music stores and so forth, but there were also some rather “different” kinds of stores. Stores that sold clothing (that word is used loosely) for the boudoir, clothing for cross-dressing individuals, and there were restaurants with French cuisine that were located in what had once been church buildings. Now you know the area that I was sent to. The next thing you need to know is that it was August and that day it was over 100 degrees. Finally, the gas station restroom was about as clean as you might expect.

            It appeared to be an easy job when I first looked at the lock. I removed the remains of the broken lock and then I tried to install a new one. The hollow metal door was beat up around where the lock was supposed to go, and it meant that I had to do some repairs to the door and the door jamb. I had the lock off and I was hammering away at the door with a tool designed for straightening metal. Within 15 minutes I was soaked with sweat. There was no ventilation in the restroom, but I had the door propped open with one of my feet. I gave a good whack to the door and the tool I was using slipped out of my hand and fell inside the restroom. My natural reaction was to get the tool. Except that when I did the door swung closed. My initial thought was that was no problem because there was no lock in the door. I should have been able to just pull on the door and it would open. But there was one teeny weeny little problem. The door jamb was messed up and when the door closed it couldn’t be reopened by just pulling on the door with my hands. A part of the door jamb was keeping the door from opening inward. Guess where my toolbox was? OUTSIDE the restroom! All I had was that little flat tool and my hammer. I tried and I tried to get that door open, but it wouldn’t budge. I was quickly becoming a drowned rat in that restroom. I started worrying about someone stealing my toolbox while I was stuck inside the restroom. I worried about my dispatcher wondering what I was doing and why I hadn’t finished that simple job yet. I tried to cool off by turning on the water in the sink. Except no water came out.

            There was a parking lot next to where I was stuck. I got down on my knees and peaked through the opening in the door where the lock was to go. I waited for someone to walk by. The first person was a man in a business suit. I called out to him from that opening and he just gave me a look like, “Montrose is one weird place.” He quickly walked away. A woman walked by and I tried to get her attention and she just looked at the restroom door and said, “Pervert”. I was getting dehydrated and I was getting a tad on the scared side. Finally, a man came up to use the restroom and I said, “I’m a locksmith and I’m locked inside here. Can you go get the manager?” The guy gave me a look and then burst into laughter. However, to my great relief he did go get the manager. When the manager, our customer, came back to the restroom I said, “Hi! I’m the locksmith and I’m kind of locked inside here. Can you please count to three and then give the door a good swift kick for me?” I quickly stood back from the door and the manager kicked it open. I jammed a big screwdriver under the door to ensure that it would not close again. I must have looked like something from a horror movie because the manager gave me a look that was somewhere between “What on Earth?” and “It’s the creature from the black lagoon.” The first thing I wanted was a cold drink of water. But they didn’t sell water in bottles then and this was an old gas station that didn’t even have a soda machine. I noticed a chicken place across the street and stumble over to it just to order a Coke. But they were out of everything except for Big Red Strawberry soda. I ordered one and gulped that puppy down as fast as I could. I didn’t care what flavor it was by then. Cold and wet was just fine.

            Well, I went back to the restroom at the gas station and within 30 minutes I had the door and door jamb beaten into submission. I installed the new lock, wrote out the service bill, and got in my van which thankfully had air conditioning. Did I learn anything that day? Yes indeed. I never again worked on a door without first making sure it couldn’t close by itself on me. But the truth is I was not trained enough to do that job at that time. I was limited in my knowledge. Fortunately, I got through the ordeal and picked-up some experience along the way.

            About 18 months ago I was on a date with a lady who wanted to go to a particular restaurant in the Montrose area. It had been quite awhile since I had been in that part of Houston. As we were driving to the restaurant, I realized we were going to pass by the location of that old gas station. Of course, that station has been long gone. It’s one of those convenience store/gas station combo places. As I drove by, I thought of that day so long ago. The restrooms were inside and air conditioned and probably didn’t even have a lock. They probably sell every brand of bottled water and soft drinks around. Things change and so have I. Whenever I consider doing something now, I think about it before I do it. I want to make sure that I can do the job. Limitations are just a part of life and Clint was right. You got to know your limitations.

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