Sure, I Got Jumper Cables

by Robert Fulghum

"Jumper cables? You got jumper cables, buddy?"

"Yeah, sure. I got jumper cables."

English teacher and his nice sweet wife, from Nampa, Idaho (as it turned out). In their funny little foreign car. Drove around town with their lights on in the morning fog and left the lights on, and so forth and so on. Dead meat now. Need jumper cables. Need battery. Need Good Samaritan. Need a friendly hand from someone who looks like he knows what to do with jumper cables. And the Good Fairy of Fate placed them in my hands.

Men are supposed to know about jumper cables. It's supposed to be in the genetic code, right? But some of us men are mental mutants, and if it's under the hood of a car, well it's voodoo, Jack, and that's the end of it.

Besides, this guy only asked me if I had jumper cables. He didn't ask me if I knew how to use them. I thought by the way he asked that he knew what he was doing. After all, he had an Idaho license plate and was wearing a baseball cap and cowboy boots. All those kind of people know about jumper cables when they're born, don't they? Guess he thought a white-bearded old man wearing hiking boots and driving a twenty-year-old VW van was bound to use jumper cables a lot. So I get out my cables, and we swagger around being all macho and cool and talking automobile talk. We look under the hood of his rig, and there's no battery.

"Hell," I said, "there's your problem right there. Somebody stole your battery."

"Dang," he said.

"The battery is under the back seat," said his nice sweet wife.


So we took all the luggage out of the back seat and hauled the seat out into the parking lot and, sure enough, there it was. A battery. Right there. Just asking for jumper cables to be laid on it. I began to get worried when the guy smirked at his wife and said under his breath that he took auto mechanics and sex education at the same time in high school and they had been confused in his mind ever since, when it came to where things were and what you did to get any action out of them. We laughed. His wife didn't laugh at all. She just pulled out a manual and started thumbing through it.

Anyway, the sum of our knowledge was that positive poles and negative poles were involved, and either one or both cars ought to be running, and six-volt and twelve-volt batteries and other-volt batteries did or did not work out. I thought he knew what he was doing, and kind of went along with it. Guess he did the same. And we hooked it all up real tight and turned the ignition key in both cars at the same time. And there was this electrical arc between the cars that not only fried his ignition system, it welded the jumper cables to my battery and knocked the baseball cap off his head. The sound was like that of the world's largest fly hitting one of those electric killer screens. ZISH. Accompanied by an awesome blue flash and some smoke. Power is an amazing thing.

We just sat down right there in the back seat of his car, which was still sitting out there in the parking lot. Awed by what we had accomplished. And his wife went off with the manual to find some semi-intelligent help. We talked as coolly and wisely as we could in the face of circumstances. He said, "Ignorance and power and pride are a deadly mixture, you know."

"Sure are," I said. "Like matches in the hands of a three-year-old. Or automobiles in the hands of a sixteen-year-old. Or faith in God in the mind of a saint or a maniac. Or a nuclear arsenal in the hands of a movie character. Or even jumper cables and batteries in the hands of fools." (We were trying to get something cosmic and serious out of our own invocation of power, you see. Humbled as we were.)

Some time later I got a present in the mail from Nampa, Idaho. From the guy's nice sweet wife. As a gesture of grace--forgiveness combined with instruction and admonition to go and sin no more. What she sent was a set of electronic true-start, foolproof, tangle-free jumper cables. Complete with instructions that tell you everything and more than you ever wanted to know about jumper cables, in English and Spanish. The set is designed so that when you get everything hooked up, a little solid-state switch control box tells you if you've done it right or not, before any juice flows. Gives you time to think if you really want to go ahead with jumping the juice. We could all use a device like that between us and power, I guess. It's nice to know that progress in such things is possible--in the face of ignorance and pride. Progress is possible.

Jumper cables? You want jumper cables? Sure I got jumper cables. I can hook you up to Grand Coulee Dam, buddy. Or wire you into Almighty God. Or whatever powers there be. Amen!


For more like this, go to
Click on "Face Value of Smiles"