As no story should have a preface, I begin with a preface. I recently wrote on my frustrations with a current situation involving my car (See Gambler, No. 4 below). That situation is yet to be resolved, and, finding that annoying experiences in life are often best written about from the third person perspective, I narrated what (basically) happened. This story is basically true and I hope does a fine job of narrating my great skepticism of mechanics. It is not to say that a man is necessarily cheating another simply because he is a mechanic; it is to say that no one truly, at the end of the day, has any idea what’s going on with their automobiles, and we are left helpless at the whims of these mechanics. I am not yet convinced that they know what is going on either.
The Old Man slinked into the shop, dodging a snarling dog and other odds and ends strewn throughout. He thought about sitting down but saw the chair was stained and tattered; the dog continued snarling when he heard a gruff voice.
“Don’t mind Ruffus; he’s da watch dog. What can I do fer ya?”
The man was at least three-hundred pounds and carried himself much like the shop itself—hands smeared with oil, shirt tattered and stained, hair strewn from end to end.
“It seems my car is not functioning properly. Seems to be overheating,” the Old Man feebly said, fearing the worst.
“Sir, it could either be—” and here the voice became so muffled and conquered by technical mechanic jargon that neither the Old Man, or the large man behind the counter, knew what was said. When the large man was finished, he raised his haphazard eyebrows as if awaiting a response.
The Old Man, however, from fear of looking like a complete ass, responded with an airy “yes” and nodded.
The large man behind the counter grunted, or snorted, asked for the vehicle information. He said it must be the—again completely incoherent—for “that tends to be the issue with those cars,” concluding with a sideways, reassuring, thought not very confident, glance at the Old Man. If the Old Man was honest with himself, he would have said that this man had little to know idea what the problem could be and would not know even after much searching under the hood. Nevertheless, he had few options, for he could not drive the thing, and leaving the car, he called a cab and explained he would be back in the afternoon.
When the Old Man returned to the shop that afternoon, he was greeted with a man who looked as if he had either just woken up or put in three days work.
“Well?” said the Old Man.
“She’ll run like a beaut now, sir! Got her all spiffed up fer ya! It was the T— AND the S—.” Only the first letters were understandable, but the large man pulled out two rusty objects that fit in well with the rest of the decor in the shop. “See here,” he continued. “It were stickin’.”
The Old Man looked closely and saw nothing. He put his glasses on and still saw nothing. He pulled out his magnifying glass and saw nothing. To be fair, he had no idea what he was looking for, but the large man was so confident that “this piece was bad, real bad, needed fixin’ ‘mediately” that he went ahead and took his word for it. He could do nothing else.
“Those cars, man,” the large man went on, “Do they blow their—this time the word was mixed with a cough—so easily. You need one just about ev’ry three yars. ‘ncredible.”
The Old Man resignedly paid the large man, got in his car and drove off.
About five minutes later, the Old Man was back at the shop, the hood was open, and the large man was scratching his head in confusion. The car had overheated.
“The blazes!” he said. “Confounding! Unbelievable!”
The Old Man was not reassured.
“Sir, now it could be the—the Old Man thought he heard “alligator”—but—the blazes!—I wouldn’t think so. Man, fer yer sake, I hope it’s not what I think it is.”
The Old Man did not like the sound of this.
“Fans runnin’, not real fast though, plenty of fluids, boy! The blazes…”
At this point the Old Man ventured to ask the mechanic if perhaps the two items he put into the car were faulty.
“Sir, no way. Not at all. Impossible. They are NEW. I put them in, Sir!”
“Did I need them in the first place?”
“Sir! Look at this,” he replied, showing him the T— once again. “You see it stickin’? Boy did it need a new one of ‘em!”
The Old Man had no comeback to such rhetoric.
“I’ll have to giv ‘er a flushin’ tomorra, sir. Can’t do nuttin about ‘er tonight. Too late, you see, bout to close up shop. I’ll flush ‘er tomorra and git ‘er all ready for ya, you be sure.”
The next day, the Old Man received a call concerning his car.
“Sir! I cannot fix yer car.”
“Sir it’s gotta be the—what sounded like “thread basket”—there was—here he mentioned an obscure fluid of some type, known only to mechanics—that got mixed with the—another obscure fluid. Boy, ‘em I sorry fer you! Can’t fix it.”
“Oh, okay. Well do you know someone who can?”
“Sir, I do not—no, wait, I do. Tow it to the lube place. They’ll fix it up fer ya. Boy am I sorry fer you! Hate to giv ya bad news.”
In roughly two hours the Old Man was sitting outside of a different mechanic’s shop.
“Sir! Come in out of the sun let’s talk this over.” He spoke rapidly when discussing cars, as if all punctuation from his speech vanished.
Inside this man’s shop was a noticeable difference. The chairs were decent looking and a small television played a football game as men waited on their machines next to a coffee-maker and soda machine. The wall was decked with plaques.
“That’s muh wall,” the mechanic said. “That’s why I’m confident we’ll get her all fixed up for you.”
The Old Man was not so confident, but he left the shop and awaited the call for the news. Two days later, he resumed the conversation over the phone.
“Sir,” the mechanic said. “It’s the not—again “thread basket” was heard—which is good news trust me! However we did find a problem—” here it seemed at least ten different possibilities were rattled off in such machine gun succession, that the Old Man was nearly knocked dead from his chair. “You see,” continued the Mechanic, “the timing belt is loose which means the water pump is not working right and this also means we gotta put in a new water outlet gasket and a new thermostat not to mention two timing belt idlers for that timing belt issue you got as well as a few more items I’ll have to haggle the price for you know and I’ll have to replace some valve covers because they have the minimum amount of leakage on them and if one of these things is not fixed right now your car will either blow up from overheating or will fail on the freeway and it will end with you dying in a fiery car accident and there will probably be children involved and I gots children so I know I don’t want anyone driving around with that stuff going on you know and my wall full of plaques proves this to be the truth.”
“Oh, dear,” the Old Man said.
“Dear is right We gotta get this fixed up for ya sir I know it’s painful to hear but at least its not the—thread baskets—man you got lucky with this one it’s not one thing but it’s about ten or twelve but at least we’ll get you fixed up right because of my wall of plaques you know so I’ll give ya a call real soon probably in two days or so and we’ll get you on yer way you have my promise and you can always look at my plaques if you don’t believe me Two days she’ll be in ship shape.”
Four days later, the Old Man was back at the shop to pick up his car.
“Why do I have to get another thermostat? I just had one put in at the other place,” the Old Man asked, looking at the invoice.
“Those guys they aren’t mechanics they just do piece work they don’t have plaques on their wall so you needed a new thermostat to get the warranty for your parts can’t give you a warranty without new items you know They recommended me but I only recommend myself.”
“Okay… Well I’m ready to go anyways, right?”
“Ship shape man you’re all set she’ll ride like a beaut I think.”
Roughly ten minutes later, the Old Man was back at the shop.
“Yeah, it overheated,” he said with no small amount of frustration.
“Oh? Fifteen minutes I’ll get that cleared up just fifteen.”
The Old Man took a seat in one of the nice chairs and watched a football game, reminded that he was here one week earlier. Roughly thirty minutes later, the mechanic came back with his keys.
“Air bubble nothing to it she’s all ready to go.”
“You sure?” the Old Man asked.
“I’m sure look at my plaques she’ll ride nice have a happy Halloween.”
The Old Man made it home that day. He resolved to go on a bike ride and forget that he owned a stupid automobile. He stayed home that evening and listened to a baseball game, happy with the result; he went to bed rested and content with life.
The next day he took his car out for a ride only to notice the temperature gauge indicate it was overheating.
Written at the Desert Schooner,
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Painting: “The Old Mechanic’s Institute, The Wylde, Bury, 1845”
By James “Clock” Shaw,
Oil on canvas on board, n.d.