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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Held hostage when a problem developed with Barbara's new laptop (not in a basement in Beirut, just in our house, waiting for the tech expert to show up), I remembered a story.

--I loved that car but, really, it caused me a lot of grief.
--Not as much as mine.
--No, I can’t compete with the grief you had with your Volkswagen. From what you told me, it never recovered after getting whacked by that Cadillac in a mall parking lot. A Volkswagen Rabbit and a Coupe de Ville. Not a fair matchup.
--Before the accident or after, it was a mess. A lemon.
--Mine wasn’t that bad, but it was in the shop a lot. I took it to Germans, of course. They loved to talk about the good old days, before Volkswagen cheapened zuh product. Back ven it vas beautiful, but now not zo good. I remember standing around listening to them talking German, wondering which camp they'd served in during zuh var. But that’s probably not fair. They were good enough guys. I think.
--Were they good repairmen?
--Dieter and Hans. Yes, I think they were good. But who knows? It didn’t seem to matter. Eventually, I started taking the car to a different shop, on the east side. I guess because I was going out there more often, when my mother got sick. That’s where something like what’s happening with your computer happened to me. I remember the car had to be towed. I went out one morning, and it wouldn’t start. Usually, that’s the alternator. I rode in the tow truck, and we took the car to the new shop. My mother met me and drove me to her house. I stayed there all day.
--Doing chores, I’m sure. Fixing things, making much needed repairs around your mother’s house.
--Don’t be mean. Probably, I was grading blue books. All day I waited, then they called. “You’re good to go,” they said. “All set.” Mother drove me back to the shop, and left. I went inside and wrote the check. I was effusively grateful and all the rest of it. Out I go to my restored VW. I get in, turn the ignition. Nothing. I try again. Nothing. I check to be sure they’ve given me the right set of keys. Yes, they’re my keys. I go back inside to the service desk. “I can’t start my car.” Can you see the weary look on the cashier’s face, Barbara?
--I believe I can, yes. Was it another German?
--No. I think they were Irish mechanics. But the cashier was a woman. When I say I can’t start my car, a world-weary, I’ve-seen-it-all kind of woman behind a desk is looking up at me. I remember she took a drag on her cigarette—everyone in the car business smoked back then. She put her smoke back in the ashtray, then picked up a phone. “Bert, the black VW.” I could hear her voice echoing out in the shop. I remember being extremely grateful she didn’t say, “Bert, the guy with the black VW doesn’t know how to start his car.”
--Oh, honey, this is bad, this is—
--Stay tuned, it gets worse. I can’t believe I never told you this before. I think of it as a pivotal moment in the later phases of my psychic development. Or decline.
--Really, I feel for you already.
--Yes, well, Bert comes out the back, wiping his hands, smiling. I remember how this contrasted with the world-weary woman’s look. Bert seemed happy. I’m sure having another customer too dumb to start his own car reconfirmed for him the truth of human existence. Think how often something similar must happen.
--Eventually, it would make you cynical.
--Eventually, it would make you decide to steal from such dumb customers. But anyway, Bert’s smiling, wiping his hands. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go see what gives.” Out we go. It was summer—I forgot to mention that, it’s important. The window on the driver’s side was rolled down. When we get to the car, Bert reaches in through the open window, turns the key. The engine starts right up. “Maybe it stuck for you the first time,” he says, or something like that. Still smiling, he walks away, leaving me next to the quiet purring of my restored VW.
--I’m sorry, that had to be—
--Hold on. I get in. I sit there in my sunny car, listening to the motor. Bert by now is back inside fixing some other booby’s car. I just couldn’t accept what had happened, so I turn off the ignition. After a few seconds, I try the key. Nothing. I try again. Nothing.
--Uh oh.
--No, it was a good moment. It really was. It revealed to me one of two things was in charge of me and my car. Either all my years of scoffing at paranormal phenomena were being proved wrong, the arrogant hubris of one more godless secular humanist—
--I thought you believed in God.
--Not the way you’re supposed to. Either I was wrong about ghosts and poltergeist and all the rest of it—or, something obscure but still within the laws of physics was at work. I mean, not at work. I’m very proud of what happens next.
--Good, honey, I’m glad. It doesn’t seem promising.
--I carefully reviewed all that had happened in the last two minutes. I ruled out the car being possessed. I dismissed the possibility that Bert and his fellow mechanics were inside at a small window peeing in their pants, watching me. I removed the key from the ignition and got out. Standing exactly as Bert had stood next to the open window to replicate Bert’s actions, I reached in, inserted the key, and started the engine. Know what it was?
--Not a clue.
--Sitting. Some little shit of a sensor located under the driver’s seat was shorting out every time I sat in the car. See? Another computer story. I went back inside. Bert was no longer smiling, he just wanted to get rid of me. I made him come back out, I made him open the door and sit in the car. I made him try the ignition. He failed. I motioned for him to get out. I put my hand out for the keys and he handed them to me. I reached in, and in the next second restored my manhood, my majority, my birthright. After he fixed the sensor, I drove away. Made whole. Resolved, hardened, tested.
--I think we should open a good wine. We should celebrate.
--One of the things I love most about you is your unfailing sense of occasion.

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