My Brain Is a Troll

July 23, 2012 at 6:18 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
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“I can do that for you.”
I honestly didn’t even think about it at the time, but afterward I just couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth.
My ex had called asking about the status of child support for the month.  It’s a fair question–sometimes I don’t always have all of it, and she’s pretty good about working with me.  This month I wasn’t going to have “all” of it, in the strictest sense of the word, but in August I would be able to make that up–
“The reason I ask is–”
She explained that her car needs a fuel pump.  Our older son is a mechanic and *could* do the work; however, they’ve had a falling out over ridiculous family stuff.  Typically, a fuel pump is an expensive endeavor.
Well, hell–I had done my fuel pump recently.  Logically, therefore, I am experienced in this kind of thing.
“I can do that for you.”
It was too late; I was in.  We arranged for me to get the car from her second job that night–a Friday–so that I could start on it early Saturday morning.
My question was this:  so the fuel pump isn’t out completely–the car still runs?  Yes, apparently so.  Very rough.  Be careful on the drive home.  The thirty-five mile drive home.
She had already bought the fuel pump (which was four hundred dollars, for crying out loud).  To take it to a shop the total for parts and labor would have been eight hundred.
So I get up early Saturday and I start to work on it.  Okay, not really.  I got up around eight am.  I had intended to get up at six.  I didn’t actually start on it until eleven.
To change a fuel pump in most modern cars, you have to take out the fuel tank.  So, you have to jack the car up and then drop the tank down.  I eventually got the car up on three jack stands:  The back end raised up, and then the front of the side I had access to I raised so I had room to get under the car.  The front left wheel was still on the ground, and I had it blocked.
Okay.  So, to change a fuel pump you have to drop the gas tank, because the fuel pump sits inside the gas tank.  It’s held up by four bolts, but that is typically not the problem.  What *is* the problem is the other stuff connected to it:  the gas lines, the return lines, the wire harness, and so forth.
The fuel-line related crap will be my death, if I’m lucky.
I did dick around quite a bit on this job.  It shouldn’t have taken me this long–maybe my heart wasn’t really in it.  After I agreed to do it on Friday, I made that call to my girlfriend to explain to her what I had agreed to do.  She was cool with it.  I suppose.
But I worked on it and worked on it, and took a break and worked on it some more, and took more breaks.  I’ve skipped over a lot of what I did, partly because it was long and boring, and partly out of embarrassment over my incompetence.  Here it was after 430 and I finally got the fuel tank down and out and completely separated from the car.  By 530 I had the gas tank up on the tailgate of the truck so I could work on it, and had the old fuel pump removed.  After only 6 1/2 hours, I was exactly at the half-way point, and ready to begin re-assembly.  But–but it shouldn’t take as long to put it together as it did to take it apart.  A big part of that was the learning curve:  I was pretty experienced with this now.  What possible curves could I be thrown?
BY eight pm that night, I was ready to call it quits.  I was also ready to set the car on fire and climb inside it.  Why would I do that?  Why, to keep from getting mauled by bears, silly.  Simple logic.
Things had not gone well.
The new fuel pump had gone easily into the gas tank.  The gas tank was close to empty now, having gone through three separate siphoning sessions.  I had five small gas gans with a combined 8 gallons in them.  Now it was ready to go back in.
There are actually three pieces to this:  the gas tank, the heat shield, and the brace.  I don’t understand why they are three separate pieces, except perhaps to make my life more difficult.  I believe everything happens for a reason, and this is the reason for most things.
I have to pry, bend, push, force, twist, and finagle the pieces up into almost-position, going around miscellaneous parts like the exhaust.  Once in almost-position, I got the jack and the plywood to hold the tank while I fastened the bolts.
  “Talk about ‘bolts.'”
Talk about bolts?  Okay.  Four bolts hold the contraption up.  Two of them, toward the front of the vehicle, are easy to get to and don’t cause a problem.  The other two, toward the back, are assholes that mock me with an arrogant smugness that I expect from metric bolts.  Which these are.
They are in a position such that parts of the suspension apparatus blocks a direct path to them.  I can’t go straight to them with a socket and extension.
I did finally find a way with a universal joint–a tool for sockets that swivels about in all directions like a sexually confused screwdriver.  I get the tank attached.  Things are moving along swimmingly.  It’s about 630 now, and all I need to do now is attach all the little wires and hoses and connectors and things.  Easy-peasy.
By 8 pm, I had more than given up.  There is a level past demoralized.  Three steps beyond having the wind taken from your sails.  This was cellular defeat, a resignation on a glandular level.
I mean, how could–how does–why…why is this always my fate?
I started with what expected to be the hardest part, and at least I was right about that.  The other parts were in plain sight, but the tube to the fuel filler and corresponding filler vent line were positioned in a slightly inaccessible area, because why make shit easy?  In relative terms, the fill tube *was* easy, taking only 20 minutes of excrutiating and painful manipulation of a rubber tube onto a plastic circle.
Now for my descent into madness:
I would learn the name of the next part through my research online.  It was the “filler vent line.”  Obviously, the gas filler tube needs to be vented.  Okay, then.  I remember I had disconnected it, but I certainly don’t remember how, although I was certain there was a clip involved.  This right here, this little U-shaped piece of plastic.  It fits in the union somewhere–probably those little holes–and keeps it together.  That makes sense.  I’ve done this before.
Picture this:  You’re laying on your back, looking up.  That’s how ALL of this is.  Straight up there is the gas tank, and the filler tube and the filler vent tube.  They come from the gas tank, to your left, and go to your right and disappear.  What is blocking your view of them is a large and immovable piece of the car’s suspension.  I have no idea what it is, but I named it the “goddamn sonuvabitch.”
There is also a bar, or rod, that runs through there, that I’ve affectionately nicknamed “the other mother-fucker.”
Between the goddamn sonovabitch and the other mother-fucker I had an inch to play with.  An inch in which to stick a finger, which almost an inch thick–and push a clip into a tiny hole.
My fingers are beat to hell right now.  I tried to push the clip in.  I tried to balance it between my fingertips.  I tried a pair of pliers.  I tried another pair of pliers.  I tried these long, skinny tweezers I have.  I really thought those were going to work.
I tried a ball of tape, stuck to the tweezers, to hold the clip in the right position.  Didn’t work.  I took a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil and forged it into a tool to hold the clip at the exact angle I needed, bent to go around the goddamn sonuvabitch and past the other mother-fucker.
None of it worked, until I did the last thing.  That accomplished something.
The clip would occasionally fall out of whatever I had it in, trying to position it at this connector so I could push it in.  It would fall, bounce off of my glasses and then hit the driveway, which I was laying on.  I would pick it up, curse, and try again.  In fact, I was cursing a lot.  I was cursing so much that I had given up on American and had switched to Mother England.
“Bloody ‘ell!  Limey cunt!  Bugger off!”
All of this until the last time it fell.  After the last time it fell, I felt a sense of calm and serenity.  Because, after the last time it fell, I was done for the day.
It was almost 8pm, and starting to get dark.  I had already run the extension cord and the trouble light out to go under the car with me.  The concrete was no longer blisteringly hot, and although I had been protected for the most part by lying on sheets of cardboard, my legs and shins were scraped up and red from traversing the concrete, and the back of my head was tender and sore.  I had no idea if it was sunburn or friction burn, from dragging it on the concrete as I moved about under the car like a large, tempermental salamander.  Without a tail.
And so it was that I was making my last heroic effort to insert this clip into this connector, and it slipped from my grasp and it fell.  It didn’t land on my face.  It disappeared.
I put my hand up between the goddamn sonuvabitch and that other mother-fucker and felt around on top of the goddamn sonuvabitch.  I didn’t feel the clip, but I felt something else.
A hole.  Fuck me.
I crawled out and got out of the way, and then I took the light and looked around on the ground carefully to be sure it hadn’t fallen somewhere else.  No such luck.
The little bitch of a clip fell into a hole in the top of the goddamn sonuvabitch, and there was no way in hell I was going to get it out.  I am done.
I make that call to the ex.  Yeah, she has to work Sunday morning, but she can get a ride.  I promise to get it to her while she is at work.
But, of course, I’ve broken promises to her before…

Sunday morning I wanted to get up very early and start on it.  However, Saturday the thing had beaten me to death physically as well as spiritually, and I wasn’t anxious to climb back into the ring with it.  It was going to be a hot day today, also; Saturday I had been lucky that it topped out at 90 degrees.
I decided to have a look at it in the light first, and then head up to NAPA auto parts.
Now, the difference between auto parts stores may not be obvious to everyone–especially women.  But let me tell you that the difference is as nuanced and as important as the difference between, say, different clothing stores that a man might look at and say, “There’s no difference.”
If you just need some shit for your car, go to Autozone.  Or Advanced, whichever you happen to be pointed in the general direction of.  If they don’t have it at one of those, try O’Reilly’s.
If you need something hard to find, or you need a question answered, go to NAPA.  That’s where I went.
One guy working, and he’s busy.  I look around, then go stand in line.  When he gets to me, I explain what I need.  He takes me to the end of an aisle that I guess I didn’t look at.  I’ll start here, and figure out what I need.  Thanks.
I sat on the floor for about 15 minutes.  I’m working on a Chevy, but what I need looks to be marked Ford.  Plus there are different sizes, and the differences aren’t very big.  If I had the one I lost, I’d know what size I need.
If I had the one I lost, I wouldn’t need one.  Logic is a bitch.
I considered buying a package of all three sizes.  Find the one I need.  Make it work.  Fuckin’ aye.  Or…maybe there’s a better way.  On my way out I said to him, “I’m gonna go look again at what I have–I’ll be back.”
My plan (yes, odd to think that I actually have one, isn’t it?) is to grab the camera and the light, get underneath the car, pull the line back and try to get a good picture of it so I can figure out what kind of clip it takes.  Also, my plan is to undo the bolts holding the tank and let it drop out of the way–maybe I can get my hand up in there between the tank and that other mother-fucker, and find the clip.  At the very least, this room should allow me easier access, and I’ll be able to put the clip in.
So I do all of this–get the jack, undo the tank and lower it, get the camera and the light.  I’m all up in there now, and I can see, and I have room–this is going to work.  The two line pieces are together, but I know they aren’t connected.  I go to pull them apart to see–
They won’t come apart.  Well, wait, now.
I put the camera down, and hang the light.  I have both hands free and try again.  THE MOTHER-FUCKING-GODDAMN SONUVABITCH FUCKING ASSHOLE FUCKING BLOODY CUNT MOTHER OF ASSHOLE BASTARDS is connected.  Without a clip.
I hate epiphanies like this, when they come at my expense.  It’s like Bryan from yesterday morning left, and left the other Bryan to struggle with the shit all by himself.  Then–now–Bryan from Saturday morning shows back up with some coffee, acting all non-chalant, and has to explain to the clueless Bryan what happened.
“Oh, yeah, dude–don’t you remember?  That connector for the–what did you call it?”
“Filler tube vent line.”
“Yeah.  I left before you looked that up.  The connector for that didn’t have a clip.  You don’t remember?”
“No, asshole.  I showed up after you did that.”
“Oh, yeah.  Right.  Yeah, no clip.  You push the line in slightly, and squeeze the outside of the connector, and it slides out.  Easy-peasy.”
“I will rip out your fucking pancreas right now and eat it.”
“Why didn’t you just call me?”
I still wasn’t completely convinced.  After all, I am a liar.  I pulled on the connection again, from both ends.  A little play, as stated by spec, but connected.  “I’ll be Darwin’s adopted sister’s bastard child.”
I started to put it all back together, while pondering this issue:  I had that clip for *some* reason.  It *does* go somewhere.
Although it looked to be easy going the rest of the way, I wasn’t going to get my hopes up for any reason–because both the car and my other self conspire against me.
I got the tank bolted back up.  Again.
It looked to be just a couple of electrical connectors that snap back together, and these two gas lines.  Hey, one has a clip and the other one doesn’t.  Just drill a hole in my ribcage and fuck me in it.  Tendlerly.  Make me feel like a woman.
The connectors look identical, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.  I took the clip out of the one that had a clip.  Now I have something to match it up to.  I went back to NAPA.
When I pull up, there are no customers.  The one guy working by himself is having a smoke outside.  He  starts to put it out.  Pointing to my own smoke, I say, “Hey, you don’t have to rush off on my account.”
While we finished our fags, I gave him the abridged version of my sad story.  “So now I have a clip to match to.”
We look, but we don’t find exactly what we need in the packages.  However, above them are pieces of gas line with connectors, with clips.  They range in price from 16.99 to 24.99.  He said, “I think this is the one you need.”
He takes it up to the counter, opens the package, and pries it out.  It is an exact match.  Wow.
He said, “Here, just take it.  I’ll write this off as a defective return.”
“Really?  God love ya!  Thanks, man!  Thanks!”
I was still too…cautious–or skittish, actually–to get my hopes up for the entire project, but this part was going well.  Back under the car, I put it all back together.  Okay, then.  I pulled all the tools out from under the car…but there was no way in Somalia I was going to put them away just yet.
My girlfriend came out and we did the test–I listened at the gas tank while she turned it over.  Yes, I hear the fuel pump.  Of course, it didn’t start and I didn’t expect it to because all the gas was sitting outside the tank in my gas cans.  I poured the gas back in the tank.
Then I go to start it.  I don’t expect it to start right away because it needs to crank to get fuel back into its system–
It started up before I could finish that thought.  Awesome.
Okay, now I can take it down off the jack stands.  And take a shower.  And then return it.  It was now about 1230.  I had fucked with it for about three hours today, total.  Plus twelve hours yesterday, unless I’m bad at math.  Wait.  Nine hours yesterday.  If I had been smart, I would have been done after 5 hours.
Hell, if I had been smart, I wouldn’t have done the job in the first place, now, would I?
The book says this is a two hour job, maybe three.  That’s being a professional mechanic with all the tools and equipment available.  I’m not a professional.  All I’ve shown is that tenacity is not always a virtue.
I returned the car to my ex, and she was very happy, very grateful.  I guess that’s worth something.  I know I saved her about 400 bucks, and that’s a lot to people like us in days like these, when we live not quite paycheck to paycheck.  I’d rather have her on my side, have her cut me some slack when it comes to child support and so forth.  Maybe earn some respect from the kids for it.  I don’t know.  I don’t know why I did it.  I didn’t really think I was that good of a person–
And I still don’t.


The Day the Van Stood Still

August 7, 2011 at 12:07 PM | Posted in Journal | 3 Comments
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Detroit bought this 1998 Ford Windstar Minivan (3.8L) from my buddy Kearbey, at the same time we bought the Saturn. The Saturn is a different story.
The van has been pretty reliable. It does this odd thing on occasion where it acts like the door is still open, so the interior light will stay on (until you hit 17 mph) and the door chime will go off (EVERYTIME you’re going under 17 mph, like at a stop light, or stop and go traffic) but it doesn’t do this all the time. M–mostly when it’s cold or wet or both.
The alternator went out on it over a year ago, and it was then I had a supreme appreciation for the vehicle: it was phenomenally easy to get to and replace. Front brakes? Been there, done that. Twice. I’m not sure who is harder on the brakes…

Right at the end of June–right when I started my new part time job at the liquor store–I was driving the van to my bank job. When I tried to leave, it wouldna start. Fuck.
I came back later to try a few things. No luck. I called my son Mike, who is a mechanic. He told me something to try that made sense, even though it involved a big-ass hammer. Based on the symptoms I described, he said “Fuel pump.” I cringed, but agreed.
He said the motor in the fuel pump has a weak spot, and it just happened to stop on it. If I hit the bottom of the gas tank with a hammer while someone tries to start it, it could jar it enough to get past that and start working. I might be able to get by and not have to change the fuel pump for a while–it may never stop at that point again.
We tried it, with Detroit at the key and me at the hammer. No luck. Fuck.
Detroit has towing on her insurance, so we had it towed home. However, we waited a week until we got paid, because the way it works is, you pay for the tow and then they reimburse you.
As it turned out, the tow was completely free because the first 20 miles are covered, and it was only 17. So we wasted a week. Fuck.
In the meantime I drove the truck and got rides to work and finagled various things to get rides. We were down to one vehicle.
So I priced fuel pumps. I thought it would be 200 bucks or more, but I found it for 125. Cool. I wish I was certain it was the fuel pump. I was about 95% sure. I tried to get someone to come out and at least hold my hand through it. I gave up, bought the fuel pump, and started the process
Of course, it wasn’t easy. I’m not only not a mechanic, but as it turns out, I don’t play one on TV, either. Plus, if you’ve read the news, the entire Midwest is in the grip of massive heat wave. Between working two jobs and trying to find a cool time to do the work, I was have a hard time. On a Sunday when I had to be at work at 11am, I got up at 530 and worked on it for several hours. I didn’t get it done, but I made progress.
You have to disconnect the fuel tank and drop it down because the fuel pump is inside the tank. Again, fuck.
As I said, I’m no mechanic. But I’m willing to tackle anything. Tenacity isn’t always a virtue. Hell, the simple connectors for the fuel lines had me scratching my head for a while, until I figured it out.
Finally, I get the connectors. That was the hard part. The tank comes down and comes out easily. It’s made of plastic, and there isn’t much gas in it. I get it up on the tailgate of the truck, change the pump, and I’m good to go. I get it back in relatively easily, because although I’m stupid, experience helps and I’ve been here before. I get it all back together, check the hookups, reconnect the battery, give it a crank, and–
It doesn’t start. Fuck.
I try several times, for a few minutes. I’m getting nothing here. It’s cranking, but not getting any gas.
Maybe it wasn’t the fuel pump after all. Fuck. At that point, I was ready to give up. All the wind, she came out of my sails. Combine that with the heat, and I didn’t touch it again for a week.
I called a mechanic guy I know, Pat, who is an old friend of my dad’s. And by old I mean he’s about 75. He told me a few things to try. Okay. I was ready for another attempt. I was going to analyze it carefully, and narrow down the possibilities.
First, let’s see if the fuel pump is working or not. The simplest test is to open the gas cap and listen for it to whir right before the engine cranks. As I recall, that was the one thing that led me to believe it was the fuel pump in the first place. I had Detroit come out and crank it while I listened with the gas cap off.
Sure enough, I heard the fuel pump.
Sure enough, the fucking thing started.
Well, I guess that’s…I don’t know–a victory, maybe? That was Saturday. Of course, I go to test drive it, and the brakes are mushy.
Well, it was low on fluid before, and I had a leak somewhere–I figured it was somewhere in the area where I had changed the front brakes. Maybe something loose. I’ll look it, add some fluid, bleed the brakes–
I added fluid, and was still not getting pressure. I added more, and got nothing. I filled it up. Still no pressure. What’s this? Oh, brake fluid has sprayed all over the underside of the van.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I jacked it back up to investigate. It looked like it was in the steel brake line underneath the fuel tank. Did I damage one putting it back in? It seemed likely.
I decided to write all this down–now, at this point–to help me back up and regroup, and collect my thoughts and gain some perspective. No perspective yet, but I do have one hell of a headache.
We’re not up to the present yet. Sunday, I think it was, I again wake up early and have several hours before I go to work. I drop the tank again, and get at the brake lines. It actually looks like they are rusted or corroded behind the gas tank. It make sense–in the open spaces they can drip dry, but behind the tank, any moisture is going to be retained longer and cause corrosion. So, at least it wasn’t my fault, in the strictest sense of the word. Sunday night I took them out.
Monday night after work, I go to the auto parts store with the lines in hand, looking for replacement. I end up having to piece them together. Each one is over 9ft long. One is about 9 1/2, and the other is over 10. They are short-handed at the auto parts store, so the girl lets me go in back and worry out how to piece them. It’s hot–their air isn’t working–and I don’t quite know what the hell I’m doing even though I think I do.
I get the parts, and the special tool for bending the tubes. By the time I get home, it’s dark.

I decide to take Tuesday off from my day job. I call my boss and leave her a message Monday night, and then call Tuesday morning and talk to her. She’s cool with it. By the time I called–9am–I had been up for four hours working on it. I managed to get one line pieced together, but not the way I intended. There is some slack in the line. WTF? Okay, I’ll just bend that out of the way. That means I have to go back to the parts store for another piece. Fuck.
So then I’m trying to put together the other line, and something isn’t quite right. There are two lines running to the back, one to each side. The junctions for each of them TAKE A DIFFERENT SIZE FITTING. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
My receipts show I made four trips to the auto parts store that day. Although, for the last one, I got money back. Finally, I get it all back together. Looks like nothing left but the bleeding. That was about 10 or 11 in the morning.
Well, one thing led to another, and I didn’t get out there to bleed them until about three. Man, it’s hot. I get things set up, and then Detroit comes out to step on the brakes for me. We do the one on the left, and then it seems fine–it seems tight. We do the other back one just for the hell of it. Just fine.
Well. Maybe–just maybe–since it was all in the back brakes, the front ones don’t need to be bled. I’ll just take it for a ride to see. I start it up and roll back.
There are no brakes whatsoever. I can’t even stop rolling down the driveway.
I put it in neutral, let it roll to a stop. I had to turn the wheel to go into the street, more or less avoiding cars parked on the side. I put it in reverse, and back up a bit, and pop it in neutral. Still going. I feel like sticking my foot out. I pop it into drive, and I go forward. That’s the way I inched myself back into the driveway.
I get out and look under the car. Brake fluid is dripping promiscuously from three or four or seventeen different places.
I decided I would go out there again in a few minutes and do some damage control.

I ate lunch, got more brake fluid, and tackled it again. Either it was cooler, or I was getting used to the heat. I don’t want to become acclimatized to this shit.
I have a routine now. I jack up the back end. Again. I put the jack stands under it. Then I jack up the front left…again. This gives me more room from front to back. Once in a while I think about being crushed under the weight of the vehicle, and I wonder if that’s preferable to the mechanical discomfort I’m feeling. Christ, my head hurts again.
This is the third time I’ve done this part, so by now I’m pretty good at it. I disconnect the lines from the filler, disconnect the gas tank lines, and lower the gas tank just a bit. It looks like it’s just leaking in two spots: One of the connectors at the very front, and one just under the gas tank. Everywhere else seems good. That’s good news and bad news. The good news is, some of it is okay. The bad news is, I can’t just throw in the towel.
By now I’m a little more organized, and I have a plastic tub that has all the tools that I use for this job, which is surprisingly few: Fifteen millimeter socket for the tank straps, a nine for the hoses and also the battery, a small flathead screwdriver for some of the hose connectors, and for the lines themselves, a 13 and a 10.
Those little plastic pieces connecting the fuel lines–I’ve pulled them out and put them back in so many times–shit, one of them broke. It was shaped like a U, now it’s shaped like a J. Fuck.
Well, these are the new ones that came with the fuel filter. Do I still have the old ones? Yes I do. Okay.
From the places brake fluid is leaking, I am able to tighten the connections. Okay, maybe that’s all it was. I push the gas tank just a little (it’s supported by the jack with a piece of plywood on it) and I can get to that connector and tighten it a bit also. Hmmm. Okay. Anything else? Really? That seems to be it. I start to put it back together. The last part is the gas lines.
Oh, remember that plastic piece that broke? I don’t want the other piece to be stuck in there before I put it back together. I tilted the line to have a look–
And gas pours out, onto my face, and into my eye.
Why does good shit never happen in slow motion?
Ouch, this burns a little. In what would be probably my smartest move of the day, I went in the house immediately, limping because of the gas in my eye, and called for Detroit as I went to the kitchen sink and hit the cold water.
When I tell her what happens, she kind of over-reacted. She got the phone book and called poison control.
They said to flush it out with cold water. Check. For 10 to 15 minutes. Uh, check? The best way, they recommended, is to get in the shower and just stand there with the water going in your eye. It doesn’t have to be cold; it could be “comfortable.” How comfortable is water spraying in your eye that has gasoline in it?
The answer is “not very.” But I stood there, and I took it. I felt like I was being water-boarded by some really incompetent foreign agents. Poison control said they would call back in an hour and see how I was doing.
I’m fine, but I still have to go out there and put it back together. And then probably take another shower.
I put it all back together, and it’s now 8pm. In the summer, it’s still light out, but I have about 20 minutes of daylight left. I fill the reservoir, then run the trouble light out and call Detroit out to step on the pedal for me while I look.
The spot up front is still leaking. So is the spot under the edge of the gas tank.
“Okay. That’s good. You can stop.” I roll out from under the van once more, and start to gather my shit up. Detroit looks at me. “It’s still leaking. In two places.”
By the time I come back in the house, I have collected my thoughts and gathered a strategy. “Okay–we have to have the van fixed by Monday.” Monday is when she starts back to work. “I only work at the liquor store Wednesday night and Saturday night. I have Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday day, and all day Sunday. I am not defeated.

Thursday night there was an after-work function. I drank about 4 Margaritas in hour, then went home and fell asleep. Being old sucks. Friday after work I should have worked on it, and I was about to, I swear–
It started to rain. I’ll just wait.
Saturday morning, I gets up bright and early, see, planning to have a productive day beating this bitch down. Let’s analyze this: It’s leaking in two spots. Maybe that union is bad, back there…and maybe this other one is just bat-shit crazy and I should replace it.
Let’s see–which auto parts store have I not shown my face in yet?
Well, it doesn’t matter. In one trip, I stopped seven times at five stores. I learned a lot, but here is a synopsis:
*Engineers that design cars don’t give a flying fuck about the people who may have to work on them. If they tell you anything different, they are lying sons a bitches.
*Forget standard and metric. There is also a difference between Japanese metric and European metric. What’s the difference? Fuck you, that’s the difference.
*Everything on cars since sometime in the 80s is metric, except for when they want to fuck with you. Three-eighths of an inch is just a little bigger than 10 mm. Seven-sixteenths is right between 11 and 12 mm. Ask me how I know that. Go ahead and fucking ask me.
I finally have the last piece I need: a union that is European metric. Okay, then. I get back home and I bend the new lines that I have–
Because I had to buy some new lines because there is also a difference in the kind of connectors. There is flare tip and bubble tip. Whatever kind you have is going to be the wrong one.
–and I put it back together. It seems to go well. I have Detroit come out and step on the brakes while I look for leaks.
Success! Is it? Is it really? At this point all I hoped for was to not be mauled by a bear while I’m under the van.
I don’t have enough time to put it all back together. I have to take a shower and go to work at the liquor store. That was Saturday night, last night. I put everything away, and I’ll put it back together Sunday and drive it. I hope.

Sunday morning, I get up early and piddle around a bit. I’m not anxious to see what the gods of mayhem and automotive repair have planned for me today. By mid-morning, I’m on my back under the van.
Uhm…it looks like a drip or two in two spots. Uh…
I tighten them up at the same time that I ignore them. It ain’t easy, unless you’re me. I put everything else back together–the gas tank that I had lowered a bit and moved out of the way, and other random associated things that are probably important to the functional well-being of the vehicle.
Okay. Ready. Detroit comes out once more, and I bleed the brakes, also keeping an eye on the unions for leakage. So far, so good. The back is done. In between each wheel, I add more brake fluid.
And by the way, just adding brake fluid is a chore. See the first thing I learned about working on cars, above. The reservoir is under the hood, underneath crap, so I can’t pour directly into it. Funnel? No, a funnel won’t work either. I have a strip of metal about 18 inches long bent into a trough. I pour fluid on one end, and it pours into the reservoir like a Roman aqueduct.
I bleed the front. All good. All done. All right.
I’m going to take it for a test drive. I pick up the tools, but optimism is one thing that I’m not prepared for, so I don’t put them away. I lower the car to the ground, then get cleaned up a bit–face, arms, glasses, and the back of my head. I’m ready.
I get behind the wheel and I check behind me for obstacles that I could roll into and cause me to die in fiery crash. Here’s hoping.
I turned the key. Whir-rr.
It won’t start.
Of course, it won’t–it’s sat for about a month, running only twice when I knew I had it “fixed” before. I grab the keys to the truck and jump-start it. Okay. NOW are we ready to go?
Detroit is there to see me off. “You wanna come with?” I asked. No, she does not. She doesn’t want to take any chances and besides, she heartily dislikes when I needlessly end a sentence with a preposition.
I start to back up. I hit the brakes. It stops. Wow. I back up more. I hit the brakes. It stops again. I leave. My mission is to test drive it, put air in one of the tires that is low, and put some gas in it, because gas prices came down in the last couple of days.
I did all of this with no problems. My mission was a success. Not only was gas the cheapest I had seen it in several months–3.27/gallon–but as an added bonus, the check engine light that had been on for almost a year was now off.
It’s the little victories that keep you from going on a shooting spree.

Things That Go Bump In the Night

April 26, 2011 at 9:10 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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The 80s…

Maybe if I wait long enough to tell this, the statute of limitations on any alleged crime might have expired.
I hope.
It was just another typical night in the spring, and I was working.  I may have gotten high, too.  But it was a nice night, I was having a good night, I was in the groove, and things were clicking for me.
Maybe I like to take a hit or two off the one-hitter during a long Saturday night close.  But I also took a couple of mini-thins—caffeine pills—to get me through the night as well.  A nice buzz and a loud stereo—now what could be better?
I don’t know.  Maybe a mirror.  I have a mirror.  Maybe I just need to use it once in a while.
I’m on this run…I’m not going to say where.  It’s pretty late.  It’s past 10 pm.  I park on the street.  My e-brake is a little weak and there isn’t much of a curb, so I shut the car off.  I had parked right in front of another car.  It looked like a classic, like an early 60s Rambler or something like that.  It wasn’t mint, but it looked pretty good.  Okay.
I get up to the door before I see that this is not the house.  Fives and sixes look similar in some typefaces.  This was actually an eight.  At least I didn’t bang on their door and wake someone up like I did last week.
Well I’m not going to get back in the car to go down three houses.  I walk.  I deliver the pies and walk back to my car.
When you do what I do—take a lot of deliveries in the course of a night—that’s a lot of times in and out of the car.  You get into a routine, and much of it is automatic.  Of course, sometimes you unknowingly take shortcuts in your routine.
I got in, toss the bag over, and write the tip down on my pad.  I had turned the key and stepped on the clutch first, however.
And I had ever so slowly rolled backward.
I heard as well as felt the dull thud.  I looked up, and behind my panicked face in the rear view mirror I saw the Rambler, right behind me.  Oh, fuck.
Oh, and panic I did.  I looked around quickly, I unplugged my cartop from my lighter, I started the car and took off.  And I did not turn on the lights until I was two blocks away.
I kept looking behind me.  Yeah, I chose that time to start using my mirrors.  In it, all I saw was me.  Man, did I look guilty.
I never heard anything about it; I never got in trouble for it.  I got away clean, except for my conscious.  Luckily I have a short attention span and a bad memory.
But it feels good to confess, as long as I don’t have to make up for it.

Nice, Round Numbers

April 4, 2011 at 7:59 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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After last night, I needed to do the math to see if what I felt intuitively (meaning I didn’t pay attention) was real.  It feels like I’m not making any money at the Hut.  Worse than that, it seems like it is costing me money to go to work.  Unless I get a job at a strip club, I’m not really interested in paying for the privilege.
But how much is it costing, and how much am I making, really?  Get the calculator out, kids.

Let’s use nice round numbers to make this easy:
Let’s call it 20 miles to Pizza Hut, one way.  So that is a 40 mile round trip.
Let’s say the van gets 16 miles per gallon.
Let’s call gas 3.50 per gallon.  As I sit here, it’s about 3.549 per gallon.
I’ve gone back and forth on this other number, trying to determine how far I drive per delivery, on average.  Some are longer than others, and if you get a double you cut the distance in half.  But as an educated guess, I’m going to say the average round trip for a delivery is 6 miles.
Pizza Hut gives drivers 1.10 per run.  Yeah, they bumped it up when gas went up.  When gas was around 3.50, they gave us…a dollar.  There’s a 2.50 delivery charge, and the driver gets a dollar of it.  From my understanding of the corporate mentality, I’m surprised that they didn’t raise the delivery charge to 3 bucks.  And then give us 1.10.
Another “experiment” they tried is fucking with our hourly pay.  We should be getting tips, so logically, they shouldn’t have to pay us as much when we are driving.  So they cut our pay when we’re delivering from 7.25 to 5.25.  It’s a complicated scale, so when we come back from a run and cash in, we are at the higher 7.25 rate.  That’s minimum, by the way.  Let’s say, if we’re lucky, we spend our time 2/3 to 1/3 driving to in-store.
In that time, we’re going to take 8 deliveries.
Call the average tip 3 bucks.
Salary is going to be 7.25*1 for our time in the store, plus 5.25*2 for our time driving, for a three-hour shift.  That’s 17.75.
Then, with tips, we’re going to make 24 bucks.  Add our 1.10 per run.  Fifty dollars and 55 cents.  Rock on!
50.55.  That is 16.85 an hour.  That’s purty good.  Two shifts like that is the 100 bucks extra I need every week.  Sometimes I make more.  Sometimes I make WAY less.  Oh, and I forgot about taxes and so forth.
Lately they schedule more drivers than we need, so we end up tripping over ourselves and waiting for deliveries.  In a perfect world, in that same three hours I would take 12 to 16 deliveries and never be in the store for more than a minute at a time.  More runs equals more tips, but also more miles and more gas used.  Pizza Hut operates under the erroneous suggestion that customers want their pizza incredibly fast.  This is, of course, a completely inaccurate and miscalculated parameter, but they have to have something measurable for which they can dock managers’ bonuses.  The truth is that they don’t necessarily want it fast, they just want an accurate estimate of the time it will take.  This is not an imaginary numeric.  This is based on my 25+ years in food deliver, so I know what the hell I’m talking about.
But wait.  How much does it cost to go to work—and then drive once I get there?
Okay, first, the round trip is 40 miles.  Then for the deliveries, six times 8 runs is 48 miles.  Forty and forty-eight is eighty-eight miles.  Eighty-eight divided by sixteen per gallon is 5.5 gallons.  Five-fifty times three-fifty is 19.25 for gas.
That seems about right because I throw a twenty dollar bill in the tank every time I drive, just enough to keep it off empty.
Now that 50 bucks per shift doesn’t seem so impressive.  Minus gas, and that leaves me with a crumpled up 30 dollar bill.  Divided by 3, and that’s 10 bucks an hour.
More importantly, it’s 30 bucks for four hours out of my life, including travel time.  And after taxes, it’s going to be less.  They don’t take out much, but it isn’t much to begin with.  I can make more money by sitting still and not spending any money.  I can break even by taking a nap instead of going in to work.

This realization stings a bit, because it’s like I’m stupid all over again, and had to figure this out.  But—
I’m not going to work there anymore.  Not another shift.  I can’t.  I can’t afford to work there.

The Year Of Living Dangerously

December 20, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment
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2010 has a been a rough, rough year on us here at the homestead.  I’m not complaining, I’m just going to enumerate them.  I’m not blaming anyone–whose fault would it be?  And I’m not looking for sympathy, either.  Not for this devil, anyway.
We started off in January–New Year’s weekend, in fact.  That was when our beloved dog Mac died.  That was hard.  The first dog I ever really liked, the one that showed me what it was to have a dog.
Shortly after that–and this ran all the way through the spring–Kim was having a problem with her shoulder.  She went to physical therapy, which didn’t work.  So she had shoulder surgery, and then more physical therapy after that.
I’d like to say it was an uneventful summer…oh, except I got my car repossessed.
One of my good friends had a death–her fiance committed suicide.  Worse for her, I know.  But it was a tragedy, and it continues to touch our lives, as I help her cope, give her a ride to work, and hear people talk behind her back about what a whore she is.
In the fall, we were going to go to a memorial service for one of her uncles up in Michigan.  However, that was Kim’s first Crohn’s flare-up and her first time in the hospital.
A few weeks later, she was in the hospital again.  This time it seemed worse, the flare-up.  This was all September-October.
In November, Kim’s boss died in a car accident.
In December, the same night she went into the hospital again, my Aunt Gloria died.
And now this.
Kim fell on the ice yesterday and broker her hip.  She had surgery, and she’ll be off her legs for 6-8 weeks.
Of course some little things–I started a part time job and quit, and started another one.  Always a little stress there.  My oldest  granddaughter moved to Texas.  At first she thought she was pregnant, but she’s not.  She’s still getting married.  My oldest grandson is in drug rehab.  Another grandson broke his jaw in September.
My daughter was having anxiety problems, and chipped a couple of teeth–we just got those fixed at the dentist.
I have some financial problems and some tax problems–the usual–  Hell, I had to make the decision to let the car get repo’d in order to keep the house.  I’m trying to get some answers for my sister about a judgment against her and filing for bankruptcy.  Et cetera, ad nauseaum, ad infinitum…

On the one hand, there’s not much else that can go wrong this year.  On the other hand, there’s still time left…

The Raven

October 4, 2010 at 6:39 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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I thought there was an underground railroad, for cars. If you get upside down on your loan and can’t pay it, and to keep the finance company from repossessing it, I thought you and your car could escape through the financial underground railroad and escape, and be free, and live forever in happiness, and freedom, and open roads. I thought there was a place you could go where you didn’t have to fear having your car taken from you in the middle of the night by The Men in Black. The Repo Men. The Raven…
I also thought that having a luxury car was supposed to be a joy, a thrill. A never-ending automotive orgasm where I furtively spurt 5W-20 motor oil as I take a hard right turn and say, “Wheeee!”
I reminded myself just the other day, when I was missing Nigel and wishing I had kept him–and I do wish that–that Nigel was getting a bit long in the tooth. He was getting older and had some miles on him. He was still quick and spry, but you could tell that when you weren’t looking, he was nursing his aching joints.
We put him out to pasture–quite unexpectedly, I think–and I miss him.
Having the Mercedes was exactly like having a love affair with a younger, exotic, foreign woman. At first–at first it is exciting and fulfilling: The the adventure, the night life, and the jealous glances of lesser men all added to the thrill of wrapping myself in this expensive, luxurious beauty.
But there is always a price to pay.
And often, that price is actually money. I have recounted my financial problems with the Mercedes–how I couldn’t even afford to pay the personal property tax on it to license it, for starters.
Even working on the car was like being with an exotic foreign woman. I didna understand the language she spake; and when I puzzled it out, I had a hard time relating it to what I needed to do to please her.
Just figuring out how to change the windshield wipers was an adventure. Changing the oil for the first time was an epic tale of misunderstanding, stupidity, and frustration.
But that may be all in the past. This torrid love affair, this scandalous experiment in European couture is over. If one can no longer pay for the services of madame escort, then madame escort shall bid you adieu.
Like a poorly-done spy thriller, her people tried to blackmail me, and then they double-crossed me, see? I ignored (or perhaps forgot) their demand for payment, and as their patience wore thin they just took it! They took my money! They absconded like common criminals with money from my account! Extortioners!
As Bugs Bunny famously said, “Of course you realize–dis means war.”
But I guess I am glad they did that, because what it did was brought to my attention the fact that I could no longer afford this sordid affair with German engineering. Maybe if she didn’t insist that we go to the most expensive restaurants and hotels…
I couldn’t afford her, and I started to resent her for it, and it showed. The sweet Fraulein got a taste of what middle-class America is like: fast food trash, mud, and the wrappers of cheap cigars. She was starting to feel used. Vindictively, I felt she deserved it for what she had put me through. Talk about high maintenance.
I held off the calls for about a month and a half. They were really starting to sweat, I think, wondering what I was doing to their little Germanic princess I was holding hostage. Finally, I answered the phone.
Tactically, of course, she measures her words. But the question was, did I want to continue this game, this charade, this cat-and-mouse chase? No. I was done.
The woman was still trying to leverage me when I told her that I am ready and willing to give up my hostage. Where do you want me to make the drop?
Her tone changed from stern but friendly to hostile and accusatory. “You knew what you were doing! You knew!”
“Indeed,” said I.
But it was a game of he said-bitch said. I say they didn’t have authorization to withdraw funds. She said I did approve it, and she herself handled the transaction, because she told me if I couldn’t make the payment by the end of the month to give her a call back.
So now she’s my holla-back girl? Even if that is true…I don’t explicitly recall saying, “Yes, take money out of my account.” On the recommendation of my personal banker (and everyone should have one), I closed the old account and opened a new one. Instead of needing a new debit card, they simply attached the card to my new account.
And not just because I work at the bank at which I bank. My personal banker (You know, he’s just a glorified teller that has a wood grain cubicle off to the side instead of standing behind the counter. And he was the next one available when I went down to see him. Still, that makes him “my” personal banker.) said that whenever there is an issue like this–some breach of security or private information–they recommend closing the account and opening a new one.
That happened back in August. The week I was on my useless vacation, they withdrew the money from my account on Wednesday. That just happened to be the day *before* I got paid, which was Thursday. So they put me in the hole.
I didn’t check my account until the next week, and by then it was too late. Since I’m petty, vindictive, and passive-aggressive, I approached this with a new, calculated strategy. I refused to answer the phone when they called. And they called often. A few times per week. The funny thing–the odd thing–is that right after they would call my work phone and it went to voice mail, my cell phone would ring. My brand new cell phone with a new carrier and new contract and new phone number that I had not given out to ANYONE. How did they find my number? Oh, I know how they did it. I’ve watched Veronica Mars; I know how this works.
But the man leaving me messages on my phone was different and had a different tone than the woman calling my work phone. It made me wonder, really, was it just a coincidence?
In a very stern tone that was meant to indicate “You’re in trouble,” the man would say this: “Today is September 27th. A file has come across my desk with YOUR name on it. A decision must be made concerning this matter. It would be better for all parties involved if you were a part of that decision that needs to be made. Call my office at blah-blah, blah-blah-blah, blah, extension blah-blah, before 4pm Pacific time today, September 27th.”
Yeah. Notice how they never *said my name*. It’s a new phone number for me. I don’t identify myself by my full name on my voice mail–hell, I might not use my name at all, I need to check–so am I supposed to presume the message is for me? Not on your life. Hell, for all I know, it could be one of those identity theft-phishing scams.
But during that time it also gave me time to assess my financial situation. I have pages of budget spreadsheets figuring shit six ways to Sunday, color charts, bar graphs, pie charts–and all they do is tell me in a variety of interesting and colorful ways how broke I am.
No matter how I did it, the number that I was in the red every month…was curiously similar to the amount of my car payment. There was just a point where it clicked with me. I had been looking for ways to make more money–sell blood, sell semen, sell my body–and looking for ways to cut my bills, but *that* bill I never conceived of being able to reduce.
But I could eliminate it completely.
By eliminating the car payment, reducing my car insurance, and going from a big phone plan down to a cheaper one (I’ll explain that in a moment), that puts me in the realm of not being in the red every month. Maybe not “in the green,” but out of the hazard.
We also changed the phone plan. Again. Out of desperation. We had been with–let’s start at the beginning. I was with Sprint when Detroit and I first met. We got together and went with Verizon. Last year, I think, we switched from Verizon to Sprint…for two weeks. Then we went to AT&T. I thought we were getting a good deal–but Christ. Detroit and her son and I, unlimited data and text, and 700 shared minutes *should* have been about $120 per month. But it ended up being about 184 per month, when you add on late fees and all this other stuff. Taxes. Things like that.
So I owe them money now, because we just dropped them like a bad transmission, and went to Cricket. Alex joined his Grandmother’s plan, so we don’t hasta worry about him. Detroit pays her Cricket and I pay mine. Thirty-five bones per month, unlimited text, unlimited voice. And nothing else.
I could get data and web and other crap for another 10 bucks a month, but fuck it. I never used the internet on the phone before. The only thing I can’t do is text photos. I think I’ll live. So our phone bill went from 180 to 70, and *mine* went from 180 to 35. Fucking sweet. Even if it was just the right amount, call it 120 bucks. The car payment was about 275. Four hundred, easily. When I redo my insurance, it’ll be less as well.
I wonder–should I get full coverage on my truck? It is paid for. Regardless, insurance for a ten-year old truck should be cheaper than the insurance on a 10 year old Mercedes.

When my handler finally transferred me to a repo case worker, he was more polite. He explained some of the particulars, and offered me some other options, but that only served to firm up my resolve. First of all, I paid 10 grand for the car. I know I overpaid right there-I bet the car was worth only 8, maybe less at the time. But then factor in my bad credit and what they chose to ream me for on the interest rate–
And by the way–a year later I was able to refinance my house, so how bad was my credit *truly*? But the ganked me on that as well. So, Juan tells me that I’ve made 23 payments–that’s over 6300 dollars–and I still owe over nine thousand. Based on the year and miles of the car, it’s probably worth about 4 grand, he tells me.
It’s the beginning of October, so the car would probably be sold at the end of the month. At an auction, they aren’t going to get anywhere near the four grand it is supposedly worth.
And good luck getting that out of it with a cracked windshield, a trashed interior, body damage, needing engine work and a tune up…oh, and surprise!–A big honking computer monitor rolling around in the trunk.
So by January I would hear from their lawyers, and be responsible for the balance due, which they could garnish my wages or put a lien on my house. Hmmm.
Is it the truth or is it a tactic?
Don’t know, not sure, and I’m a little concerned. Juan did ask me about my bills. I said, with my house payment and child support, I can’t afford the car. That’s the whole point. Can’t afford it. “How much do you bring home a month?”
“About 2 grand,” I answer.
“How much is your house payment and your child support?”
“Eleven hundred and five hundred.”
“How much are your utilities?”
“About four hundred.”
Yeah, cowboy, that adds up to two thousand. Not much there to garnish, is there?
Here’s hoping.
Juan faxes me a form to sign and fax back, for voluntary surrender. But I wanted to make sure, so I emailed my lawyer-friend, and I haven’t heard back from him yet.
Last night–or this morning, at 215 AM–I hear a knocking, gentle knocking, at my chamber door. Actually, first I heard the dog bark. Then I heard someone talk to the dog. Then I heard some other muffled voices. Then someone knocked on my bedroom door. “Someone is here to take the car.”
Really? Really? At 2 am you want to do this? Really?
He was a smallish, short guy in overalls. He seemed slightly taken aback to see my large frame come through the door in the middle of this cool October night wearing only knit shorts and nothing else. I mumbled something about why they couldn’t do this in the daytime. His excuse–echoed by the unseen guy in the truck–was that they tried to call and leave a message. Sure they did. Sure.
I trodded out to the car and grabbed my Pizzarama Hat from the back seat and my lighter from the dash in front. Damn luxury car–the cigarette lighter never worked. I looked for my sunglasses…but shit, it was dark and I was half asleep. I’ll have to buy another pair for ten bucks.
I handed over the key and walked back in the house. I wonder if I was supposed to sign something? Oh, well. As I snuggled back into bed, I heard the truck drive off, followed by the car.
Quoth the Mercedes, “Nevermore.”

Well, Do Ya, Punk?

August 25, 2010 at 4:55 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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  Man, I needs to be getting back on taking care of the ol’ blog, right here.  Sometimes, shit happens.
  And sometimes I just get distracted.
  And now, another exciting episode in the life of Bryan.  That would be me.
  My psychic ability, as you know, is quite erratic.  Naysayers and nonbelievers might go so far as to say that I don’t have any.  But I have proof.  Again.
  For the last several weeks, maybe a few months, I’ve been worried about a flat tire.  Detroit, of course, as a bad tire on her van, and I’m sure that is about to go.  But nonetheless, it seemed to loom larger on my mind–like it might happen to me.
  Add to that my tire tool.  In my garage I have an assortment of tire tools and 4-ways ("Hey, Oldestgenxer, what’s a 4-way?"   "It’s a menage a trois with someone to run the camera.") amounting to several different choices of size, but the Mercedes takes its own special size, and it has a tire tool for that.  Terrific.
  I had to work on the car a few months ago.  What did I have to do?  Something with the brakes, I think.  So I used the specially-included tire tool.  When I was done, I left it in the garage with my tools instead of putting it back in the car.
  Is this enough foreshadowing for you to figure out what happened next?  Today I left work a tad early, all excited about getting started on my one day off in the middle of the week that I planned clandestinely to get a few projects done.  The weather turned a little cooler, the sky is clear and blue, I have some shit that has gone unattended, and the first slight hint of Autumn has energized me–
  I got a flat on the way home.
  Yeah, of course I’m on the highway.  You don’t get flats anywhere else–except maybe on a gravel road.
  I didn’t even get out and look in the trunk.  I knew the tire tool wasn’t there.
  But here’s the lucky part, ladies and gentlemen:  I had a cell phone on me!
  Why is that lucky?  Well, in the last few years, I have been stranded with no phone.  Like the time I hit a deer.  And the time I lost a wheel on the interstate.  But this time, I had a phone.  I counted myself amongst the lucky ones.  Only the lucky ones get lucky.
  I called Detroit, and she was still at work.  I called her son.  With me remotely directing him, he found the tire tool, and then he brought it out to me.
  Meanwhile, I’m sitting on the side of the road as rush hour begins.   There is a roadside assistance service that patrols the metro roads, and I thought if I was lucky, they might come by.  Either they would have a tire tool, or they wouldn’t, and I could make the guy feel inadequate.  It would be a win-win.
  What I didn’t need was a cop to come by, because my plates is expired.  ("Why do your plates be expired, Mr OGX?"  "Well, it’s all
about my battle with The Man.")  
  So right after Alex shows up, a cop pulls up.  Yay!  I’m saved!  My only hope was that, since I’m a middle-aged white guy, I wouldn’t get beaten and/or maced.
  My fantasy was that I could actually tell the cop, "Thanks for stopping because I had a flat, and then giving me a ticket.  Can you taze me now?"
  But that didn’t happen.  Instead, it was a very hot red-headed chick in uniform.  Swear to God.  My fantasy generator switched gears.  She was polite, asked if we were okay–obviously she didn’t want to get down and dirty (or help with the flat)–cautioned us to watch out for traffic, and then she left.  But the signs were there:  obviously, she was digging me.  No ticket.
  Hot damn.  I do believe it’s my lucky day…
  Because my expectations are set pretty low, they are easy to exceed.  On the way home, I stopped and bought a few lottery tickets.

First Car

May 28, 2010 at 10:40 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
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  In keeping with the theme for the blog–and as I was reminded of because I’m attempting to write a damn book–I wanted to write about the individual cars I’ve had.  Also, I heard on a radio show that one of their sponsors (NAPA Auto Parts) wanted people to call in with stories about their first car.  Here is mine…

  I actually had three first cars, so it’s hard to remember which was the "first" first.  My parents had lots of cars sitting around–none of them on blocks, oddly enough.  My first three were the 70 GMC pickup, the 74 Ford Galaxy, and the 73 Ford Maverick.
  But the first one that was mine-mine, my dad got for me.  It was the Maverick.  It was two-tone:  sky blue on top, and rust below the trim line.  Dad bought it from an old man down the road that was a friend of his, old man Heberer.  He wanted to give it to Dad for free, but dad gave him a hundred dollars for it, out of friendship.
  It was a three on the tree–a three speed manual with the shifter on the column, with a 250 straight-six engine.  It had a vinyl interior, of course.  It was a two-door with a bench seat, so the whole bench-back leaned forward to get in the backseat.
  It was my first car that was mine, so I wanted to customize it, and fix it up.  The dream of the car was much more shiny and sparkly than the reality of the car.  I bought bucket seats from some dude I knew at school.  They were dirty and a little torn, but they were in better shape than the bench was.
  After that Dad found me a floor shifter kit.  It was used, so it looked like someone handed me a piece of rusted metallic intestines.  My friend’s dad put it in for me.  Of course, it wasn’t made for that car, so it didn’t line up correctly.  Instead, it did this:
  A three speed shift pattern is an H.  With the shift kit, it translated differently on the floor.  It was…distorted.  It was a tall, skinny H.  Reverse has the shifter knob all the way up to the dash, grazing the left knob on the AM/FM in-dash stereo.
  For first gear, simply drop the shifter straight back, and it traveled in a wide arc almost all the way to the floor, or the hump.  It stopped near the driver’s side seat belt buckle.  If it weren’t for the bucket seats, you couldn’t shift into first.
  Now for second.  Pull it straight up, and somewhere in the middle of the path–near your knee–push it an inch to your right, and continue to raise it.  Second gear has the knob grazing the stereo knob on the right, the one for tuning in stations.
  For third gear, just drop it straight down, where it stops near the passenger seat belt buckle.  Shifting through the gears was much like operating a rowing machine, and anytime I happened to experience some traffic I got a real workout, similar to being on a rowing machine.

  I had my first experience being stranded with a break down in that car.  It was on a very hot day in July or August, back in 81 or 82.  I got on the highway and drove to the mall, 20 miles away.  On the way back, I was only a few minutes out when the car mysteriously died on me. 
  I say "Mysteriously" because I was 17 and didn’t know jack shit about cars.  It had something to do with the engine, I know that.  I pulled over, popped the hood, and looked at, wondering what the hell I was looking at and what the hell I was going to do.
  Lordy, it was hot.  It was really hot.  This was 1982, so it was before Al Gore invented Global Warming, yet it was close to 100 degrees that day.
  I stood there waiting and hoping for a car to give me a ride.  I wasn’t ready to walk, not yet.  After about twenty minutes, a car pull over.
  I wish I could say that the person who pulled over was a hot chick and this was the beginning of a Penthouse Forum letter, but it wasn’t.  It was a guy, a middle aged guy.
  Luckily, this wasn’t the start of some other kind of letter, either.  The man was a project manager at Chrysler–from the Chrysler plant in the St Louis area, in Fenton.  He was on his way to a family reunion in Kentucky, or something like that.  And–what he was driving was the very First Chrysler Lazer off the assembly line.
  Back in 82, this thing was modern.  It was cool as hell, very sleek.  He showed it off to me briefly before we got in.  I wasn’t a prospective sale; he just wanted to brag about his baby.  This was one of the first talking cars:  the origination off the ol’ "The door is ajar" thing.
  He gave me a ride to an exit of my choosing.  In retrospect, I should have chosen a different exit.  But since I was new to driving, I didn’t get the distortion of space-time between driving distance  and walking distance.  I was picked up near the 14 mile marker, heading west.  I should have had him let me off at exit 41, which would have put me a few hundred yards from the truck stop that my brother worked.
  Instead I did the very brilliant thing of having him drop me at the 27 marker, which is the New Baden exit.
  It’s the New Baden exit, but New Baden isn’t right there at the exit.  There, in a heatwave the likes of which we would not see again until Al Gore sets the planet on fire, I walked a good three or four miles.  I walked the distance to town.  I continued, and walked all the way through town.  Then, once I was on the other side of town, I continued to walk towards the tracks, and near there was a house that belonged to a friend of my dad’s.
  They took my pathetic ass in, and from there I was able to get some water, cool off, and finally get a ride.  The guy towed my car–and charged my dad.  What are friends for?  It ended up just needing a thermostat.  I didn’t do the work; I didn’t know anything about it.  It just magically came back to me fixed, and I have no idea how that happened.  I just continued to drive it.
  One day–sometime after that–I started having the oddest problem with the car.  Whenever I would give it some gas and try to take off, it would start to go, but then it would suddenly slow down, almost like it wasn’t getting any gas.
  We looked a couple of different possibilities, Dad and I did.  Finally he decided that it must be the fuel filter or something like that.  We trace the line from the gas tank to the fuel filter, but we never made it to the filter.  The gas line came from the gas tank and went under the trunk.  It was pinched between the leaf spring and the rusted body of the trunk that the leaf spring had broken through.  The forward momentum of acceleration pushes the back end of the car down and pinches the rusted opening against the line and cut off the fuel.  Well, at least we know what the problem is.
  Now, how to fix it?
  This is what we did:  We jacked up the back of the car, pried the leaf spring back through the hole where it belonged, and then got a piece of wood and put it between the hole and the spring, and the got the drill and some screws, and screwed the piece of wood to the floor of the trunk, and put some screws from the spring into the wood, to hold it all together.  It worked for as long as we had the car, until we finally sold it at an auction for 225 dollars. 
  We actually made money on it.

Oh, It Is So On

April 14, 2010 at 9:48 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
Tags: , ,
  So, yeah, as it turned out, I was ripped off bigger than shit.  Saturday morning I approached my car with the gleeful anticipation usually reserved for Christmas or blow job night.  As I rubbed the compound off of the car, it was beginning to resemble blow job night:  This really sucked.
  The major portion of the dent was gone, but now it looked like several minor ripples.  And the guy–let’s call him Guido–had indeed put some small screw holes in the door skin to pull out the dent…about five of them, I think.
  The scuff marks were still there–maybe some of them were gone–and the dent was still there, just different.  The only thing new was the screw holes and what was left of the compound residue that I couldn’t get off.
  The car looks like I have been the victim of a very ineffective drive-by shooting.

  I’m supposed to be getting my laptop back today.  Jim the laptop guy said he swears this is it, no delays, blah blah blah.  At least he had a reason–or reasons–for the delay and it all sounded legitimate.  I do believe him, I do.
  Of course, the last time I talked to him, he did say that this is just a temporary fix, and it will go out on me again.  Seriously, dude?  After all this, it’s not even going to last?  What the fuck?  But I know he did his best and he’s not trying to rip me off.  I think.

  I know that I am too trusting and a bit naive.  Maybe you guys don’t know it, but I know it.  I talk a good game, and I talk shit about how cynical and jaded I am, but the truth is, I *want* to believe in the goodness of all mankind…
  Despite all the evidence to the contrary.
  I have been a sucker before.  Man oh man, have I ever.  I can’t even…

  Well, I’ve been ripped off on drug deals, back when I did that, but that’s natural.  Oregano really *looks* like pot.
  Back with my old girlfriend (and she is old, too!) we got high-pressured into joining some whacked out sales thing.  You pay a high-dollar *membership* to shop at their exclusive *showroom* where you get tremendous *deals*.
  Car salesmen get the best of me, every time.  I’m too timid to negotiate…I’m too timid?  ReallY?  Man, it’s something about their delivery that makes everything seem final.  I need to get up and walk away from the deal next time.  Seriously.  Get up, and walk away.  I know I paid too much for this fucking Mercedes.
  If somebody comes around selling something door to door, watch out!–and hide my checkbook.
  If my credit wasn’t shitty, I would own a dozen timeshares right now…
  If I can read people so well, as I claim, why do I keep getting taken?  I think I know–and I know that it’s happening when it happens, and I let it.  My ex-wife used to get really mad at me about this.  "Stand up for yourself!" she would say.  Or scream.  Of course, when I stood up for myself against *her*, she would say, "That’s not what I meant."

  I really want to believe that the world is a wonderful, idyllic place.  Everyone is nice, and honest, and looks out for their neighbor.  Everyone is friendly and caring.  Everyone has a friendly wave for the passers-by in the street, as they walk from the breakfast diner on the corner to the dime store right there in the town square.  Children ride their bikes in the street without fear of molestation, and everyone works hard to earn their keep.  In the evening, people sit on the porch with a glass of lemonade and gossip.  At night, they all say goodnight to each other as the lights go out.  In the morning, an actual rooster crows at dawn, and the world awakens fresh and anew to the new day, with dew fresh on the lawns and a young boy on a bike tosses the paper in yards, filled with good news and hope for the future.
  I imagine the world to be much like the world of The Andy Griffith Show–except in color, and with wi-fi.

International Trade In The Parking Lot

April 9, 2010 at 10:14 PM | Posted in Riding In Cars With Pizza | Leave a comment
Tags: , , ,
  My day at The Three Jakes started off rough as soon as I walked in the door.  Things weren’t going well here and I had other problems on my mind.  Like most people nowadays, I guess, I had the dark ominous cloud of job insecurity looming over me.  Were they still trying to get rid of me here at the sammich shop?  Was my job in danger at the bank?  When I was coming to work and got off the highway, at the light there were some homeless people that had staked out that area for begging.
  And behind them was the highway overpass under which they lived, I’m sure.  I looked at the squalid conditions and crumbling location with envy; I hope I can find a prime location like that when *I’m* homeless.
  However, after I took a couple of deliveries, things were looking better.  I had willed myself to look past the problems and get a better attitude.  Go me!  About that time I had pulled back into the store’s parking lot.  Another car pulled up next to me with a young couple in it.  It looked like the guy was talking to me, but we all know I can’t hear shit.  I got out and walked over.
  A cute but bored and jaded white trash chick was in the passenger seat, so I leaned in to get a better look at her cleavage.  The driver was a young Hispanic-looking dude of indeterminate origin.  The first couple of times he said whatever he said I did not underfuckingstand him.  I thought he was trying to sell me something.  Cologne, maybe?  How could he tell from *his* car that I smelled bad in *mine*?
  I listened, hoping for comprehension.  No habla…
  Finally I started to piece together what he was trying to communicate.  He spoke with an accent and he was a young thug, but nonetheless he had some salesman in him.  "Listen to me, Gentleman, I tell you what I can do for you.  That is a nice car you have.  I see you have some body damage.  That is a shame, you want take good care of luxury car, yes?  Gentleman, for 200 dollars I can fix that right here, ten or fifteen minutes.  No problem.  What do you say, Gentleman?"
  Si.  Now I get it.  He was trying to sell me something.  It sounded like a reasonable deal.  And the body damage was bothering me.  I never turned it into the insurance.  If you recall, der Kaiser was the victim of a hit and run over a year ago on the driver’s side, both doors.  Not major, but enough to be noticed.  Two hundred bucks?
  "Okay, I see.  Look, my brother-man, I don’t have any cash right now.  You got maybe a bidness card or something?  We could do this next week."
  He was willing to negotiate, but he did want money now and do the job now.  "Listen, Gentleman, I see we can make a deal.  I can fix your car no problem.  I can do it right here in the lot.  How much money can you get?"
  I needed to go low.  "I know I have a hundred bucks.  That’s all I have right now."
  He nodded.  "Gentleman, I tell you what I can do.  I fix your car right here.  You go get a hundred dollars, I fix it, Gentleman, professional.  You know a body shop charge maybe 5, 6 hundred dollar for this."
  Okay.  I can do this.  I’m at work and delivering, however.  I go in the store and there’s a run to Walgreens.  They have an ATM, and I come back with 100 bucks.  I had to pay 3 extra to get my money because it was a foreign ATM.  It didn’t seem like it to me–I mean, it spoke English.  I didn’t realize it was fucking currency exchange.  Those things just piss me off, how they openly rip me off.  I like it to be more discreet.
  I came back and told him I had the money, and he was already pulling the equipment out of the trunk of his car.  His bored white trash girl friend stayed in the car.  He was obviously doing this because he needed money right away–drug habit, or to pay off her pimp?  Who knows?  I’m a little more cynical now, but at the time it was going on I was thinking happy, optimistic thoughts, like he wanted to take her out to a nice dinner and propose, because she just found out she was pregnant.  He was a real go-getter, willing to work hard to make it.  Just two young kids, trying to make it in this crazy world…
  I went back in the store and started to finish some jobs.  In about ten minutes I would go check on him.  Sooner than that, he came to the drive up window.  "You all set, Gentleman.  Car is done.  See?"  Or maybe he said, "Si?"
  We walk out and have a look.  The car was dented on the driver door, below the trim line.  On the back door, it may have been dented, but it was scratched up.  He had it covered with some kind of compound.  A rubbing compound?  Whiskey Tango–
  "Let me show you something, Gentleman."  He took a rag while he talked and rubbed at the bottom edge of the back door at some marks.  "See?  this part, it will come right out when you rub.  Make sure you do that."
  Now came the hard sell.  "Let me tell you Gentleman, the work involved.  I took the dent out, you see.  The braces behind it were broken.  I had to fix those braces.  I couldn’t let that go and have you call me later and tell my I did not do my job.  I had to fix those, sir.  I tell you what, a body shop, they charge so much for that work.  But I have a deal here.  You go ahead and make it 210 for doing this, and we’re all set."
  "Brother-man, I don’t have that.  All I took out was the hundred."
  "Well, we need to make a deal, Gentleman.  This is quality work here.  It’s going to look good.  This is a luxury car, Gentleman.  I tell you it can work out.  How much can you get?  One-sixty?"
  Now I’m starting to wonder if I’m being taken for a ride or not.  All I wanted was cheap body work from an unknown guy driving by in a car.  How can that possibly go bad?  I said, "Listen, Brother-man.  I work two jobs to pay my bills, brother.  I don’t have so much.  I’m working now, but it’s slow so I don’t have too much.  You know?  I can do…120."
  He pressed a bit more.  I want to get my money’s worth, but I also don’t want to give up too much money.  And I don’t want to get ripped off, either?  What if this is still a big scam?  The body work is covered in the compound still, and I have seen no true "finished product" as of yet.
  I said, "I have no more than 130, brother.  This is money I haven’t made yet tonight.  This is all I have.  130."
  "Okay, Gentleman.  This is what we do.  We gonna do this for 130 then.  This is quality work we have here, and I want you to be happy sir.  We take the 130."
  I pulled the 100 bucks from the ATM from one pocket and counted it out.  Then I pulled the other pocket, my Three Jakes money.  I said, "This is not all my money, brother.  This is other people’s money."  I gave him thirty, and my happiness about the whole affair decreased about 30%.
  "Okay, Gentleman, we’re good.  This is what you do, sir, this is important, okay?  You don’t let no little kids touch this, it’s not good for skin.  Leave it on for 48 hours, then wash it off.  Okay, Gentleman?"  We shook hands, and he was gone.
  I stood there, looking at my car.  "Uhm…"
  I thought he was going to take that off.  So I have no idea what it looks like, underneath.  I did look up close at it, and the dent is gone.  But I know he screwed some holes in it to pop it out.  Those are filled?  That could be a problem.
  Also…the paint job is a delicate thing.  Is it going to damage my paint to leave it on there that long?  And what is the purpose of leaving it on there that long?  So he can have a two-day head start to get away?  In a way, it’s exciting–the anticipation.  I think I got ripped off, but I won’t know for sure until Saturday.

  On my way to work that day, I had called Jim, the laptop guy.  He’s had my laptop for nigh on about six weeks now, I think.  There was a delay ordering parts originally, and then another delay that he said was his fault–one of the things he said he could fix was causing it to overheat, and he needed to figure that out.  He had it for about three weeks when I called him again, and he said it’s done, and he has it…but he’s out of town.  He got a promotion that called for some training, and he was in Boston.  Okay.  But why would you take it with you?  Why couldn’t I just go get it from your fat girlfriend?
  The next week, he was still in Boston, but sick.  He had traveled with a cold, and it turned to pneumonia.  Bummer.  Plus, he’s going to be stuck because he can’t travel when sick.  The doctor and the airline but the ixnay on that.  He sounded horrible, and I said, "Well, don’t die on me, because I want to get my laptop back."
  He laughed.  "Ha.  No promises.  Not for a P3.  Maybe if it was a better computer."
  Finally, last Friday, I talked to him and he sounded better.  He said he should be good to travel and he would be home Tuesday or Wednesday.  I didn’t hear from him Tuesday or Wednesday, so this is where we are. I called him Thursday–last night.  No answer.  I left a message full of hope and not at all cynical.
  He has my laptop and the money I paid him up front.  Is he trying to rip me off?  The only reason I think that he’s on the up and up and this is just a series of unfortunate events is that…the alternative is that this is an overly elaborate ruse to go through to steal 120 bucks and an eight year old crappy P3 laptop. 
  Jim the laptop guy is obviously smart and definitely a computer guy–I could tell by the way he talked.  He knew his shit and he talked about shit that was just a touch over my head on occasion, and he talked really, really fast, and he spit a little…all signs of a true techno geek.
  So he’s not a criminal mastermind.  A criminal mastermind would have squeezed me for 120 bucks in the parking lot in a matter of minutes and made me feel good about it, and not leave me any way to find him.

  Oh, shit…

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