Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Twenty Minute Oil Change

I began writing this essay while I was going through this stuff, but it took me another two days to get it to where it is somewhat publishable. I think that there is still some stuff that I would like to add, modify, and subtract, but for the sake of a 1.5k word essay, it will do. The title of this essay is "Twenty Minute Oil Change," and it is a recounting of my time at the hitherto named carshop "Qwik Lube". I have changed the name to avoid any sort of legal recourse, and all information regarding the specific sale has been changed.

I am writing this from inside an incongruous amalgamation of various states of disrepair and failure. Qwik Lube is an anachronism, surrounded by hulking bodies of lustrous steel beams and girders that hold within them, like some titanic filigree, lambent windows that reflect the sun, causing the structures to shine like great, princess-cut gemstones. I, on the other hand, am in a squat white, slap-dashed tin structure, marked with the tincture of years with rust, grime, and dirt that pock its outside walls and corners like liver spots and furuncles on an old drunk. A veritable rough amongst diamonds, he looks to be either on his way up, or way down from another epic bender, attempting to forget his embarrassing lot in life. Cast to the gutter, and sleeping off a roiling hang-over, he lays, prostrated among the benthos, carrion, and detritus that swirl and scurry about him, to which, he simply mumbles, “let me be, let me be.”

As a general rule, I try to make it a rule to avoid places anthropomorphized as a miserly drunk. Perhaps that is both shallow and vain of me — if you said so, I don’t think you would be wrong — but I am an indelible creature of comfort. The way I see it, humanity created beds, roofs, air-conditioning, and plumbing so that I don't have to live out in the wilderness among all the shit and dirt and gadflies. Camping is uncomfortable, and so are thirty-year-old rust buckets that are visibly deteriorating, and I am willing to fork over a few extra dollars for the creature-comfort of knowing that I will not be lanced, decapitated, or otherwise crushed by an oxidized girder. With this in mind however, there is a radical difference between “few dollars” and “twenty.” Thus, I approach the double garage doors with a feeling of apprehension, spurred on by the promise of diminution.

The front wheels of my car roll over the black rope sensor laid out in front of the adit, and a bell rings from inside the garage. From somewhere, I hear the muffled sound of a moan, followed by the emergence of a face from underneath a car. The face scowls at me. He looks pissed; he looks like he’s ready to get home. I can’t say I blame him either. It is five-thirty and the shop closes at six. It is kind of a dick move on my part.

Earlier that same day, I was told that I have a “disarming smile.” I try to disarm him. He does not disarm.

When he gets up to my car, he says, “oil change,” and I nod in agreement, but it isn’t a question. I believe that if I had asked for anything more complicated, he would have told me to fuck off. He stands in front of my car, guiding it into the garage. After I park, I remove my keys from the ignition and a hand darts through my open window, mere inches from my face. “Keys,” says a different voice, and I hastily relinquish them. The acephalous hand requests that I wait in the waiting room (where one usually does do the waiting).

I perform my task admirably, grabbing my notebook and tucking a black pen into the crook between my upper ear and temple and leap away from the harried action already taking place beneath my car’s raised hood. The door slaps closed behind me obdurately.

When describing the waiting room, we must use the term “room” liberally. It has four walls, and although the walls did not come into contact with the ceiling, it is essentially room-like. Perhaps the phrase “waiting cell” would be more applicable. The cell is, in itself, an interesting phenomenon partly because of the pungent odor of cheap cigars that entwines itself around the entirety of the dozen square feet of the enclosure. This strikes me as odd not only because of the incongruity of the idea of someone smoking inside a building lined with oil, but because the smell does not permeate any other part of the garage. I am happy to report that I am in solitary confinement in this waiting cell. For this, I am grateful. Although I wouldn’t say I am an agoraphobe, there are not many things as distressing as perfunctory small talk in a confined space with a stranger. Five chairs are backed against the near wall, and I sit in one, and slide another in front of me where I lay down my notebook, and begin writing.

I have discovered the source of the cigar smell. It is being generated by a small air-freshener sitting astride an ancient vending machine. I now find I have more questions than I had previously: What company would manufacture an air-freshener that smells like a Swisher Sweets? Furthermore, what kind of patron opts for the “eau de cigar” over, say, Lavender Breeze, or Vanilla Heaven? Finally, in what kind of musky hell is the aroma of a spent convenience store cigar an improvement over the original stench? These questions I dare not breach for fear of the answers.

I am beginning to realize how awkward I must look — crumpled overtop of a chair, partaking in the entirely emasculating task of writing in something that looks like a diary. The two mechanics are talking to each other, and, as if I am eighteen all over again, I am struck with the sudden fear of being called a nerd; back to the days of high school and college where being caught reading a novel not assigned by a teacher could get one relegated to the ghettos of the “Unpopular Table.” Where anything that you did was scrutinized, tested, prodded, and subjected to a litmus test of “brosimilitude.” Everything must feed into that man-ethos: video games, and slightly delirious, ball-grabbingly uncouth jokes that must be told over and over and over. I hastily tuck my journal away, and go about doing something more mind-numbing and drab: I turn on the boob-tube.

The TV turns on with the satisfying pop of cathode ray tubing heating up. The picture warbles, then the noise drowns out, and gives way to sweet undiluted picture. ESPN, baby. SportsCenter. What’s up with the Phils? In-depth look at the NBA playoffs. Gridiron. Steroids. Sex, sex, sex. Who’s going to win the west? MVP candidates. Stats, scores, analysis. Cold hard facts and figures. Pasty white guys in glasses and bad suits. Women in sex-kitten, business-chic. Sex. Commercials. Beer commercials. Here comes the Silver Bullet. Areolae perk beneath painted-on wife-beaters. Who needs a woman when you have your favorite lite beer? Nutri-system. Viagra. Guy stuff. SportsCenter.

I get lost in the programming. I am so inundated with OBPs and SoGs and triple-doubles and breasts that I almost don’t hear the hood to my car shutting. My car is done, but my mind is still riding the bibulous carousel of cleavage. I open the cell door and walk through, where my friend, the pissed mechanic, is frowning at the checklist in his hands the same way a doctor might check vital charts. I know what he expects — it is something of a ritual between man and mechanic — the obligatory “once-over,” pointing out obscure and seemingly irrelevant gaskets, cogs, and other whatsits. A sign of masculinity achieved and maintained. Cars, sports, tits: the trifecta of testosterone.

I duck from the obligation, ready to get on my way back home to read a book, and write a story. I thank him and enter my car without much more than what is deemed polite, but I would not even know where to start in this charade. I drive away from the waiting cell. I drive away from the drunk man, mumbling in basso profundo, "let me be, let me be," as he nurses his aching soul, drowned by cirrhosis, aching with priapism, and lost among vainglorious virtues that are inherently empty and mindless.


  1. My favorite Nerd, Looking forward to more.

  2. Write something your sister can read...

  3. I have to say, to this day I have written nothing quite so depressing as what I can only say is a genius observation of everyday life. Excellent!