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Sunday, April 29, 2007


Ever hear the old phrase 'a day late and a dollar short'? I do most of the grocery shopping. No matter what kind of reminder I come up with, I always end up with a one dollar coupon in my hand, one day past the expiration date. Today, I looked through all the coupons in the drawer before heading out to the local generic, bag your own, Safeway grocery store, Pak & Save. Arriving back at the house, real proud of myself, I go into my writing room; and there, right in plain sight is a save one dollar on your next purchase coupon with today as the expiration date. I've figured out a way I can remember though. I've picked out a shopping shirt for next weekend, and I'm pinning this week's coupons on it. :)

Thursday, April 26, 2007


In 1995, I adopted a kitten out of the rain, who took care of a rat, gave me the incentive to get rid of a crappy customer, and inspired me to write this story about him for my kids. A little girl on the street behind the shop asked me if she could adopt him a couple years after he served as Shop Cat. I'd had him fixed, and all his shots up to date, so I said sure, nobody really owns a cat anyway. I couldn't compete with the benefits she was luring him away with anyhow, but he'd come over the fence to see me for years after. The little girl is a senior in high school now, and came by yesterday to tell me my old shop cat had passed on. His name was Mousetrap, and this is the story I wrote about him as his earliest biographer. :)

The rain and wind shuffled the little gray, black stripped cat from one side of the street to another as he continued his search for shelter. Soaked and miserable, he spotted a huge open doorway and a cavernous looking darkness behind it. He crossed the avenue, narrowly avoiding death by pickup truck. Crouching outside the doorway, he peered in at what lay beyond the opening. Sharp clanging noises and whirring sounds emanated from within as the little cat crept inside out of the rain. He hustled over to the wall where he could make himself as invisible as possible. He remembered the kicks and screams he received from his past search for shelter. The memory of warmth amid his litter now only seemed a vague feeling of well being. Instead of weeks ago, it may as well have been years ago. He watched a dark haired man moving from one car to another, sometimes stopping for only a few minutes, and sometimes longer. When the gray cat heard ringing, the man walked into another room and the ringing stopped. When the man came out of the door this time he spotted the little gray cat against the wall trying to crouch into an invisible ball. The man looked for a second at the cat and then out at the storm still raging beyond his shop's door.

"Well, I guess you don't care much for the weather outside, huh?"

The man walked slowly towards the cat so as not to scare him. He held out his hand in front of him as he walked and the cat shrunk into an even smaller ball. As the man drew near, the cat finally jumped up to run for the door but stopped as a gust of wind blew through the opening. He gave up all pretense of escape and walked toward the man as he knelt down with his hand still extended. Rubbing against the man's leg and purring, the cat put on his best I want to stay inside show. The man laughed and petted the cat gently on the head and neck. After a minute the man straightened and started walking towards the back of his shop. He stopped and looked back at the now attentive kitten and said, "Come on you and I'll see if I have some can milk for you."

The cat paused a second and then followed the man into a doorway which opened into a room at the back left of the large shop. The man opened a small refrigerator door and took out a white labeled can. Pouring some of the milk into a dish he put the dish into a microwave oven and heated the milk as the cat walked around exploring. A bed with only a bare mattress took up the middle of the room with shelving on three walls. The cat heard a ding and he watched intently as the man placed the bowl down in front of him. He sniffed at the warm milk excitedly and then took an exploring lick with his tongue. He then began devouring the milk without pause, purring loudly, much to the amusement of the man watching him.

"You aren't hungry are you? I think I have a box around here somewhere and a pillow to put in it. I bet you'd like that wouldn't you." The man reached down and roughed up the cat's head playfully as the cat continued to eat and purr. Placing a box on top of the empty bed, he took an uncovered pillow and stuffed it into the box. When the cat was finished, the man picked him up gently and placed him in the pillow stuffed box. The cat curled up at once and worked his claws into the pillow as he purred contentedly.

"Hey Bernie, you working today or... hey, where did you get the little mousetrap."

Bernie laughed, "the shop won a beauty contest with the rain storm and here he is."

"You'll never get rid of the little dope now. Well, are you working today or are you cat sitting. I got a car out here looking for a mechanic."

"The only thing your car's been looking for since you owned it Steve is an owner who knows what the words preventative maintenance mean."

"Man, turn that record over will you. If I started taking care of that piece of junk you'd have to stop booking those Caribbean cruises every year."

"Oh yeah, I forgot about the cruises, and of course there's the upkeep on the mansion and the staff. I guess I can look at it but the first thing I'm going to do is pull the dip stick on it and check the oil level." Bernie laughed, as the man clutched at his heart and gasped for air.

"You are a cruel and evil man. Come on, let's get the lecture over with before I get any older."

Bernie looked back at the box on the bed and saw the little gray cat had turned on his back with all four paws in the air and a big Cheshire cat smile on his face. Bernie shook his head and followed his customer out wondering what the heck he was going to do with a cat.

The cat heard the men leave the room but did not even open an eye to watch them leave. His only thoughts at the moment concerned warmth, dryness, and food. He knew he must enjoy this while he could and hope it might continue for at least a few more hours. He fell asleep without further consideration of his predicament.

The little gray cat came awake with a start when he heard the sound of a rasping type sound and looked towards the end of the bed in time to watch the man Bernie pouring something into a large tan container on the floor. He purred at the man and walked over to the end of the bed to look down at the source of the noise. Bernie finished the chore of filling up the new cat box he had just purchased at the corner store and watched as the cat first hung over the edge of the bed and then fell in a heap almost dead center in the pile of litter. His frantic exit threw litter all around the box and he hid under the bed until he spotted a new cat dish full of kitty dry food. This prompted an immediate show of bravery as he charged out to attack the food with vigor. Bernie watched with much amusement as the cat wolfed down the food, purring noisily all the while. The man swept up the stray litter as the cat batted and attacked the broom whenever it came close.

"I think Steve had a good name for you, you little monkey. I'll call you Mousetrap. You cats are too stupid to answer to your names anyway and maybe you can live up to the name when you get a little bigger. I have a rat around here which has taken up residence despite the traps I've set. It will be out to eat whatever you leave tonight because I don't have any food around here and up until now it's been living on eating the bindings out of the books I have in the office."

Bernie stroked the cat as it seemed to listen intently. He knelt all the way down and the little cat climbed up on his extended knee and purred contentedly.

"Anyhow, I don't expect you to do anything right away but maybe you could get rid of it for me later before it eats the wood right off the building. For now, stay out of its way because it might be too big for you to mess with now. What do you think Mousetrap? You want a go at staying here or you want out in the storm again."

Almost in answer, Mousetrap stretched up and rubbed his head under the man's chin and rested his head on Bernie's shoulder. Bernie laughed and picked the cat up and placed him back in his pillow filled box. Mousetrap pawed the pillow a few times and curled again into a ball.

"Well, I guess I have my answer." Bernie turned on a lamp on the near by table. "Take it easy now Mousetrap, I'll see you in the morning." Bernie took a last look at the noisy coil of fur and smiled. He hoped the rat would not mess with this half-pint little cat but he really had no choice as to where to put him.

Bernie looked around on his shelves and found a white stuffed rabbit his son and daughter played with when he watched them at the shop. As he placed it next to the little cat, Mousetrap wrapped himself right around it. Bernie watched him cuddle next to the stuffed animal his kids had called " Rabbie " and then headed for the front door. His day was at an end. For Mousetrap, the night which lay ahead would outline his actions for the next few nights and bring him as close to death as he had come up to this point. For now, Mousetrap slept on.

Mousetrap became aware of a furtive sound and then a crunching noise at the corner of the room where his food dish lay. He silently uncurled as every feline has since the dawn of time and crept slowly to the end of the bed. He glanced over the side towards where the dull lamp light illuminated the room slightly. In the shadows cast by the boxes and shelving around the bed, Mousetrap could see his food dish and the dark gray shape devouring the last bits of dry cat food he had left off eating. It caught his smell or sensed the cat because it turned and rose on its hind legs. No Mickey Mouse here, but a full grown rat. Almost as large as Mousetrap, the rat stared up at him and its eyes glowed red in the dim lamp light. As it bared its teeth Mousetrap kept completely still as his hunting ancestors had done for thousands of years.

Minutes passed as the rat sniffed at the air and stared at its hereditary enemy. After a time, the hunger overcame the rat's caution and it turned again to feed. Mousetrap launched himself at the rat as the rat sensing its error turned. Mousetrap's claws caught at the rat and held but he missed the deathgrip he meant for the rat's neck. Strong and quick, the rat rolled and tore at Mousetrap's face and neck with claws and teeth, finally breaking away from the undersized cat. The rat streaked across the shop towards its hideaway at the front of the shop with Mousetrap close behind. The rat won the race, disappearing into the wall through a crack. Mousetrap crouched next to the opening but the rat moved further and further away. Mousetrap could hear the scrabbling sounds moving upwards away from him. His blood stirred with the hunt, Mousetrap left the hole and walked around the wall, searching for a way up. He found a staircase which led to a storage area above the office. Mousetrap climbed silently up the stairs and over to the corner where he could still hear the rat moving. Mousetrap positioned himself at an opening in the platform over the office. He listened as the scrabbling sound of the rat moved closer, and he quietly shifted his position accordingly.

The rat stopped as it drew near the opening and remained still as it recognized the smell of the cat. Mousetrap, sensing his presence was known, dived forward into the opening and face to face with the startled rat. Mousetrap tried to scramble towards the rat, only to find himself momentarily stuck in the crevice. The rat, sensing Mousetrap's plight, darted forward at the cat's face. Mousetrap stopped trying to free himself and taught the rat why it invites disaster to attack a cornered cat. The rat drew back, bloodied from the cat's unsheathed claws, and retreated into the wall space.

Mousetrap managed to scoot back and free himself. He resumed his original position and looked down longingly at the opening. His blood raced with the hunt as he listened for any further noise. Mousetrap sat for many hours in the dark before returning to his box in the back room. He ate up the remaining food to make sure no other uninvited visitor got to it first.

Mousetrap awakened as the lights in the outer shop began to flicker on. He heard the garage owner moving around in the shop as he turned on his diagnostic machines. Mousetrap got down and walked out to meet him.

Bernie looked down at the little cat and stooped to pick the loudly purring cat up in his arms. "Well, Mousetrap, how did it go last night?" Bernie asked as he stroked the cat. "Did that rat come out and eat your food?"

Bernie walked into the back room, carrying the cat who had shifted in his arms so his belly was exposed for petting. Bernie noted the empty food dish, wondering if Mousetrap had eaten the food or the rat. Putting Mousetrap down on the bed, Bernie refilled the food dish and freshened the water dish.

"I told my wife I thought you were a female, but that by the end of the day I knew you were a male. By this time my daughter Eva had come into the room and asked the leading question I had been waiting for: ' How did you know it was a male' I looked at her with the old dead pan face and said: because you had shown too much intelligence. I told her you were just too smart to have been a female." Bernie began laughing as again he began stroking Mousetrap, who had again flipped over on his back. "Man, did I get the Vulcan Death Stare for that along with the usual ' Oh Dad ' and ' Bernard! '. My son Jim of course laughed, he senses insults to his Mom and sister like a shark senses blood in the water, and then the feeding frenzy begins. Anyway, I have to get back to work."

Mousetrap watched him through the doorway as he opened the large garage door and greeted his first customer. For his part, Mousetrap padded through the now open back door to the shop, which opened into a closed in parking area. The sun had finally come out and Mousetrap curled up on the warm cement.

An hour later when the sun ducked behind some clouds, Mousetrap got up and stretched. He walked over to the back door and peered inside. He saw Bernie lying underneath a truck on a wheeled creeper for working under cars and trucks. Mousetrap walked into the shop and under the truck to take a closer look. He sniffed around the creeper and then climbed on top of Bernie and curled up on his stomach. Mousetrap felt the man's body stiffen as he climbed on; but then he heard the man laugh, as he looked down and spotted the cat.

"Well, Mousetrap, are you here to help?"

Mousetrap purred as the man reached back up under the truck to finish tightening the starter he was installing. After finishing, he rolled out from under the truck with the curled up cat still on his stomach. He petted him for a couple minutes before gently dislodging him and standing up.

"Maybe I better get you your own toolbox and creeper, huh?" Bernie asked the cat rubbing against his leg. He gently shoved the cat towards the back room with his foot. "Tell you what, you little runt, leave the car and truck repair to me, and you nail the rat I got around here."

Bernie grinned and went on with his work. Mousetrap watched him for a couple of minutes. He then walked back to his food dish and ate. After eating, Mousetrap walked through the shop and up the stairs he had climbed the night before. He paused over the hole leading to the rat's hideaway as he sniffed for a fresh scent. Finding none, he walked back to the stairs and started down. He saw a strange man standing near the base of the stairs watching him. Mousetrap started purring and decided to see if he could get some more attention. Mousetrap descended the stairs until he stopped at waist level to the man. Instead of a pet, a huge hand pinned him down flat to the surface of the stair. As the hand tightened around his neck, Mousetrap tried to squirm out from under but could not even move. Mousetrap began to gasp for air when he felt a jarring sensation, and a moment later he was free. He dove down to the floor before looking back up. Bernie had hold of the man's wrist in his own hand, and the man grimaced in pain as he involuntarily went down to one knee.

"You're crushing my wrist," the man rasped through clenched teeth.

"The cat belongs to me, Mr. Johnson." Bernie released the man's wrist and backed up a step to let the man rise to his feet.

"I hate cats," the man said as he rubbed his reddening wrist. "You almost broke my wrist."

"You almost killed my cat," Bernie said grimly. "You don’t look like a man who likes to hurt animals, Mr. Johnson. I guess looks can be deceiving. Please leave."

"What about my car?" the man whined. "You said you would take a quick look at it."

"I think it would be better if you found a new mechanic, Mr. Johnson."

"I'll report you to the Better Business Bureau." the man threatened as he backed towards the door.

Bernie smiled, "the greatest thing about being an American citizen is having the right to do anything you like within the law. God Bless America, Now remove yourself from my shop."

After the man left, Bernie walked over to Mousetrap and picked him up. As he petted him he looked over the little cat for any obvious injury. "You lost me a customer you little runt," Bernie said chuckling, "lucky for you he was what we call in the auto repair business: a bottom dweller. That is someone looking to make me spend a lot of time on his car and pay me nothing."

Walking into the back room, Bernie set Mousetrap down on his pillow and refilled his food dish. As Bernie began scooping out the litter box, Mousetrap hung over the bed batting at the scoop and purring. Bernie stopped scooping and began giving the cat noogies.

"Take that you little dirtball," Bernie said as he turned back to cleaning the litter box. A few seconds later as he shifted the scoop to the waste basket, a paw darted out and knocked the scoop out of his hand. Bernie looked up at the cat who had turned over on his back purring away.

"Well," Bernie sighed, I guess this means I clean up in here... after I put you out."

The End.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mr. Lucky

It happened again for the second time in thirty years, so I thought I’d capture the essence of it in words. I’m sitting at the office desk completing the billing for people due in to pick up their cars. A far off sound of a nonstop horn perks up my ears. It then gets louder, and louder, and louder, as the cursed vehicle owner approaches my neighborhood. I’m already mouthing the ‘please Lord, don’t let it stop here’ mantra, with hands clasped earnestly in front of me. I don’t deserve to have my prayers answered, and the next few minutes provide proof of my suspicion, as the blaring horns pull up into my shop. For those of you not familiar with the dual blasts of vehicle horns when the horn relay jams, it can wipe out conscious thought, as the sound swallows the world.

I stood up from my desk, willing my body to walk out the office door, in the face of gale force sound waves. The owner of the decibel monster launched out of her driver’s seat as if she were a Cruise missile. I could tell immediately the woman had assumed she would escape the sound by getting out of the car. The reality nearly dropped her, as having driven into the shop, the noise multiplied inside my sound chamber repair garage. The woman, dressed in blue sweat-suit, stood near the driver’s side fender, her fists clasped tightly at her chest, elbows in, and vibrating in harmony to the horns. She looked like the guy in the original horror movie, The Fly, where at the end of the movie the detective sees the head of a man and body of a fly trapped in spider webbing, screaming in tiny voice: ‘hep me! hep me!’

Every successful professional mechanic is a yoga expert, although probably very few of us practice the art anywhere but at work. I walked by the woman, frozen now except for the vibrations, and opened her door, reaching in and popping the hood. The car is a 1985 Chevy Caprice. My yoga training, which stabbed through the noise, kept me from running to the front of the car, and searching in vain for an external hood release. Moving again around the woman in a now universe of sound, complete with exploding planets, I felt and found the catch for releasing the hood to the up position. Here, the sound caressed me, and I stood at the precipice of sound, the Lord of sound, the… my training kicked in once again. I reached down to the right and plucked the electrical connector to the horn on my right, and half a universe died at my hand. The other horn begged in my head like Hal the computer in 2001 Space Odyssey. I was relentless. With another grasp and pull, the universe of sound ruptured, transforming instantly into the sounds of silence. The woman and I smiled at each other, fellow survivors of a cataclysmic event, not wanting to ruin the deafening silence with vocal words. After a few moments of soundless euphoria, the reality of East Oakland chimed in gently around us. I closed the hood.

“Thank you doesn’t seem enough,” the woman said breathlessly, breathless from her horn experience, not me; which was just as well, because she was at least my age, and I already have one of those at home. :)

You could give me a hundred dollars, I considered silently, but instead I told her:

“If you decide to fix the horns, give me a call,” I said, handing her a card. “Just out of curiosity, what brought you here to my shop?”

“Pure luck,” she sighed, getting into the driver’s seat. “The sound was driving me insane.”

Pure luck, huh? I thought watching her back out of the shop. Yea, that’s me, Mr. Lucky. :)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Lighter Side Of Dogs & Cats

One of our cats threw up on the carpet I just cleaned, so I had to pull this out of my archives of offbeat poetry I've written. :)

Dogs and Cats with owners who pay dearly,
For upkeep on these parasites yearly.
They work with vigor to deposit all their fur,
On carpets, and clothes, then whine and purr.
Woe to the odors these foul creatures give off:
Wet dog, and cat box stink, to make you cough,
Air so thick with odor of your pet pals' stench,
It colors room air to make your stomach clench.
Ahhh, joy of four legged friend caught short,
Because you left with door closed in your fort.
Nothing more lovely than cat creature to stroke,
Until pet playfully turns, raking you as a joke.
Sporting razor sharp talons, it slices and dices,
Cutting you bloody, just one of its little vices.
Cuddly cat, to soothe you, will bring you a gift,
Of dead rat or silent songbird to give you a lift.
Fret not if cat box deposit stinks up your place,
For your dog will eat it, then lick your face.
Cat scratch fever, kennel cough, and evil fleas,
Will drain your budget with Vet bills and fees.
But pets care not if others hate the sight of you,
They rush to you happily, without even a clue,
Whether you are ugly, poor, or a bitter old boor,
Giving love simply because its you they adore. :)

Friday, April 13, 2007

You're In The Wrong Trade

I wrote these for an on-line trade organization I belong to, and they were a hit, so I thought maybe the couple people who stop by might get a smile out of them. :)

If you think you’re a Mechanic and:

(1) The sight of your own blood bothers you, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(2) You don’t like scars covering ninety-five percent of the visible skin on your hands and arms, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(3) You like getting out of bed without a virtual symphony of sound from your joints, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(4) You cannot refrain from using a hammer on anything your head collides with at work, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(5) You can only tolerate a moderate amount of pain; then come back when pain causes you to smile, because it makes you forget you’re a half an hour over book time, or brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(6) You think you can fix anything on four wheels, and want someone to care, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(7) It hurts your feelings when complete strangers belittle you wrongly, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(8) You lose your temper if you don’t have all the applicable info for a given job, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(9) You hate the smell of hot oil, or rain runoff down your neck, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.

(10) You want recognition for the blood, pain, thousands of hours, and thousands of dollars you put into training and tooling, brother, you’re in the wrong trade.


Thursday, April 12, 2007


“Hey, Bernie!”

I turn back from walking to the 1998 Chrysler Town & Country I’m doing front brakes on. The voice belongs to a real nice guy who stops by the shop to make appointments he never keeps. Since a one man shop rolls along on split second timing most days, this type of customer cannot be tolerated, no matter how nice he is. I give him a little wave of greeting and stop.

“Are you busy?” he asks, looking around the shop.

“Yes, I am,” I answer, not giving out with my usual how may I help you; because in his case, unless he needs to air up a tire, I got nothin’.

“When can I get my Honda in?”

“Well, you’ve already made five appointments to bring it in, only one of which you called to let me know you weren’t coming. That’s two past my limit of no shows. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to find a different repair shop for your car,” I explain with just the right amount of regret.

He’s dumbfounded.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do business in that manner,” I go on, after he keeps standing there silently, his mouth working, but no words coming out. “You need to find a shop capable of taking your car in at a moment’s notice. As I explained before on your other visits, I can’t do that.”

“You’re going to turn away business?” He continues with a stunned undercurrent to his words.

“What business?” I ask with a shrug and a grin. “You never show up for any appointment you make.”

“I told you my job is really messed up. I’m on call…”

I hold up my hand to halt the story I’ve already heard. “I know your problem, and I’ve already explained mine. You need to find a better fit for your car at another shop.”

“Why can’t I leave the Honda off now, and you can look at it when you get a chance,” he’s insistent.

“Okay, leave it now, and I’ll take it in,” I reply. I’m a cement-head; but I can be reasonable, in spite of what my wife says. :) “I’ll get a look at it late tomorrow morning after I finish with the appointments on the books. C’mon in the…”

“I need my car tomorrow morning first thing,” he interrupts, proving he hasn’t heard a word I’ve said.

I laugh, shake my head, and turn to walk away.

“What’s wrong with that?” He calls after me.

I face him once again with my arms extended to encompass the four other vehicles sitting in my shop. “You are not on the schedule. These customers’ vehicles are. Who do I tell they don’t get their transportation back because I’m working on your unscheduled Honda?”

“This is an emergency. Can’t you explain…”

“No, I can’t,” I cut in, letting some of the irritation I’d been feeling since starting this time wasting conversation, seep into my voice. “This isn’t the ER. I just offered you a chance to leave the Honda, and…”

“I’ll come back tomorrow afternoon,” he persists.

“No, Sir, you won’t, because that would be a waste of time. Please go home, get the phone book out, and call around for a shop more suited to your needs. I’m not the only repair shop in the area.”

“So you and I can’t do any business?”

“I have to get back to work,” I reply instead, turning to the Chrysler. “I’m sure you’ll find a good place to get your car fixed, it just won’t be here.”

My Honda ‘customer’ left, and I’m back fixing the Chrysler thinking how I’d be treated by a professional, like my own dentist or doctor if I simply didn’t show up for appointments. They overbook to overcome such instances, but they also have penalties for insufficient notice of a no show. I never cared much for overbooking jobs; because it usually ended up in a mess at the end of the day, so I don’t do it. It appears my Cement-Head reputation will have to remain intact. :)

Friday, April 6, 2007


I answer the phone this morning, and hear a customer’s voice I recognize. He owns a 1965 Ford Falcon. It is a rolling wreck. Three years ago, he blew the engine on it, and had it towed to my shop. I begged him to get rid of it rather than fix it. I made him sign a release form stating I thought putting another engine in his junker was insanity. I kid you not. If a car or truck will be worth less than the repairs needed, the day after the job is done, I believe the vehicle should be junked. He of course ordered the repair and signed the release. Hey, what do I know? Three years later, he’s still driving it around, getting into the driver’s seat from the passenger side; but now it’s blown a piece out of the exhaust manifold, and is shooting flames out the hole. The cracked exhaust manifold was one of many reasons I told him not to fix it, because I couldn’t get another one anywhere in the area. After the engine was installed, I wrote right on the invoice to go on a determined hunt for the manifold, and I would install it for free once he found it. I also had him sign that.

“Bernie, do you remember me?”

Oh yeah.

“I’m the one with the old Falcon you put an engine in. You probably noticed it out in front of your shop.”

How could I miss it. Dogs were coming from a mile away to piss on the tires.

“Yes, I saw it, Sir. How may I help you.”

“I’d like to come by with the keys and have you listen to that exhaust leak. It’s gotten much worse.”

“You sound surprised, Sir. It’s been cracked for over three years. Have you found manifolds for it?”

“I…I’ve just had so many…”

“I warned you the manifolds would need replaced soon,” I cut him off because there’s a million stories in the naked city, and the day is just so long. “Come on over with the keys, and I’ll listen.”

“Okay, I’ll be right over.”

Two hours later, I’m watching blue flame spurting from the passenger side exhaust manifold hole, where a chunk at the rear of the manifold had finally given up the ghost. This is normal, because that’s right where the combustion chamber is. What’s not normal, is the missing manifold piece to shield it. I hurriedly signal for him to turn it off before I end Friday early with a bang.

“The chunk blew out from the back of the manifold,” I explained, pointing out the area with my small beam flashlight. “You’ll have to park it now until you get another manifold for at least this side.”

“How did that happen?” He asks with a straight face.

“Oh, driving three years with a big crack there would do it,” I answer with a straight face.

“Can’t you fix it?”

“Yep, with another manifold,” I reply, having had this exact conversation when I urged him not to fix the car, and after the car was fixed. “None of my local sources have any manifolds for this. They just laughed when I asked. You’ll have to find them yourself. I suggest getting the yellow pages out first, and calling everyone with a salvage yard. Secondly, you could try typing in the vehicle information on the Internet, and see if you come up with something there.”

“I…I have places to go. It’s been making this noise for a while. I’ll…”

“Listen to me,” I interrupt with my Terminator voice, “does the term ball of flame mean anything to you? If you drive this car, it will catch fire and fry you. If you insist on driving it, I will make you sign a paper before I let you out of this garage, saying I warned you this car would catch on fire and possibly kill you.”

He paused for a moment then, wondering if I was serious. When he saw I was, he went into whiny mode.

“But I have no other way to get around. If…”

“Public Transportation, walking, jogging, friends, rental car,” I begin ticking off the options. “All better than burning to death in this car.”

“Couldn’t you find the manifolds for me on the Internet?”

“Nope,” I reply, having been waiting for him to try and put that monkey on my back. “You’ve had three years to find exhaust manifolds for this, and you haven’t even looked. Finding them, and taking the chance they are the right ones is your responsibility. I will still put them on for you for free when you find them; and I’ll store the car here at the shop for free until you locate them, but that’s as far as I go.”

“I just don’t know what I’ll do,” he moans.

“Not die in a flaming wreck for one,” I repeat. “Call me when you find them, or at least the passenger side one.”

Some folks will ignore every single piece of advice I give them, and try to make me responsible for the outcome they choose. I guess it reflects society nowadays in general. Ever get the feeling you’re the only one accepting responsibility for the outcome of your own decisions? It’s good practice for me as a writer. When I get one of these, I write a very concise paragraph on each invoice as to who is actually responsible. The customers, of course, ignore it right after they sign under it; but I have copies, and an invoice retrieval system that would make an Irish monk from the Middle Ages jealous. :)

Monday, April 2, 2007

Hot Seat

A late model Cadillac rolled up in my doorway, and an older lady (by older I mean around my age) spryly leaped out of the driver’s seat, big smile on her face.

“I need you to take a look at something for me,” she said happily, gesturing at her car. “It’ll only take you a moment.”

No, it would only take me a moment to say no.

“Maybe you better explain what kind of problem you’re having with the car, Ma’am,” I skirt the lookie-loo issue for a moment

“Oh, it’s just a fuse,” she grinned, gesturing me toward the back seat, which she had pulled out to reveal one of the fuse boxes. “I already took the back seat off. I just want you to replace one of my fuses.”

“Could you give me a hint as to what isn’t working?” I persisted.

“The heated seat doesn’t work anymore,” she’s frowning, thinking I’m balking from my easily done task she’s assigned me. “I just need the fuse changed, and I can’t get the thing out of there.”

“What exactly does the seat do, not heat at all, or only heat sometimes, or…”

“It acted really weird, heating up, and then not heating,” she cuts me off.

“Then it’s not the fuse. If it were, the seat would not heat at all, ever.”

“It’s not working at all now,” she states firmly.

“The fuse is almost never the cause of an inoperative heated seat, Ma’am,” I inform her with the proper regret in my voice. “If it has by chance blown a fuse, it’s usually a problem in the wiring or heating element causing it.”

“Couldn’t you just look at it to see?” She’s getting upset.

“Sure,” I reply, not wanting to get into a fifteen minute debate over something I know will end with me as the bad guy.

I crouch down, and use the car fuse puller provided in the fuse panel to pop the fuse out in a few seconds. It’s good, and I show it to her, pointing out how I can tell it’s not the fuse. I then pop it back in, and stand up.

“How’d you get the fuse out of there so fast?” She asks suspiciously, moving by me to take a closer look.

“I popped this white fuse puller over the fuse, and gently tugged it out,” I explained, showing her how the puller, which looked like a small clothespin, worked.

She tries it herself, and can’t get it, so I take another five minutes to show her patiently how the one end clicks into place over the fuse. I’m now fifteen minutes into a no win situation. She finally clicks the puller into place and pulls a fuse out, holding it up for my inspection as if I cared. I pretend to. :)

“Good, as I said, it’s almost never the fuse,” I nod my head at her performance, gamely trying to smile. “If you would like to make an appointment to leave off the car, I can find out what’s wrong and estimate the repair.”

“Do you charge for that?”

“Yes I do,” and I tell her how much.

“I could go to the dealer for that,” she barters.

“You sure can,” I reply, “they charge twice what I do for the diagnosis.”

“I don’t really need the heated seat,” she sighs. “Can you put the seat back in for me?”

“For half an hour’s labor, I can.”

She laughs. When she sees I’m not smiling, she crosses her arms in a perturbed fashion.

“It won’t take you but a minute to slip it back into place. I pulled it out myself in no time,” she says, challenging my manhood.

“Then you won’t have much trouble slipping it back into place, Ma’am,” I don’t take the bait. “I’ve already spent nearly twenty minutes with you on my dime.”

“This place isn’t very customer friendly,” she informs me, getting into the driver’s seat.

“It is when I have a customer,” I fire back an overhand return volley with smile in place.

“I’ll remember this,” she retorts, slamming her door and starting the car.

“Yes, Ma’am, me too,” I reply with a wave.

Monday, Monday… :)