Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Discreet Charm of Your Local Mechanic

Perhaps the days of the small downtown garage run by two or three not-quite-removed-from-the-old-country-but-still-first-generation Italian Americans is over. After making appearances in numerous films under numerous names and building up an impeccable notoriety for basic lying, cheating and reckless bamboozling, the great chains of Ziebart, Valvoline, Midas, Tuffy, Precision, and even Wal Mart have put a friendly corporate facade on most every one of the "mom-and-pop" establishments that honed this stereotype. But, before ye sigh in relief, take heed: The mechanic is still a most clever foe.

I would not be one to generalize about shady mechanics being Italian; I just wish they were Italian. As I've seen enough movies to know a little bit of the lingo, most any such discussion not going my way at a garage could undoubtedly be put to rest with a not-too-spiteful-but-still-forceful "Faghetaboutit." In my ideal situation, it would be a mechanic named Mario, Sergio, or for alliterative purposes and fine film references, Federico. "Faghetaboutit, Federico."

Just today I could have used a more ethnically rooted mechanic. I took the Town Car in for an oil change. It's been close to six months, but only about 3,030 miles. Nevertheless, the first thing I get is heat about that 30 miles. No less than four references to me being late for this grandiose affair occur throughout the half hour I'm there. Then there's the extras. Of course, nobody really believes they can just get an oil change anymore. They check the tires, all the fluids and filters and other nonsense under the hood for a reasonable $29.95, with expense piling on in the event they add or replace (or pretend to replace?) any of these things.

Now, 30 miles is no big deal. Shoot, even for an old tub like mine most everybody has a pretty good idea you could probably drive 4,000 (gasp! does the mechanic), 5,000 (vulgarity! yells the mechanic), or even 6,000 miles without an oil change (cardiac arrest! goes the mechanic into). But it seems that once one, or maybe just I, enter the mechanic's realm such confidence about the mileage goes out the window. I resolve for that duration to make sure I'm five miles short of 3,000 next time I come in. What do I want these guys to do, starve?

And if an upper middle class college kid doesn't know jack about oil, and even less when he's in the large menagerie of greesy guns, rentches, hammers, pumps and cool Ferrari lithographs (not to mention the huge, welcoming sign from Valvoline stating "GET YOUR OIL CHANGED EVERY THREE MONTHS OR 3,000 MILES OR YOU WILL DIE AND GO TO HELL."), just imagine what happens when the mechanic busts out the big words:

Transmission Fluid.
Power Steering Fluid.

So they don't seem intimidating, eh? Well, when you're locked onto their track walled in by closed garages and he's staring down at you feeding you at breakneck speed "Well, wejustcheckedthetransmissionfluidandit'slookingalittlelowsohowaboutwetopitoffforya? It'llonlybeacoupleabucks."

Faghetaboutit, Mario? Hardly. This guy coulda gone to high school with me for all I know. He's got an honest face. Only a couple 'a bucks? Well, I don't know exactly what the transmission fluid does, so... Nod head in agreement.

If telling me about everything that is wrong with my ride isn't bad enough, the worse is when they bring the micro-palette over. As if I'm supposed to flatter them with my expert opinion, I get to look at these bodily fluids of my vehicle.

"Seethat?It'ssupposedtobepink. It'sblack. Powersteeringfluidneedstobepink. Thiscarhasn'tbeenverywelltakencareof."

Faghetaboutit, Sergio? Nope. A quick nod. He's the mechanic, of course he's right. I'm a bad, bad owner. And it's a Lincoln, too. Never mind that it's this very establishment that's been "taking care" of my car every 3,000 miles for the last few years, a periodic 1,500 mile checkup is surely all that could keep me in the good graces of these hard-working gentlemen.


Ooo, rebate. I caught that part.

I axe the transmission fluid, only because I know they changed it last time. Even that took all the willpower I had after taking that consternation over the 30 miles. Never mind that the steering hasn't given me the slightest bit of trouble ever, there's a rebate!

So there I sit in the concrete box staring at Ferrari lithographs. Do Ferrari owners really use Valvoline? If I owned a Ferrari could I stand having someone tell me about everything I'm doing wrong with it? Or, if I owned a Ferrari would the mechanic, perhaps, kissmyassandchargemelotsofmoneywithoutallthetalk? I mean, granted, for a Ferrari owner $105.98 is not what it is to a young aspiring yuppie, but Heaven help me I'd be more than willing to pay without all the silly pandering.

Perhaps today's mechanic longs for the old days. The 'ol New Yawk price-haggling. Problem is, I don't haggle. I see a price, I pay it.

Culture clash in the melting pot?! Or is that a contradiction in terms? Either way, the mechanic is still every much a shady, colorful part of American society, and he's here to stay.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Laugh So You Won't Cry

On the surface of things, it may seem downright depressing that girls are buying the perfumes of Britney and Paris. The actual product names are unimportant (though if Britney made a cologne for men called "Backup Dancer" ... I might buy) , the fact of the matter is that if Britney's not turning a profit then somebody forking over all the cash for those primetime ads better get his head in the game. It may also seem depressing, yet equally obvious that some guys wear Axe "Body Spray." C'mon, there was a time when the world over could laugh at That Guy (-Who Wears the Bottle of Cologne. Not to be confused with That Guy Who Talks On His Cell Phone During The Movie or That Guy Who Gets Wasted and Takes Off His Shirt At Every Party) . The only advantage was if the bar was really crowded you could just smell your way to him but, really, it was probably just best to warn you if he was coming. Now it's not only accepted, it's promoted! They put this stuff in an aerosol can! That Guy can now be synonymous with That Guy Who Doesn't Shower, and we'll never know the difference...

But seriously, while some people weep for the future it needs to be said that bad taste is nothing new. Furthermore, it's not going anywhere. Finally, bad taste is a good thing, because it gives us all something to fall back on. No, I don't mean I'm going to start buying Fat Joe albums. What I mean is that if someone finds out my guilty pleasure or stupid quirk of fashion, I can fall back on not being the lowest common denominator.

For example, I know this dude who watches "The O.C." In fact, I know lots of dudes who watch "The O.C." Weird. Question it, and they'll say the following: "At least I don't watch 'Laguna Beach.'" At which point said guy's girlfriend OR said "Laguna Beach" fan in the room says "HEYYYY!" An argument may ensue, which will be settled by "At least none of us listen to Scott Stapp." (Whose solo debut will go platinum.)

And, really, come to think of it, I haven't met a Creed fan in years. Countless times throughout high school I had to change the radio station 'cause "SHOULDA BEEN DEAD ON A SUNDAY MORNIN'..." would make me believe that Celine Dion might not be all that bad...

But they're out there. Sad? No, AWESOME, because we're not among them.

Monday, January 02, 2006

2006, Baby.

"Those who refuse to make New Year's resolutions because they always break them anyway miss the point. Making resolutions is a cleansing ritual of self-assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty and reinforces humility. Breaking them is part of the cycle."
-Eric Zorn

I got nothing. Is the Christmas Season over yet?