It was a lazy Thursday morning at the auto repair shop. (For details on why I was even at the shop, check here, here, here, or here.) I hadn't slept the night before so everything was a fog. I had a pounding headache, my sinuses felt tortured and my body's "check engine" light had been on for over a week. For some reason I was taking care of my car parts before my human parts.
In the corner of the room, a collection of "readables" littered a two-foot-high table. A few advertisements, mostly unopened, topped it like a cherry on the mulch pile. Our city's most reputable rag, a rapidly declining publication that only publishes a new edition four times a week and gets most of its content by regurgitating Reuters articles, shouted a headline about a local boy who did well in collegiate basketball. He was making someone somewhere very proud, but in this auto shop, his picture had been defaced by a coffee stain and his photo caption was obscured by a three-year-old copy of Redbook. Brightly colored chairs lined the room, exuding a cheeriness that seemed more at place in a Kindergarten classroom than beside posted warnings about wheel alignment and air filters.
Behind the desk, a tired looking woman prepared invoices. I knew this was her task because I recognized the dire boredom that covered her face like a henna tattoo at a theme park. At one point she stopped working for fifteen seconds and stared blankly at her keyboard. I know because I watched and counted. Cut her some slack, I thought, it's Thursday.
Invoice Woman needed some sugar. She left her post at the terminal and marched into a back room that I hadn't noticed before. She returned with a juice beverage, which she opened slowly and sipped with a deliberateness that suggested she had nothing else to enjoy. I was thirsty all of a sudden. At one point Invoice Woman glanced down at the cap. Either she hadn't won ("Try Again Next Time"), or Snapple wasn't running a bottle-cap promotion ("Best By 4/23/10"), but still she looked. I wondered how many hundreds of thousands of employees were checking bottle caps at work that very morning. I wonder what kind of noisy cacophony would be created if they all opened their bottles at the same time in a small room. Would the noise be soft and delicious or would it be deafening? Would it make you want to drink Snapple? Would a human being be able to survive the blast of that prodigious noise? That might actually be a really good way to go...
The mechanic behind the counter motioned for me and I trudged toward him with all the energy of a man who knew his fate. I was the defendant and the mechanic was my judge: I was rising to hear my sentence.
Car repairs are the least satisfying of all expenses. You can buy a lunch and feel the effect of your purchase immediately as the warm food assuages your hunger. You can buy a gift for a friend and see her the joyful sparkle in her eyes and hear her thanks. You can even give your money to a bum with some satisfaction. But repairing what you thought wasn't broken to get what you figured you always had is frustrating, especially when the price tag is six times your weekly income.
The mechanic announced the prognosis with the stoic nonchalance of Dr. House. He didn't even try to sell his services or distinguish Pepboys from Harney's down the road or Aamco (honk honk) up the hill. His sad eyes provoked a modicum of pity, but then I caught a glance between him and Invoice Woman. I was the victim of an auto de fe and they were the benificiaries.
That's when I decided to have some fun. I was halfway though this FCN post, after all, and it was pretty dry. I started crying. Tears filled my eyes and flooded down my cheeks like so much mug root beer. (The tears were contrived, I promise. They were not, by any means, a natural reaction to the tension of the situation. I felt bad about what was happening, sure, but the tears were all for FCN. Please believe me, my dignity is on the line.)
Mechanic rolled his eyes and turned away, as if some space would help me recover. Invoice Woman reacted more positively. I felt her arm around my shoulder and she pushed an unopened Snapple my way. She understood the difficulty of these Harsh Economic Times and she understood how a car repair for a reckless driver could magnify the harshness. A few sips of Snapple helped push back the edge of my emotion and I looked up with a sniff to see the mechanic, his sad eyes unperturbed, standing at attention.
"I'll talk with my manager and see what we can do," he said simply. I nodded, having absolutely no idea what he meant. Mechanic left for a few minutes. When he returned, my Snapple was empty.
"All right, uh, Mr. C., here's what we can do. We'll cut $300 off parts and services and give you all the work for the charitable price of..." Mechanic went on for a few minutes droning about where the discount originated and how generous Pepboys was being. When he was done, I shrugged and nodded. I had never experienced such an easy Auto de Fe.
When you are feeling down
When things are falling all around
Let the tears flow thickly
Things will improve quickly