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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Rehabilitation of a Fallen Female, or What a Difference 24 Hours Makes

Fair warning to the reader: this post will make more sense if you read the previous one. Back here in the little office plaza, after one passes under the stucco arch, are a handful of small businesses. Although different types of operations, they are loosely associated because each is an enterprise of David and George. One doesn't run into many strangers in the plaza because none of the businesses attracts walk-in traffic. There is a pattern to where each person parks and it is easy to understand the workday of others that one sees taking a cigarette break every day at 10:00, 12:00 and 2:00. When one needs certain kinds of services, chances are David and/or George runs a business that provides just what's needed. George pulls a lot of mechanic work from the inhabitants of this small world, just as we clean a lot of carpets for them.

David's comfort zone was announced on my first day of work. "When would you like me to take breaks and lunch?" His reply, delivered with an enormous grin, was along the lines of him being happiest if I'd never leave my desk. Ever. He was pretty serious, though very pleasant. Now, wait. I'm a former labor union rep. I can recite entire chunks of the Fair Labor Standards Act from memory and I take employee rights and benefits seriously. But I looked around me. This wasn't Kansas or corporate. This was different. I reminded myself that stepping away from corporate and trying something new was a gift I gave myself. David fully understands that people have business to conduct. He is reasonable. And so it has developed that, while I still have to leave the desk to see my dentist, most kinds of errand-running is done on my behalf by someone else. Various characters act as my personal shoppers, go to my home to pick things up for me, make bank deposits, take my car for service and other things most people do for themselves. I remain in the first mate's seat. This works in our world.

As I prepare to take a break of several days for the first time in far too long, I've enlisted Cesar to be my go-to man. I want the security of knowing my car is travel-worthy. I don't understand cars and I don't know how to fix them. I will travel a good distance through an area where it would be difficult to gain assistance. I'm not 25 and cute. I could not rely on the first male passerby to stop and assist me. I have been well wrapped up in knots and feel I keep hitting brick walls while trying to move my agenda. And this is all due to the perverse nature of my car, Lucy Sue, who attracts the oddest automobile mishaps I've ever heard about. She is the fallen female referenced in the post title and she has fallen into some disrepair. She's a little worse for wear and tear. The latest freakish fix necessitated waiting for the arrival of a special-order part and I'm starting to sweat whether I'll have decent transportation when it comes time to leave. I have too few men hanging around to caravan to George's shop with my car to drop it off and then come back together. I was terribly distressed by the time Cesar finished his route Friday and prepared to work for me for the rest of the day.

For a week I have driven in abject terror with my hood tied down and gaping open like a slackjaw. The wind has made that hood bounce as I drive into it, and I have suffered many visions of the hood snapping off, coming through the windshield, and slicing my head off. I require the installation of a new cable under the hood of the car so that hood can be opened and closed to allow for other maintenance to be performed. "I'm off, Les. I'll chirp you from George's shop to let you know what's going on." I don't have to see Cesar's face to know when he's funning me. "Uh-oh, Les, they can't do it until tomorrow!" I could envision him grinning, and I told him to stop it. He said they'd been waiting for him and already had the hood up. He radioed again almost immediately. "Les, this is your lucky day." Oh. Oh, no. I don't need any more luck. And I'm convinced that any luck about that car is going to be the bad variety. "Just shoot me, Cesar. What now?" "No, really, Les! It's good!" He told me I didn't need a new cable at all! "Your hood latch was dirty! He fixed you up with two squirts of WD-40 and a shop rag! You just saved $144.25." My hood latch was dirty. And have I mentioned I drove around for a week . . never mind.

"Cesar, come on, let's move this thing along. Come back to the office and get some money. Let's get the oil change now and some of the other things accomplished." Within two hours, Lucy Sue had had an oil change and received a new oil filter and air filter. Each and every one of her body fluids had been topped off , her brakes, tires and wiper blades inspected. The belts, hoses and cooling system had been thoroughly checked out, as had her electrical system. All of this cost me $12.40, for last winter I gave $20 to a man who came soliciting. For my $20, I got a card that entitles me to 3 "free" oil changes and a variety of other free or discounted services. "You need a new battery, Les. We bake them here in the desert and yours is 4 years old. It didn't even register on the voltage meter. They don't give any warning when they are ready to give up the ghost. We'll get it tomorrow." OK, a battery. That doesn't scare me. I have experience in buying new batteries. Minutes after Cesar dropped off the car, Vicente and Lucy appeared to apply the weekly car cleaning and detailing. I pored over the paperwork Cesar brought back and some lights came on for me. I understood what I was reading, in an elementary way. Cars don't literally have a million mysterious systems. They have maybe 20 areas one needs to know a little bit about. And one needs to know where to go to have the car inspected and recommendations made. All of this across the span of one afternoon. I love learning new things!

Mother Badger began a volley of e-mails, so I had a friend as the car repairs shook out. "How could life go on without duct tape and WD-40?", she quipped. MB is in planning mode. She's collecting the coupons for the outlet stores where we shop. In her community, discount punch cards and special shopping days for those under age 50 are a big hit, among other gimmicks. She suggested that with all that knick-knack-paddy-whack, perhaps the stores would owe me money after I finished my shopping! She wonders whether the cucumbers she bought me will still be fresh, but if not, we'll go buy more. She's suggested which stores we should hit on which days, and which days to go to the garage and estate sales. I agreed to her plan immediately. She's good! She's got piles of treasure she plans to donate to charity if I don't want the gems. And she has an upholstered chair for me if it will fit in my car. I give her a tip of the hat for planning all the hunting and gathering first, and then spending some time figuring how we'll get it into the notorious Nissan. "Hang onto the rope that secured the hood. We may need it to tie down the trunk!" We could launch a military offensive between us. She would be the general and I a corporal, and I like it that way.

The morning began like many others. We sandwich the serious part of our morning huddle between two layers of b.s., joking, complaining, whining and telling the stories of what we see and hear in the mean streets. "Les, what was up with that customer?" "Homes, I don't know how you do it. I'd run screaming." I remind them to hydrate as we have turned extremely hot very suddenly. They turn in their work orders and money collected. I tell them every impression their potential customers made on me when I booked the jobs. I give public kudos when one of them has taken a bullet for the company and I give constructive criticism when one of them has done something annoying that the others might easily do as well. I do it gently. I always preface it with, "This is not to beat you up. It is to share details about something that could happen to any of you and to work together on ways we can avoid it happening again." It works in our world. They don't resent me. They try things that their peers and I suggest.

During one of the layers of b.s., joking, complaining, whining and telling the stories of what we see and hear in the mean streets, I heard some comments that suggested everyone had all the scoop about my car's return to respectability. "What, men, do you have a grapevine on those BlackBerries? Each man tells the next man?" This was curious to me. "Well, yeah, Les. We've all been giving input and suggestions. We've tried to think of every possible thing that could worry you and take care of it in advance. We want you to relax and have a good time." Well! And that's when it happened. I took an imaginary step backward and listened to a testosterone-fueled car maintenance confab begin. They tossed factoids and tidbits back and forth and engaged in a little one-upsmanship. Suddenly something happened. A comment was aimed at me: "Les, at about 30-35,000 miles, get your serpentine belt and your brakes inspected. Get the radiator flushed then, too." I'd never been given such advice. "Nah, dude, it'll be three more years before her odometer gets there and we don't want her to wait three years! She needs to do this by the calendar, not by the miles. She doesn't drive enough." I rejoined the party.

"Wait, homes. You know I'm a note taker. Let me get a pad and pen. I've never heard anything like this and I think I'd draw some strength from knowing such things. And be orderly. Stop talking over the top of each other." They spewed forth information for half an hour and I scribbled. I asked questions until I understood. When they disagreed about some of the finer points, I asked them to brainstorm until they could reach a consensus. They did that. I drew a little diagram and chirped a couple of them to clarify fine points. I created a spreadsheet and then a chart. I'm good at that stuff. When Cesar came in from getting the new battery and wiper blades, I asked him to review my chart. "Do I have all of it right?" I did! "Have I missed anything?" Nothing! I get this to the degree that I need to get it. I'm never going to change my own oil or do much under the hood personally. But I'm no longer 100% stupid. I made the spreadsheets. I made the charts. I printed and laminated them. When I got into the car after the end of the workday, I tucked it all into the glove compartment. I don't laminate until I am certain. I am certain. I can learn enough to manage this stuff and not have it overwhelm me.

In my ears right now: When the band split up in 1980, Don Henley said there would be a reunion "when hell freezes over". Hell froze in 1994. I'd always liked them. I liked them better after they'd put a few years on themselves and resolved their differences.

Something that charmed me: The men charmed me. Their conspiring to send me off safe and free of distress. Their willingness to slow down and let me take notes and ask girlish questions until I understood. "What was your father good for, Les?" "Plenty of things, homey, but not teaching me about cars!" "What about Ex?" "He didn't understand them, either. It's a wonder we didn't burn up, blow up and blow out our cars."


  1. Hurray for good guys who are willing to help you out, and hurray for Lucy Sue who only needed to have her latch cleaned! When do you leave?

  2. @ Dooz @ Ha! Thursday morning. I plan to walk 10-12 in the pre-dawn and then head south. god love the men, god love her. I need a break. She's got it planned!

  3. congratulations, les, your true colors green just got a bump! now there is one (or more) less thing to cause anxiety, and that rocks. and what a wonderful support system you have in the home dudes.
    well, being tethered to the desk should have its perks.

  4. I admire your willingness to laminate your understanding.

    Cars and men are a mystery to me.

  5. Okay, so I know i left a comment on your last post but it's not there - please tell me I have not been excommunicated?

    It was a rather protracted comment but I thought it rather witty on the whole..aside from the bit about the lady who reversed into me - even as I reversed away! And I laughed at my funny making jolity when I noted that knowing what's under a car's bonnet/hood is like knowing that chocolate is just a bean and some fat! Spoils the magic. Alas...if I could only remember what I put....

    Hmn..assuming blogger ate my comment or I clicked to exit the window before the comment had fully processed I will yap on as I feel sure you would tell me to bog off directly rather than mute me out of blogsistence...

    Duct tape! Your car trials sound like something out of a Tarantino film or those two brothers who make good films...um...like the singer...brain gone to jellywobbly...twas swim night..still is, ha, except swim is done...and so am I....

    Oh, and was I supposed to laugh lots at this?

  6. @ somh ~ Yep, punched up green like grass or a little frog! Anxiety reduction is big copy in my world. I'm sure in everyone's world, but I don't do well when I'm distressed and ignorant. The men are good to me. I try to be good to them. And I console myself with reminders that at least my leash is velvet.

  7. @ Kass ~ Oh, Girlie, I especially have to laminate my understanding of things that are as fluid (to me) as this car stuff. Sort of freeze it so it won't wiggle on me. Cars will remain fairly mysterious to me. All I have are reminder charts about when to check out what. But that's more than I had before and I am grateful I can still learn things. Now, about men . . . I believe I have a pretty good idea about what makes that animal tick. I'm surrounded by them in numbers I've never experienced before, and at very close quarters. I think I have some insiders' secrets from observing them up close and personal. That and $1 will get me a cup of coffee, but only in a really cheesy place. It's good to see you back blogging.

  8. @ Rachel ~ No, my friend, I never got the previous comment. I don't excommunicate anyone. The silent treatment isn't my way. And besides, you are welcomed here always. "Chocolate is just a bean and some fat" is VERY good Rachel! I hate to confess to the number of times I've written a (sometimes lengthy) comment and then clicked on "Home" instead of "Post Comment". Yikes! You're right - Lucy Sue IS like a Tarantino or Coen Brothers movie. Very good observation! But she's glass smooth now. Best to swimming Beanie!

  9. Here's something that screws up a lot of people (including myself in the distant past). When the oil light comes on, people generally assume their car's about to run out of oil, and they will sometimes add oil, thinking that will solve the problem. DON'T DO IT! If the oil light comes on, it usually means there's something wrong with your engine, regardless of the amount of oil.

    But suppose your car IS about to run out of oil? What light comes on then?

    Simple. The engine light comes on.

  10. @ Kirk ~ Ha, Sir! I KNEW that! That's new in my knowledge base. "Les, what you want to be really concerned about is when the "oil" light comes on."

  11. On the same day I floated my comment off into the ether I sent two email submissions to a competition - neither of them had the required attachment! I am dipsy to the point of righting myself!

    Glad Lucy Sue is spanky as new :) My first car was a Morris 1000 - I named her Mo (with little dots on cos it's Danish for maiden)...rambling off, over and out!

  12. @ Rachel ~ And you know how I love rambling!

  13. I'm late to say farewell on this amazing and long deserved trip. Enjoy it, Les, and may your car behave itself.

  14. @ Elisabeth ~ You're never late, and always welcome here, my friend. It was a most wonderful trip, to the extent that I feel a little low this morning. The natural after-effect from a visit away, I suppose. My car was stupendous! So was Mother Badger and so was I. I'm not sure when I stopped living, but I swear this: I'm not going to not live any more. I will repeat this trip very soon.