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The Demise of Maria: The Not So Exquisite Corpse

8 Dec

           

                Contrary to the Broadway tune, “Maria” is not “the most beautiful sound I ever heard.” When I hear  this name,  I form an image of an unsightly and  ill-tempered Chihuahua with multiple shiny patches of fur.  Raised on expresso and sugar doughnuts,   Maria was jumpy, nippy and exceedingly fat. Her black shiny piggy eyes bulged from a nervous mound of tan flab—  like a canine Brando.

            Maria belonged to our friends Johnnie and Julie Green.  My wife, Diane and I would often visit them up North  to play whist.  They indulged this unseemly dog like a favored child. While we played cards,  Julie held the mongrel on her lap   removing its many fleas. Her technique  was to   dab  the flea with Vasoline Petroleum Jelly,   pinch it off, and  deposit it in an ashtray.  This unwholesome and possibly intentional distraction  hampered our card playing and made us wonder why we  were so pathetic that we had gone over there in the first place. Johnnie always kept score,  writing down “Champs” for  their score and “Chumps” for  ours. They were card sharks and as they put it we were (s)not.

            At the time, we  drove a slightly used silver,  AMC Concord — the deluxe edition with a plush maroon interior and plastic wood grain dashboard. The car was lousy but  its worst feature was a perpetual motor oil hemorrhage. This oil leak was the source of constant embarrassment  as it ruined our driveway and stained  parking lots throughout town.            

             Whenever we visited  Johnnie and Julie, I’d parked the car on the grass to avoid staining their driveway and to be spared a lecture on proper auto maintenance by Johnnie. Maria  was  in the front yard when  we arrived one evening. She welcomed us with a loud bark and vicious snap and then dashed under our car. Then Julie came running  out of the house calling  for her. Suddenly Maria dashed out from under the car yelping. “Gee whiz, what’s   this black stuff on her back? ” Julie asked Johnnie.  Smirking Diane and  I dummied up,  knowing full well that the little monster had just been anointed with some  really hot motor oil whilst loitering under the Concord. Feeling perkier,  Diane  kept score that night  writing down “Starwarriors” for us  and “Gangreens” for them. They were not amused.

            We all tired of cards and Johnnie suggested that it would be very healthful if we took a  long walk. Johnnie and Julie loved to lecture us on health and especially diet, as Judy took great pride  in her nearly  anorexic physique.  Despite our  objections they insisted on bringing Maria along,  but refused to put her on a  leash.  Maria constantly ran ahead or straggled behind while Judy frantically screamed for her in a shrill voice.  As we walked down the dark road  this  shrieking was  beginning  to unnerve Diane. “Don’t worry about that damn dog. She’ll be all right.”

Suddenly we heard the crescendoing  roar of an engine as a sinister-looking black sedan came barreling down the road, drawing a bead on the unsightly dog. It looked like a demon car from some  Stephen King novel. It must have been going ninety and Maria was frozen in its highbeams, looking like a fat brown piglet in a centerstage spotlight.  The car from hell never slowed and with a blunted “thwunk” Maria was thrown  three feet in the air into dog heaven.  In shock,  Johnnie and I  retrieved our car and a Maria-sized  cardboard  box, while Diane and Julie waited beside the chubby still warm corpse.

            When we got back to the house, Johnnie  and Julie asked us if they should wake up their kids and tell them about Maria. We said, “No, absolutely not!” But they went ahead and did it anyway. Then they asked if  they should call  Julie’s elderly mother and father who were the dog’s godparents. Again, we said, “No! Absolutely not. But they went ahead and did it anyway.

            Within minutes the whole house was thrown into high hysteria.  Johnnie, Julie,  her mother, and the kids were all hugging and crying, while Judy’s father described the elaborate wooden coffin he intended to built for the late great Marie, who by now had stiffened up considerably and had an eternal snarl frozen on her muzzle. Tommy had her laying in state in the garage ironically on top of a  box of Quaker State Motor Oil.

            Diane and I tried  to appear supportive but when we saw an opening we grabbed our  kids, expressed our regrets, and headed for Daylight.  Feeling slightly guilty but immensely relieved in the tranquility of the incontinentConcord, off we went.  It was the last time we ever played whist.   

My apologies to all Chihuahua lovers everwhere, I look forward to your constructive comments and suggestions.

 

Mechanic-Depressive Psychosis

27 Oct

   

 

            I  heard it said that in California all you need for happiness  is a good doctor and a good divorce lawyer. I would like to add that you also need a good auto repair mechanic. Once the magic of the warrantee wears off, this person will become one of your most intimate confidants.  As in all crucial relationships you must learn to choose wisely. Although some people have more than one mechanic at the same time (poly-mechanicogamy) most of  us practice the serial version.  The rest of this work is devoted  to cataloging and describing these important men in my life. I have  altered some of the identifying information as to avoid large lawsuits and perhaps a tire tool across the back of my head.

            I was young, it was spring  and it was my first car when I met Henry– my first mechanic. Henry worked for my step-father who ran a small auto and lawnmower repair shop. Henry was a short, phlegmatic alcoholic,  shaped sort of like a compact  bowling pin. Always dressed in oily coveralls,  he wore one of those train engineer striped hats. Taking to him was usually an exercise in futility, but when sober he had a knack for  instinctively identify the source of auto problems. Returning from  senior skip day  I  managed to tear  the oil pan off my Corvair by backing over an old concrete gasoline pump island. Henry became my hero when he savaged  a replacement part in the local junkyard. A short time later, however,  my step-father fired Henry for almost burning down the garage trying to barbecue a wild pig with a blowtorch.

When I graduated from college the first thing I did was impulsively buy a brand new MG Midget. I was thrilled with my “sports car”, although my mother said it look like a god damn roller skate and feared for my life. I soon learned that the MG had a clutch the size of an aspirin and was constantly in need of repair. That’s when I met Harold, my English mechanic, down at British American Auto Repair. Harold had this cool Ronald Coleman accent and event the most mundane oil change sounded like something from a Regency  novel. “It was a far far better  filter that I replaced than I had ever replaced before.”

 I liked impressing other people saying I had to call Harold, my English mechanic, but unfortunately I found my self saying this constantly. Soon Harold had acquired all my shillings and I had to dump both him and the MG.    

After this continental fling I settled down into a more mature relationship with Chuck from Chuck’s AMACO. From the very beginning Chuck  acted like we best friends. By that time I was married with two kids and the MG had been traded in for a used Chevette Hatchback. This car always had a strange haunting odor that lead the kids to call it the “cheese car”.  Chuck faithfully tended  the “cheese car” for several years until the fateful day it threw an oil plug and cooked the engine. Chuck towed it in and emotionally incapable of separating from the Chevette, he ended up buying it from me. I think he dropped new engine in and managed to find a buyer without  a sense of smell.

            We eventually  moved and there was a period of time when car repair became just a series of one-night-stands involving muffler shops and quicky lubrication places. We managed to upgrade our automobiles and a quiet period of mechanic celibacy followed until disaster struck and threw me into the arms of Eddie from Quadruple-A Transmission Universe.  Eddie recommended a complete transmission replacement and we were committed. For the next two years our car called Quadruple-A its second home. Due to some inscrutable  torque converter problem, Eddie and the guys at Quadruple-A replaced the transmission  at least three times. They even had to pay for a replacement  Transmission when it broke down on our vacation inTennesseejust outsideNashvillenear the machinegun factory. After that Eddie grew standoffish and  I think he wanted to break up. While in the mist of this looming relationship crisis, I was sitting at the lunch table at work and someone said, “Hey look at this article about these crooks at Quadruple-A Transmission Universe.” To my horror there was a photo of Eddie on the front page being arrested by investigators from the attorney general’s office for auto repair fraud. Eddy unsuccessfully tried to disguise himself by  putting his hands  in front of his face, but the transmission fluid stained fingers,  dark slick  hair, and the enormous name tag reading “Eddie”  on his work shirt pretty much gave him  away.  Eddie was never heard from again.

            Quadruple-A closed its  bright yellow doors and a few months later they painted the building blue and opened a taco stand which I always figured was  just a front  for another transmission repair shop. I always got a sinking feeling wherever I drove by there,  sort of like my transmission was slipping.