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Monday, December 31, 2007

Expensive

I opened the comic shop for New Year’s Eve day. It’s beautiful outside, with sunny skies, and temperatures in the mid fifties. Stop-ins have been few though, which allowed me to get a lot of writing done. One of the kids who came in was funny. He was probably around twelve or thirteen, and his interest in the comics caused his eyes to involuntarily widen. I wondered watching him whether the prices were making him bug-eyed or the comic cover art. He settled my wonderment in short order. He walked over to the register with a New Avengers comic.

“I’ll give you fifty cents for this one,” he tells me like a seasoned flea market patron.

Only one problem: he wasn’t at a flea market.

“Sorry, that comic is $2.99,” I informed him, and came around the counter to point out my bargain comics. Comic sticker shock is a common occurrence. “Comics are expensive nowadays. I do have some ones for a quarter to seventy-five cents there in the box.”

“There’s no New Avengers ones in here,” he complained after looking through the box.

“The New Avengers series started in 2005, and it’s real popular,” I explained, “which means it will probably never be in the bargain box.”

“Well… I don’t want any of these.”

“I have a bunch of free promotional comics here on the counter. You can take whatever interests you from them,” I gestured at my freebies spread out near the register.

He became a little more animated sifting through the over forty free promotional titles, and pulled out six he liked. I put them in a bag for him.

“I’ll come back when I save up for the New Avengers,” he promised on his way out. “Man, comics are expensive.”

And just about everything else unfortunately.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Voices

I couldn't pass up displaying this picture.

I know rain depresses many people, especially when in some parts it never lets up for more than a day. In California, it seldom rains. At my shop, rain will drop the number of street artist drop-ins down to zero. Although these comical denizens supplied funny moments this year to write about, I don’t miss them when the rain limits their street excursions. Rain usually causes breakdowns; but if I’m successful in preaching preventative maintenance during the year, my regular customers don’t experience them. When rain falls like on Friday, the day proceeds with repair appointments, phone spam, glances out the big door at wet sidewalks, and quiet normalcy. Customers ask me all the time how I can stand working alone. I’m never alone. Characters run around in my head all day long, spouting dialogue, and telling tales. :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Braking Point

“Okay, I want you to tell me how this can happen,” a guy in his mid thirties growled at me from the doorway where I had just opened the big rollup door.

He held out a set of disc brake pads worn down past the metal. Having done a few disc brake jobs, I recognized the pads, at least what was left of them. They were off a GM vehicle. I didn’t know this guy, at least I didn’t think I knew him. I’m getting to the age where I’m not real sure about anything. I’ll call him Unhappy Brake.

“The disc brake pads wore down. They weren’t replaced in time to save the rotors, which must have been ground down to scrap,” I state the obvious; because I have no clue where Unhappy is going with this. “Where’d you have the brakes done?”

Mr. Brake named a place in Oakland I wasn’t familiar with.

“This is after only eight thousand miles!” Unhappy raises the level of dialogue, at least in volume.

“Why are you here, and not there?” I asked.

“I need a second opinion. Those assholes tell me the pads wore out because I refused to replace the rotors when they did the job. No way pads wear out this quick for any reason,” Unhappy informs me authoritatively.

Au contraire, Mon Ami.

“May I see your invoice?” I asked, not wanting to shoot my mouth off before discovering a few more facts. Mr. Brake digs the receipt from his jacket pocket and hands it to me. I look it over, and what do you know? The shop wrote right at the bottom of the invoice: ‘Rotors below minimum thickness, customer refuses recommended replacement. This will cause premature pad wear.’ I pointed it out to Unhappy. “They did warn you what would happen if you didn’t replace the rotors, Sir. What they wrote is true. Another thing is you kept driving, even when this sensor on the pad was singing in your ear down the street.”

I showed him the pads with spring metal sensors; which ride against the rotor to warn the driver with a squealing noise the pads are at replacement thickness. They were worn to nothing. It is a noise no one short of the deaf can ignore. Dogs will follow your vehicle, howling for your blood if you ignore the sensor noise.

“You’re in it with them! All of you people…”

“Hold on there, let’s keep from saying things we might regret,” I interrupt. “I’ll tell you exactly what happened. You didn’t want to spend the money for rotors. This shop was nice enough to let you dictate to them how to do the job. They warned you what would happen. You drove till the pads destroyed the rotors once and for all, thinking you could pull off the old ‘look what your pads did to my rotors’. Instead of apologetically replacing everything, they pointed at the note on your invoice and said have a nice day. How am I doing?”

Unhappy’s mouth worked for a moment with no sound. He then grabbed his receipt from my hand, and off he went without another word. Off I went to the backroom to share Unhappy’s experience at my shop. I hope the other shop takes Unhappy’s feedback to be a warning: don’t let customers dictate how brake jobs are done. If not, I'll have to get in touch with all my 'people', and get this straightened out before some other Unhappy outs us to the public. :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Act of Writing

I wrote a couple thousand words yesterday, completing a complicated section of plot finalizing my main characters’ first meeting. Something most people would think of as drudgery instead brightened an already satisfying day for me. Writing changes everything. It acts as an outlet for frustration with real life incomprehensible to other people. Disliking something in a news article, I often times incorporate it into whatever I’m working on, and change the outcome. No one can stop me from reversing an event on my computer in a story. I’ve rewritten politics, battles, religion, and solved world shaking problems with but a couple thousand words. Heh, heh, heh… and no one can stop me. :)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Just Comics Today


It’s a kick being in the comic shop on Christmas Eve Day, playing Christmas Carols and writing. I still had a bunch of sample comics left over from Free Comic Book Day, so I passed out a lot of those already. A guy came in and made the day. He bought my two latest self-published novels, and the newest Ghost Rider mini-series. The main sales so far have been from my twenty-five to seventy-five cent boxes, but that’s okay. The kids remind me of my trips to the local drugstore comic book rack when I was young. To top it all off, no young thugs today yet. :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wake Up Call

“Hi, Bernie,” a woman’s voice called out from right beside me on Friday morning.

In my defense, the air compressor was knocking away. I was in complete concentration mode under the hood of a 2001 Pontiac, and probably nothing short of an earthquake would have jarred me out from the Pontiac’s maw. I managed to not pop my head up like Bambi scrambling for cover, and eased out slowly as if I knew she was there all the time. This doesn’t happen often; because in my shop’s neighborhood, it’s not healthy to get surprised. I usually have a sixth sense about walk-ins. Lucky for me, I was surprised by a five foot four inch old customer’s daughter, and not a six foot four gangbanger. Who says God doesn’t watch out for the oblivious.

She wanted to make an appointment for an oil change. In doing so, she issued a gentle reminder to get my head out of my ass; and look up occasionally, as if I did indeed know where the hell I was. :)

Monday the twenty-fourth I’ll be in my attached comic shop, writing all day, instead of fixing cars. I’ve already promised a bunch of my regular kid customers I’d be open early.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rainy Days

Because it’s poring down rain out here, I can relax under whatever four wheel beast I have in for repairs. The rain cuts down on my sidewalk stop-ins, good or bad. Today it was a 1989 Ford Pickup with a core plug leaking coolant in a stream down the back of the block. I did a complete clutch job just seven months ago on this ungrateful piece of… sorry… anyway, I had to pull the transmission, clutch disc, pressure plate and flywheel back out again. The block plug had sprung a major leak behind the flywheel, and I didn’t need to have the customer ask me why I didn’t replace it while it was apart last time. That very question was winging its way through my brain as I wrestled the flywheel down, and saw the rotted out block plug. As I was contemplating the four hours labor time I would be eating, my motion detector chimed. A beat up old 1990 Buick limped into the shop with plumes of white smoke billowing out the tailpipe.

I hustled out from under the truck… well… it was as fast as I hustle anymore, and went out to meet and greet. A lady around my age (old) was sitting behind the wheel, and she gestured at the plumes of white smoke.

“What do you think that is?” She asked.

“Trouble,” I answered. “Do you smell that odd, kind of sweet smell?”

“Yea, is it oil? It’s been leaking a lot of oil.”

“No, it’s coolant. There’s coolant leaking into your car engine’s combustion chamber. The heat from combustion makes the steam,” I explain. “You can shut off the car. Have you overheated the car recently?”

She hesitated for a moment while switching off the engine, considering what information should be imparted to me.

“I blew the lower radiator hose on it a couple weeks back,” she admitted, “but everything’s been fine since it was replaced.”

“How hot did it get… on your gauge?” I asked, peering in to see if she had a gauge. She did. I also took a quick look at her odometer.

“It went all the way hot. It took me fifteen minutes to get somewhere I could stop. This is bad?”

“Real bad, I’m afraid.” Especially since the Buick needed a new interior, and about five grand in body work. “I noticed you have nearly a hundred and eighty thousand miles on it. I can’t fix it cheap, and anything other than cheap would be too much spent on this car.”

“Damn. I wish there was a cliff around here I could drive this thing off of,” She sighed, starting the Buick, complete with rear smoke screen.

“If there was, I’d follow you in the truck,” I said under my breath as she backed out.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Offended

We had a flame war on another forum with my automotive peers, because some points were discussed rather bluntly (To me, it was more like luke-warm discussion). Of course this gave the easily offended a chance to warble about civility, personal attacks, etc. I wrote a poem for the offended. :)

They come, journeying from far and wide,
Desperately battling to stem the tide,
Of vast ether net of unending text,
Calling out loudly for them to be vexed.
Never mind they can use their keyboard mouse,
To bypass this heinous idea house,
Where eternal thought bytes flow with sharp fangs,
Waiting to rip and rend with unfelt pangs,
Of guilt at the passion they inject in,
Poor, unfortunate victims of the din,
Who shakily left click their way inside,
Where weighty words of evil mind abide.
Enlightenment blinds, as they howl in pain,
Shielding their eyes against lettered bane.
'I am offended', they cry in hushed voice,
'How can I resist this bright tempting choice?
It makes me seethe inside my very soul,
Therefore banning it will be my life's goal.
Out with sarcastic pointed font of wit!
Away with logic, making me a twit!
I will hound the purveyors of sharp prose,
Until all I see only makes me doze.
No longer will this site open my eyes,
Soon it will be filled up with fluff or lies.
When joyous, I log on, in future days,
No one will be left here to clear my haze.'
Off went the offended, bored with the site,
Searching, cause there's no end to doing right.

:)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Escort Troubles

I’m sitting in the office, and I see movement through the glass, followed by a low pitched growl or clearing the throat noise. Upon opening the door, I see a man with one foot in the entrance, looking intently for something inside the shop. He sees me step through my office door and straightens up.

“Uh… hi… can I help you,” I asked, thinking it might be Tuesday's Santa, out of uniform.

“Sorry… I thought there might be a dog… you know… lot’s of places around here have dogs,” the man explained.

“Usually only the drug dealers,” I reply with a smile; “but no, I don’t have any dogs.”

“Oh… good, I have a Ford Escort. It needs a clutch. How much to get it done… just a ballpark figure will do.”

I give him a ballpark figure and he laughs. Maybe I should have added a couple hundred.

“No… you don’t… understand,” the man waves his hand, still chuckling. “I’ll supply the clutch.”

“Not here you won’t,” I reply amiably.

“Really?” He looks at me incredulously, as if he knows all the other repair places are putting in customer’s cheapo parts, and I’m the last holdout.

“No,” I reiterate firmly. “Bargain auto parts stores sell parts cheaply for the Do-It-Your-Self folks. If you wish to buy your own parts, you’ll probably have to install them yourself. A clutch job on a front wheel drive vehicle is not the typical Do-It-Yourself type project.”

“There are several shops I’ve already talked to that’ll do it. I…”

“Great news for you,” I say enthusiastically; because if there are several places putting in customer supplied clutch parts, they’re doing them out of their garage at home, and the chances of him driving his Escort away in good shape are practically nil. “I wish you well.”

I go back in the office, and he follows me in. Oh boy.

“I just live around the corner. It would be easier if you’d do the job.”

“That may be; but if you have it done here, it will be with my parts, at or around the price I quoted you.”

“You mean it could be more?”

“Since I’ve never laid eyes on your car, the answer is yes. It could even be slightly less. I won’t start the job until I give you a complete estimate. You can give me the go ahead then, or drive it out.”

“Shit!” The man exclaims and leaves in a huff.

We don’t give much Christmas cheer in the auto repair business. We’re like the Bad News Bears unfortunately. :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Visit From Santa

“Merry Christmas,” the man in a Santa suit told me as he walked into the shop, beard and all.

“Merry Christmas,” I replied with less enthusiasm than warranted I’m sure. It’s just that men dressed in Santa suits in East Oakland are usually after something more than a Christmas greeting. When they don’t drive in with a car or truck I can fix, I get uneasy.

“Can you help a brother out?”

It’s really great to be clairvoyant.

“In what way?” I ask, praying this has to do with an automotive question, since I don’t see any reindeer or sleigh.

“Can you spare a few bucks for Santa?” This cretin actually gives me a big smile; and believe me when I tell you, Santa has been into the eggnog.

“No, but don’t take it personally, Santa,” I reply wearily, wondering if the elves will survive.

“Oh,” Santa says knowingly with only a slight sway, “a non-believer.”

Okay, I’m hooked. We’re going to play this one out to its final destination.

“You’re going to get a lump of coal,” he threatens.

Been there, done that. He notices I’m unimpressed.

“Okay, M@#5%^F&*(#*!!” Santa calls out belligerently, and acting out just a bit more drunkenly than before. He’s now dancing around.

I’m still unimpressed. This is my thirtieth year in East Oakland. I walk over and corral my colorful, but decidedly musty man-elf. He jerks a few times against my handholds on his arm and shoulder. When he is unable to prevent his inexorable march to the sidewalk, Santa becomes more accepting of his journey.

“The school lets out soon,” I told him, giving Santa a final pat on the shoulder at the curb. “If you aren’t out of sight in the next ten seconds, I’m going to see if Oakland PD wants to help an old elf out.”

Man, Santa moves pretty well for his age, I thought, watching Santa move along, sans reindeer. :)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Jake Cementhead

I had a little fun with my more self-important colleagues on our Shop Management Forum in Auto Tech with this short story. As always, my input received mixed reviews. :)

Once upon a time, Jake Cementhead bought a little auto
repair shop. Now Jake had his own tools, scanners, and was
a college graduate. He kept up on the latest advances in
technology; but never lost sight of the more basic mundane
menu operations, and more importantly, his customer base.
Over the years, Jake watched Tune Up Wizards, Department
Store Auto Chains, and Oil Change Omniscient move in and
about the area. Some of his customers would see the varying
prices, and suggest to Jake he might have to lower his
prices, or try incorporating specials, to compete.

Jake thanked them all with a smile; but politely explained
one of the reasons he became a shop owner was so he could
run his business as he saw fit, with honesty, common sense,
and quality. This satisfied many of his customers, but as
in every human service endeavor, some went job shopping,
even returning to let Jake know what great service they
received at the other shops. Jake nodded, smiled, and let
them know they were always welcome.

Unlike many of the anecdotal stories going around about
mechanics not upgrading their knowledge, or not being the
sharpest knife in the drawer, Jake knew his niche, and the
customer base he serviced. He added computer skills for
accounting, database tracking, follow-up services, and
joined an unusually helpful Internet Tech Group. More
importantly, Cementhead watched his expense sheet like it
represented success or failure, which he came to realize,
it did.

The McDonald's type auto service businesses began to lose
ground. Oil plugs were left out, appointments turned into
heavy sales pitches, and customers' vehicles were brought
back in for the same problem over and over. Soon, Jake's
customer base began to swell again with referrals from the
Tune Up Wizards, and people became less enthused with Oil
Change Omniscient.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Arnie Altruist set up shop
across the street from Cementhead. One day, Arnie came over
to case Jake's joint, smiling, and nodding, just the
happiest-go-lucky guy you ever want to meet. Jake liked him
right away, and let Arnie lead him over to show off his new
renovated Auto Renaissance. Young fireballs were buzzing
away inside, already churning out jobs, and Jake even
spotted a couple of his old customers in Arnie's palatial
customer center. You could eat off the floors. Techs had
their own computers, lifts, railway car tool boxes, and a
symphony orchestra playing Mozart in the corner. Jake
complimented Arnie on the look and feel of his new
Renaissance Garage.

Arnie pulled Jake into his office, and gave him a cup
filled from his personal espresso machine.

"Jake," Arnie announced with a big smile, "I want to help
you."

"Gee, that's really sweet of you, Arnie, but I can't think
of anything I need help with," Jake replied, a little
confused at the new direction of the conversation.

"Ahhhhh... Jake," Arnie repeated, shaking his head with a
touch of sadness. "We both know you're in trouble."

"I am?" Jake asked, surprised. "Really Arnie, I'm fine. My
place doesn't look like yours, but I've paid everything
off, and I have a substantial savings back-up for a rainy
day. I don't..."

"Let me get you started in a program to upgrade your little
shop into the new century," Arnie said magnanimously. "I'll
get you back on your feet again in no time."

"But Arnie, I..."

"No, no, no, dear boy, don't thank me," Arnie chuckled, not
having heard a single word Cementhead had told him. "Glad
to do it, glad to do it. Now let's start off with a new
customer is always right policy, and a nice shuttle
service, and..."

"Arnie," Jake cut in, standing up a little uneasily. "Much
as I appreciate your offer, you don't know me, or my
business expectations. I'm not like you, nor will I ever
be. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I think maybe
it best if we kept a more business like relationship."

"Are you saying you don't want my help?" Arnie gulped.
"Surely you want to be successful. These are changing
times. You'll either change or you'll be swept away."

"That may be," Jake replied patiently, edging towards the
door. "Listen, if you ever need a favor, or you want to say
hi, just give me a ring. Good luck with your business, and
Merry Christmas."

"But...but Jake...you haven't heard my story about the
little engine that could. At least let me give you some
pointers on smiling."

Jake waved, and hurried towards the door of Altruist's
office.

"Jake," Arnie cried out after him. "Your shop's like a
dungeon, and...and there's dirt on the floor, and...and you
don't even have an espresso machine."

Cementhead jogged across the street and into his little
shop. He sighed, looking back across the street at the
state of the art Auto Renaissance Garage. The phone rang,
and Jake answered it with his usual professional greeting.
It was Arnie.

"I bet you haven't had two months vacation before," Arnie
said excitedly.

"Ah, no, I don't want two months off," Jake replied,
closing his eyes. "I take..."

"I'll bet you don't give your employees six weeks off and
profit sharing," Arnie cut in.

"That's true, I..."

"Ah ha, and how do you think that makes them feel?" Arnie
asked triumphantly. "Used and abused, I'll wager. Now if
you adopt my..."

"Arnie!" Cementhead exclaimed with exasperation creeping
finally into his voice. "I don't have any employees. This
is a one man shop."

"Oh... My... God..." Arnie whispered in a stunned voice.
"You are a dinosaur, my good man. You need help. You..."

"I have to get to work, Arnie. You take care now, and nice
meeting you," Jake ran the statement off rapidly, and then
hung up.

Just as Jake started walking over to his next job, the
phone rang again. For the first time in many years, he let
it go on answering machine. :)

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Real Defenders of Freedom

Christmas, and our way of life, brought to you by the United States Armed Forces, and their loved ones they left behind. May God bless them and their families. The majority of us here in America, and around the world, honor your sacrifice.

A Soldier's Christmas by Michael Marks

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight;
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight;
The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep
In perfect contentment or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear;
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near;
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold;
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light,
Then he sighed and he said "It's really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night.

"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line
That separates you from the darkest of times;
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

"My Gramps died at 'Pearl' on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram' always remembers;
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam,
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

"I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile;"
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red white and blue ... an American flag.

"I can live through the cold and the being alone
Away from my family, my house and my home;
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.

"I can carry the weight of killing another
Or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To insure for all time that this flag will not fall.

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."

"But isn't there something I can do, at the least
Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.

"For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Spontaneous Fault

“This is the guy who brought in the older lady’s 85 Chrysler a couple days ago,” the voice explained on the phone.

“Yes, sir, I remember you,” I replied, thinking about the myriad problems I found on the car. “How can I help you?”

“The car won’t start now.”

“Does it crank without starting, or does it just not turn over?” I made my very credible noises imitating a cranking vehicle, and then one with starting circuit problems. :)

“Yea, now that you mention it, the car just sort of grunts and turns slow.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to replace the alternator I found had an open diode. As I explained to you when the car was picked up, the battery will eventually wear down if the alternator has a bad diode. Remember the printout I gave you of your alternator circuit on the scope?”

“Ah… sure…” the man hesitated before going on. “Couldn’t you check it out, and give us an idea of what’s wrong? It never did this before we had it in for the check.”

Uh oh, this is one of those common problems in auto service: the customer who has already been told what’s wrong; but it doesn’t fit into their notion of what they want to be wrong, which is somehow tied into the diagnostic check I did. Never mind I predicted the problem, and printed out a scope pattern showing the bad diode. Forget about my copious notes explaining the alternator would lead to what they were experiencing now; and estimate of repair, I put on their invoice.

“That was the reason I explained the bad diode to you, and noted the price to change the alternator on your invoice. It appears you waited a day too long to make your decision. The cost to fix it is on the bottom of your invoice,” I explain very reasonably.

“I think we should discuss this. I…”

“Hold up there,” I broke in, because I heard this conversation going in the wrong direction: the direction where I hang up after telling him to take his car elsewhere. “I just told you the only course of action you have. If you continue trying to make your car’s problems my fault, you’ll be told to find another shop. Are we clear?”

“I didn’t mean… ah… when can I bring it in for the alternator?”

We arranged an appointment. Just a simple misunderstanding. :)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Spock and Nasty

Since it's December 1st already, here's a little dog and cat living together fantasy story for the Christmas season. Warning, no vampires, werewolves, or romance in this one. :)

“Oh crap!”

The long haired, black, Australian Shepherd, looked up with a bored expression from where he lay next to a six foot tall, fully decorated Christmas tree. His face looked as if he were wearing a light brown and white mask from his eyes to his stomach. As he raised his head, he acquired a silver tinsel hairpiece from the lower branches of the tree. He watched the mottled brown calico cat giving him paw signals from where she sat perched on the window sill, overlooking the street in front of the house.

“Come here, dog,” the cat drawled excitedly.

“If I move now, Nasty,” the dog replied calmly, “I’ll be wearing half this stupid tree. What gets into these people? Once a year I…”

“Spock, roll your mangy cur butt out from under the Christmas tree, and get over here,” Nasty hissed impatiently. “That dorky kid of yours found some nice hoodlums to play with out in the snow.”

The dog rolled out lithely from where he lay on the manger scene’s white cotton fake snow. Spock hurried over, and stretched up to poke his nose under the curtain. Shrugging the red and green holiday curtain out of his eyes, Spock focused on the curving snow covered sidewalk, bordering the street in front. He recognized the boy who lived in the house with them. Five kids chased the boy down the street.

“C’mon, Nick,” Spock urged, a low growl issuing from his throat, as he bared his teeth anxiously.

“Forget it, chum,” Nasty remarked, glancing from the street over to her canine friend. “Put a fork in him, he’s done.”

As if on cue, Nick’s pursuers caught up with him, and pushed the boy to the ground. Spock jumped down, and ran to the front door. He eyed the doorknob in frustration. “It’s locked Nas, give me a paw. You know I can’t turn this goofy lock face.”

The calico jumped down. With three long strides, she crossed the dark brown patterned shag carpet, and right up onto Spock’s rigid back. She balanced her hind paws expertly on his head, while she turned the small bayonet lock insert. After Nasty jumped down, Spock sat up, wrapping his paws around the brass knob. Pulling back as he twisted the doorknob counterclockwise, Spock popped the door open.

The screen door gave outward onto the walkway with another shove from Spock. Nasty stretched between the lower doorjamb and the screen, propping it open until Spock had hurtled past her. He bounded off the stoop, only to be pulled up short by a tortured mewling. Spock ran back. He stuck his head and shoulders between the screen door and the lock plate, just before the door crunched his partner. As Nasty dropped to the stoop, and ducked under the door, she gave Spock a swipe across his back right leg.

“Eeeeeeeeooooooooowwww,” Spock howled before pulling out of the doorway, giving Nasty an evil look before heading down the street.

“That’ll learn ya,” Nasty said as she followed after Spock’s running figure.

Nick’s tormentors stood in a semicircle around his curled up form, laughing while the leader of their little gang pushed Nick’s face into the snow. The leader heard a low reverberating growl, and looked up just in time to be knocked off his feet by Spock’s airborne figure. One of the other teenagers pulled back a leg to kick Spock from behind, and immediately grew a calico cat with claws on his poised leg. Nasty let go as the boy fell backwards into the snow, grabbing his leg in pain.

“Watch these punks scatter, Nas,” Spock said.

The teenagers, regrouping around their leader as he regained his feet, suddenly faced an eighty pound snapping, snarling monster. It only took a few seconds of Spock’s hound from hell act to put the gang into full retreat down the street. Spock looked back at Nasty with a grin. The calico ignored him while licking her right paw.

“Um, um good,” Nasty said, finishing her cleaning, “fifteen year old, stringy, but tasty.”

“Why you little ghoul,” Spock replied in disgust.

Nick, in the meantime had sat up, and watched his two pets in amazement. “You two always sound like you’re talking to each other.”

Spock came over and stuck his nose into Nick’s upturned face. Nasty rubbed up against Nick’s parka, purring like a Singer sewing machine. Nick put an arm around Spock’s neck, hugging the dog as he stroked his temperamental cat.

“Thanks guys, you were awesome. How the heck did you both get out of the house?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Nasty said. She turned and headed back to the house. After a few steps, she looked back at Spock. “Get dork-boy moving, Spock, I’m freezin’ my butt off out here.”

Spock yanked on Nick’s gloved hand, helping the boy to his feet. “C’mon, Nick, before the calico wonder really starts complaining.”

Nick dusted the snow off his coat and pants. Spock turned and followed Nasty towards the house. The early dusk of winter nights enveloped the area in grainy, graying light. As the three friends trekked home, multicolored Christmas lights began popping on at Nick’s neighbors’ houses. Flakes of snow began drifting lazily down in the now hushed silence of early evening darkness. Nick and Spock paused in front of a fully lighted manger scene, adorned with the figures of a long ago night in Bethlehem. The magic of a Christmas decoration moment changed abruptly, as a hissing calico hopped around in anger, drawing a laugh from the boy.

“Okay, okay,” Nick relented, moving again toward the house. “How about I cook you two up a nice hamburger steak, just to say thanks?”

“If you don’t get moving, dork-boy,” Nasty shivered, “you will be a hamburger steak.”

“Shut up, Nas,” Spock growled, drooling at the thought of such a treat.

“He can’t understand us, you moron,” Nasty said, hopping up on the front stoop of their house.

“A little respect in this people holiday season wouldn’t hurt you, you ungrateful hairball,” Spock admonished the cat.

“Hey,” Nasty retorted, clawing at the screen door, “if not for me, dork-boy here would be sticking face first in that snow bank, with his little black boots waving like party favors in the breeze.”

Nick opened the door, allowing his two pets to slip in between him and the door. He looked back at the glittering lights, blinking in the snowy December darkness.

“God bless us everyone,” Nick sighed.

“Get in here, fool,” Nasty hissed in the doorway. “Close the door, and get cookin’.”

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Lighter Side Of Christmas Lights

I received a flyer, seeking to keep the Christmas lights on the building at a minimum, stuck to my door this morning, so I have to vent. :)

Christmas lights, blinking in rainbow colors, soothe the soul,
Easing even the burden shopping takes in hectic toll.
In spite of holiday haters, who try to bury Yuletide cheer,
We sing sacred, joyous carols with those we hold dear.
As irreligious dolts curse our season in darkness dreary,
We endure their petty whining until they become weary,
Finally trudging away, muttering about church and state,
Promising boycotts, media mischief, and a court date.
Each year it becomes harder and harder to celebrate,
For Grinches have multiplied like rabbits of late,
Extortion their tool to drive Christmas out of the schools,
Promising ACLU lawyers, acting their part as ghouls,
To tear apart the holy day, in an America hating fest,
Where everything we hold sacred is put to the test.
We have only our faith to warm us in these dread times,
Thinking of these cretins, in silent shadows, like mimes,
Their only purpose in life: to try and ruin the sublime,
For their atheistic lives have neither reason nor rhyme.
Taking pleasure only in forcing others to feel their pain,
Vampires on the neck of the world, with joy to drain.
Beware ye dark sullen, soulless creatures of the night!
We ignorant God fearing rubes are sick of your blight!
Show us your vaunted liberal respect for others' ways.
Next Christmas, lay under a rock till after the holidays.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ah Oh, Another Ten

Ten Possible (but not recommended) Responses To Angry Auto Repair Customers:

1. Let’s get you into your car while you can still walk.

2. Let’s go over what you don’t understand about the phrase “GET OUT”.

3. Let’s get together, so I can answer those thoughtful comments with some music from my lead pipe serenade.

4. Let’s talk over the small novel of things wrong with your POS (Piece of S**t), I wrote on the bottom of the invoice before I found out you can’t read.

5. Let’s get you a quarter, my treat, out of the cash box, so you can call someone who cares.

6. Let’s get a third party in here to hear your story. Know anyone who needs a good laugh?

7. Let’s hear how you think we should resolve this. I need a good laugh.

8. Let’s look at the up side. This will never happen again, because if I ever see you drive into my shop again, car repairs will be the least of your worries.

9. Let’s go over how you think this happened. I’m still writing my column on idiot things customers think for an auto trade magazine.

10. Let’s get you to stop screaming obscenities in my face, before I have to demonstrate one of my hobbies: dental surgery. I’m only at the knocking out stage, and I’ve been told it’s quite painful.

:)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Surcharge?

I was asked to comment professionally on surcharges in the automotive repair business. Since I find it impossible to critique a shop’s charges, other than my own; and because there are as many circumstances as there are shops, I kept my comment humorous.

You can be very profitable at this; and yes, surcharges are a necessity.

Start with book-time (Labor Guide) – A loss leader if there ever was one.

Then Add:

  1. ‘Age surcharge’ – What us old guys lack in speed, we make up for in enthusiasm.
  2. ‘Time Owning Shop surcharge’ – Hey, banks charge interest on loans.
  3. ‘Arthritis surcharge’ – And if you don’t like it, remember one day you’ll be old.
  4. ‘Busted Knuckle’ surcharge – Hospitals charge for blood and skin, don’t they?
  5. ‘I’m Going To Get Dirty On This Job’ surcharge – Soap and water cost money.
  6. ‘The Customer Gave Me Attitude’ surcharge – Sometimes gets grouped with #4.
  7. ‘I’m Old, And Left A Favorite Wrench Under The Hood’ surcharge – Because I can.
  8. ‘Customer Interrupted My Work All Day With Phone Calls’ surcharge – That’ll learn ‘ya!
  9. ‘Customer Argues About Bill, While Looking At Signed Estimate’ surcharge – This must be added at the beginning, and then discounted if not applicable.
  10. ‘Late For Appointment’ surcharge – Doctors charge for this, and they never make anything run better than ever.

My input was met with mixed reactions on the Shop Management Forum. :)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tis The Season

I finally have a chance to write down my first holiday encounter of the season from yesterday.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Bernie!” The young woman called out as she walked toward me.
“Thanks, happy Thanksgiving to you too,” I reply with welcoming smile. I have no idea who this lady is; but I figure it’s a customer I don’t recognize. I admit some days to not being the sharpest knife in the drawer.
“How’s your family?” She asks with a lilt in her voice I immediately fall for. I figure she’s been in my office and seen all the pictures on the wall.
“Great,” I answer. “The kids and Grandson are arriving tonight.”
“Wonderful… listen, I left my purse in the apartment…”
Aw crap, a grifter, and a gifted one at that.
“…I don’t want to walk all the way back. Can you loan me five dollars for the store? I’ll…”
“No, I don’t give out money here,” I cut her off, because if you give out money to grifters here in my neighborhood, the word gets out real quick.
“A couple bucks then…” she calls out as I’ve already turned away, and her voice has lost the friendly lilt.
“No money,” I repeat, still walking away.
“Thanks a lot, #%^*!%@&!”
“Happy Thanksgiving!” I call out, turning to wave. I’ll remember her the next time she comes in. :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Trouble With Batteries

I heard the ding of my motion detector; but I was underneath a 1991 GMC ¾ ton pickup, with both arms occupied. I called out ‘just a minute, and I’ll be right with you’. Yea, that worked. A woman in dress and high heels bypasses the no customer beyond this line marker, and click clacks over to the truck. She crouches down, peering under the truck.

“Hi, I don’t mean to bother you…”

Too late.

“…I was wondering if you could change a battery for me. I’ve already bought it, and it’s out there in my trunk.”

Oh goody, bring your own parts time. I slid out from under the truck carefully, after looking forlornly up at the steering gear I had almost jockeyed into position. A one man shop has its drawbacks. I can’t both whine about interruptions and the cost of hiring extra guys, while praising the pluses of being a one man band all these years.

“What year and make of vehicle do you have, ma’am?” I ask, as I work my way up to a standing position, and remove the filthy plastic gloves I’d been doing the steering gear job with.

“It’s a 2002 Chevy Impala,” she replied, following my gesture to walk back toward the shop front.

I told her what I charge for changing a late model GM vehicle battery, and she instantly becomes defensive. Most people believe changing a battery on late model vehicles is the same as doing one on a 1970 Chevy Impala. It’s not. If the vehicle computer is allowed to lose its memory, all kinds of unusual things can happen, such as stalling, hard starting, radio security lock out, or alarm circuit lock out. The charge is for half an hour, including the expertise in not messing the car up doing it.

“For changing a battery?!” Ms. Impala questions with what she thinks is legitimate outrage. “If I were a guy, you wouldn’t charge me that.”

“No, I’d tell you to take the battery back where you bought it, get a refund, and come in for me to install a new Delco Battery from my supplier; because I don’t normally install other people’s parts,” I answer truthfully.

I don’t know this woman, so being a little patient doesn’t hurt. I explain the complexity nowadays in changing a battery, assuming it is a maintenance replacement rather than a problem. The lady’s in her late twenties, and looks to have a good job if clothing is any indicator.

“Fine,” she sighs unconvinced. “Can I drive the car in?”

“Sure, I’ll get an invoice ready.”

Ms. Impala drives in. I write up the estimate, looking the car over for any hidden traps under the hood, like dirty fingerprints indicating the backyard boys had beat me to this job a couple times. She signs the estimate, and I give her the copy. Ms. Impala opens her trunk. I take out the new battery, and load test it. It’s no good. Luckily, it has removable caps over the cells, and I show her the brand new battery has a dead cell with my hydrometer. To say she’s unhappy would be an understatement. I remind her it could have been worse. I could have installed it; and when it didn’t run, we’d have both been really unhappy. I load the DOA new battery in her trunk and she leaves.

I take my phone under the GMC with me, because I know what’s coming next. The phone rings fifteen minutes later. It’s the sales manager of Backyard Bob’s Parts R Us.

“Did you tell this lady our new batteries were no good?!! I’ll…”

“No,” I cut him off, “I did not tell her your new batteries were bad. I told her the one she brought over for me to install was no good, and I showed her which cell was faulty. Did you test it?”

“Our batteries are…”

“Did you test it!?” I repeat more pointedly.

Silence.

“Call me back after you test it,” I add quickly and hang up.

No calls, so I finish the GMC. An hour later, the 2002 Impala drives in. The lady gets out in irritated fashion, and walks around to meet me as I leave the office. She has her arms folded tightly over her chest (body language I’ve learned over the years meaning I’m pissed off). This is better than hands on hips, which means I’m pissed off at you.

“The sales manager put another new battery in for me,” she states.

“Great,” I reply, wondering why are you here then.

“My Chevy is stalling at every other stop now.”

I shrug. “Just drive it for a few days until the computer gets a chance to relearn the idle. Hopefully, that’s the only thing you’ll have a problem with. There will be stuff you will have to reset from your owners manual. When you start having trouble, look in the index, and follow the directions for whatever it is you find doesn’t work right.”

“Can’t you just hook something up and set it for me?”

Uh oh, the hands drop to her hips.

“No, it doesn’t work that way,” and I know this from experience. Something else always shows up in real life driving. I didn’t want this monkey on my back. “You’ll have to be patient. Otherwise, I suggest you take it to the dealer.”

“Thanks… you’ve been a lot of help,” she retorts on her way to slamming into her car and driving off.

Yep, that’s me, Mr. Helpful. :)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day

I remember reading about two marines in the Pacific who won the Medal of Honor, one of them posthumously. The story was in a Time-Life Book series I bought about World War Two. It told the story of a Marine Special Weapons Platoon, in charge of guarding the Zanana beach supply area from being retaken by the Japanese on New Georgia. The Platoon put together a couple of 30 caliber machine guns from spare parts and established a rear guard post. Corporal Maier Rothschild and Private John Wantuck volunteered to man the guns. The platoon came under attack from a Japanese battalion, and retreated individually back to the beach, regrouping to face the next charge. It never came. In the morning, the Marines found Wantuck, and Rothschild had been cut off. They found these two Marines with more than a hundred dead Japanese littered around their spare-parts machine gun positions. Wantuck lay dead next to his empty gun, encircled by dead Japanese he had killed with his knife and grenades. Rothschild, wounded, lay surrounded by dead enemies. A Japanese General’s attack failed because of two bad ass American Marines.

Since the Marine Corps just celebrated their birthday, I used this one of many incredible true stories of America’s vets to remember this Veterans’ Day. Thank you all for your dedication, honor, and patriotism. Thank you all for our freedom.

Let me close this with a portion of French President Sarkozy’s speech to our US Congress, thanking America’s Veterans:

“The men and women of my generation heard their grandparents talk about how in 1917, America saved France at a time when it had reached the final limits of its strength, which it had exhausted in the most absurd and bloodiest of wars.

The men and women of my generation heard their parents talk about how in 1944, America returned to free Europe from the horrifying tyranny that threatened to enslave it.

Fathers took their sons to see the vast cemeteries where, under thousands of white crosses so far from home, thousands of young American soldiers lay who had fallen not to defend their own freedom but the freedom of all others, not to defend their own families, their own homeland, but to defend humanity as a whole.

Fathers took their sons to the beaches where the young men of America had so heroically landed. They read them the admirable letters of farewell that those 20-year-old soldiers had written to their families before the battle to tell them: "We don't consider ourselves heroes. We want this war to be over. But however much dread we may feel, you can count on us." Before they landed, Eisenhower told them: "The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you."

And as they listened to their fathers, watched movies, read history books and the letters of soldiers who died on the beaches of Normandy and Provence, as they visited the cemeteries where the star-spangled banner flies, the children of my generation understood that these young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children.”

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Visit

Had a visitor yesterday who ran the gamut of clich├ęs involving employees of the state. At first they’re funny; and then they become annoying, followed rapidly by enraging. The most important fact us common, private sector people forget is Government employees do not produce anything. Aside from police, firemen, and the many times incompetent so-called leaders, the remainder of government employees are in positions created to solve problems. The only problem with that job description is if they solve the problem, they’re out of a job. Therefore government never solves problems, it exacerbates them.

Thus, over the years I’ve entertained a wide variety of these parasites, coming by to stick their authoritative noses into my business. They come in various endeavors from the federal, state, and local parasitic main frame. Yesterday’s representative of all things arrogant and condescending stepped into the shop looking like he just walked out of GQ’s fashion pages. At first, I thought, wow, doctor, lawyer, plumber :); but no, he was from the government, and he was here to he’p me. I won’t name which parasitic branch, so I will refer to him by the name GQ Leach. Some of these folks steal so much from businesses, they should have a gun and a mask when they visit. Others, like Mr. Leach, wish to dictate how we do business. I won’t go into all the details of Mr. Leach’s pitch, because I do believe in the black helicopters, but I’ll relate some of the more humorous points.

“Hi, can I help you,” I asked in my most reverent tone, cause he could have owned a brand new Cad Escalade, and he’d be the first in my neck of the woods.

GQ Leach doesn’t say anything right away. He merely scans the inside of my building. GQ then hands me a card, with some abbreviated nonsense on it, along with his name and phone number.

“Are you the owner?” Mr. Leach asks, with this tone like he was auditioning for Muldar’s job on the X-Files, and I had Area 51 behind the building.

“Yes,” I answer, with I’m sure disappointment in my voice, cause if this guy owns an Escalade, I ain’t ever going to see it.

“Can we talk?”

“Yes,” I admit, he does a great Joan Rivers imitation. I motion to the office. “Come in the office. I can give you about fifteen minutes. If that’s not enough, it’ll have to wait for a different day.”

GQ did not like that, but he follows me inside anyway. Mr. Leach gives me this five minute spiel on community service; which starts ringing alarm bells in my head, as I unconsciously reach back to see if my wallet is still in my pocket.

“Just a second,” I break in with a polite hand gesture. “I give to six legitimate organizations, where nearly every cent of my donation goes to help: Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Salvation Army, Marines Toys For Tots, Operation Gratitude, and Operation AC. If you ain’t one of those, I don’t donate to you.”

“I’m not representing a charity here,” GQ retorts. “As a small businessman, you surely understand the importance of giving back to the community. I…”

“No, as a matter of fact, I don’t,” I break in again. “This isn’t a charity either. If I don’t do a damn good job of fixing cars and trucks here, as I have for over thirty years, the community would have put me out of business long ago. The Community and I have a great understanding: they don’t give me something for nothing, and I in return don’t give them something for nothing. Listen, Mr. Leach, let’s get to the bottom line here. Put it in plain words for me. What are you after me to do?”

GQ looks around the office, doing some mouth tightening exercises before responding.

“We’d like you to become involved in hiring…”

“This is a one-man-shop,” I cut him off, now realizing where this is going.

“Yes, well… we’d like you to consider hiring someone as a way of…”

“I’m not hiring anyone. I’ll tell you what though. If your agency picks up the tab for workman’s comp, health care, liability insurance, payroll taxes, SSI, and all vacation and sick days, I’ll consider it.”

GQ laughs. I don’t. I stand up. We’re done, because Mr. Leach has not a clue what it would cost me in real money to adopt his little work program. It may be a game to whomever he represents, or maybe to him. My business is not a game to me.

“Sorry, I can’t help you,” I reply as a polite way of saying get out.

“I think you should reconsider,” GQ stands up, but stays with the pitch. Maybe he works on quota. “After all, you…”

“No,” I open the door for him, as he finally takes the hint; but favors me with some muttering about short-sightedness, which will definitely warm me up to his plan.

After he’s gone, I think about my favorite George Washington quote:

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Squeaky Wheel

This episode is under general info. Over the last couple months, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being the middle man between three different dealerships in the area, and customers with legitimate warranty issues. They were all different makes, so it may be just a hard line tactic here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ll skip the boring details, and get right to the chase. Customer comes in to have late model vehicle checked out. I find their problem listed under legitimate warranty coverage. Customer gets run around at dealer, including the usual independent garage insults directed at me; which I take good-naturedly, because I’ve been in business longer than any of them. I talk the customer into using my diagnostic findings in a call to their particular vehicle manufacturer’s customer service hotline, listed in the owner’s manual. In all three cases, the manufacturers put in a call to the dealer with an order to fix under warranty.

I know there are unscrupulous people who buy a new car; and then expect the dealer to make good on everything, including stuff their own poor maintenance habits caused. That does not mean it’s okay to give everyone through the door the old heave-ho. If you read this, and you have a relatively new vehicle with warranty issues, keep the old adage in mind about the ‘squeaky wheel gets the grease’. Use the customer service hotline when there is a question. Anything to do with emission controls, by law, has at least a five year/50,000mile to ten year/100,000 mile warranty, depending on your location.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Interaction

I heard a car with very high idle revving up into my shop, just before the motion detector went off. I didn’t have time to walk around the car I was working on before the driver beeped his horn for attention. This is on a par with an author sending out a query letter, stating in the first line the agent would be an idiot not to represent the author’s work. I approached the old 1984 Honda, with real interest now I’d been beeped at. Two men, one in his early twenties, and one in his late twenties, jumped out of the car, leaving it running at high rev.

“Can I help you?” I asked the driver, while keeping an eye on the guy approaching rapidly from the passenger side. The driver gestured at the car, rolling his eyes and not saying anything. Oh great, a mime. I hate mimes.

“Say man, I need you to show me how to turn down the idle speed on this,” the guy from the passenger side speaks for the mime.

The middle eighties Honda has one of the most screwed up monstrosities for a carburetor ever designed. It has a plethora of vacuum hoses streaming out of it in all directions, and multitudes of problems I won’t bore any of you with. Needless to say I had no intention of wasting the next half hour showing beep-beep and his friend how to do anything on the Honda.

“Sorry, the only thing I can do is make you an appointment to leave the car off for a diagnostic check,” and I tell them how much. The mime immediately throws his hands up in the air in disgust; and does a little walk around, shaking his head.

“Look, I had a guy turn up the idle, but I wasn’t watchin’,” the passenger informed me. “I’ll give you a few bucks to show me where to turn it down at.”

“I don’t work like that, and especially not on one of these old Hondas. Find the guy who turned it up for you and have him show you,” I tell him, as he opts to now try and invade my airspace (three feet minimum, for all those not familiar with my preference from prior blog descriptions). I hold up a hand. “If you can do a palm reading on this hand, Sir, you’re too close.”

“Just turn down the damn idle for me!” He tries a little high volume persuasion, as he backs away slightly.

“Not going to happen, Sir,” I inform him politely. He stares at me. This is good stuff. I’m already making blog notes in my head: a beep-beep, a mime, an attempted personal airspace invasion, ordered to do a freebie in my own shop, and a stare down.

I lost the stare down. I couldn’t help it. I smiled first. Then the mime comes over and gestures for the passenger to get into the car.

“C’mon, let’s go,” the mime speaks, as he slides behind the wheel and slams his door.

The passenger stares for another moment, consolidating his win in the stare-down I guess, and then gets in on the passenger side. The Honda rev’s out the shop doorway, and zooms down the street in a huff. I admit I lost the stare-down; but I did provoke the mime into speaking. :) Another meaningful interaction in the Naked City.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Vampire

Last horror poem before the end of Halloween. :)

Nightfall brings much worse than the dark,
Creatures who crave its shadows in the park.
Pale skinned demons without saving souls,
Who see in darkness with red rimmed coals.

Woe to those who fall beneath their spell,
Blundering where these fanged fiends dwell.
Gazing into hypnotic eyes of eternal night,
Fear flows with lifeblood within this evil rite.

Wide staring orbs, which no longer see out,
Glaze over, as free will loses ability to doubt.
One with the monster who ravages her neck,
Her Tarot reads death, drawn from this deck.

Life of love flashes behind her unseeing eyes,
Left without hope, or angel, to hear her cries.
Arms fall weakly in submission to this devil,
Who pulls back now from his gorging revel.

Blood smeared lips draw back in eerie smile,
Still entrancing his victim with vampire guile.
He holds her, as he slices his bared forearm,
Willing all to be right, with no further harm.

Guiding his wound beneath her waiting teeth,
Deciding eternal night upon her to bequeath.
Salty tasting, red elixir placed within her lips,
Unknowingly from damnation's well she sips.

Doomed to the shadows for all earthly time,
Never the sun to see or church step to climb.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Return of the Falcon

After over three decades, I can pick out a tow truck passing or stopping in front of my shop with unerring accuracy. When I looked up, having heard the distinct sound, the tow truck indeed passed by, only I cursed openly, knowing he was turning around. The reason being, an unfortunately familiar 1965 Ford Falcon junker from past blog posts, followed the tow truck like a big guppy, with hook in its mouth. The tow truck driver pulled up in front and the Falcon owner hopped down, hurrying over to me.

“Bernie… hi…” the man begins, breathlessly, bending over at the waist as if he ran over to my shop behind the tow truck. “My…my car won’t go into gear.”

Thank you, Lord, I pray silently. I don’t fix transmissions.

“I guess your transmission has finally given up the ghost,” I inform him. “Secondly, it’s always a good idea to call first before you head over attached to a tow truck. I don’t rebuild transmissions, so I’ll get you the number and name of a place that does.”

“Oh no…” he exclaims in agony. “What could have caused that?”

“It’s forty-two years old. You’ve been dripping huge quantities of transmission oil all over the East Bay for the last three years I know of. Every time I’ve checked the car, it’s been down at least two quarts of transmission oil,” I list off all the items as if he hasn’t heard them from me the last dozen times I’ve told him he needed to fix the transmission.

“What’ll I do?”

“Fix the transmission, or junk the car,” I reply, having been over this ground so many times, it feels like home.

“I…I can’t junk it…” he gasps in surprise I would even mention such a thing.

“I’ll get you the number. In fact, I’ll call over there and see if he can take you right now,” I volunteer, hoping against hope.

I call, and my regular referral shop doesn’t do any in the Falcon age category, but he gives me a number for one that does. The guy at the other shop says send him over. I fill out the address and phone number, give it to the tow truck driver, and wish my Falcon customer good luck.

“I’ll call if I have any trouble,” the Falcon owner tells me. “How much do they charge?”

“I have no idea; but according to my other transmission guy, the place you’re taking it to is the only one in the area doing ones in your car’s age range. If you have any trouble with the transmission, call the guy you’re taking it to, because I can’t help you with the transmission part.”

“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” Mr. Falcon sighs, trudging toward the tow truck passenger side.

I told Mr. Falcon what to do the first time I saw him years ago, when the Falcon needed an engine, but he didn’t listen. I will repeat what I told him, so maybe someone reading this will use it to their advantage. Never fix fifty dollar junkers, needing thousands of dollars in repairs. A fifty dollar junker is a four wheel succubus. It will not stop draining you until you’re a dried up husk.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Zombie

Another horror poem. :)

Zombie

I awake in pitch black, with ashes in my throat,

Eyes and lips sewn shut, my life’s song wrote.

Voodoo Houngan guiding my un-dead thought,

My body moves as my death curse has taught.

Existing only to desecrate, life eludes my grasp,

Waking wish only to hear my final coffin clasp.

Bokor’s enemies direct my fatal, nocturnal call,

Ripping away life, I rend within Mambo thrall.

Seeing sign marking innocents for unholy death,

I rip their bodies, until I hear their final breath.

Enslaved to hard labor for my lazy life’s waste,

Doomed to walk without sight, smell or taste.

Pray now to Ghede, Voodoo Lord of the Dead,

Restore tortured soul so no longer Mambo led.

Hope from un-dead misery with Loa Gods lie,

Escape victims’ screams before their final sigh.

Freed from this curse, much ground I will cover,

To make Mambo call for her death like a lover.

No penance can I make, for so many tragic ends,

I will skin Mambo’s body, and make my amends.

The Lord of the Dead will tear my soul asunder,

For slicing one of his Loa Priestesses of wonder.

To hear dread Mambo’s terrified, cackling pleas,

I would gladly brave the Ghede’s wrathful decrees.

Rest then would I, for eternity’s final blissful sleep,

Having sent that Mambo bitch to be buried deep.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Look

“You’re not going to believe this,” the young woman informed me breathlessly, jogging inside the front entrance of my shop.

Oh lady, if you only knew the Twilight Zone of what I’m capable of believing, you probably wouldn’t be standing inside my shop. While dressed neatly enough in jeans and sweater top, I’m getting a bad vibe as to what might seem so unbelievable to this woman. She will assume the secret identity of Suzan Surprise for the remainder of this short journey into the unknown. I immediately decide to shelve my usual greeting of ‘Can I help you?’, and adopt my interested look with furrowed brow. Picture Spock on Star Trek just before he says ‘Fascinating’.

“My Buick’s right outside your shop,” Ms. Surprise said, gesturing at me to follow her.

Okay, I’m game. I follow her out and get a look at her ninety something Buick. I stand corrected. Someone had neatly removed her front and rear windshields. I don’t mean broke them out. I mean removed them as if the Buick had been in a glass shop. I felt like ‘Dexter’ when they called him to the scene last season of dismembered bloodless body parts.

“And they didn’t even steal anything,” Suzan informs me.

“Ah… yea, they did,” I dispute her summary of events quietly, while walking around the vehicle, which had been converted into a four wheel wind tunnel. I walk over to her after my examination. “You’re right, I haven’t seen this before; but I’ll get you a business card for Glass On The Move. They will actually make house-calls, but it might be better if you go to their shop so they can see this.”

Ms. Surprise follows me into the office, and I give her a business card for the glass shop.

“It’s really weird driving the car like this… and everyone looks at me when I come to a stop,” Suzan enlightens me.

I’ll bet they do.

“I’m sorry I can’t do anything for you here,” I say instead.

“Thanks for the referral. At least it’s not too far away.”

I go out and watch Suzan drive away, hair blowing in the wind. I hope whoever gets the stolen windshields never gets them sealed properly; and they leak forever… the jerk.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wednesday Wants

1. I want to walk into the shop without my usual angst.

2. I want The Magic Mechanic on call for consultation.

3. I want shop management software reading my mind (too dangerous) making up invoices on its own.

4. I want if a bolt or tool falls to the floor, it will not proceed to the exact center of the vehicle.

5. I want the Gremlins of auto repair to stop taking the tools or parts I set down, and hiding them in other parts of my shop while I’m not looking.

6. I want every job to go down just like the book says. (I may as well throw in world peace.)

7. I want the frozen bolts I’m loosening to not give way until I am clear of sharp sheet metal and elbow busting frame parts. (If I get this one, there will already be world peace.)

8. I want people to understand, yes I can fix anything on a vehicle; and I can fix theirs, but I also unfortunately have a conscience.

9. I want people to exit and stand away from their vehicles without explanation. (The explanation being it’s human nature to honk, start the vehicle, or put it in gear the moment an unwary mechanic puts his head under the hood.)

10. I want people to stop asking me if I’ll be leaving for my Villa in France after I’m through fixing their car. (Yea, the first couple hundred times it was funny)


:)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Werewolf

The shop adventures are bland. Since it's close to Halloween, I'll post one of my horror poems. :)

Werewolf

Glowing eyes, simmering coals of sight,

Beast consumed by full moon this night.

Fierce fangs, foaming red grisly drool,

Blood flows from victim in growing pool.

Change comes without warning of plight,

No thought comes, reminding moral right.

Pain pierces through raging carnal heat,

Innocence suffers with slow final heartbeat.

Dancing angels of heaven’s bright light,

Hiding blessed eyes from slavering bite.

Evil mythical thing rises over red kill,

Glaring defiantly into night now still.

Stars sparkle in moonstruck tainted sky,

Changeling howls, its hellish, hideous cry.

Even Heaven rocks before this sorry song,

Voicing moonlit monstrous deed so wrong.

Dreams like life ebbs from dim dying eyes,

Lips, left only to exhale her last brief sighs.

Fading sight forming with one final breath,

Hoary fanged demon dancing over her death.

Silent prayers for heavenly aid put aside,

Released finally, along with earthly pride.

Mist descends to shroud this tragic play,

Justice awaits now, the first light of day.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rejection Letters

I’ve noticed a trend amongst agents, who must be taking heat from whiny writers about their wording in rejection letters. The ‘I didn’t fall in love with this’ theme in the recent rejection letters I’ve received is a hoot. I liked the old style ‘Sorry, not interested’ or ‘Not for us’, and then a quick ‘Good Luck’ at the end if the agent feels charitable. This ‘let them down easy so we don’t get hate mail’ is getting really funny. Dear agents, on behalf of we thick skinned, cement-headed, writer wannabe’s, we realize you don’t have the time to hold our hands while you stick the knife in. We like the quick stab right in the heart. Don’t sugar coat it. You can’t please the sensitive sissies out there, believing they’re God’s gift to the written word anyway. They’d want you all to write a book of your own explaining what exactly about their masterpiece failed to garner acclaim from the writing world.

Love appears in so many rejection notes now, I nearly deleted a manuscript request because I couldn’t tell the difference. I bet the Snark doesn’t use love in her rejection letters. I think I may have queried the Snark, not knowing of course, because her identity is a secret. The rejection letter said simply, ‘Don’t ever write me again. In fact, don’t write again, period’. Now that’s a rejection letter. :)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Back, But Not In Black

Lucretia came in yesterday right on time, dressed in jeans and a gray sweater. Although all her rings were pierced into place, she had chosen a more conservative pair for her ears. I did a quick scan of her Toyota while she waited in the office, and picked up an evaporative emissions leak code. Although knowing Toyota has problems with evaporative canister valves and solenoids leaking, I checked the obvious first: the gas cap. It was lying on its side in the little gas filler compartment. I screwed it on till it clicked, and erased the evap code. Since she had not complained of any problems with the Toyota’s performance, I figured it might be something simple. Ms. McEvil was happy, and remembered getting gas the day before yesterday. I charged my minimum fee, since I have to get something for my time and hooking up a twenty-five hundred dollar scanner.

“Do you think I’ll have any problems from leaving the gas cap off?” Lucretia asked on her way out my office door.

“I doubt it, but swing by if you notice anything,” I answered.

“I’m glad I can get to work today on time. I thought I’d have to take the bus, and I already warned my boss I’d probably be late. Thanks again. I’ll call when my next maintenance check is due.”

“No problem, I’m glad it wasn’t a big deal,” I answer with the little voice in my head shouting, ‘ask her what she does at work’.

I watch Lucretia get into her Toyota and leave. ‘Chicken’ the exasperated voice shouts in my head. :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fashionable Black

I sat in the office doing the quarterly sales tax figures (thanks California) when a car drove in, and set off my trusty motion detector. I can’t do a smiley face, so I didn’t need to prepare for this potential customer. Out the office I go, do a quick glance to make sure the car isn’t of European origin. Confirming it was a Toyota, I glanced at the lady getting out of the driver’s side door. Holy Moley, folks, it’s a Goth. In my defense, I work on anyone’s car or truck if it’s of Asian or American origin. Baggy pants at mid thigh, ear and nose rings, old washed up flower child attire, none disqualify a potential customer here.

This lady walked around the car, and I immediately switched on my Mr. Robotico face of enthused interest. It helps to have such a face in my repertoire, to cover my initial facial urge of gape-mouthed rube. Imagine Wednesday Addams, completely clothed in black, aging into her late thirties, and adding black fingernails, black lipstick, black eye shadow, nose and eyebrow rings, and black dangling ear pieces. My first thought was there goes the blog drought. She smiled at me, waiting for the reaction she probably has come to expect. I didn’t give an inch.

“Hi, can I help you?” I asked in full on concerned, Mr. Robotico mode.

“Yes, I was recommended by a customer of yours,” and she rattles off a name of another new customer I acquired in the last year. “My name’s Lucretia McEvil (name changed for my own amusement). The check engine light is on in my Toyota, and I’d like you to have a look at it.”

“Sure,” I agree, leading the way into my office, and taking a seat at the desk for a look at the calendar. “You can drop it off tomorrow morning.”

“Do you charge for looking at it?”

“No, looking is free, but I charge for the diagnostic check,” Mr. Sarcastico sneaks in over Robotico for a moment, but I smile disarmingly.

Lucretia chuckles appreciatively and nods. “I live in Berkeley…”

Of course you do.

“…and I won’t be able to drop it off until nine. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” I reply, and take down her address and phone number for the calendar and invoice.

As Lucretia walked out of my office, I wondered what Ms. McEvil dresses as for Halloween. I am not Gothaphobic, so please, no e-mails. I just hadn’t seen one styled so elaborately. Maybe Lucretia makes a few minor changes, and hits the Halloween party circuit as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. :)