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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Kiddie Recorders

I have a small basketball hoop stand for when my four year old grandson visits. He loves to run around the car with me in hot pursuit, and slam the ball on me. Needless to say, this form of basketball keeps my winning percentage down, and he’ll do this for an hour if I don’t pass out first. :) When he visited the last time, he immediately wanted to play ‘basketball’ so on the way out to the hoop, he says:

“Pa, I’m slamming on you today.”

No, really?

“Not today, kid,” I lie. “I’m going to beat you like a red-headed step child.”

He laughs, and slams on me.

I’m sitting on the couch this week after a day fighting motor mounts, and other rusted, caked with dirt parts on a 1978 Chevy Truck. My daughter calls from Sacramento.

“Hey, Dad, what the heck’s up with this ‘beat you like a red-headed step child’ stuff?”

Uh oh.

“You know he’s still getting into trouble for finger signing L’s on his forehead, and the ‘talk to the hand’ stuff, you and that idiot brother of mine taught him,” she scolds me. It’s payback time, and she has a long memory.

“We didn’t teach it to him,” I disagree calmly. “Your brother and I were trading them back and forth, not realizing we had your son around for playback later. My bad. As to my most recent addition to his phraseology, I…”

“Maybe you should just not say anything around him,” she jokes pointedly.

“Or maybe he and I could talk about the old days when you were young,” I reply innocently.

“Don’t you dare!”

Yesssssssss! :)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Migraine Help

My wife suffered week long migraines, which sometimes ended in trips to the emergency room and drugs that never cut the pain. I came up with a way to massage the base of her neck and top of the spinal cord which would lift the migraine immediately if she told me soon enough; and would lift it after about fifteen minutes, even if it was full blown, including nausea and flashing lights. If you have the migraine victim sit on a stool, you put your thumbs at the nape of the neck with your fingers at the areas on both sides around the temples. You must explore with your thumbs until you find the spot which causes the migraine sufferer the most pain (sometimes the area is formed in an actual lump or group of small lumps). If the sufferer gets a weird feeling, like a lifting sensation, as you massage it, you’re in the right spot. Dig your thumbs in gently at first, and progressively harder while supporting and massaging at the temples with your fingers. Keep increasing the pressure with the thumbs until as with my wife, her feet start to pound. Expand the area of your massage gradually, and I am afraid the adage no pain no gain applies here. Break every few minutes to rub down the sufferer’s shoulders and upper back. If the victim comes to you within a few minutes of the first symptoms, you can get rid of it within the first five minutes. If the migraine sufferer arrives from somewhere in complete pain with nausea, it has sometimes taken me twenty minutes to relieve it.

Since coming up with this well over twenty years ago, I have taught customers, relatives and friends to get rid of these migraine headaches. Each one was different, but there is always a spot the victim can feel, where they experience a lifting sensation. It may sound simplistic, but I never saw another human being in such intense pain as my wife after four days straight with one of these things, and it has always worked on her without drugs, and on all the people I have shown over the years.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Window Trouble

A late model Ford Mustang convertible drove up into my shop as I exited the office this morning. A stunning, red-haired woman in a black skirt and white blouse exited the driver’s side door, beaming a smile capable of melting the coldest businessman’s heart; but they don’t call me the iceman for nothing. :) Her hair was long and tied back tightly, accenting her facial features. She may have been anywhere between her late twenties to her late thirties. I smiled back politely, with proper accompanying helpful concerned look, I’ve learned to fake expertly over the years.

“Good morning, can I help you?”

She doesn’t say anything for a moment. She simply glances at her car, and then walks up into my air space. I hate that. I don’t care if you’re the reincarnation of Aphrodite, my no fly zone is three feet, ten feet if you’ve hit the bourbon before coming over to see me. She looks up at me with that brightly imaginative look I always find hard to describe. It reminds me of that empty-headed blonde on Miami CSI, who always smiles at inappropriate times.

“I need your help,” the red-head informs me in a husky voice.

I nod understandingly while taking an unobtrusive step back toward my office, kicking up the door jamb, and allowing the door to close. I turn back toward her, only now I’ve regained my three foot no fly zone. She notices, and the smile goes away momentarily.

“Are you having a problem with your car?” I ask, interest painted over my features falsely. I smell a rat.

“My driver’s side electric window won’t work,” she informs me with a gesture back at her car. “I live in Burlingame, and I’m here visiting my sister, Kelsey Powell (the names have been changed to protect the innocent). She said you could help me out.”

I recognize the sister's name. She owns a Jeep she brings in after trying every backyard Bob mechanic in the area first, and then gripes when I have to charge her for undoing the damage. I have a feeling Kelsey is looking for payback.

“If you leave the car now, I can get it checked out in the next couple hours, and let you know how much it will cost to fix it. The diagnostic fee is seventy-five dollars.”

“You charge just to check it?” She asks in complete shock. “The window doesn’t work. How many things could it possibly be?”

“Quite a few,” I reply patiently. “It could be as simple as the master switch, or as complicated as a window motor or harness problem.”

“Couldn’t you just give it a look, and come up with some ballpark figure on the repair?” She asks sweetly.

“No,” I smile back sweetly. “Would you like to leave it?”

“Maybe I should go to the dealer,” She comments thoughtfully, looking up and off to my left in serious contemplation.

“Broadway Motors is the nearest Ford dealer in the area,” I remark helpfully, turning to the office. She must think I just fell off the vegetable truck. Window diagnostics at the dealer start at double my modest price. “I’ll get the address for you.”

“No…” she sighs hugely, “I don’t have time for this. Can I get it back today?”

“I can let you know for sure in a couple hours, once I find out what’s wrong.”

“Fine, here’s my card with cell-phone number,” she states with just a hint of exasperation creeping into her voice as she fishes a card out of her matching black purse, and hands it to me. “The keys are in the ignition.”

She turns to walk out.

“Just a second, Ma’am,” I halt her with my abrupt tone. “I have to write up an invoice, and give you a copy of the estimate.”

“Is that really necessary? You know my sister.”

Yea, I know your sister, I’m thinking. That’s why all the T’s will be crossed and the I’s dotted before you get out of here.

“Yes, it’s the state law,” I hide behind the state of California expertly, quickly ducking into my office and retrieving clipboard and invoice. Minutes later she’s on her way with estimate in hand.

Mr. Mustang turns out to only need a master switch, which probably burned out when it drank in the cup of coffee coating the outer armrest. I removed the door panel; and cleaned up from the master switches’ coffee break, while checking for harness damage, and manually energizing the window motor. I received the big sigh on the phone, even though the estimate was a couple hundred dollars less than a replacement window motor. Both sisters came to pick up the car. ‘Kelsey’ left after dropping off the red-head with only grim look for me. No smiles, no thank you, just a muttered ‘I can’t believe a simple switch could cost this much’. She glanced at me with some irritation, as she popped into the driver’s seat, and immediately checked my work. I waved, and mouthed a thank you at the office door. She left without an acknowledgement. Gee, and she seemed so attracted to me and friendly earlier. :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hump Day

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” A male voice called out from the large doorway in strident voice as if he had been standing there for twenty minutes waiting for recognition.

I left the 2002 Buick I was under the hood of, and walked out to greet him. As soon as he saw me coming toward him, he launched into a string of unrecognizable jargon. I’d of rather he kept yelling if he could have done it coherently. We danced at the door for a few minutes with me repeating the phrase ‘I have no idea what you just said’ and him repeating the same non-language; but slower, and louder. Finally realizing I had no intention of playing the street lingo game, he decided to make what he was saying relatively understandable.

“I see you alone, man. Have any work I could do around here?”

Let me explain Workman’s Compensation in California as a preface to the rest of this conversation. If you have a small business, and you take in hired help off the street, you’ll be lucky if all you lose is your business. The State checks, and they will fine you right out of existence. If you take in hired help off the street legally with all the payroll tax and Workman’s Comp., in many cases your worker will end up taking home more than you do. So, for my own peace of mind, and financial well-being, I’m a one-man-show. I endeavored to explain this to the man to no avail.

“Well who does your sweepin’ and clean-up?”

“I do it. I’m too small time to hire clean-up crews or even another mechanic. It’s just too expensive.”

He thought this over for a moment; and I took the opportunity to turn toward my Buick, only not fast enough to escape his next conversational step I had figured was coming.

“How ‘bout lending me…”

“Sorry, I don’t give out money here,” I cut in, as I returned to the hood of the Buick.

“Well, let me borrow a can opener,” he calls out after me.

I start laughing.

“It ain’t funny, man,” he petitions for understanding, to no avail.

“Yea, it is,” I replied. “I don’t have a can opener because everything is pop-top these days, even soup cans; but I don’t loan items out of here anyway, so it really wouldn’t matter if I did have a can opener. Now…”

“You ain’t very Christian, man!” He pronounces judgment on me.

“Yea, I am,” I disagree again, “but I have enough lion in me to believe God helps those who help themselves. You were on the right track when you came in here. Try getting hired on at a place needing help.”

“It’d be different if I was a white man,” he pulled the race card, to no avail. Been there, done that.

I laughed, because after over thirty years working here in East Oakland, I’ve learned to enjoy these little stage plays. They proceed through practiced steps, and I could dance with the best of them. When the crack house was open for business a couple houses down from me, everything was for sale for five dollars back then, and I never bought a single item to further human misery. I heard it all if I didn’t buy what they were selling: got any work, lend me…, you ain’t a Christian, you a racist. Of course, the white crack-heads could only get as far as the ‘you ain’t a Christian’ lyric. Man, there’s a drug that cuts across all human barriers.

Anyway, the guy in my shop had reached his final gambit, and he starts chuckling. He gave me a final wave off and left. Well, they call Wednesday hump day, so I have to get back to it. I wanted to get my conversational journey from potential employer to racist down into words before it vanished from my mind along with my white guilt. :)

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I had a light schedule yesterday, and was in the process of catching up on book work in the back room, when an early 90’s Ford Ranger drove up into the shop. An intense looking guy in his middle forties exited the driver’s side door, giving me a thin lipped smile as I approached. I’m feeling better with only the dregs of the bone-ache flu left, and I’m looking forward to doing some business.

“Good morning, can I help you?” I asked brightly.

“Yea, AutoZone just diagnosed my truck, and I wanted to talk it over with you.”


“Wouldn’t it be better to talk this over with the guy at AutoZone who diagnosed it?” I asked reasonably.

“They already scanned it, and told me I need an oxygen sensor,” he continued without acknowledging my input. “I need to know how much it would cost for you to put the one in I bought from them, and what your guarantee is.”

“If I did put their oxygen sensor in at your request, there would be no guarantee. It’s not my part and not my diagnosis.”

“I told you they already told me what’s wrong,” He replied, the familiar sound of customer frustration building in his voice.

“Actually, they pulled codes. There’s a big difference between a diagnosis and pulling codes. A code stored in the computer can point you toward an area where the computer sees something out of specifications, but…”

“I don’t need a lecture,” he interrupted, with a wave of the hand. “If the truck sets an oxygen sensor code, it’s just common sense the oxygen sensor needs replaced.”

“Sometimes, and sometimes the oxygen sensor is working great; but in compensating for some other problem, it sets a false oxygen sensor code,” I reply, wondering why the hell I’m continuing this conversation, knowing the guy thinks I’m a crook already. “It doesn’t matter, because I don’t install AutoZone parts. I think you need to find another repair place that will put in customer supplied parts.”

He looks at me for a moment, realizing finally I’d just told him to take a hike. He started to get back in the Ranger, and then stood away from the truck.

“Okay, how much for you to diagnose it?” He asked, surprising the hell out of me.

“Seventy-five dollars, and it’s not part of the fix,” I answered.

“Fine,” he sighed. “Write it up.”

Later, after the customer left with estimate in hand, I drove the poor little Ranger over to the side and began what I call exploratory surgery. About forty minutes later, I knew exactly what was wrong with the Ford Ranger, and it wasn’t the oxygen sensor. The oxygen sensor was varying on my scanner just like it was supposed to do. There were no misses, or vacuum leaks. The code set in memory revealed the computer saw an overly lean condition from the oxygen sensor at sixty-five miles per hour. I immediately tested electric fuel pump pressure, and found it to be a few lbs below specifications. With over 150,000 miles on the truck, I’m not surprised it’s a little tired. I know the feeling. It’s never the time, it’s the miles. I call the customer with an estimate for an electric fuel pump, but I asked him a couple questions first.

“Have you experienced a lack of power on the freeway or on hills, and possibly some extended cranking on cold mornings?” I asked hopefully, holding back my gem diagnosis until I had confirmation of some problem other than a check engine light.

He was silent for a moment, and then said, “yea, I have to go up Skyline occasionally, and the truck’s been really dogging it. Now that you mention it, the truck’s been turning over a few extra times lately in the morning. I thought it was due to the oxygen sensor.”

I give him the estimate for an electric fuel pump and my reasoning. He ain’t happy with the price; but the fact it’s the original pump, and I’m going to replace it with a Ford dealer part gets his reluctant okay.

He called me today, after doing looping upswings up Skyline Blvd when he left the shop last night. All the power’s back, he claims, and he said he’ll let me know if the light stays out. He was heading over to get a refund on his AutoZone oxygen sensor. So, I’m happy if he’s happy, and… the phone rings.

I answer with my usual helpful sounding spiel. I get cut off in the middle by an outraged man.

“Where do you get off bad mouthing AutoZone?!”

Oh boy… :)

Monday, March 12, 2007

What The Hell

“What the hell’s wrong with you!!?”

I stopped all motion, my shop key still in position to unlock my office door. I turned slowly, taking a deep breath of balmy Monday morning air. I didn’t want to spin around like a top; because the voice had come from across the street, and showing fear in a place where some of the denizens feed on it like Rice Krispies is always a bad idea. A man around six feet tall, of average build, wearing a blue windbreaker bore down on me with long strides. He looked in his late twenties, complete with Fu Manchu mustache from the 1960’s, but with one of those ear gizmo cell-phones from the present day. His long brown hair was tied in a ponytail, and his hands were clenching and unclenching as he nervously glanced both ways so as not to end his long anticipated meeting under the wheels of a passing car or truck on 38th Ave. Other than still getting over a mutant flu virus, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me; but my wife may have decided to have a little fun at my expense, and put a ‘Scream at me, I deserve it’ sign on my back when I was leaving home.

I waited until there was no doubt he was going to violate my air space, and took a step back, putting up the stop sign.

“Whoa there hoss,” accompanying my straight arm, hand palm out stop sign with a few amiable words. “You’re getting ready to end this conversation before it ever begins. I can hear you fine from there.”

“Don’t you ever pick up your f**&^g phone!” The man asks, his face jutted forward, as if he wants to dart into my established demilitarized zone. “I called and left messages all weekend long!”

“I don’t work on weekends, Sir. What…”

“Don’t you check your God D**m messages!? What about emergencies?!”

“I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV. No one dies from car breakdowns, with the possible exception of aggravation. The only emergency work I do on weekends is if my wife tells me to mow the lawn or I can sleep in the spare room. Now…”

“You mean to tell me you never check your phone messages when your shop’s closed?” The man is in open-mouthed wonder. I didn’t get him with humor, but I nailed him with my utter coldhearted contempt for my phone.

“Never have, never will,” I shrug with my best ‘what me worry’ grin.

“What the hell way to run a business is that?” He asks, his voice at low volume, in stunned awe of my nonchalant sacred phone attitude.

“Actually,” I reply brightly, turning to unlock my office door, “it’s my business. I’m the owner. Unfortunately, I don’t have a suggestion box, so consider your objections duly noted. Anything else?”

“My… my Nissan pickup’s been stuck down at the corner of High Street and Allendale since Saturday morning,” he answers, almost a shadow of his former self. He gives me the one finger hold button, indicating he’s received an all important call in his ear.

I shut the door and go through the office to open up my main entryway, taking the universal wave off in good humor. Once the main entrance is open, I see my new buddy has regained some of his balance. I figure his incoming call must have charged up his self importance somewhat.

“Would you like to have your Nissan towed in?” I asked politely. “I charge seventy-five dollars for the diagnostic, and then I’ll have to call you with an estimate of whatever’s wrong.”

“I don’t think I can do business with someone who isn’t connected,” the man informs me with a straight face, waiting for me to assure him otherwise.

I laughed, thinking I misjudged the guy, and he does have a sense of humor. Nope, I was right the first time.

“What the hell is so funny?” He asks, his irritation returning in waves.

“Well, if you meant connected to reality, the answer is yes. If you meant to some cyber-robot’s grid, the answer is no, I’m not connected. Want your Nissan fixed, or not. You have five… four… I begin counting seconds off on my hand for my own amusement… three… two…”

“I… guess I want to have my truck towed in,” he admits before the time limit, deflated once more.

“See,” I assured him, leading the way into my office, “we’re connected.” :)

Thursday, March 1, 2007


I looked up from the tedious power steering line repair I was doing on a 1986 Lincoln Towncar when my ding-ding motion detector heralded another arrival. A ninety’s era Chevy S-10 drove into the shop, its driver’s side head lamp area smashed in, and the bumper guard frame in front actually broken under the empty headlamp socket. It looked like it was winking at me as I approached. A tall thin young man exited the driver’s door and gestured at the winking eye.

“You fix. How much?” The young man asked in a heavy Russian accent.

“I’m sorry, I don’t do body repair, but I can recommend a…”

“No, no… just light, just light.”

“I can’t put in a new light assembly without something to mount it to,” I explained, seeing close-up Winky was going to need some major revamping before a headlamp assembly would ever give him his sight back.

The young man nodded, and looked at Winky for another long moment while I started calculating how long it would be before the Lincoln owner walked in the door.

“Can’t put just light in?” He asked. “How much just light?”

I pointed to the smashed up area and said, “look, I have to be able to mount the light to something. I can’t just duct tape the headlight on. It…”

“Can’t just straighten?” He asked, pointing at Winky’s closed eye.

“I don’t do body work,” I repeated. “You need an Auto Body shop for this repair. Until the frame is fixed up here, you won’t be able to put in a light.”

The young man nodded once again; but I could tell he thought I was putting him on, and somehow all I’d have to do is crowbar Winky’s closed eyelid open, and we could then jam a headlight in there. I liked Winky. I wanted to fix Winky; but unfortunately, mechanical parts have parameters. I went in the office, and retrieved the business card for a body shop only a couple miles away. When I gave the young man the card, he looked at it, and then at me.

“Can’t put just light in?”

I just shook my head no this time, and tried desperately not to allow the look of total frustration sweep across my face. After staring at me for another minute, he sighed and slipped back into the driver’s seat. I took one last look at Winky, and then turned back to confront my recalcitrant Lincoln. I had a feeling Winky was going to have a duct-taped eyeball soon. :)

Card Carrying?

This past Monday I read on Lori Perkins’ Agent In The Middle blog she is a liberal democrat, and a card carrying feminist. I must confess to some ignorance, possibly due to my advanced age, about this feminist realm. I didn’t know they carried cards. What happens if you don’t have your card, and secondly, who checks them? :) Ms. Perkins blog is very informative; and her admission, echoed by Jenny Rappaport from the same agency, about not handling anything Republican-ish (whatever that is) confirms a suspicion I’ve had about the dearth of conservative leaning pulp fiction. I have women customers living in nearby Berkeley, who get their vehicles fixed at my shop. Some of them have been coming in for over two decades. They know I’m a conservative, because they’ve heard Rush Limbaugh on my radio when they drive in (I always turn it down before their heads explode); and I know from their myriad bumper stickers, which way they lean politically. They don’t go in my office to wait for their vehicles and burn my VFW magazines, and I don’t use a razor blade on their Global Warming Gore bumper stickers. When I finish, they pay for services rendered, and I thank them for their business. They (feminist liberals) trust me to fix their vehicles, because I’ve earned their trust with ability and honesty. I take their checks or credit cards, because they’ve never stiffed me. The publishing business seems to be a bit different than regular commerce. :)

Although I understand how odorous it would be for a card carrying feminist to read and represent a fiction manuscript which might have conservative leanings, wouldn’t the possible money gain make up for having to wear a mask while selling it? Murphy and Sapir are my favorite example of authors espousing some right wing political satire with fantasy adventure. They’ve been doing the incredibly popular Destroyer series since the seventies and have sold multi-millions of them to a mostly male audience. Each new book in their series is scooped up by a loyal fan base, including me. The agent representing them, if they even bother with one, could probably live on just their percentage from the Destroyer series alone. I do know it still takes good writing; but perhaps a couple of us Republican-ish fiction writers could make a few liberal agents some money, if they can look past their political indoctrination. :)