Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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Why Does My Husband Suck at Car Maintenance? Part II

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 If you have not read Why Does My Husband Suck at Car Maintenance part I, you can do so by clicking here.

The real problem was pride. I felt like less of a man because I didn’t know how to change my own oil, or spark plugs, or air filters. I didn’t know how to fix anything, really. Not without getting really pissed off at myself for not understanding how things work. So I was dependent on other men to do it for me. Men like the toothless, mustached, middle-aged attendant. To complicate things, I was cheap. And I was afraid of getting over charged because of my ignorance. Men are supposed to be good at fixing things, and for some reason I have always assumed that I should have an inherent ability to be handy. That I should have been born with a hammer and wrench in my hands, but something went wrong and I was born with a pen and paper. Just thinking about my inability to fix anything makes me feel effeminate. I felt like someone prime to be taken advantage of. Every time I walked into an automotive shop, I felt like my pants are down. All of this combined had turned car maintenance into a very uncomfortable event. 
How I feel at the Automotive Shop

The attendant shoved a dipstick in my face. “See how burned this oil is?”
“No,” I said. “Well… it looks black. Oil is black… right? I don’t see the problem.”
“That looks icky,” Norah said from the back seat.
“You’re right, young lady. Back there’s a smart kid.” The attendant smiled at me, then he chuckled with a bit of twang. More of a, “Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!” than a “Ha! Ha! Ha!” Then he rubbed his finger across the dipstick, coating it in oil, and then placed his finger beneath my nose. “Smell it,” he said.
I didn’t want to, but I felt like I should. It seemed like something a man would do. Was he going to ask me to taste it, too? Was there a point when the attendant stuck his finger in my mouth? …Or somewhere else? I wondered how far this would go. Was he taking advantage of me?
“It smells like burned toast,” I said. “What did you have for breakfast?”
He laughed harder this time, hand over his stomach, and as he pulled his finger away from my nose, he almost soaked my nostrils in oil. “No sir! I didn’t have toast. Lucky Charms. That’s your oil.” He pointed to the sticker in the upper left hand corner of my windshield, the one I got the last time I visited Oil Can Henry's when I committed to never going there again.
“You’ve gone almost 8,000 miles since your last oil change. We recommend 3,000 miles.”
I looked at the sticker and did the math in my head. He was right. Then I looked at Mel. Her eyes were open wide, lips tight. It was her angry face. Then she mouthed, “Eight thousand miles.” 

Norah repeated what her mother said, only at full volume and with commentary, “Eight thousand miles, Daddy! You need a quiet time.”
Mel looked back at Norah, then at me, and said, “You do need a quiet time.”
I went limp and tilted my head back into the headrest.
At the time I was really put out. But I have to admit I did understand Mel’s reasoning for wanting a dependable vehicle. I think one of her biggest fears was to be broken down on the side of some rural central Oregon highway with two small kids in the back seat and a trunk full of quickly rotting groceries. Mel was not a fan of horror movies, but when she described this fear to me, it sounded like the beginning of a slasher film. Or worse yet, a news report of a woman being raped and murdered and then having her children stolen. For Mel, our Mazda represented safety and reliability. She needed to have faith in its ability to get her from A to B. And she felt dependent on me to make sure that the car was, indeed, reliable. 

As a supporter of feminist thought, I cannot help but read the paragraph I just wrote and realize that it sounds very 1950. Very pre feminist movement. Very republican. There really was no concrete reason for Mel to not be able to take the car to get fixed. But much like me, I think she dreaded it. This was one place in our marriage where our similarities were a detriment. Like me, Mel worried that a mechanic was going to take advantage of her. But unlike me, it was not because she felt ignorant when it came to cars, it was because she feared that the mechanic would push repairs on her because of her small frame, childlike smile, and friendly disposition. Because she was a woman. And I have to say that I think this was a valid fear. When she did take a vehicle to a mechanic, they seemed to suggest far more repairs to her than they ever did with me.
What this all boiled down to was this. I waited until I absolutely had to get something fixed before I took it in, while Mel felt that the only way she could get something fixed was by cutting me off. Car maintenance really put stress on our marriage. 

You would also enjoy, Another one… (Why do discussions about having babies make my husband nauseous?) Part I.

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.