Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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Why does my husband suck at car maintenance? Part III

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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. You can read part II by clicking here.

The attendant told me that I should upgrade my service to the high mileage oil and filter. It was only 20 dollars more, and it would increase the life of my motor. He also suggested gas cleaner, a transmission flush, and replacing a belt. Mel kept staring at me as he talked, and I suddenly felt cornered. Like a caged animal. I thought about other men. Strong men. I thought about characters played by Sylvester Stallone: Rambo and Rocky. My dad wasn’t around when I was young, so they were my early models for masculinity. I wondered how Rambo would handle this situation.
“Listen, dude,” I said while pointing at the lowest priced service still sitting in my lap. “I get it. I get that you need to up sell me, and tell me all about what’s wrong with my car. I get that you are only doing what Oil Can Henry tells you to do. But I don’t need this right now. Do me a favor. Just change my oil for this price and leave me alone. Is that cool? Is that too much to ask?”
And as I spoke, I felt strong. I felt empowered. I felt like a man. I thought about my words, how carefully they were placed, and realized that I probably did sound like Rambo. I even recall thinking that this was probably exactly how Rambo would’ve performed. Rambo V: The oil change.   
Rambo V: The oil change

The attendant looked at me with sad eyes, his lips a little twisted. He nodded, slowly and sulkidly, like I’d just enacted one of his biggest fears. Like he’d been waiting for this day to come. For someone to finally get fed up with his pandering. And in the moment, I felt vindicated. I felt like I’d created a change in this man.
Or perhaps it was a very different emotion. Perhaps he thought we were really becoming friends, and after all this oil change business was over, we would go out and get a beer together. But then I gave him a hard slice of reality.
Or maybe, and I think this is more likely, I was the fiftieth person this week to treat him like shit. To get up in his face for doing his job.
“Yup.” He said. “We can do that.”
The attendant walked to the front of the car. He crouched below the hood. I looked at Mel. She was clearly embarrassed.
“Was that really necessary?” she said. “He’s just doing his job. Now he’s probably going to cut a hose or a belt or something.”
“Great! Now I’m afraid he’s going to sabotage the car,” I said.
“Well, it’d be your fault.”
“My fault? No way. I’m not taking credit for this.”
I looked in the back seat. Norah was silently shaking her head, just like I often did at her when she was in trouble. Then she banged her hands into the car sat, “You need a time out, Daddy.”
“Norah. You don’t even know what’s going on.”
“Time out!” she screamed.
Everyone in the car was silent for a while. We could hear the attendants below laughing, and I started to wonder what they were doing down there. Norah started to fall asleep.
I looked at Mel. She was searching for split ends in her hair. This was something she often did when she didn’t want to look at me.
“Do you think I should apologize?” I said.
“It would be nice,” she said. “You were kind of a jerk. I mean, how did you like it when people talked like that to you when you were waiting tables at the Olive Garden?”
I waited tables most of my undergrad and I often criticize people we dine with who treat servers shitty.
“It made me want to spit in their food.”
She nodded, “umm hmm.”
I wanted to argue. I wanted to tell her about how I felt uncomfortable there, getting my oil changed. I wanted to tell her how I felt insecure about my masculinity because I don’t change my own oil. Perhaps, in this moment I should have made a commitment to change, to become more mechanically inclined. But honestly, I didn’t know where to start and I didn’t really want to. I didn’t see my life changing. I knew that I’d just go on, hating getting my car fixed. I knew that I was dependent on people like the attendant. People who understood how a car worked. Perhaps I needed to stop fighting the system and make a few friends. Find some people that I can trust.
The attendant put the hood down with a bang and then came to my window to hand me the receipt. He wasn’t smiling this time.
“Hey, man,” I said. And suddenly I realized I didn’t know his name. “What’s your name?”
He looked at me with hesitation, like I wanted his name so I could report him to a manager.
            “Anthony,” He said.
“Anthony, listen. I’m really sorry for getting tense with you just a moment ago. I shouldn’t have done that. I am sure that I’m like the millionth douchebag to come in here and get pissed at you for doing your job. I don’t really have a good excuse for getting angry. Please accept my apology.”
“Hey,” he said smiling with a little chuckle, “Don’t you worry about it. I know that asking people all these questions can be really irritating. I don’t really like it either. But I’ll tell you what, I really do want your car to run well.” He looked me right in the eyes when he said it. There was sincerity in his voice that was unmistakably honest. “You just have a good day and come back and see us.”
“You know what, you’re a really nice guy.”
Anthony smiled.
I pulled away.
As we drove back to the soccer match, Norah stayed asleep. It was silent. Mel reached out and held my hand. 

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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.