I drove my car behind the oil-change shop and pulled up to the bay door. A young mechanic wearing greasy coveralls approached my window.
“Good afternoon, sir,” he said. “Just an oil change today?”
“Please,” I said. “I normally would do it myself, but I’ve been so busy at my six-figure job that I just haven’t had time.”
“Of course, sir,” the mechanic said, wiping his hands on a rag. “Would you turn off the engine and pop the hood for me?”
“Certainly.” I shut off the engine, then fumbled around the steering column. Staring the mechanic in the eye without blinking, I yanked up the handle next to the gear shift.
“Um, sir,” the mechanic said. “I think you just set the parking brake.”
I looked down. “Oh. Well, of course I did. That’s what I meant to do. I turned off the engine, so it’s only natural that I set the parking brake.”
“I see, sir.”
“I always set the parking brake. Don’t try to act like I don’t know how to park a car.”
“Of course, sir.” The young man looked at me.
I looked back. “Yes?”
“Could you please pop the hood for me, sir? And then exit the vehicle?”
“That’s exactly what I was going to do. Just give me a second, will you?” I reached under the dashboard, feeling around.
“The handle is at the very left, sir,” the mechanic said, pointing. “I can see it from here.”
“I know where it is!” I snapped, reaching for the handle. “It’s my car! I know how to pop the hood!”
“Of course, sir.”
“I’ve done this thousands of times.”
“Of course, sir.”
“I mean, for crying out loud, you’re acting like I’ve never worked on a car before.”
“Of course, sir.”
“I’ve been working on cars my entire life. I just don’t have much time anymore, what with my six-figure job and all.”
“Of course, sir. Could you please pop the hood for me and exit the vehicle?”
“My pleasure.” I tugged the handle, and the hood popped open.
“Very good, sir. And now could you exit the vehicle?”
I glowered at him as I shoved open the door. “Are you going to lecture me on the location of the door handle, too?”
“No, sir. It looks like you got it.” The mechanic sighed. “Please follow me.”
I followed him through the open bay door and into the garage, staring menacingly at the back of his head.
“Customer on the bay!” the mechanic bellowed.
“What did you yell that for?” I asked. “You’re acting like I’m a spy on enemy territory!”
“It’s for safety, sir.”
“What do you think I’m going to do, trip on a spark plug? You’re acting like I’ve never been in a garage before.”
“Of course not, sir.”
“I’ve spent plenty of time in a garages like these,” I said. “I know engines inside and out!”
“Of course, sir.”
“What kind of a man do you think I am? You don’t need to call out my presence as if I’m a parasitic infection. I’m just as much at home here as you are. In fact, I could disassemble and reassemble an engine in less than an hour!”
“Of course, sir. I’m sure you could.” The mechanic led me into a waiting room. “Go ahead and have a seat. We have coffee and popcorn for your convenience. Restroom is on the right, and the magazines are in that rack by the front door.”
“Do you have any magazines about cars?” I asked. “Because on the weekends, when I’m not working at my six-figure job, I like to read magazines about cars.”
“Of course, sir. We have lots of magazines about cars.”
“Good, because I love to read about cars. The only thing better is disassembling an engine and getting grease stains on my fingers. Would you agree?”
The mechanic sighed. “Of course, sir. I’ll be right back.”
I grabbed a magazine and sat down, flipping through the pages.
After a while, the mechanic came back, a clipboard in his hand. “Sir, just need to ask: Are you interested in our signature oil or the premium synthetic?”
I looked at him, blinking.
The mechanic glanced up from his clipboard. “Sir?”
“What were my choices again?” I asked.
“We have our signature conventional oil or the premium synthetic.”
“Well…” I scratched my chin. “I guess I’ll go with the signature.”
“Because I don’t want any of that fake stuff in my engine.”
“I want the real oil; nothing synthetic. You got me? Only the best for my baby!”
The mechanic’s nose wrinkled. “Yes, sir.” His eyes scanned down the clipboard. “It’s recommended that we flush the rear differential fluid. Would you like us to perform that service today?”
“Well, since I’m here,” I said. “I mean, I’ve done it myself thousands of times, but you know how it is.”
“Well, I mean, the rear differential fluid gets all over, and then you got to tighten the differential, and … well, it can be a process.”
Just then, another mechanic came in carrying a square sheet that looked like a wavy piece of white cardboard.
“Great, thanks,” the mechanic said, taking the cardboard. The other mechanic walked out.
“What’s that?” I asked. “I mean … did that apparatus come from my car?”
“It did, sir,” the mechanic said. He held it up for me to examine. “Should we go ahead and replace it today?”
“Well….” I frowned, studying the thing. “It’s … well, it’s hard to say. What’s your opinion?”
“It’s your air filter, sir,” the mechanic said.
“Of course it’s my air filter! I know it’s my air filter! Do you think this is the first time I’ve worked on a car?”
“Of course not, sir. That’s why I wanted your opinion. Should we go ahead and replace it today?”
“Well….” I studied it harder. “It looks a little gray, like it’s been filtering a lot. Maybe we should, just to be safe.”
The mechanic smiled. “I think you’re OK. It looks almost brand-new to me.”
“It does? I mean, yes — of course it does! Why did you even bring it in here? What’s the point in me fawning over it when we both know it’s in acceptable shape? Just put it back in the car and be done with it!”
“Of course, sir.”
“My goodness. You people would never make it in my business. Did I tell you that I earn a six-figure salary?”
“I think you did, sir, yes.” The mechanic put a mark through his checklist. “Just one more thing, sir. Based on your milage, the manufacturer recommends we replace the spherical consternation valve on the flux capacitor injection manifesto. You’re supposed to do it every 100,000 miles, and you’re right at that mark. If we do that this afternoon, it’ll run you about $89.”
“The spherical consternation valve?” I asked. “Well … you see … the thing is …”
“The thing is, I just looked at it last weekend.”
“Because I figured if I brought it in, you people would want to replace it and charge me an arm and a leg.”
“And when I looked it, it seemed all right to me.”
“Yes, sir. Sort of like the air filter — right?”
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“The air filter. I’m sure you checked it, too, when you checked the spherical consternation valve.”
“Yes. Exactly. I checked them both. And they both seemed OK.”
I swallowed. “But … since I’m here … if the valve looks worn to you, then …”
“We can go ahead and replace it?” the mechanic asked.
“Exactly, yes. Give me your opinion, and then I’ll authorize the repair.”
“Right.” The mechanic clicked his pen and set it down. “Sir?”
“I’ve got to level with you.”
“There’s no such thing as a spherical consternation valve.”
“There’s not, and there never has been. And the flux capacitor is the thing on Back to the Future that sent the DeLorean through time. It doesn’t exist in real life.”
I blinked. “Oh.”
“So today, we’re simply going to change your oil for $19.99 and call it a day. Is that acceptable?”
“I really do know a lot about cars,” I said.
“It’s OK, sir,” the mechanic said. “Just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you have to be an expert on cars.”
“It doesn’t. Trust me. I only know about cars because this is my trade. But I’m a guy, and I don’t like sports.”
“You don’t?” I asked.
The mechanic shook his head. “Not a one. My girlfriend is a huge basketball fanatic. She watches it down at the sports bar with her friends while I sit at home reading Bukowski. Sports are just one of those things that don’t interest me.”
“So it’s not a strike against my masculinity that I know nothing about cars?” I asked.
“It’s not, sir. I get it. Cars are complicated. Especially the newer ones. Not everyone understands them.”
“I certainly don’t,” I said. “I can’t tell a starter from a spark plug.”
“I imagine,” the mechanic said, nodding.
“You know,” I said, “since we’re clearing the air, I have to tell you something.”
“I don’t actually have a six-figure job, either. I made that part up.”
The mechanic smiled. “No worries, sir. I kind of figured.”