Sunday, November 27, 2016

Getting My Fix

Let's be clear from the outset: this is not a post about narcotics. Or pizza. (Pizza actually is a narcotic, but that will be our little secret. OK? No need to bring the DEA into this.) This is a post about the fast-disappearing notion of having things fixed. Or repaired. 

Or shall I say, attempting to have things fixed and repaired. Things like cars. Garage doors. And telephones. The theoretically simple act of getting things done before your to-do list stretches to the moon and back.

Let me start with my car. Like me, it's an older model with considerable mileage.

I can't afford a new car, and the used ones which fit my slender budget are older models with considerable mileage—and like I said, I already have one of those. So I keep it and fix things. It's a slow-motion restoration that neither my insurance company or Pebble Beach will ever recognize.

But over the past year, the fix part has become remarkably difficult. Routine things like repairing a parasitic amp draw, replacing a serpentine belt, a timing belt and redoing the brakes seemingly present local repair shops with the mechanical equivalent of solving the unrest in Syria. Or developing a plan for affordable health care.

It's like owing a Ferrari in Afghanistan. I imagine the mechanics whispering and pointing as they gather 'round to eyeball the wonder that is my made in Japan exotic (which is incidentally one of the best-selling cars in the United States and has been for decades).

Last winter, a parasitic amp draw cost me a job interview, two unscheduled days off and the howling derision of my employer. The shop I brought it to failed to diagnose the problem not once, but twice. I suppose you could say what they lacked in ability they made up for in consistency.

As a bonus, I not only received two repair bills (which doubtlessly covered the two “free” tows), a door panel the mechanic had confused with a boot wipe but an unrepaired car which continued to threaten not to start at the most inopportune times.

Thankfully, the remainder of the winter was as mild as Minnesota salsa.

Like thousands of Americans, I celebrate the arrival of spring by replacing my serpentine belt. After settling the bill and bringing the car home, I noticed a strange clicking sound. I called the shop and was advised it would disappear as the belt “loosened up”.

A day later, they were proven correct.

The clicking noise disappeared as the belt loosened up sufficiently to remove itself from the network of wheels and pulleys on which it was deigned to travel. The shop paid for the subsequent tow and belt replacement, so it wasn't the exercise in abject hopelessness the twin visits to the previous garage had been.

Weeks later, I became aware that whenever I had to brake my car was bathed in the grinding, metallic music that is worn brake pads. Armed with a coupon, I brought my car to a third facility for still-more maintenance. All four brakes required attention, but many hundreds of dollars later the car at least stopped quietly and with certainty.

I especially liked the quiet part.

After several unsatisfying, late-summer flirtations with several used cars in the area, I decided to renew my vows with my long-term vehicular spouse. As a renew-your-wedding-vows gift, I decided to have my beloved's timing belt replaced.

As it happened, the shop that had erred with the serpentine belt was offering a special, and since a passenger-side power window regulator, struts and the second serpentine belt had been installed to perfection, I decided to forgive and forget.

Which is the biggest reason I'm currently stockpiling Aricept.

After paying yet-another robust bill and bringing my four-wheeled wife home, I was crestfallen when the now-familiar sounds of mechanical angst hit my ears. Too fearful of incurring a murder one charge to return to the shop, I instead visited the local dealership.

They confirmed my suspicions that the belt was too tight, and for one-hundred-twenty dollars and change corrected the error. (And if you're wondering—no, I'm not buying the guilty garage a box of belt-tension gauges for Christmas.)

I admit to not calling the Illinois Attorney General's office or scouring the walls of these facilities for ASE certification prior to my visits. But all are established shops with good reputations.

In all fairness, I can imagine what it's like working on older cars. The maddening array of connectors and fasteners, brittle plastic and rusted-on bolts alone would be enough to make me certifiable. Not to mention the ocean of proprietary designs and procedures each manufacturer unwittingly builds into their cars. 

I'm sure it is tougher than a two-dollar steak. 

But since these businesses advertise and market themselves as repair shops, is it not entirely reasonable of me to expect a repair in exchange for my hard-earned dollars?

Of course it is.

Alas, in a town like mine there a finite number of garages. And screaming at the mechanic reminds me of the guy who complained to the chef about his last meal. Unless you're in the kitchen supervising the preparation, there are just too many avenues for retaliation.

It's best to just blog about it. That and save for a new car as you beseech an uncaring god that the intermittent noise from the driver's side front wheel exists only in your imagination.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Wait. Who Won?

I'm angry, too.

As angry as the factory workers in Ohio or Wisconsin or Michigan who have been reduced to stocking shelves at Jerry's Food Mart. Yours aren't the only lives which resemble a wool sweater after a turn in the dryer.

The difference between us is that I know where to have a hissy fit—and where not to. And that you don't ever have a hissy fit in a voting booth. Despite our rampant cynicism, elections are far too important to reduce to reality TV-styled entertainment.

Granted, there is a great deal wrong with the United States of America. For instance, there are far too many people struggling in the nation called the wealthiest in human history. 

But that isn't an accident. It's on purpose.

I want you, dear Trump supporter, to tell me what side Republicans took. Did Republicans fight that or enable it? Please tell me why you believe a self-absorbed, narcissistic billionaire like Donald Trump has the slightest interest in you and what remains of your life.

Donald Trump is a businessman. He represents the privileged class which exported your job to Mexico and China and Pakistan and then got a Republican-sponsored tax break for doing so.

What do you have to offer Donald Trump? Your rusted-out Corolla? Your socks? Your employee discount? You voted yesterday. This is today. He got your vote. That is the extent of his interest in you, bro.

You see, our first ADHD president gets bored quickly. Once, he wanted money. He got that. Then he wanted celebrity. He got that. Now, in the immortal words of Huey Lewis & the News, he wants a new drug: power.

And thanks to the peculiarities of the electoral college, he has that.

Donald Trump got that by pushing your buttons. He's the driver who cut you off not once, but three times on the way to work. And by the time you got there, you were so angry you couldn't think straight. Sound familiar?

Granted, Hillary Clinton wasn't an inspiring alternative.

The Democratic National Committee, in their preening obsession to nominate not only the first African-American president but the first female one as well, kicked the better candidate for this race to the curb. Despite the polls which showed he could not only compete head to head with Trump more effectively, but beat him.

And that's on the Dems, one-hundred percent.

But you voted for Trump. Not the DNC. And now we have him.

I know thinking is largely discouraged in twenty-first century America because it takes so long and robs us of our social media time. But have you ever questioned exactly how immigrants 'take' our jobs?

This is the phrase repeated ad infinitum by Donald Trump and other conservatives, and yet as so many of the posts on this blog bear out, I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to 'take' anyone's job. Ditto the immigrants (illegal or not) Trump loves to disparage.

That's because jobs aren't taken—they're given. And immigrants were given their jobs. Given their jobs by businessmen engorged by the promise of larger and fatter profits. 

Let's be very, very clear about something—businessmen respect and are loyal to just one thing: money. Profit is their morality. Expanding markets and boosting shareholder value their Ten Commandments. 

Money doesn't have borders. Money doesn't have morals. There is no right or wrong, with the possible exception of profit and loss.

It is the nature of the beast.

Despite this, we believe that businessmen in government are a good idea. And wealthy, celebrity businessmen are an even better idea.

Businessmen know how to tell people what to do and when it should be on their desk. Businessmen know how to issue edicts. Businessmen know how to dispense ultimatums. Businessmen know how to point their gaudy ring-encrusted fingers and sneer “you're fired!”

But a government with three well-defined branches doesn't work that way—at least not yet.

Spotting business opportunities and making money does not a great president make. It makes a successful businessman. If you even need the refresher, the ability to lead is not measured in dollars.

Case in point. Illinois has its own billionaire president. He has succeeded mostly in deepening the already-massive rift between Democrats and Republicans, and is about two-dozen zip codes removed from a clue of how to mend it.

Worse, he probably doesn't care.

As wealthy businessmen do, he will attempt to buy control, not earn it. He will spend and spend until he has a Republican majority, the better to enact his toxic agenda until Illinois is a living facsimile of feudalism. 

That is Donald Trump's business plan for the United States.

And you voted for him.

To all you angry, pissed-off male Trumpers, tell me how you justify to your daughters voting for a man who advocates grabbing women by their pus, er, crotches?

(And if you're a female Trumper, you have just earned a one-way ticket to the feminist-hell of the nineteenth-century and no longer have a say in political conversations.)

Tell me how you explain the actions of the Seattle Seahawks fan who repeatedly screamed at Kathryn Smith, the NFL's first female assistant coach “Hey waitress! Get me a Pepsi!”

You know who he voted for, right?

Let me hazard a guess: that treatment is okay for female Democrats, but if someone were to say that to your wife (I'm probably being generous here) or your daughter, you'd run them over with your F150.

Can you say schizophrenia? How about mental illness?

All I can say is you voted for him. 

I don't know whether to laugh at or pity you.

You actually believe Donald Trump knows more about ISIS than our military? You've taken to heart the claim the Trump can end the gun violence in Chicago in a week? That he's going to build a wall along our southern border and hand Mexico the bill? 

If so, I'm guessing you're composing your annual letter to Santa right about now.

I laugh that you actually believe Trump is going to make America great again, a pathetic slogan steeped in dewy-eyed nostalgia. It reflects the sad notion that the nineteen-fifties were the apex of human civilization.

Good luck with that. 

And by the way, can we return corporate tax rates to what they were in the nineteen-fifties, too?

I laugh at the farmer on the NBC network news, who arrived at the conclusion he wants big government out of his life. Um, does that include agricultural subsidies and price supports, too?

I didn't think so.

Finally, I laugh at Trump himself. Still think it's rigged, Donnie? Still think the so-called liberal media and the political establishment are out to get you? Even after a billion-dollars' worth of free publicity and a perfectly-timed political bombshell?

Naturally, the Clinton majority have questions. Will Donald Trump be good for the country? For me? 

This is akin to asking if Wal-Mart is good for America. 

Wal-Mart is good for Wal-Mart. And rest assured, Donald Trump will be good for Donald Trump. He will use the office as his personal ATM, just like his BFF Vladimir Putin. 

To paraphrase Annette Bening in 1990's The Grifters “Donald Trump is so crooked he could eat soup with a corkscrew.”

Worse, he has lifted the lid of decorum off the United States, and it's mighty hard to see it ever going back on.

And you voted for him.

Myself? I'm just waiting for the 'Don't Blame Me—I Voted for Hillary' bumper stickers.

That and the 2018 mid-terms.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Greetings from Brigadoon

If this were a nineteen-forties movie instead of a blog, it'd open with a black and white shot of a printing press, furiously running off newspapers. Crisp, buoyant music would accompany the scene.

Papers at every stage of their creation would be shown, right up to the point where they're bundled up and tossed on delivery trucks by thickly-muscled guys chewing cigar butts and wearing ivy caps.

From the center of the frame a tiny front page emerges. It is spinning. It stops only when it dominates the screen. Cubs Win Series! Fans Dancing in the Streets!

Alas, this is a blog. Not a movie.

Cue to a sleepy older guy in a worn Cubs t-shirt and sweat pants bathed in the bluish white light of a computer monitor. There are no printing presses or delivery trucks. Only a hasty mea culpa being banged out on a fifteen-year-old keyboard.

Remember that scene in Moonstruck when Cher tells her mom she's going to get married? Freshly wakened, mom asks “Do you love him?”

Cher: “No.”

Mom: “Good. When you love them, they drive you crazy.”

See, that's how it is with the Cubs and me. I love them. And in the aftermath of their game 4 loss, I was crazy. Convinced it was over. Kaput. Fini. If they didn't feel confident and comfortable in Wrigley Field, where would they?

My previous post, Blind Until I See, was my inner Cub fan doing what all Cubs fans do. 

Dialing up the defense mechanisms and steeling myself for yet another dose of soul-shredding agony. How was I to know that freed of the pressure cooker Wrigley Field had become, they would spread their wings and play like the 2016 Cubs?

I have never been more delighted to be wrong.

Being a bad prognosticator means never having to go hungry, because when all else fails you'll always have your words to eat.