Thursday, October 18, 2007

America's Top Mechanic Season 1

I'm convinced that I've found the world's best mechanic. Is there a reality show searching for such a person? I haven't got his name just yet, but he works at the local Mobil station. He sort of reminds me of the insane mechanic from Seinfeld who becomes obsessed with every detail of Jerry's car and feels justified in carnapping it for the well-being of the automobile. But picture a sane, equally-obsessed version of that caricature. Physically he could be a coal-miner in a Charlie Chaplin-era film, eyes clean and nothing else. Shirt open to the third button, scraggly, his face a blur of stubble and grease, he wants nothing more than to tend to the car--check the oil, peer under the hood. His explanations are thorough to a fault, a veritable encyclopedia of maintenance. He checks my tires, says they're at 30, normal is 32, they're listed at 35, not to worry, pressure is normal for this type of tire, the front right one has a bit of a ding but that is normal, too, since that's what gets the brunt of the curb when parking. When he changes my oil, he talks me through the vicious cycle of motor oil depletion, warning me that my use of the extended mileage oil might have actually worked against me, since once it took in some impurities, it likely started to overheat, and then this would have in turn caused overheating of the engine etc.

It's the passion and seriousness with which he explains these things that impresses me most. I give him a dollar tip, and afterward he volunteers to check all four tires for me, which takes him another five minutes. At the end of all this, he says, "Thanks for the tip," which feels unworthy by now.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

We Meet Again, Jack

I'm going tomorrow to see an exhibition of the original scroll manuscript of Kerouac's Boot Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell. There's been a lot of hype around the book on the 50th anniversary of its publication, and given all that, I was amazed that it was actually possible to snare a copy of his most famous novel right at the UNH library. I kind of imagined that there would be some sort of shrine in the section of the library where his books were. Sure,there were some gaps, books leaning on each other where others had been removed, but there wasn't a troupe of students camped out with candles and bongos pounding out beat poetry or anything. I was somewhat disappointed by this, and considered becoming a one-man shrine, but had to snuff the idea when I remembered that UNH's parking policy was very shrine-unfriendly, with tickets slapping seemingly unbidden from some dimension only known to string theorists the instant your meter expires. I was also reminded of my disappointment walking in Soho last weekend, Prince and Spring Streets in particular. Where was the guy that used to sell cassette recordings of all the beats, Kerouac, Ginsburg, Burroughs, Orlovsky on the pavement with little typewritten photocopied labels that had gone through so many generations that they were just smears of ink that barely resembled faces?

Anyway, I got the book out of the library. I made no attempt to start from scratch, but sort of opened it up randomly to see how the prose would hold up. And I was somewhat impressed and somewhat confirmed in the disappointment that I expected to feel. It was a little bit like seeing someone who hasn't grown up since high school, still relating the same kinds of stories in the same breathless voice about the same kinds of adventures. The thing I remember most about the energy of his writing is the way you get swept along with it into landscapes, but in rereading it was just struck by how much telling he does, and how very little actual description there is to slip into. Anyway, I'm too tired to give examples right now but hopefully I'll have more perspective tomorrow, and maybe even a bit more appreciation.