Monday, November 23, 2020

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig


My car is a goddamn piece of crap. Which probably shouldn't be a big deal, seeing as I am no longer supposed to drive. But there are emergencies, like the mornings you wake up and you really need a bagel. In this novel, Mr. Haig invites us to imagine other lives we could have lived, and in all of mine, there are more bagels. But back to my car. My grandson Jackson has proposed buying the car from me, to which I have agreed in principle, but we have arrived at some sticking points. First off, I have virtually no need for money at this point (how much Metamucil can one person buy?), so I proposed that Jackson come do some "unspecified work" for me as compensation. He suspects that my sadistic imagination may run wild, and he is showing some reluctance. His mother also insists that I let an auto shop inspect the car. This, obviously, is a non-starter.

For 24 years I have done all the repairs on this car by myself. This is partly to spite my son-in-law Gerry, who is so inept with regard to basic life skills that he takes his car in whenever the windshield wiper leaves a streak on the glass. But the real issue is one of trust. I don't trust car people. It is well known that auto mechanics are always looking to put one over on you, and they smell weakness. They are high on the list of untrustable professionals, right up there with lawyers, politicians, ballerinas, actuaries, fishmongers, snake milkers, bricklayers, drug smugglers, dentists, people pretending to be dentists, falconers, haberdashers, hoteliers, and robots.

I can remember a time when we were on a family road trip, and we pulled into a full service gas station. Some context for you young folks - full service gas stations used to be a thing because they didn't trust ordinary people to pump gas without blowing things up. So you would pull in to a gas station, and a professional (read: kid who dropped out of high school because he huffed too much glue) would pump your gas for you, call you "sir" a bunch of times no matter what kind of person you really were, and then beg you for a tip. It wasn't so bad, really. 

Anyway, when we pull in, the guy says, "Top off the oil for a buck?" It was a really long road trip that summer (I was probably punishing my kids for something), so I say sure. They guy lifts my hood, unscrews a bottle of motor oil real fast and puts it into the engine hole upside down while he pumps the gas. Now, I don't know if for some reason he thought I looked like a sucker, but any idiot (except Gerry) knows that if oil is coming out of a plastic bottle, the bottle is going to suck in and out as it does. This bottle did not, because obviously, he hadn't unsealed it. Even Eleanor could see what was happening and encouraged me to "be cool," which I initially tried to do. Gasman whips the bottle out, screws the top on, and throws it on the ground a few yards away. "Good to go!," he says. "You topped off the oil?" "Yup." "OK if I take whatever's left in the bottle?," I ask. The cracks in his composure start to form, but he's not sure if the game is up. "Sorry sir," he gambles, "can't do that. Company policy." Well, that was that. I let him have it, and in lieu of getting the manager involved, we ended up with some extra motor oil, finely washed windows, free gas, and a ten-spot for our trouble, which we spent on dinner at Big Boy. Happy vacation to us! 

The point is, trust no one. Which brings me back to Jackson. I don't want him to grow up to be a sucker like his dad, so my latest offer is that he can have the car if he comes over, learns how it works, and helps me fix whatever issues it still has. What's your goddamn problem, Jackson? You'll probably even get an essay out of it for college or something. Given the state of higher education these days, I imagine you're taking some kind of Snowflake Writing class where you just write about your memories and feelings and shit. I can picture it already: My grandfather died from complications related to his bunions, but at least I learned what a carburetor is. Come on kid, I know you're reading this - get your ass over here!

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