Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Toward Unemotional Breakdowns

Gold King Mine, Jerome AZ

Every car is a piece of crap. Makers and dealers spend billions trying to hide it. Mechanics charge sick sums for knowing it. Regular folks know it, but we’re addicted to the junk.

New cars add demonic electronics and secret codes to all the classic leaks and clanks. Modern broke-down victims gazing stupidly under the hood find the fancy guts more baffling than ever. Desert solar bonus: within five years, every exposed plastic, vinyl, or rubber part is brittle, faded, cracked, or broken off. No matter how you pamper your gleaming overpriced Dodge Hedgehog, it slowly morphs into another peeling-chromium turd.

Gold King Mine, Jerome AZ

Being what they are, all cars break down eventually, sometimes permanently. Often, inconveniently.

When a rich person’s luxury junk-heap dies, a simple phone call magically transports it to the auto-shamans. They replace a $28 electra-diddle in 10 minutes and charge $928, plus tax, environmental fees, and a special surcharge to keep the dealership out of bankruptcy. High-class cars require high-class billing, the price of convenience and clean hands.

Gold King Mine, Jerome AZ
But without a Platinum Card to heal your tin cart, every breakdown begins an anxious adventure: Not now! Not in this part of town! What’s wrong this time? Not again! Why me? Now I’ll be late! Grandma’s going to be pissed! I hate this evil crapmobile! Who will help me push it out of this busy intersection? Not in these shoes! Shut up you bawling brats, our world is crashing down, we’re all going to die here! And the real agony: What will this cost and how will I pay? With luck, you get the Arizona 134-degree-asphalt bonus adventure, saved from heat-stroke by a few swallows of plastic-flavored hot water from a bottle rolling around on the floor-board. (As opposed to the Alaskan adventure: 57 below zero, and you are, actually, going to die.)

Transportation problems are old as the wheel, but so is the ingenuity of poverty-stricken peasantry. If your iron horse refuses to budge no matter how hard you beat it, breathe deep awhile, let your adrenaline metabolize, and consider your many options:

1. Take the car to where you or someone can work on it. Any fool can tow one car with another. Use a chain, rope, strap, steel cable, or baling wire and duct tape if you have plenty. Critical: the towed vehicle has to do the braking for both, to keep the tow line taut, or you may get the instant terror upgrade. Pulling my new bride and her little car with my old truck on a mountain highway once, we wound up whirling across a cliff-edge gravel pull-out, Japanese moon orbiting planet Detroit, connected by steel cable and adrenaline hearts. Concerned for my lover’s safety, I was immediately reassured when she jumped out and threatened to kick my ass.

Gold King Mine, Jerome AZ

2. Another option is what we did next time, same mountain: leave the clunker where it is, hitch a ride home, and figure it out later. Or, if it has stranded you “for the last time dammit!"--set it on fire. Or, kick it goodbye and let the State impound and auction it to a fool to re-sell to another. In this new adventure, pregnant she and I and our dog got a quick ride from a furniture truck driver, who figured correctly I’d help unload in return. We made friends and a good time was had by all. I came back next morning, with the miraculously correct part, and fixed her car by the roadside, which is actually number

3. In driveway, parking lot, gravel pull-out, or best of all a greasy friend’s backyard tin shed, fix it yourself. Read about how cars turn to crap, on the interzone or at the library. Complete sets of tools are cheap from drug addicts at swap meets. Fear not: humans designed and built it, so humans can take it apart and (try, at least, to) fix it.

Gold King Mine, Jerome AZ
Need help? That’s number

4. If you ask politely, the demented men who work on cars for their own amusement are often happy to loan tools and give advice, asking nothing in return but a 30-pack of mass-produced American piss-water beer. They delight in helping ignorant slackers, and the entire gender, that skipped “auto shop” class, whose only screwdrivers are vodka and orange juice, and who love technology until it betrays them as it always does. He gets to feel superior, you get hands-on schooling, and your only tuition (besides the 30-pack) is oil-stained clothing, bleeding knuckle wounds packed with dirty grease, sore muscles, and the senseless beating of your pride by his snide answers to your obviously stupid questions.

Gold King Mine, Jerome AZ

Every aggravating repair attempt, every screw-up, as well as every triumph of man over machine, comes with a bit more piece-of-crap knowledge. By the time you are too old to do anything, you will know how to do everything.

[Special note in the interest of Gender Equality: Now that modern men are blessed to share in the joys of child-rearing, house-keeping, cooking, laundry, (and thus, post-partum depression as well,) it is only fair to suggest that modern women might enjoy the inseparable and equal delight of contorting and cursing in a puddle of carcinogenic juice under a tiny car parked in a sticker-patch.]

Gold King mine, Jerome AZ

5. Don’t buy new parts. The part that broke will break again, and may be engineered that way to sell you yet another. Junk-yards, ironclad proofs of my first-sentence assertion, may offer the same made-to-break parts so cheap you won’t mind that they keep breaking. Note: the “junk-yard dog” stereotype is based on fact, so keep a golf club with your tool kit.

6. For an instant hassle-free solution, unload your burden to whoever will haul it off. Even with the worst of the deal, your immediate reward is priceless freedom. No more time, cash, or aggravation spent on a doomed buggy of dubious utility. Ride to work with co-workers, run errands with relatives. If you hate them, pretend you don’t; it’s like getting paid to act Christian.

Jerome AZ, Gold King Mine

7. To simplify, and minimize swindling, sell it before it breaks down. Bicycles cost little and keep you thin; cars cost lots and make you fat. Busses may be smelly and crowded, but when they break down, you can walk away with a bunch of new friends and laugh about it. For gods’ sake, does anyone walk anywhere anymore? If you are too fat to walk a couple miles to the grocery and back, stop going until you aren’t. Car-less survival is more than abject poverty, it’s enlightened superiority.

8. With or without a functioning vehicle, one simple act prevents all breakdowns (and “DUI’s”): STAY HOME! Use stuff up, wear it out, make it do, or do without! Wear what you own, eat from your shelf, visit by phone, pay bills with an elf--or computer. Sit out the mass frenzy of dinosaur-burning planet-roasting whiz-bang crap units racing the vast asphalt web to nowhere for no good reason, and you may also reduce the odds of having an emotional breakdown!

Jerome AZ, Gold King mine


“…the “brainy” economy designed to produce this [abstract and superficial] happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse—providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect “subject” for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, [to computer!,] keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity—shock treatments—as “human interest” shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire.

Jerome AZ, Gold King Mine
“For this stream of stimulants is designed to produce cravings for more and more of the same, though louder and faster, and these cravings drive us to do work which is of no interest save for the money it pays—to buy more lavish radios, sleeker automobiles, glossier magazines, and better television sets, all of which will somehow conspire to persuade us that happiness lies just around the corner if we will buy one more….


Jerome AZ, Gold King Mine
“It isn’t that the people who submit to this kind of thing are immoral. It isn’t that the people who provide it are wicked exploiters; most of them are of the same mind as the exploited, if only on a more expensive horse in this sorry-go-round. The real trouble is that they are all totally frustrated, increasingly incapable of real pleasure, insensitive to the most acute and subtle joys of life which are in fact extremely common and simple.”

   Alan W. Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity, Pantheon 1951, pp. 61-62