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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Breaking News and Breaking Cars

When telling people that I’m going to grad school, I’ve found that there are different ways to tell different people.  When informing friends and piers, for example, great gusto and exuberance are used to convey joy and “see, I’m not such a fuck-up after all!” sentiment.   It’s roughly the same message to my family, except with my parents it is accompanied with underscores of, “and no, I’m not asking you for money and yes, I do have a game plan for afterwards, kind of, sort of, I love you”.

For the most part the idea of my full-time return to academia—even at 27-yrs-old and even in creative writing—is met with affirmation and congratulations.  Everyone recognizes the dreamy Hail Mary nature of my scarcely charted course, but have the good graces not to mention it.  Hey, if I do become a famous writer, do you really want to be the one to jeopardize his chances of a dedication on the first page? 

But then some people don’t care about dedications.

For the past two years I’ve lived next-door to my neighbor Ray, his wife Charlotte, his kids, grandkids, and whoever else is hanging out on their front porch.  They’re the only house on the block that isn’t confused or irritated by our house of six twenty-somethings living together.  We have a mutual understanding that money doesn’t grow on trees.

More or less, Ray.
Ray’s in his fifties, a retired auto mechanic who still works on cars for extra cash on the side.  Hard, terse, and forever splotched in motor oil, Ray’s bent legs underneath a car are a permanent fixture of the street.  We’re friendly, but I can’t say we’ve ever had a conversation that has ranged outside of cars, lawn care, or how Charlotte’s damn dog never shuts the fuck up—his words, not mine. 

Somehow, inexplicably, I’ve managed to convince Ray that I know something about cars.  Not a lot, but something more than the four and a half things that I actually do know about cars.  #1 Cars need gas

He’ll see me and call me over to take a look at something, a smile on his face, and I’ll stand there with an even bigger smile on my face trying to cover up the glaringly obvious fact that I don’t know jack.  It’d probably be easier, wiser, to fess up and tell Ray the truth, but I won’t do that.  Ray’s the kind of guy whose respect means something.  You figure, if you can just earn this guy’s approval then you're doing something right, and if not, you're clearly doing something wrong.

When my crappy ’97 Ford Countour broke down for the second time in four months last weekend, thus abdicating its usual spot on the street, I knew Ray knew.  The look of disapproval and disappointment on his tired face when I told him how much I had paid to patch up my car the first time was not something I could stomach again.  He had told me to junk it, but I just couldn’t give up on it.  As long as it had a chance, the option wouldn’t even register with me.  #1.5 New and/ or used cars are frick’n expensive.  So this week I starting hopping the back fence on the way to work to avoid the shaming stare I knew was waiting for me on the street.  Ah, good old avoidance. 

#2.5 Put the hood up and look at stuff when you want to pretend like you know what's going on, but  really you have no idea what's going on. 

Last weekend had been a rough weekend for me, the kind that inspires bad romantic comedies or good country music, and it had been topped off by my car breaking down way outside of St. Louis because of the same reasons it had broken down in March.  #3.5 My car has four cylinders and three of them are bad.  Cars don’t like that.  It had been a foolish idea to put money into it then and it would be straight stupid to do so now.

Ray told me the same thing with one look when he caught me checking the mail and I fessed up.  It felt like a 9-yr-old, finally forced to admit that I broken my glasses doing something that I wasn’t supposed to do, but not to worry because I didn’t even need glasses.  But I definitely need a car so I can slap finding a new one on my “To Do Before Grad School” List.

I haven’t told Ray that I’m moving yet—yea avoidance!—or that I’m doing so to study creative writing, but I'm guessing his reaction would be similar to his to my car.  This is not a practical decision, it’s barely even sane.  This choice will not put food on your table or buy you a new car.  You'll probably end up in the same situation two years later only two years older and poorer.  This choice is a luxury choice that doesn’t guarantee luxury.  It’s not smart.  So how do I explain that this decision has nothing to do with smarts?  How do I convey that I'm hoping for something more than what I have now and the risks are worth it if only to find out if it does work?  I don't think Ray would accept hopeful curiosity as a reason.  #4.5 Cars can go far.  

Jew Hulk say, "If you were doctor, you could afford nice, new car.  And you no call Jew Hulk?"

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