Monday, December 25, 2006


What a merry Xmas! It's my personal tradition that every December 25th I pop a bottle of cheap champagne and imbibe before sunrise as I contemplate the end of the giant consumer season and the birthday of the celebrated carpenter/philosopher known as Jesus.
This fluid didn't come from the Mumm cellars in Rheims or from Dom Perignon's monestary. It came from the J. Roget Champagne Cellars of Canandaigua, NY and cost about 4 bucks a pop. Yeah, baby! That's what I call cheap champagne. Fortunately, I know how to handle bruts such as this. A sugar cube at the bottom of a flute glass with a dash of bitters makes the most vile bubbly a tasty, mind-numbing experience. As I sat in my easy chair with crystal vessel in hand, watching the bubbles drift upward in my champagne cocktail, I realized the significance of it all.
Making a champagne cocktail out of cheap champagne is like taking a bum, bathing him and dressing him in your dad's new suit. He may look like your dad but he's still just a sweet-smelling bum. But... If the clothes make the man then adulteration makes the drink. It's not Crystal, but if I could afford such luxury I wouldn't be drinking J. Roget champagne cocktails.
Of course, man cannot live by champagne cocktails alone. Soft-boiled eggs followed by biscuits and gravy and another bottle served as the morning feast even a Methodist could love. Dinner consisted of crab legs, drawn butter, biscuits and the last of the champagne. Pighin Pinot Grigio, and Cavit Pinot Noir were drained next and my living quarters were littered with dead soldiers.
The messiah's birthday and dead soldiers as far as the eye can see. I guess there IS balance in the universe.
I'm so glad the age of Pisces is over.

Monday, December 18, 2006

it's not just a car...

Just an update on the engine thing. As promised, the car was finished by 5pm friday. I stopped by the shop on my way through town, about 4pm, to check things out and the new engine was humming along perfectly. I was impressed and even more so when I realized what these guys had to do to make it so. Intake and exhaust manifolds had to be changed as well as all the other periferal appliances and a few small parts that no one thought about. All it needed was a thermostat and hood but here was my baby, the angry car, joyfully excersizing all 100 horses in a symphony of Mopar harmony. The mechanic told me Mike, the owner, said a car will be coming in thursday morning for an engine swap and had to be finished by friday night. He said, "Are you nuts? It can't be done". The owner said, "It WILL be done". Well, he was pretty damned pleased with himself when the job was completed on time. After he took it for a test he came back and told Mike what a fun ride it was and insisted he take it for a spin, too.
Since I got this machine there have been only 5 people who had the honor of sitting behind the wheel and all of them climbed out with smiles and positive comments. Mike said it best... "Anyone can get a car but when you find one that you love ya gotta take care of it." At that point he realized why I opted for an engine swap over buying another vehicle. I guess that philosophy applies to any relationship whether it's your lover, your friend, your job, or yourself.

Saturday morning Mike called me at home to see how the car's running. When was the last time you got a call from your mechanic just to see if everything's ok?

Some valuable lessons were learned through this experience.

1. Convincing a mechanic to complete an engine swap in half the time really boosted my managerial ego.
2. These guys became better mechanics by doing, what they thought was, an impossible task by over-riding common sense with directed, positive, willpower.
3. Their customers will benefit and Mikes business will prosper because if it.
4. Relationships, whatever they may be, are pretty damned important and ya gotta take care of em.
5. The karmic implications were more widespread than I could've imagined and further reinforced my belief that I can get whatever I want.
6. At long last, I found my mechanic.

Godam, do I feel blessed!

Friday, December 15, 2006

what's with this fortune?

Long story short, I blew a head gasket in my car a few weeks ago. White smoke, erratic engine behavior and cold air coming from the heater was the tip-off, and it was obvious I wasn't getting through this winter without some major auto headaches. In our age of planned obsolescence, the majority of car owners in this country would simply scrap the car and get another, due to the cost of repair compared to book value. Well, I happen to like this particular vehicle. A '94 caravan 2.5 means fixing a head gasket isn't as easy or as cheap as it was repairing the same problem in a 318 or slant six. This fix requires removing the head and taking it to a centralized shop that specializes in magnaflux and checking the head for warp and microscopic cracks these little engines are famous for. Gone are the small shops in the rear of auto part stores that do it while you wait. Now, you need to take it to a larger shop that will keep it at least a day and up to eternity simply because they can. After the testing they determine if the head is still good, in which case you can spend a couple hundred to rebuild it, or if it's bad you can buy a remanufactured head for an average of $450. Even if I found a remanufactured head, this process could take 3 days, at the very least, with a cost of around $750. Ouch!
The yuppie garage I took it to first gave me the impression they didn't need my business because "It's the busy time of the year" and they have enough SUVs, Hunmmers, and bourgeoismobiles to keep them going with tune-ups, oil changes, tire sales, and other easy, high profit jobs to keep their sales staff in good position for bonus time.
A little bit about where I live... Rural yuppie central. Picture Green Acres with half the farms bought by the Douglas's friends, and Hooterville still has the same one-room post office and you can't get ahold of the police department until after 4pm., 'cause there ain't no crime in the valley, but town meetings are still filled with Oliver Wendell Douglas clones wanting more cops to protect their estates and better roads for their $80,000 off-road SUVs and a full-time fire department to instantly put out fires in their McMansions in the remote possibility of emulation from chestnuts roasting on open fires. And these are the major clients of the garage I took my car to for engine work. What was I thinking?
Ralph told me Chas knows a guy in Berwick who can do this kind of work without a backlog of bullshit, so I gave him a call. After discussing my options and cost we settled on a plan. I always figured rebuilding the head without rebuilding the bottom end of an engine was asking for trouble. If the engine is wearing uniformly, rebuilding half the engine will only increase the other half to go 3 times faster, and the last thing I want is to do a ring job six months from now -- and I know there's been damage because of all the water going through the cylinders, and half my oil is water. Another engine is the only fast solution and the least cost. The funny part is an engine replacement will be almost $300 less than just doing the head gasket. Go figure.
Wednesday night I got Mary to follow me to drop off my car in the dead of night and to get us home. Needless to say, the ride through town in this smoke-making machine was interesting. I had to take side streets to avoid going down the Christmas boulevard, which meant stopping at every light and stop sign in town. Just sitting at the red light at 2nd Street created a cloud so thick you couldn't see the light, let alone the cop car on the corner. By the time I got to the shop and shut off the engine I could see this undissipating mass of white the size of a city block gently floating west. I was expecting the fire department to show up.
You may be wondering what all this has to do with the title. Be patient. I'm getting to that, ok?
We decided to get some Chinese at Jumbo Buffet, and after a half dozen plates of stuff we got out fortune cookies.
I'm not sure what the odds of this is, but this was the first time I got a fortune cookie sans fortune. I mean, just a cookie without a fortune. What does this mean? Do I have no future? Did the cook spit in my food? Was that really pork I ate? When the Chinese waiter came over I asked if he was spiritual. He gave me this look like, "I'm an athiest. What do I know about spiritual?" I then told him I got no fortune in my fortune cookie and asked what he thought it meant. I guess I was expecting some sage Chinese philosophy such as no fotune means vely, vely good luck. You open to all possibilities. But in a very good English accent he said, "Would you like me to get you another cookie?" I suppose expecting all Chinese people to be philosophers would be like Chinese people expecting all Americans to be Elvis. I said, no thanks. This non-fortune is perfect. I took it as an excellent omen and expected the best in a completely unexpected way.
I called the mechanic the next morning, and he had the engine out. It was just nuts and bolts now, and I fully expect to be driving my baby before the weekend.
I guess that WAS a good fortune after all.