“Well, there’s your problem,” the mechanic said, shaking his head and pulling back from under the hood of my car. He then proceeded to say a bunch of words that I didn’t understand, despite my advanced degree in communication. These sounded like complicated and expensive problems. The only kind I ever seem to have.
“So, what you’re saying is—” I began, trying to repeat back the diagnosis. Sure, I wanted to know what was going on with my suddenly non-functional car, but not as much as I didn’t want him to think I was just some idiot, some incompetent jerk-off.
“Yeah,” he said, and then continued with more words that held no meaning to me, but that were very clear and important to him.
“I see,” I said, though I didn’t see. I couldn’t see. I had no idea what he was talking about.
I loosened my tie, knowing this was no quick fix and that I might as well get comfortable. He was busy telling me how this might have happened, how common it is, and how this particular car manufacturer had more issues like this because of something with its production process.
“Uh-huh,” I said. By this point, I had stopped caring what was wrong, and only cared about the implications and solutions. I had three questions, and anything else was superfluous.
1. What’s it going to cost to fix it?
2. How long is it going to take?
3. O Spiteful God, why is this happening to me?
The mechanic hadn’t given me a cost quote yet, so I couldn’t interrupt his professorial car lecture with a “get to the point, buddy.” At this point, he already had me by the proverbial balls, and I didn’t want to risk financial retribution when he could really charge me anything.
I couldn’t get a second opinion—I couldn’t drive the car. It was here, so was I, so was he, and now I just wanted him to fix the problem so I could get on with my life.
I let go of my breath impatiently.
“Got somewhere to be?” he asked, crossing his hairy, grease-smudged arms in frustration. I could feel his judgment about guys like me—in our fancy cars with our expensive work clothes—who go about our lives expecting everything to work properly but no clue how to make anything work properly.
“I don’t know, man,” I said. “This just blows.”
What was I going to do? Tell him I was on my way to the job I hate, to get reamed out by the boss who belittles me, but which pays me enough that I can pay him to work on my car, so that I don’t have to learn how to? Tell him that I feel stuck and stupid—here in the shop AND in my boring ass career?
“That’s the problem with you white collar guys,” he said.
“Okay chief,” I said, smirking defensively. “What’s my problem then?”
“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
At this point, we were no longer talking past each other. I understood everything he said better than he said it. Finally, that comms major and psych minor came in handy.
He thought that I thought I was better than him. Better educated, better dressed, better pedigree, whatever the fuck that means.
I thought that he thought he was better than me. More useful, more competent, more of a “real man,” whatever the fuck that means.
Two men. Two different lives.
Too many insecurities. Too many feelings we’re not supposed to feel or express.
Lift up the hood and take a good look, fellas. There’s your problem.