inspection jinx is broken
Wednesday, March 20 2013
It's hard to prove a negative, and this accounts for the human facility
for concocting superstitions. When, for example, the Vikings came to
fear sea monster on the North Atlantic, they started decorating their
ships with fearsome monsters of their own. And when they discovered
that such ships were never attacked by sea monsters, the tradition
stuck. And just because we know that the sea monsters feared by the
Vikings never actually existed does not mean that we don't have
superstitions of our own. Gretchen and I are about as non-spiritual as
people come, certain that all things that happen have natural
explanations that would make sense if only we had enough information.
But when we don't have all that much information, we are as prone to
coming up with superstitions as anyone else.
Take for example the
procedure of getting a car inspected. I have a surprisingly bad record
of getting cars to pass their annual inspections, whereas Gretchen never
seems to have any problem. One could say that my problem stems largely from the
marginal nature of the cars I tend to drive. But that doesn't account for
Gretchen's history of success with some of those same cars. So over the years I'd come to assume
that gender must play a role in getting a semi-decrepit car (particularly one
festooned with liberal bumper stickers) to pass inspection. When I pull
into the garage with my rattling old jalopy, mechanics think I'm trying
to pull one over on them. But when Gretchen rolls in with the same car,
she's a maiden in distress. So several years ago the chore of getting the car
inspected became Gretchen's responsibility. It helped that she frequently had to drive to her prison job down US 209 past a
lot of scruffy-looking garages (largely patronized by 2nd amendment widows and their
rust buckets). But for the past ten months or so, Gretchen hasn't been
working in the prisons. Her commutes now take her to tonier places like
Woodstock and Clinton Corners, places where she doesn't see all that
many craptastic garages.
The other day when the subject of getting our
Subaru inspected came up, Gretchen suggested that I try to do it. I was
terrified by the near-certainty of failure, but I decided I'd humor her
and give it a shot. Ray had mentioned something about having no trouble
getting his similarly-marginal Subaru to pass inspection at the West
Hurley Garage (adjacent to Hurley Ridge Market), so I thought I'd give
that place a try.
Since our Subaru hasn't had a valid inspection sticker since October, I
was taking something of a risk just driving it to West Hurley.
Helpfully, there was still snow on the ground and the roof of the car,
so I smooshed a ball of it flat over the inspection sticker (which was
2012's red, a color that a cop would instantly recognize as expired).
It was good that I did that, because I actually passed a state trooper
on the short leg of Route 28 that I had to drive on.
The guy at the West Hurley garage said it would take about an hour, so I
grabbed a couple grocery bags and walked next door to Hurley Ridge
Market. I had a few things I needed: lots of Red Rose black tea, a
sixer of Ithaca Flower Power, tomato paste (matzah pizza season is
coming!), a cup of coffee, and some pickled jalapeño peppers. I
think of Hurley Ridge as being a big supermarket, but I nevertheless
found it impossible to waste an hour in there. I went up and down all
the aisles, even wading back among the dog food and potato chips in the
anomalously-scruffy north end of the store (where I added two rawhide
bones to my cart). It was a little like a human-scale game of PacMan
because I found myself doing what I could to avoid a woman in her 70s
who appeared to be wasting her time the same way I was, though she'd
added flirting with me to her list of things that were fun for her to do.
At some point I realized I couldn't justify staying in the store for
even one more leisurely tour of an aisle, so I went through the checkout
line with my small number of purchases. Like at casino, there are no
clocks anywhere in Hurley Ridge Market, so I wasn't sure how much time I
had left to kill. By now I had to piss, so I walked around the back of
the store, where I found a swimming-pool-sized runoff impoundment pond.
Despite the barking of four or five collie-style dogs at the back of a
nearby lot, it was a private enough place for me to burn yellow holes in
Back at the West Hurley Garage, I put my groceries in the car, dismayed
to see that someone had scraped off much of the snow but it still had
that red inspection sticker on the windshield. Had it failed?
But I'd returned 20 minutes early. While half-heartedly reading stale
articles from a copy of the Daily Freeman and watching
CNBC, I saw the mechanics drive my car into the garage, test its lights
(something I'd done before I'd left), jack it up, and then put it back
down again. I didn't want to act like I was paying close attention
because I didn't want them to think I was spying on them. Eventually
the head mechanic came in and said I was all set. An hour of my time
and $21 was all it had taken to become street legal once more. The guy
even apologized for keeping me waiting. I thought of myself as
extremely lucky, but in reality there was no reason the car should have
failed inspection. I'd just installed a brand new lower exhaust system,
the add fuel pipe is only a year old, the check engine light has been
off since the last time the battery died, and I'd replaced all the brake
pads within the past three years. But remember, I had a superstition
telling me that it was futile for me to take any car in for inspection.
Now that jinx is broken.
At some point today I noticed that Al (a friend from my College Club days who now lives in Sweden) had
posted a YouTube video from the band Magnolia Electric Company. I saw that and immediately posted something to the effect that
I actually know the lead singer (Jason Molina) from my days back in Oberlin and that I'd later randomly run
into him when he and his band played a gig at the Tokyo Rose in Charlottesville. At the time his band was called Songs:Ohia, and he gave me one of his hand-made eponymous CDs, one that I subsequently
grew to love. But back in Oberlin, I'd never known Jason as anything but "Sparky," so that sent me to Google to see what his real name was. In so doing, I was horrified to learn that he'd died only four days ago of complications resulting from alcoholism. He was only 39. (I'd overlooked the part of Al's post where he'd written "RIP.") Subsequent research led me to learn that Jason had been struggling with addiction and organ failure without any medical insurance. The irony is that the last time I saw him 15 years ago, I'm pretty sure I was the drunker one.
This evening Gretchen and I met up with Carrie (of Carrie and Michæl) at Momiji in Stone Ridge. We were soon joined by Jay B., a local journalist/writer/gay activist. His partner Brook was originally expected to come as well, but instead we got Carrie's Michæl. As always, he'd just come from something art-related, in this case an art opening that had been badly scheduled (5pm on a Wednesday is not a good time). I don't remember much of what we talked about other than the struggles Gretchen and Carrie have been through to find a good hair stylist. But the food was, as it had been a few days ago, delicious. By the way, Jay is on some sort of vegan paleo diet that forbids nearly everything domesticated within the last 3000 years. Rice and wasabi, though, are apparently still okay.
On the drive back home, I was telling Gretchen about my shock of learning about Jason Molina's death. I couldn't get over the fact that he'd achieved serious credibility as an Indie rock musician, yet had had to struggle through an unpleasant death, relegated to whatever crappy corner of the American medical system is reserved for those without insurance. (Gretchen asked if the news made me want to cut back on my own drinking, a question I mostly ignored.) It reminded me of the case of Vic Chestnutt, another Indie musician who suffered from serious medical difficulties without insurance (until he finally killed himself). Here are these people who contribute enormously to our common culture, and yet there is no provision in our society to take care of them when they need our help. When a society chooses to abandon the people that knit the fabric of its culture, it's really no different from someone abandoning his grandmother. A free enterprise system is not a suicide pact.
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