Thursday, November 16, 2006

One for the Road

Martini Gorgonzola celebrated his 50th birthday with a front end alignment and a brake check. While his Mazda was levitating on the hoist and being serviced by methheads in blue jumpsuits, Mr. G made a scientific study of the thin oily coffee in his Styrofoam cup. If he squinted his eyes to reduce the blurring effect of his stigmatism, he could almost see the coffee etching a ring into the cellular structure of the white petrochemical foam. He made a silent bet with himself, 3 to 1 odds, that the oily sheen on the surface of the coffee was actually petroleum released from the Styrofoam and not natural coffee oils released from the beans before testing the temperature with a tentative sip. He grimaced briefly at the sour taste and slugged the bad brew back like it was a double shot of whiskey. Well actually he swallowed the rancid brake-shop coffee in a way he imagined whiskey drinkers would slam hard liquor, having never actually tasted whiskey. “Maybe I should get drunk on whiskey,” thought Gorgonzola. “That’s sumthin I’ve never done before. Be a better birthday present than a $436 dollar repair job on the Blue Zoom Zoomer.”

The man named Martini who had never drunk whiskey crumpled up the Styrofoam cup and lined up a basketball shot to the chrome garbage can next to the coffee maker. But he was startled when the waiting room television made a jarring grinding noise and then started to whine. The crushed cup missed the can and bounced off the window, splattering coffee on a poster for Japanese tires. The VCR built into the TV was rewinding its tape while the screen showed blue with a series of white letters in the upper right corner: REWIND. Mr. G looked around to see if anyone had noticed the mess he had made, but he was the only customer in the waiting room and the only employee, a balding Asian with a name tag that declared his name to be “Gus”, was twirling a pencil in one hand and listening to a distant voice on an ancient black telephone, wasn't looking at him. So Gorgonzola walked over to the window and picked up the cup. Placing it carefully in to the garbage he noticed the oily coffee was dripping down the tire model's long legs and dissolving the poster’s ink. He considered using a napkin to clean it up, but was intrigued by the kaleidoscope swirl of red, black and cream colored ink—logo, tire and flesh running together. But the model kept smiling despite the mess her legs were becoming. “Maybe I should get laid,” thought Gorgonzola. “That’s sumthin I haven’t done in a while. Be a better birthday present than a $547 dollar repair job on the old Mazola.”

Another shuttering sound of gears grinding together came from the television as the video tape began playing again. The blue screen briefly displayed the command: PLAY, then a trustworthy gentleman wearing a red tie under his spotless blue jump suit wiped a red rag on a gleaming socket wrench and proceeded to congratulate Martini Gorgonzola on his wise decision to bring his automobile to Brake Masters. Gus said three words in what Gorgonzola guessed to be Korean and hung up the phone. Gus scratched his bald head with the pencil eraser, scribbled something on a yellow invoice and put the pencil, point first, into a glass bowl filled with kitty litter on the red counter. “Your car’s bout ready,” Gus said in a surprising West Texas accent. Martini turned and saw his blue Mazda being driven out of the work bay and into the parking lot. The attractive young model was still smiling even though the coffee stain had eaten all the way through the poster, and Mr. G began to have an uneasy feeling in the bottom of his stomach. “You want to settle up?” asked Gus. “The total comes to $325 for the alignment. Watch out for those curbs, now ya hear? Oh, and your brakes were fine. You just had them done three months ago. Should last you a good long time yet.”

Martini Gorgonzola watched as Gus swirled and blended with the phone and the counter, red, black and cream. The television assured Mr. G that all Brake Master Mechanics received periodic training in the latest automotive technologies. But Gorgonzola was more interested in the cool plastic feel of the floor tiles on his cheek and the hole that had appeared in the Styrofoam ceiling tiles just above and behind Gus’ swirling face. “Happy birthday, Gorgonzola,” he said as the hole grew wider to meet the darkness creeping in from the edges of his peripheral vision. “Never did like coffee much…”

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