Author: Afalstein PM
An unlikely friendship between a car mechanic and a philosophy student gives rise to a unique undertakingRated: Fiction K - English - Words: 7,781 - Favs: 1 - Published: 05-16-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2915368
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Mac could not quite comprehend what the grey suit was doing in his garage. Suits generally did not appear there. His garage was a place for grease, grime and gears, none of which were very friendly to polyester suits, even if they were about seven years out of style. Neither the suit nor the friendly young man inside it belonged in his garage.
Hoping to forestall any damage before it could begin, Mac hastily wiped off his hands and lumbered toward the slight, somewhat stooped figure. "Kid, if you're looking for the insurance claim department, they're across the road."
"No, I'm sorry." Tousled sandy hair and gleaming dark eyes over dazzling teeth smiled back at him. "I just… just thought I'd duck in here for a moment. Check things out."
"The office's right over there." Sometimes suits showed up in his office.
"No, no, not in the office. Here. Here in the garage. I'd just like to see what it's like in one of these. Just for fun, you know. I needed to take a break for a moment."
Mac lifted a grimy eyebrow. The boy did not look particularly exhausted, nor especially stressed. The skies outside were clear, and the air outside certainly clearer than the fume-choked interior of the garage. The Perk-O'later, a reputable coffeeshop full of hot drinks and atmosphere, sat right next to Mac's Custom Autos, ripe for visitors.
Kids and their crazy whims.
"Suit yourself." Scratching at his considerable gut, Mac glanced about the shop before upending a white bucket on the ground. "Here. You can sit there, but try not to get in my way, wouldja? I've got a lot to do today."
"No problem!" The man nodded eagerly, promptly sitting down on the proffered bucket. Clasping his hands in his lap, he glanced around him fondly, apparently thinking to see something new.
Sighing, Mac turned back to his work, already resigned to the inevitable tragedy. He'd just have to do his best not to send any gas or oil in that direction. Hopefully the suit would soon grow bored or disgusted with the garage and leave. Comforted with that thought, Mac buried himself in the undercarriage of the car.
Despite his intentions, Mac would have shortly forgotten about the suit, had not the familiar scent of burning tobacco reached his nostrils. Poking his head out from the car's under-frame, Mac beheld the suit stooped over a rather ostentatious corncob pipe. The suit seemed to wrinkle self-consciously at Mac's gaze, but the boy's jaw hardened in stubborn pride, and he defiantly sent a plume of smoke in the mechanic's direction.
Amusement flooded Mac's mind. "Got some conscientious objectors out there?"
The boy scratched the back of his neck in relief and embarrassment. "They say I'm giving them lung cancer. Do you mind?"
"Help yourself." Mac shrugged, grinning. "One more pipe in here'll hardly make any difference."
"Thanks." The suit extended a moist hand. "I'm David, by the way."
Mac wiped the grease on his coveralls and gripped the other's hand. "Mac."
And that was how Hob MacMillian met F. David Clemens, a young philosophy student at the University. Clemens typically came to the The Perk-O'Later for lunch and then headed across to the garage for a quick smoke and chat with Mac. Occasionally some friends came with him, but for the most part the two were alone. Somewhere around the fourth visit, David discovered that Mac didn't smoke.
"Not at all?" He questioned, pipe just barely out of his mouth.
Mac shrugged between the blows of his hammer. "Never saw the need. Can't afford the habit, anyhow, with things like they are."
"Can't be that bad, if you can afford all the equipment in here." David cast an admiring glance around the shop. "You use all this to fix cars?"
"And customize. That's where most of the money is, actually. Redoing rich kids' cars for them so they can wow their girlfriends or whatever." Mac snorted. "Always something new. Had one kid in here a while back, wanted me to attach neon lights to his tires. Never heard of that before."
"You got it done?" David tried to form a smoke ring and failed miserably.
"Sure. Just a matter of figuring out the wiring and so forth. Kid could probably have done it himself if he'd had the energy to try."
"So instead he makes it look like he HAD the energy."
Mac let out a grunt of agreement. "And the know-how. Still. It's a job, pays the bills."
"You ever do work on your own car?" David jerked his head at the tow-truck parked just outside the garage.
"Enough to keep it running. Outside of that, not really. Use the car for business, can't have it looking all ridiculous and stuff." Mac frowned at the engine. "Man, it pains me to see what some people put their rides through. The belts on this engine are nearly worn through. Pitiful."
"Hmmm." Sucking on his pipe, David leaned farther back on the bucket. "I should probably get my car looked at sometime. It hasn't had a tune-up in forever."
A short bark of laughter greeted this remark. "That skeleton on wheels you're driving? I doubt it's worth it."
"Could be right there," admitted David. "That's half the reason I haven't gotten it looked at yet, probably. I really want to get a new one, but I can never find what I want."
"Doesn't have to be likeable. Just has to get you from point A to point B."
Mac did not think much of the comment at the time, he considered it fairly normal fare for their conversations. But David must have borne it in mind, for a week or so later he came to Mac with a proposition.
Mac thought him crazy at first. "Build a car? From the ground up?"
"What? Too much of a challenge?" David grinned at him.
"It'd take an awful long time. More than I'd say your car has." Still bending over the truck's engine, Mac rubbed his bristles. "Besides, do you even know what you'd want your car to be like? Like model, wheel size, transmission, color?"
David hesitated in an odd manner. "No… but I was hoping you could give me some ideas on that. You see, I was thinking… I spend a lot of time here already, and I don't have a whole lot to do after school, now that summer's here." Inclining his head somewhat awkwardly, he admitted. "I was… thinking I could help you build it. Like a joint project, you know, in my off hours."
Finally turning from the engine, Mac blinked in slow consternation at the boy. Here was an idea that had simply not occurred to him.
"See, it… it's like this." David sighed. "I was on the highway the other day and my tire blew. And I suddenly realized I don't know how to change a flat tire."
Mac blinked again. "Ya gotta be kiddin' me."
"Not really. I had to call up some of my buddies and get them to tell me how to do it." Obviously uncomfortable, he added, "They thought it was hilarious and all. I just… I never realized how little I actually I know about cars."
"You got that right. Didn't your Dad ever teach you these things?"
David scratched his head and looked away. "Maybe? I don't really… I didn't pay very good attention all the time."
Mac rolled his eyes and massaged his brow. "Oiyoiyoi." He muttered. "You've been at that school of yours for what… four years? Six?"
"Eight. Ceaser's ghost. Eight years of schooling, and a boy like you doesn't know how to change the tire on a car?"
"That's why I want to do this project with you," said David, making a valiant attempt to return to the main topic. "There's not really a class for it at college, and even if there were, I don't think it'd be the sort of learning I'd get out of building the car with you. We don't exactly go through this sort of stuff in philosophy and I just thought—while I still have the time, you know, before I start writing for journals and such—I should learn some more… life skills. You know. More concrete stuff."
Frowning, Mac stared at the boy for a long moment. He rubbed his bristly chin and scratched his considerable belly. For a few moments he tugged contemplatively at the collar of his coveralls.
"I won't be able to help out all the time." David continued, clearly nervous. "But I'll do whatever you tell me. And I'll pay for the parts and the labor and everything."
Kids and their crazy whims.
Finally Mac nodded. "Okay." He said. "Should take the better part of four months or so, and could easy cost up to 20,000. I can maybe slice some off for the work you'll be doing."
"You don't need…"
"But first off…" Mac jabbed a thick finger at David. "First, you are gonna learn how to change a flat tire."
And David did learn how to change a tire and jump a battery and change oil, before Mac would even let him think about starting work on the car. "I'm not working with anyone that clueless," said Mac. "Not only is it embarrassing, it's downright dangerous." So only when David finally demonstrated his ability to remove rust and refinish the area did Mac finally ask the burning question.
"The first thing we need to figure out with this car," said the mechanic as he led David from the successfully refinished van, "is what part you're most concerned with. Is it the engine? The body? The interior?"
David chewed on that for a moment. "I don't really drive around a whole lot… I guess the main thing for me would actually be what it looks like." Chuckling nervously, he remarked, "That sounds awfully superficial, I know…"
"Eh. Not really. I know people to design cars around less. 'Sides, a standard frame will hold nearly any engine. If you wanted a weird kind of engine it'd be one thing, but as is…" Mac shook his head to clear it. "What kind of body were you thinking of, then?"
"Hmm… Something classy, I guess. Some sort of old-fashioned sedan."
With those exacting specifications in mind, Mac took David on a tour of several local scrapyards. Most of the owners knew Mac and his business, and were more than happy to let them look around.
"Maybe something like this?" suggested Mac, pulling alongside a heap of rusted auto bodies. "The yellowish one there. A… Chrysler Imperial Crown, looks like. Somewhere around the 1970's."
David frowned at the rusty pile of metal. "No… I'm not really feeling it."
"This one, perhaps?" A few piles later, Mac was once again gesturing out the window. "A Cadillac DeVille. Not the fanciest thing, maybe, but some professional types go in for it."
"I'm not… that one there?"
"No… I don't think so."
"The Impala up on top there looks in pretty good condition," remarked Mac as they passed through another scrapyard.
"Really? I dunno… looks a little too sharp for my tastes."
"That grey Chrysler New Yorker over there?"
"Hmmm… maybe if… nah, I really can't see it."
This sort of thing lasted for three such expeditions until Mac came up with a new idea. The next day, when David came to the garage, he found a large print catalogue waiting for him: Classic Autos of the 1970's. When he glanced at Mac for explanation, the mechanic merely shrugged.
A few moments later, David had found his car. "There! That one looks good. Light grey, maybe, and different tires, but I think that looks good."
Mac shambled over and eyed the car. "Chrysler Imperial Crown, 1977." He sighed. "I think I know where I can find one of those."
Next day a shabby skeleton of metal littered the interior of the garage, and David practically cried at the sight. "I'm not riding in anything like that!"
"Don't get in a tizzy." Mac rolled his eyes. "Ain't near as bad as it looks, most of the mess is on the body. What we're after right now is the frame." Handing David an electric saw, he pushed past him to the car. "Take off the outside, but don't touch any of the thick stuff. Try not to chop your hand off neither."
About an hour later, Mac looked up from a mostly-excised rear to see his understudy nervously slicing strips out of a tiny section of the front. He sighed. "Franny, unless your hand slips off the grip, the saw won't bite." 'Franny' was a pet name for David developed sometime during the scrapyard phase, when Mac had discovered that the 'F' in 'F. David Clemens' stood for 'Francis,' which, through some unfortunate trick of fate, had also been the name of one of Mac's ex-girlfriends. "And if you DO hit the central frame, it'll be a while before you do any real damage."
"So?" said David, a trifle defensively.
"So hurry up with it. That old car of yours ain't got many miles left in the pistons."
"Right." David resumed cutting, now in slightly larger strips. With a sigh, Mac began work on the left side. For a long moment the garage was silent, with only the rasping buzz of the saws filling the air. Metal dust flew in the air and large sheets of rusted aluminum crashed to the concrete floor.
"So tell me," said Mac after about twenty minutes of this. "Your hair that messy naturally or do you comb it that way?"
Mac shook his head and turned his saw back onto the frame. "Your hair." He said again, louder now to compensate for the whirr of the saw. "When I first met you, I figured you'd just had a bad day or something. After about a week, I decided you just didn't take the time in the mornings." He stepped away from the frame and tugged another section of rusted metal loose. "But every day, your hair's messy in the exact same way. The same roostertail, the same length, the same little tangled mass off to the side. Whadda do, gell it in place? Or just always sleep on the same side?"
"Hmmm." Letting his saw fall for a moment, David thought over the question. "A combination of both, I guess. Mostly I leave it alone but there is a sort of… style, I suppose, that I try to retain."
"Style? That mop? Style is supposed to be neat and tidy."
David gave an only slightly condescending smile. "The words 'Neat and Tidy' often simply mean conforming to the established norm. Disorder reflects independence of mind and style. I choose to leave my hair as it is to show how different I am."
"Whatever." Mac bent again to his task.
"It's just my style, okay?"
David was full of opinions on 'style.' Mac was full of skepticism on those ideas, and expressed it often until the day David finally burst out, "Look, you gotta have a style of your own. Most professors remember me just because of my hairstyle and my suit."
"That another part of it, then?"
"Of course. No one wears something like THIS anymore. It's roughly thirty years out of style. Still classy, just not in vogue."
"Hmm." Mac eyed a rusty portion of the frame, which they had now moved onto chopping. Though most of it had been sound, certain parts were simply not worth keeping. "So advertising for your personality, then."
David blinked at the unusual phrasing. "Well… yes, I guess so."
After the worst segments of the frame had been removed, they naturally had to be replaced. Mac dug up some parts from a friend of his and began to teach David about welding. The most important (and the most difficult) part to remember involved the need to wear a welder's mask while welding.
"You'll ruin your eyes like that!" Mac cried, just barely snatching away the torch in time. "Get your helmet on."
David grinned shamefacedly and struggled into the awkward contrivance, tightening the straps and tugging on the rim to adjust it properly. "It feels so awkward." He complained. "And I can barely see properly when I've finally got it on."
"Wear it, or you won't be able to see properly when you've got it off. This isn't some kind of game or hobby."
"I'll say it isn't," muttered David.
He meant it to be a quiet mutter, but Mac's quick ears heard it just the same. "Oh? What's your idea of a hobby?"
"I dunno… trains or fishing or knitting or collecting china dolls or something."
One dark eyebrow lifted on Mac's stoic face. "You collect china dolls?"
"No!" David spluttered. "I… I write. China dolls just seem like… I dunno, a hobby-ish thing to do."
"You're a writer?" Mac eyed the boy behind the scorched glass of his mask.
"Not really. Fanfiction is the only stuff I've written, just pointless little stuff about some Thai soap dramas."
"Thai… what?" Mac shut off his torch and popped open his mask. "You're telling me you write stories about soap operas? From another country?"
It was impossible to tell David's expression, but his posture screamed embarrassment. "It's just… something for fun."
"What kind of fun?" Mac snorted. "Dude, whattaya even watch stuff like that for?"
David's shoulders shrugged. "A lot of them have good plots, interesting characters. It's somewhat interesting to see a culture so different from ours. And…" He hesitated. "…some of the girls are kinda cute…"
Mac's loud, belly-deep laughter echoed off the walls of the shop. He pounded on the metal framework in helpless glee and wiped away his tears with a grimy hand, leaving behind streaks of grease. "Oh my." He gasped. "You almost had me for a minute there. Cute girls, eh? You've got a thing for Asians, don't you? C'mon now, kid, admit it, your girlfriend a Japanese? No shame in it."
"I don't have a girlfriend," muttered David, face bright crimson.
Mac ignored him. "Ah me." He chortled. "I suppose I can see now why you write your 'fanfictions.' Little fantasies eh? You meet the pretty girl and so forth?"
"They're not like that!" David snapped back. "Or… not all of them, anyway. Some. But that's not the point! I write them because… because it's fun, that's all!"
"I'll bet it is!"
"Not like that, you dirty old man!"
"Whatever you say, kid." Mac rubbed his sleeve across his eyes, finally obliterating the greasy tear-streaks. "Ah. Take it from me, though, making up fantasies like that'll never get you anywhere." He added, suddenly sober. "Sure they may be fun to write…" here he gave David a smirk that made the younger man glance aside wrathfully, "…but once the stuff is down on paper, it's gone. You're not any farther ahead in life and you don't have any of the stuff you put down on the paper. You still don't have a girlfriend."
"I know that." Apparently finally exasperated, David shut off his own torch and flipped up his mask. "Anyway, those aren't the kind of stories I write. They're not just some wish-fulfillment things."
"Bah." Mac waved a hand airily. "That's all any stories ever are. You know, like the guy who wrote them never could do and never will do what he's writing about, but he likes to think he would be able to, so he write a story where he does that. Or he wants to think the world operates a certain way, so he makes up a world where he does. He gets a hot date. His parents give him tons of money. He becomes a great respected figure. That's all those things ever are." Grunting, he picked up the torch again. "Big waste of time if you ask me. I don't see why you guys even bother." His visor fell back into place with a crash and he resumed welding.
"You don't get it," answered David, still exasperated. "You write for the fun of it. I mean, just the sensation of putting a whole world down on paper is like you… you… Ah, you wouldn't understand."
"Nope. I probably wouldn't."
By mutual consent they avoided the topic henceforth.
A few weeks sufficed to complete the under-frame, and then they proceeded onto giving the raw metal a primer coat of anti-rust spray paint. "You don't spray back and forth, like most people do." Mac explained to David. "You go in strips, always the same way. So spray to the end, stop, return, and spray again, until the area is thoroughly coated."
David gave a short nod. "Gotcha." Rhythmically he began to spray, doing his best to match Mac's steady, even rate. Casually, he asked, "So, what's your hobby?"
"Everybody's got a hobby, right? I get the feeling this isn't yours, so what is it?"
Mac snorted. "You don't NEED to have a hobby, kid. It's just something fun to have." For a few moments he sprayed in silence, then added, "Origami."
"Seriously?" David's mouth quirked in a grin.
Mac gave an irritable shrug. "It calms me down. Besides, I like the little logic puzzles." Glancing over at David, he added, "Best put your mask on, Franny. The garage is well-ventilated and all, but these fumes still get to you after a while." Apparently he thought his own mask unnecessary.
David dutifully pulled the dust screen over his mouth and nose. "Seems a kinda limited hobby." "It's affordable." Mac's spray did not falter in its hypnotic rhythm.
"Oh? I guess so. Affordable isn't always what people think about with hobbies, but that makes sense." David's voice sounded oddly musty behind his mask. "It just… for some reason I thought you might fish or something."
"Nope." A simple shake of the head expressed Mac's denial. "Can't stand seafood. Never could."
David only chuckled.
The two finished the frame near the end of October, and shortly turned their attention to the next most important element—the engine. Mac had already catalogued many different kinds of engines that could be fit under the hood of a Chrysler Imperial crown, including a few particularly juicy models that required some slight modification to the hood. To his consternation, David rejected them all.
"Mac, I want a ride to work and back, not a roadster," said David, attempting and failing to soften his words with a grin. "All these things you have on here have WAY more horsepower than I'm ever gonna need."
"You don't know that!" Mac insisted eagerly. "C'mon, try this Turbomaster one. We'll need to cut a hole in the hood to fit it in, but we can stick a few chrome exhaust pipes on the side…"
"Mac, that thing would eat up more gas in a day than the car I have now." With a shake of his head, David reached into his backpack and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "Now, I did some research of my own on the web, and I found something that I think should fit my needs quite nicely." He handed the printouts to Mac.
The mechanic spent a few moments scanning the specifications before groaning. "Ya gotta be kidding me. A hybrid?" Glancing up at David accusingly, he protested, "This thing'll be barely able to get you past 90 mph!"
"Well, that's fine. I've got no need to go any faster than that. And it won't burn nearly as much gas as the others, which is a big saving these days."
"But this… this…" Mac spluttered. "This is a foreign job! Probably French or commie or something! This is…"
"It's the engine I want, Mac." David's voice had a quiet firmness to it. "And this is my car, after all."
In the end, Mac had to order the engine from overseas (it wasn't French, which mollified him somewhat), and install it himself. David did try to help, but installing the engine block and the various additions was a tricky business, which Mac insisted on mostly taking on himself. However, he did permit David to install the gas tank, air filter, and brakes; with the simple stipulation that he talk him through the whole thing and supervise his progress. The whole thing was a rather longish job, and took up more time than any other part of the process.
"You trying to grow a beard, Franny?" asked Mac one day, glancing up from his work on the engine. He was in an unusually good mood that day, having secretly improved the power of the motor without David's knowledge.
"Oh this?" Pulling away from the filter, David's greasy face beamed proudly as he gestured at a blotch of greasy fuzz growing on his face. "Not really. It's kinda a campus tradition. We call it 'No-Shave November,' it's like this competition where the participants don't shave for a whole month. Whoever has the biggest beard at the end of the month wins."
David shrugged as he bent back to his task. "The contest. There's not really an official prize, I guess. Anyway it's just for fun… most of the guys shave theirs over the holiday." Running a hand over his greasy fuzz, he grinned suddenly. "I might keep mine. I dunno. We'll see how it is at the end of the month."
"If that's all you've got so far, I wouldn't bother," grunted Mac. "Still, knock yourself out. Some chicks really go in for beards."
"Really? Most of the ones I've met think the thing is disgusting."
"Bah." Mac waved his hand, forgetful that the student could not see him. "Disgusting doesn't mean anything. You can get girls for anything you have short of leprosy. Ever seen Beauty and the Beast? Whole point of that movie is that chicks find an anthromorphic bison attractive."
"I… don't think that was the point…"
"Whatever then. As long as you're a guy, things go your way whatever you do. Getting older is attractive, getting scars is attractive, getting FAT can even be attractive if you work it right. Just has to do with your sales pitch." Glancing shrewdly down at his apprentice's back, he added, "You get a girlfriend yet, Franny?"
A sharp clang resounded from the interior, and David emerged, rubbing his head. "No." he answered shortly.
"Why? You gay or something?"
"No," sighed David. "It's just… she never really seems interested in…"
"Oh, she, eh? So you have a particular one you're set on? Is she a Japanese? She's a Japanese, isn't she."
"She's from Oregon, and her name is Hanna." David's answers came clipped and cold as he straightened the tools on the bench before him. "She's a highly intelligent and imaginative woman, and I have the utmost respect for her." After a pause, he inclined his head slightly, "And she is of Korean extraction."
"Anyway, it doesn't make a difference, because she's not interested in me." David continued. "She's always rather distant whenever we talk, and I'm pretty sure she's going out with Trevor. Besides, we're not really compatible, I did a survey…"
A snort cut off David's lecture. "Survey schmurvey. You like the girl don't you? She excite you? Then get in there and take her!"
"It's not that simple, people are more complex these days, they have differing layers of compatibility! You can't just… pick up a lady because you're attracted to her! You need to have the same interests, viewpoints, romantic expectations!"
"Bah. My third wife Cheryl and I never agreed on a single religious issue and voted for separate political parties our whole lives, and we did just fine."
David seemed to bite back his first retort, opting instead for: "Perhaps that would work for you, but I don't think I could live that way."
"You'd rather live without a woman?" Mac's eyes darkened. "That gets old real fast, Franny. Take my word for it, you don't ask this girl out, you'll spend the rest of your life kicking yourself over it. At worst, all she can do is slap your face and ruin your pride and break your heart for all eternity. It's worth a risk."
David just sighed. "I'll think about it." He said simply.
David left for the holidays a few days later and returned to find the engine work completed. If he noticed the several modifications to the engine that Mac had added, he did not get the chance to comment, for there was one final part to the car's core that had to be settled.
"I would've just gone straight for the automatic transmission—you're used to it, after all, and they're practically universal—but I know some people really get steamed about manual versus automatic transmissions, so I just felt I should check with you first." Mac explained.
David worried the lower half of his lip for a long moment, staring at the skeleton of the car with its newly mechanized innards. Finally he answered, slowly, "I think… actually, I'd like to try a manual transmission."
Mac's eyebrows rose with that. "You like that kind?"
"To be honest, I've never even driven with one before," replied David with a shrug. "But it just… now that I know how an engine works, or at least have a better feel for it, I think I should… I dunno, carry that over into how I drive it. Like have a feel for how the car works as I'm using it."
After studying the boy for a moment, Mac nodded. "Alright then. But while we're getting it set up, you and me had better have some driving lessons."
So on odd nights, when David had no pressing business, he would meet Mac at the garage, and the two would drive about, learning of the intricacies of the clutch and gearshift. David did not pick up on it very quickly, and Mac was an exacting master, so it happened that they finished installing the transmission before learning how to use it. However, that did not stop them, for the essentials of the car had been finished, and now only the accessories remained.
Finding the different segments of the car's body was rather difficult, and involved a great deal of what David called 'networking,' and Mac 'asking around.' Some guys knew other guys who knew some other guys who might have a (mostly) unrusted piece of Chrysler Imperial Crown. Other parts had to be found on Ebay and paid for at full price. When all the missing segments had been found and welded into place, they had a somewhat patchwork quilt-like look.
Mac clapped the disconsolate David on the shoulder. "Don't look so down about it. Once we sand off the old coats and give it a few paints of coat, it'll look fine."
The primer and first coat of paint (David chose grey) went on with no argument, but on the second, when David caught Mac trying to add flames to the front of the car, the two had a minor argument about detailing.
"Whatever happened to 'individual style'?" Mac protested.
"Not on the car," replied David sternly. "The car is professional."
Again, when it came down to it, David, as owner of the car, had the final say. He walked away from their discussion believing he had won the argument, and Mac let him think that. However, when David returned from Christmas vacation, he found a curious number of tiny additions in out-of-the-way spots on the car. Apparently, he felt that the professionalism of the vehicle had not been compromised, for he never took the matter up with Mac.
David had brought an addition of his own back from vacation, an all-new stereo, complete with iPod jack and CD player. However, after looking at it for a few moments, Mac shook his head.
"It clashes." He grunted. "The whole set-up comes from the 70's, that stereo is an obvious 2009 addition. I can stick in those fancy speakers, but you'll have to do something about the stereo." Another argument commenced over this point, but this time David had to agree with the mechanic. He looked so depressed over the matter that Mac actually laughed. "Don't worry about it Franny! You can keep the stereo itself, just get a new casing for the thing! I'm sure you'll be able to find something."
As it turned out, a broken car stereo from the 1970's was not hard to find, and David himself, with the aid of one of his more technically minded friends, gutted and refurbished it. When he presented the new edition in triumph at the garage, Mac nodded and immediately hooked it into the car's dashboard.
"What do you think of reincarnation?" asked David suddenly, watching the big man carefully fiddle with the wiring.
"What?" Mac paused, not daring to look away from his task.
"Reincarnation. I did a paper on it last year. It's this Hindu belief that…"
"I know what reincarnation is, Franny." Mac tended to be a trifle defensive about his level of schooling. "Just something of an odd question is all. What'd you bring it up now for?"
"Well, in my paper, I argued that it reflected the basic human desire to start over, to obliterate all mistakes and fabricate a whole new, presumably perfect life." He shrugged. "And, of course, the societal necessity of good deeds being rewarded and ill deeds punished, but that goes for nearly any kind of belief about the afterlife."
"Hm." A little twitch of the fingers, and the wires connected. Mac eased out of the system. "So do you believe in it?"
"Believe in what?"
Mac rolled his eyes. "Reincarnation. Thing we were talking about."
"Oh. Well, that wasn't really part of the paper. You can't actually discuss the validity of things in philosophy, you know. That would be theology, or anthropology. Whether or not a belief is true or not doesn't really hold much importance in my field."
"Seems as though it would be awfully important for anybody about to die," grunted Mac, moving away from the car toward the tool rack.
David sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Probably. But anyway, I didn't ask whether you thought it was true or not, I asked you what you thought of it."
"Hmph. I think I don't believe it's true."
"That's not what I asked."
"I'm getting to that too." Throwing the student an irritable glare, Mac picked up a needlenose pliers and returned. "I think that simply starting over is way too easy a way to get out of things. Everybody makes mistakes, but you either have to fix them or live with them. No such thing as a clean slate, in my opinion."
"That's still not what I asked." David sighed. "You're just saying whether it makes sense to you…"
"Fine then. I think it's stupid."
David, though far from content with the answer, nonetheless considered that conversation to be the end of the matter. However, when he arrived at the garage the next day to find it locked with no sign of Mac, he began to worry. Mac had never left the garage before. After waiting for about an hour, David finally got out his phone.
Ring ring. Ring ring. Ring ring. Ring ring.
Silence. Mac had no answering machine.
For a few moments David drummed his fingers on the hood of his vehicle (the old car—it was practically dead by this point), weighing his friend's right to privacy against his own need for information. He knew where Mac lived, the old man had pointed the location out to him on one of their drives. But could he really take it upon himself to visit his friend?
Anxiety beat out propriety. About fifteen minutes later, David pulled up in the parking lot of a three-level apartment building. He galloped up the first two levels and halted at a plain white door, marked only by the letters '2B' and a tacked-on card advertising Mac's Garage. Taking a moment to calm himself, he gave two short raps on the door.
For a long moment there was silence, and David began to fear Mac was not at home either. But then there was a crash of something indoors, and a slurred "GoRAMMit!" A short belch followed, and then a resounding: "GO 'WAY! No solicitin'."
"Mac, it's me, David."
Another short silence, then a few more crashing noises before the rasping noise of a lock being slid aside. The door swung open, and Mac's burly form presented itself, great and greasy in boxers and a sleeveless t-shirt. One hand braced against the door frame for support, the other tightly clutched a half-empty bottle of vodka.
"Oh. S'you," slurred Mac, obviously drunk. "Reincarnation boy. Whaddaya want?"
"Uh… you weren't at the garage… and… well, I thought…"
Apparently losing interest in the subject, Mac stumbled away from the door, back into the room, knocking over a coat rack in the process. "Gorrammit." He muttered. "Place is a damn mess. S'rry." He seemed to think this last bit funny, for he burst out in a set of giggles.
David decided to take this an invitation to enter and stepped inside, carefully avoiding the splinters of glass on the floor. "Mac? You okay?"
"Have a drink!" The bottle of vodka shot toward him. "M'fine! M'celebrating!"
"Uh… I don't really…" David caught the look in Mac's eyes and hurriedly took the bottle, giving it a quick swig. "Delicious." He coughed. "What are you celebrating?"
"M'celebrating my anniversary!" Mac hiccupped, staggering toward the fridge. "Thirty-six years ago, this Thursday, I was married."
"Which one was that?" Mac had had over four wives, and several girlfriends.
"Whaddaya mean, 'which one?'" retorted Mac, throwing the student an angry glance over his shoulder. "Mah one and only… My true love… My… my… my darling… LYNN!" He quieted a little after this outburst and stared at the row of bottles in the fridge. "Vodka's shitty. Y'know that? Shitty. I think that must be why I ain't had it in so long."
"Lynn…" David threw his mind about a little. "Your first wife?"
"M'celebrating the first vodka I've had in four weeks!" Mac declared, grabbing another bottle from the fridge. "Four weeks I been cone sold stober, and last night I had a vodka. So then I had another to celebrate the four weeks, and another to celebrate the vodka, and then…" he frowned a little. "Don't quite remember what happened after that." He stared at the bottle in his hand again. "Shitty." He decided. "Don' know why I bought all this shitty shit last night. Must've been drunk. Not drunk now."
"Or course not." David had dealt with a few drunken companions in the past, if none as big as Mac.
"Bad idea to be drunk." Mac solemnly informed the philosophy student, slumping into another chair. "Stupid thing to do. Makes you do stupid things. Bad for your lungs… liver." He corrected himself. "Liver. Could die from it one day. Also expensive habit. Very." He let out a little sniff. "Nob'dy loves drunk people." He sobbed.
"Nobody does." David agreed. "That's because they're stupid."
"Yes. Yes it is. Everyone. Everyone's stupid. You're stupid! I'm stupid! That chair is stupid! It… uh…" Pausing for a swig of vodka, Mac nodded and wiped his mouth. "Stupid."
For a long while silence reigned in the dusky apartment. Occasionally, Mac refreshed himself from the bottle. Less occasionally, he offered it to David. Reddening light slid through the blinds and lit the room in crimson.
David reached for his pocket and withdrew his pipe. Slowly he lit it.
Mac looked over at the smoke as it curled out of David's mouth. "Stupid habit." He warned.
"Very." David agreed.
"Bad for liver… lungs. Could die from it some day."
A shrug. "Everyone does."
With a lazy curve of his arm, David extended the pipe to Mac. Mac looked at it, shrugged, and took it. After trying to fit it in his ear, nose, and eye, he finally managed to land it in his mouth and draw a long breath from it.
Almost instantly he coughed violently, sending the pipe flying to snap in pieces on the floor. "Sorry." He muttered.
For the rest of the evening, David remained at the apartment, finally coaxing Mac to eat something and later ease him into bed. He left the bottles in the fridge, but he cleaned up the rest of the apartment.
The next day, Mac was sober and solemn. "Shouldn't have left the vodka." He said.
David shrugged. "Figured you should deal with it on your own."
"Hmph. That was stupid." Mac crossed his arms and looked away. "I poured them down the drain anyway. Probably'll buy some more tonight but…" he sighed. "Well. You got the seats?"
David had the seats, a set of black leather auto chairs that Mac fitted into the car with ease. "They'll be fierce hot in the summer." He warned David. "Best make sure to carry around a windshield cover or something."
"Well, that's the last bolt there." Mac stepped back from the car and surveyed the whole. A chuckle escaped him. "This is a nice car you got here kid. Heck, I wouldn't mind having a car like this myself."
Slowly, a grin curved the edge of David's mouth. "Maybe I can help you build it."
Mac chuckled. "Don't be ridiculous kid. There's no way I could afford a car like this. Ever. Even if you gave me the money, I might just spend it on vodka. Shame though…" He looked it over once again. "This really would be a classy ride."
Still behind Mac, David frowned a little and chewed his lip. Finally, he spoke, "I'm… well, I don't know what to say, Mac, I'm kinda sorry, I guess."
"Sorry? For what?" Turning, Mac lifted a grimy eyebrow at David. "I do this all the time, Franny. Rich folks come in here, ask me to put together a custom job for them and then they walk out. I spend months on it, wire it up, grease the gears, put life into it… get to know it, really. I've done a lot of cars. Real nice cars, cars I'd love to have myself."
David eyed the mechanic. "Doesn't that get a little depressing?"
"Eh… kinda." He shrugged. "But you see, kid, making a car like that… just spending so much time on getting everything right and perfectly fit together… that's a reward, just in of itself. It gives you a real drive, to make something so perfect and wonderful, even if you ain't gonna ever have it. It's really… Ah, you wouldn't understand…"
"No…" David was shaking his head. "No Mac. I think I do understand."
The next day, David came to the garage bright and early. He and Mac looked over the car one last time, making a few last-minute adjustments. A quick once-over was given David's old car too, and a price estimate made on it. After an agreement was reached, Mac towed the old machine behind the shop, commenting how he'd take it to the scrap yard in the morning.
"Well, I guess that's it, then." David said at last. "I should leave, need to stop by the courthouse for the title and all that. You got the keys?"
Mac nodded and dug a pair of silvered trinkets from his coveralls. "You're sure dressed fancy today." He noted. "I think you even combed your hair."
"A little, maybe," nodded David, reached up to rub his scalp awkwardly. "I… uh… I'm picking Hanna up a little later tonight… we're going to see a concert. Nothing big."
Slowly, a wide grin spread across Mac's face. "Why, you smooth son-of-a…"
"It's not anything major." David insisted, flushing somewhat. "She just happens to like Dvorak, okay?" Reaching inside his coat, he withdrew an envelope and handed it to Mac, who accepted it with a nod. "Here. Thanks for… well, thanks."
With a last, awkward cough, David stepped into the car and settled into the black leather seat, flicking the stereo into life. The steel grey door slammed shut as the engine fired into life and the lights came on. The clutch shifted into reverse, the car backed out, and with a last squeal of the tires, the Chrysler Imperial Crown drove off into the city, leaving behind just a faint acrid taste of smoke.
Smiling sadly, Mac looked down at the envelope in his hands.
A/N: A little something I wrote for my application to the Creative Writing program in Colorado. It didn't work, but it's a nice story nonetheless. Enjoy.