News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

My Scooter (a knockoff of Mark Twain’s My Watch)

The following crude imitation of Twain’s work is going to suck, and suck badly no doubt. But, you have to bust a few eggs to make an omelet. Mine are still scrambled. This is some rocky cornball, but I have to start somewhere. Bottom is usually where that somewhere lies. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Either way, it’s going to take a couple of weeks to figure out how to do this sort of stuff. But I shall…

My Scooter: An Instructive Little Tale

My new scooter had been a buck stallion these six months. She was infallible and reliable, a trustworthy and boon companion, her constitution and anatomy imperishable. But at last, one day I had to take her to the repair shop. Nothing adventurous, just to tap up the tires, which I’d put off for a while, and which were now soft and become twin fish-tailing accident-generating disasters in tandem. I had dithered and put the thing off, gripped as I was by a premonition of doom featuring my beloved machine anatomized by death merchants going chop-chop in a chop shop.

But by and by I got it together and commanded my concerns to depart and made for a certified repair outlet. A grubby personage trotted over. I kicked the tires in the casual way of the connoisseur and suggested “Top ‘em up, sir, if you will please.” The head of the establishment took a personal fancy to my machine, preambled over and looked her up and down knowingly. With a sonorous gravitas he said, “Why fellah, what she needs is a new spark plug.” Before I could digest the import and implications of this declaration, he snapped his fingers and his No. 1 grease monkey was having at her with his profane hands.

I broke out in a sweat. I tried to remonstrate, to have the headman understand there was nothing the matter with the mechanical operation of my pet. But no; all this human cabbage could see was that it had a touch of blue smoke and so just HAD to have a new spark plug. I danced around him with anguish and implored him to let her alone. But like Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, the dice was cast and came up craps.

I put my foot down. I refused to pay for services unrequired. But he would have none of my requirements. Waving me down from his modest height, he informed me that I was freshly arrived and an American to boot and proudly stated to all and sundry grubby fellows in attendance that he was providing his services gratis; that it was a free courtesy and a fine karmic gesture to a stranger from a strange land, a hale and hearty welcome from the sons of the Yellow Emperor as it were. A round of huzzah! went up from his crew.

But as for I, well I trembled with exasperation. I inquired if I could have the privilege of perusing the operating manual. "Manual?" he inquired. I explained, "For the spark plug, my good man." He replied that for a professional of his years and experience, manuals weren’t for reading but for writing. “Is that a fact,” I responded. And he looked at me strangely, snorted at his boys, placed his arm over his chest and began hooting with a sudden pain. I slunk away with my scooter, launching her into the colorful twilight smog, I looked back to find him settled in his Buddha-bead boss chair, still chuckling, but tired now, the unusual exertion having tuckered him out, leaving him a sort of snorfling and crying himself to sleep as it were.

My scooter ran faster now, but unpredictably, like she was on the laughing gas. She launched from the sidelines with gusto, whooshing like a rocket, blowing sparks out the back end, thrusting me violently into turbulent traffic and threatening to fetch me to my Great Reward before I had time to enjoy it. During the first day, the damage was limited to an old crone, her groceries scattered hither and thither; it cost me my lunch money to compensate her. The following day, my pet chose a taxi, pitching me over the hood and beaching herself alongside the vehicle where I found her, a picture of mechanical serenity. The taxi operator thumped me with a baseball bat and filched my wallet while I was still snatching at stars. The next day we soared like a missile into the backside of a bus, rattling my teeth and my confidence. Then a red light tempted her and we got broadsided in the intersection by a gravel truck, the driver considerate in the usual way of his vocation, backing up and driving over me again to be sure I was feeling no pain.

Things were getting out of hand, so I took her to another dealer. He took a look and pronounced authoritatively that the carburetor was in need of winding up. The float was drowning and needed First Aid. I took her back on the road, and now she huffed and puffed like a paralytic, despondent and unable to build a respectable head of steam. She wheeled pathetically along, her spirits sunk. We were passed by wrist rockets, pocket rockets. Then busses and then even the rag and bone man, the greybeard peddling past in shorts and skinny shanks, waving as he passed us by. Pedestrians felt sorry and offered to push. I was never going to get anywhere in life. I missed appointments, went hungry, was late for dinner.

So I got me to another industrial specialist. He opined that the carburetor was fine, but that the seals on the shocks were losing their tether. They was frayed. He pointed to a leak. But now I was fond for the former days when I took the damaged scooter slow-poking around. Now she bottomed out in every pothole, jarring my bones and knocking me half-senseless.

I hunted up another professional opinion. This one offered that the tires were scalloping. I smiled in a knowing way, not wanting to be mistaken for a newbie in the vehicular arts. He planted new steel-belted studded radials on her and I felt satisfied. But then I discovered that every time I aimed the handle bars in the direction of a left turn, my pet kept plowing straight ahead. Whenever I wanted to go straight, she insisted on a right turn. Formerly, getting to a destination was an easy navigation. Now, I perforce I had to aim by a circular route, going counterclockwise and taking into account wind speed, humidity, and ambient temperature. I apprehended that I had to look at my destination and then point my pet 180° in the opposite direction of the one I was aiming for. She’d take me in a long camber, wandering royally across lanes, scaling sidewalks like it was nobody’s business but her own, and just generally breaking all the legal laws and busting out a myriad infractions of common sense. By and by, though, she did her best to get me somewhere proximate to my destination. Whereupon I hailed a cab.

Getting impatient with taxi drivers, also frequent victims of vehicles that refuse all by circuitous routes, I took the poor suffering scooter to another doctor to have the tires diagnosed, anatomized, and entered into the surgery clinic if need be. This splendid gentleman informed me with great majesty and generosity that he’d fix the tires for free, but that the clutch plates was unfortunately worn a tad. I emerged on the street again, this time with a creative transmission whose gears took uncalled for liberties with artistic license. The automatic transmission now automatically shifted from first to third gear, from third to fifth, and from fifth into second and then from fourth into first gear, with the impressive precision of a musician running through his scales. My loyal pet took on the mien of a bohemian rascal. With all this shifting and jerking I could neither hold onto my groceries or my lunch. I lost my wife off the back, leaving me lonesome and holding on for dear life itself. I have never seen her since and do not quite know who abandoned whom or whom abandoned who. But then I realized this was a capital favor of magnificent magnitude and I returned to the smiling doctor and gave the good man a bonus. But too much of a good thing can make it a bad one. I plain got to missing my wife, my gears, my groceries and my lunch.

I took the scooter to yet another expert, priding myself on never allowing the sacred flame of hope extinguish in a valiant breast. When I looked him over I recognized a seedy former acquaintance from Atlantic Canada, but, who, unlike myself, was unreconstituted and unrevaluated and just plain unrepentant. Living overseas hadn’t cured him of his pastoral afflictions, but spoiled him by infecting him with a new crust of city ones. I never had a particular high opinion of him and was not surprised to discover the slacker had departed the high and mighty art of English teaching for Zen and the increasingly low, as I was beginning to see it, art of motorcycle maintenance.

Fortunately he was too busy getting acquainted with my pet to recognize me. He looked her over with a lascivious grin and pronounced, "Well Holy O Martha! If she ain't just defective all around? Even a gravelroader goaler knows this here's a gonner. By gum, she needs to be fixed up and replaced, root and branch, hook and sinker, whole hog I tell ye. Hmm… But maybe this here mother-scratcher's got potential. Sure. Tell ye what I’m going to do, Sir. I'll make it my personal mission to save her from the heathen’s junkyard. She just needs an overhaul, a tuneup, and a life insurance policy. Follow me into my office sir and let’s see if we can’t find us a contract to be signed."

I picked up a crow bar and brained him on the spot. I had him cremated, his ashes placed in a pristine Buddhist urn overlooking a mountainous heap of fengsui at my own expense.

Chinese friends of mine often wonder what happens to English teachers when they get old. Do they just retire and fade away? Or is there a special fate for them in heaven? I've never had the heart to tell them.
Biff: Yeah, I know this is crap. I hate it too. But, it's a start.


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