Not Working

Everything is expensive. Even things you don’t want. Clorox wipes, figs, sponges. Yes, even spinach is expensive. I don’t like spinach, but I eat it, because it’s good for me, even though it makes my teeth feel metallic. Have I been sucking a metal pipe? Have I been rolling a handful of nuts and bolts around in my mouth, like a bunch of gum balls? 

Nope, that’s the spinach talking. 

I’m trying to eat better. Taking care of myself. 

It’s expensive. 

It’s fine. I’m fine. 

I’m at the car place, getting my car examined by professionals. There is no doubt, this will be expensive. When I get up to cruising speed, the whole car shakes. In the days of the wizards, they would have said my car was possessed. They would have burned my car at the stake or anointed it with leeches. Good and Evil! In constant battle! Who will win? Not me. I will not win. I am not a winner. Even so, here I am, living the life.

I brought my car in because the stereo does not go loud enough to conceal the sounds my car makes. Sounds of grief and lamentation. Anger, pain, protest, want.  Grinding sounds. Expensive sounds. 

I’ve been here for a thousand years. 

I’m never going home. 

Great! Awesome! Thank you! 

That’s what the professionals want you to say when they tell you they’ve solved your problems, and now they want your money. 

Great! Awesome! Thank you! 

Every day we walk around telling people things we don’t even remotely believe. 

I would fix my car myself, but I don’t have a garage, or tools, or knowledge. And I have plenty of company. The waiting area is full. Not an empty seat in the house. Citizens of America, unable to fix our machines, or even understand or explain how they might work. 

Basically, cars are magic. And we are not magicians. 

There’s a TV in the waiting area. It’s playing a show whose theme seems to be celebrating the work of good people and giving them large sums of money. The sound is off, so it’s hard to tell what’s happening, but a couple – a man and woman – are sitting on a couch, and the host is in a chair, behind a desk, and the text on the screen says the name of an animal welfare charity. Then two people jog on carrying a giant check for $10,000 and the man cries, and the woman rubs his back, loving him, loving that he’s a good person, and being recognized for helping, but also maybe wishing he wasn’t crying on television. 

She looks a little, compose yourself, honey


This is the Car Place. This is their TV. They make the rules. They can change the channel. Of course, they can. So why even say that? 

Because Car People Lie. 

Oh, the lies. 

A professional enters the waiting area with a clipboard and says the name Gary, like he’s a doctor and Gary is the patient, and now it’s time for some tough news for Gary. The results are in, Gary, and the news is not good. 

In real life, the professional keeps saying the name GARY like it’s a question. Is there a GARY?

Yes, there is a Gary. 

Gary stands.

Gary is a middle-aged guy in office pants. He doesn’t work out. It’s OK. Working out is not Gary’s lifestyle. I have started working out, so I notice these things now. When I see someone who doesn’t work out, in my head I make a sighing, disappointed sound. I bet Gary plays golf and rides around on the cart, instead of walking. I get it. The cart is sometimes the best part of golf. 

But Gary, it would be better if you walked. 

Gary stands and the professional leads him away and even though I will never see Gary again, I wish him luck in my head. Happy motoring, Gary. 

I wait for news I don’t want to receive, just like everyone else. 

Now on the TV, for some reason known only in hell, there are two identical twin teenaged boys in identical clothes – billowy white shirts and light blue jeans – playing fiddles. They move forward and back on the stage in sequence. One moves up, the other back, like the tide, like the ocean, except instead of bringing forth miracles – creatures in shells, edible plants, a dead fish with both eyes on one side of its head – they prance and skip and fiddle. 

How did we get here? I missed something. 

I gaze in horror at the frolicking twins. One of the camera guys gets so close you can see the little cracks and smears of their makeup. They are wearing a lot of makeup, to cover up acne. 

It’s fine. I’m fine. 

I need to fix my car. It’s going to be expensive. But I need my car to accomplish everything I need to do. Drive to work, drive to the grocery store, drive to the gym I recently joined. Very recently. Last week, recently. I do curls and watch myself doing them in the mirror, but only when the gym is pretty empty and no one is paying attention, because I’m not sure I’m doing it right, and also, I don’t want to seem vain. I’m not vain. I’m just curious about the progress this person I’m turning into is making. How are those arm muscle looking, champ? They are looking good. They are visible in a more distinct way than last week, I’m pretty sure. In the morning I wake up sore, which is how I know I’m doing something good. Because it hurts. 

Everything hurts. 


The professionals of the Car Place can change the channel if they want to. They can change the channel, but they don’t want to get sucked into a whole thing, patrons making demands, patrons fighting among themselves, over this channel, that channel. Drama. They want to avoid the drama. Which is understandable. But instead of telling the truth, they say, hey, sorry, we can’t change the channel, it’s out of our hands, as if there is an all-powerful creature who controls the TV, a creature who rules over the professional car repair employees, a creature who will tear off the arms of anyone who changes the channel. 

It’s beyond our control, the professionals tell us. This is how it has to be. 

But this is not how it has to be. Sometimes it’s just easier to lie. 

Side note: I am never going to like the car place on social media. 

It’s fine. I’m fine. 

A goth couple in the waiting area are working their way through a large bag of pretzels. These are so good, I can’t stop, the goth woman tells her man. The goths look like they live on cigarettes and TV glow. But they are sweet to one another. He says, it’s OK, it’s just pretzels, and she says, yeah, but still, I wish I’d brought those grapes, I’d be just as happy eating grapes, and he says sure, but all the sugar. In grapes? the goth woman says, shocked, and he says, yeah, they’re little sugar bombs, grapes. Blueberries are way better. 

Blueberries! This goth is my brother! I agree! I love blueberries! We are blueberry friends! 

I want to hug the goth, but instead, I sit quietly, feeling this brotherhood, this goodwill, but privately.

I wonder if the people around me can sense a change in me. If my energy feels different all of a sudden. I imagine us hanging out, me and goth, eating blueberries from a common bowl, the TV flickering, our hands sometimes touching by accident. 

We could be friends. A whole future, stretching ahead. 

Someone farts, and sadly, it’s me. 

It only made a little noise, but more than I expected, and it smells like maybe I need to go to the doctor. 

I’m not going to the doctor, though, because going to the doctor is expensive. 

I flip through a magazine about golf. I’m just looking at the pictures. Leather gloves with little vent holes, dimpled balls, women in visors, winning. 

I think about my diet. I think about healthy living. The California Raisin Commission used to run ads promoting raisins. It called them Nature’s Candy. But isn’t candy basically poison? So is Nature’s Candy another way of saying Nature’s Poison? I’d like to see that ad campaign. 

Have more raisins, sweetie. It’s nature’s poison! 

It’s fine. I’m fine. 

I remember nature’s candy, but I can’t tell you who runs the UN or what the government of Mexico is – are they a democracy, a socialist country, do they have a queen or a king? Sometimes I think I’m pretty intelligent and then I think about it, and realize, nope. 

Here comes another professional. He’s not my professional. It’s not my time. He walks up to two men, a father and his grown son. The father is old and wearing traditional clothes from his homeland. The shirt is like a regular shirt, with no collar, but it goes all the way down below his knees, and his pants are just barely visible and look like pajamas. It looks like a very comfortable outfit. He has a baseball hat on. The Red Sox. His son is dressed like a guy who’s trying to blend in. Shirt with buttons, pants and pleats, shoes with tassels. They don’t speak much English, and the news the professional has shared is upsetting. They yell at him in a language he clearly does not understand. He looks pained as they yell at him, and he keeps saying, the battery is bad, you just need a new battery. 

Identifying the problem is half the battle. It’s a good day. Things are happening. Progress is being made. But people are upset. Someone is always upset. 

Winners and losers. 

The TV plays. We sit and watch, but someone else has the remote. 

In life, even if you think you have the remote, someone else has the remote. 


It’s fine. I’m fine. 

I may leave the state. It may be that time. I’ve done it many times before but each time it gets harder. In the old days leaving a place was as easy as tossing clothes in a trash bag, getting in whatever kind of shitty car, and driving. Instead of the usual routes – work, groceries, parking space – I would get on the highway and never come back. I was a Road Runner. Now I’m still sort of a Road Runner, I guess, but I’m older, and my back hurts if I sit too long, and I don’t see great at night, and just in general Road Running doesn’t sound as fun. It sounds like failure. It sounds like uh, oh. 

Patterns repeating. 


And now there’s a dog involved. 

I have a dog! 

I love him. 

He’s a good boy. 

He loves riding in the car. 

He’s a road dog. 

Road Dog! 

He’s named Phil. Phil loves me, and I love Phil. Phil hates to be alone. Phil chews the curtains, destroys books, wants to sleep on the bed, Phil looks up with sweet kind eyes and says, please, may I eat what you are eating, right now, off your plate, or the floor, or the counter or the table. I say, no, no, sit, sit, but sometimes I scream JESUS CHRIST. WHAT THE FUCK, PHIL?!

Then Phil gets sad and says, OK, jeez, wow, and curls up in a ball. 

It’s you and me, Phil, together till the end, but neither of us is perfect. 

There’s a homeless guy in the waiting area. He thinks no one’s onto him. We’re all onto him. He walked over to the trash can to throw away the wrapper for a pack of cheese crackers, and his jeans are so shredded the pant legs swish. Was he attacked by something with claws? 

It’s hard times. But this place is paradise. It’s warm, and there’s free coffee and TV and a basket of snacks. You’re supposed to pay for the snacks. There are muffins, but no one chooses the muffins. They’re the most expensive thing. Professionals can take muffins all day if they want, because I bet they don’t have to pay, but even they don’t want the muffins. The muffins sit there. The homeless guy sits and stares off into the black hole of nothing. Then a professional comes up to him. The professional doesn’t have a clipboard, he doesn’t say the man’s name like it’s a question. He stands before the homeless guy and says, can you come with me, please, if you are not here on business. 

The homeless guy sighs. 

He’s here on business. He’s with me, I tell the professional. He’s fine, he’s waiting with me. 

They both look over. Everyone looks over. Obviously, I’m lying. But it’s cold outside. It’s warm in here. Why not let him stay? Where is the injured party in this scenario? While we wait for bad news, the homeless guy can watch TV and drink hot coffee. Because he’s not waiting for bad news. The bad news is here and swallowing him completely.

The professional raises his eyebrows, suggesting, but not saying, oh, really, you expect me to believe this homeless man is here with you? So I dig in deep. He’s my brother, I tell the professional. He’s special. I look after him. I throw in an extra lie to jazz it up. But he wants to be independent. 

I roll my eyes at the professional as if to say, you get it.

As if to say, you and me, we’re the good guys, but it’s not exactly easy, am I right?

The homeless guy doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening. 

He’s not my mother, the homeless guy tells the professional, which kind of ruins everything. 

Obviously, I didn’t say I was your mother, I say. I said brother

Mother, brother, whatever, the professional says. You guys work it out. He waves his hands, as if by doing so he might make us disappear.

When the professional is gone, the homeless guy walks over to me and goes HEY! 

Really loud, leaning down, in my face. HEY! 

Hey, I say. 


I’m just whoever I am, I say. I’m just sitting in the car place. 

YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER! The homeless guy tells me. YOU’RE NOT EVEN CLOSE! 

Yes, fair point, I tell the homeless guy. 

I’m BEING NICE, I AM NICE, I’M ALWAYS NICE, that’s not the PROBLEM! You telling people I’m SPECIAL, that’s a problem on NINE LEVELS!

Nine levels? That’s a lot of levels. What happens on each level? Are these levels of rage, and level nine is when rage becomes murder?

Now everyone is nervous. The homeless guy is upset. 


Maybe he’s dangerous. Maybe he needs medication, and can’t get medication, because, no more social safety net, because trickle-down economics and survival of the fittest and on and on, nothing works, it’s all impossible. 

It’s fine. You’re fine. 

Everyone is nervous, and I am nervous too, because people kill people

I was trying to help, I explain to the homeless guy. They were going to throw you out. 

But my voice cracks so it sounds like I’m upset, and maybe going to cry. 

I know how to live, the homeless guy tells me. 

The homeless guy swishes away and I stare into the black hole of nothing, trying to ignore the tension, which is very palpable. No one speaks. The TV is talking about what constitutes the perfect mattress. I wait for news I don’t want to hear. 

Alive, not living. 



Eventually the professional comes for me, and shows me the clipboard, and tells me they didn’t find anything wrong, but I still have to pay for DIAGNOSTICS. 

Everything’s expensive. Even doing nothing is expensive. 

How could you not find anything, I ask the professional. 

The professional shrugs. 


Nothing’s wrong, but everything’s broken. 

My car is still possessed by demons. 

Where to now? Where shall I pilot my hell chariot? The world is waiting, if not for me, then at least for someone, and who’s to say I can’t pretend to be whoever seems to be needed? 

What I mean is, I can change the channel. Anyone can change the channel. 

And that’s when I see the remote, on a little shelf on the wall behind the TV. I can barely see it, but there it is, and there’s a little chain attached to the remote, and to the wall, so no one can steal the remote. But really it’s just duct-taped onto the remote, which is not super secure. So basically the chain is doing nothing.

Doing nothing is expensive. 

I go over to the remote. I change the channel on the TV. No one says anything, or even notices, and everything goes on as before. Except now I am a god, with the power to alter fate and time. 

Now the TV plays kittens, playing in a zoo, or I guess they are cubs, or kits, or whatever you call a couple of baby lions. 

Isn’t that better? Isn’t that more fun? 

You’re welcome! 

I am your god, but I am benevolent, for now. I will not destroy you. Instead, this! I give you this! Kittens!

No one says anything to me. They can’t see me. They don’t believe in me. And then I’m gone. A centennial comet, a mystery burning across the sky, my power total, my power beyond reckoning. And up ahead, nothing but black, nothing but dreaming, and no imaginable future. 

1 thought

  1. lorna crozier Author

    Such a good story. I kept wanting to hear this guy keep on going, observing in of all places, the waiting room of a car service station. Amusing and dark at the same time. It felt Cohenesque, as in the Cohen brothers. Quirky yet a slice of everyone’s life.

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