My car inspection was up and my check engine light was on, so I went in to town to see Chuck and get it legal. Which is kind of a non sequitar in and of itself.

Back in high school, Chuckee was a pretty popular drug dealer. Not because of his prices – those were set – but because he always partied with the customers. If you bought your meth or reds or whatever was on special that week, he’d pull out a baggie of weed and offer to share a toke. A toke turned into a bone, and three hours later you had no idea what planet you were on, let alone why you’d come.

Being too friendly’s not a good idea if you’re a drug dealer, even for someone low on the food chain like Chuck. So eventually he got busted. I’m thinking he sang the blues and talked for his supper, because he didn’t spend too much time in prison.

He found God inside the joint, and when he got out he went straight. But he couldn’t find a job, so eventually he started making money fixing cars in this barn his father owned a couple of miles north of here. Ramshackle was invented to describe the way this barn looked – like a ram had been shackled to it and tried pulling every piece of wood from the ground. But his work was cheap and usually, well maybe just often, pretty good.

Eventually, supposedly with money he saved from changing disc brakes and blowing out fuel filters, he bought a place in the middle of town. My theory is that it was really bought with money he’d hidden from his drug days, but let me get back to the point.

My car needs to be inspected, so I go in to see Chuckee and after a few desultory words about the state of my soul - dark and getting darker - he takes a look at my car.

“Needs a new clutch,” he tells me.

“Bullshit it needs a new clutch. You didn’t even look at the clutch. You didn't even look at the car.”

“I can tell by listening. I heard it when you drove up.”

“That’s the heat shield which you fixed six months ago," I said. "Or rather, didn't fix. What I need is an oxygen sensor.”

“I have a special on brakes.”

“Can you put in a new oxygen sensor and inspect it please?”

Chuckee frowns but takes the keys and puts it on the lift.

“You sure about that clutch?” he asks.

“The clutch is fine. Is the oxygen sensor. Which is on the top of the engine.”

Too late, the car is on the lift.

“Brakes look good,” he tells me.

“I know the brakes are good. It needs an oxygen sensor.”

“Hey, don’t yell.” He lowers it from the lift, hooks some fancy wires up to it, starts it up, then runs and gets a clipboard.

“Sorry, you fail,” he tells me a few minutes later. “You need an oxygen sensor.”

“Why didn’t you do that before you inspected it?”

“Dealer item. Can’t touch it,” he adds as he cheerfully scrapes off the inspection sticker. "Just following state regs here. Have to report you to DMV and take off your sticker. Uh, you ought to get it fixed real soon."

"So now I got to drive it around without an inspection sticker? What happens if the police stop me?"

Chuckee gives me a puzzled look. Then he says, “I’m running a special on brakes today. Brembos are half-price.”

I think I liked him better when he was a drug pusher.

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