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Emasculation in a jiffy
Nothing makes me feel less like a man than going for an oil change

EVERY 3000 miles, whether I need it or not, I am emasculated. Of course, the ownerís manual calls it an oil change.

Itís not the act of paying someone to do something Iím too lazy to do myself that I find so humiliating. I do that all the time ó car washes, my cleaning lady, McDonaldís ó and normally Iím more than happy to pass off my responsibilities to the lowest bidder. But thatís because I at least feel I could do them myself. In theory. And if I knew where I kept my sponges. The point is, I know enough about whatís involved to prevent being taken outright. My cleaning lady never calls me in the middle of the day to say, "Alan, Iíve noticed itís been three months since Iíve hot-waxed and sealed your countertop. We could let it go another few weeks, but thereís a chance some ketchup could seep underneath the tiles, and then youíd need new cabinets. And obviously your toilet water needs to be refiltered. I can do both for an extra $89.99."

But with an oil change, Iím an easy mark. Theyíve got me pegged from the moment Iím guided into the service bay and hesitate before remembering how to pop my hood. It is generally downhill from there. I wait helplessly in the unnaturally bright waiting room, drinking bad coffee, and desperately clinging to my soon-to-be-useless $17.99 coupon. Inevitably, the mechanic pops in his head and says ó in that friendly yet self-satisfied tone people use when they know they can charge you $1000 to urinate on your tailpipe ó "Mr. Olifson, I need to go over a few things with you." In all my years of oil changes, this has never been followed by a discussion of how clean Iíve kept my air filter.

The smug little engine-walk-through charade is the worst part of the whole ordeal. Itís as if theyíre simultaneously telling me theyíre going to rip me off and challenging me to stop them. "You know what your rear differential is, right? So you can see here that it obviously needs adjusting. And, of course, if you look here, youíll see you need a radiator-fluid exchange." Theyíre not just betting I donít know anything about my car ó theyíre betting that I will actually pretend to know something about my car. You could say the entire quick-lube business model is predicated on the hope that people are too proud to ask for clarification.

"Uh huh, sure, right," I always say.

And so my last $17.99 oil change cost me more than $100. Something apparently needed extra lubing. Donít ask. Lord knows I didnít.

The sad thing is, my car isnít the only thing I rely on which I am unable to maintain myself. I am surrounded by things whose inner workings are a mystery to me ó not even counting my girlfriend. My computer, my phone, my toaster. Turns out, I canít fix anything I own. I live in the most technologically advanced civilization in history, yet I canít even darn a sock.

People sometimes fantasize about what power theyíd have if they could travel back in time, knowing what we know now. But if I were sent back to medieval times, Iíd still be useless. Not only would I be unable to duplicate any modern technology, Iíd be slow and awkward in my chain mail. As a visitor from the future, I would be a tremendous disappointment, having nothing to offer but constant complaints of "Iím cold, Iím hungry, I think I have the plague."

So I guess I canít blame Jiffy Lube for emasculating me. It is but a symptom. The truth is, I am a dependent cog in this great civilization, relying on machines without bothering to understand their underlying principles. Everything I own may as well be powered by magic or little gnomes. In fact, Iíd be better off if my car were powered by little gnomes. Then I could just feed them and give them words of encouragement. Spark plugs donít respond much to a good pep talk.

Itís too late for me to rebel and go live "off the grid," to grow a beard and fend for myself somewhere in the wilds of Idaho or Montana. Iíve been declawed. Iíd have as much chance of surviving in the wild as a freshly manicured poodle. And so I guess Iím destined to spend the occasional Sunday being enfeebled by mechanics. Itís the price I pay for modern living.

But I can at least take solace in knowing there is one piece of equipment no one knows better than I do ó my own body. Except, well, Iím not exactly sure where my pancreas is. Or what it does. Or why it would make my pee burn. Not that my pee does burn. But if it did, I would suspect my pancreas. Which probably underscores how little I know about my own body. All this reminds me, itís time for a physical. Damn it. Talk about emasculating. Nothing makes you feel like youíre not in charge of your own destiny more than the snap of a rubber glove. I just hope I donít need my blood changed again. Now thatís expensive.

Send radiator-fluid-exchange tips to Alan Olifson at www.olifson.com

Issue Date: June 10 - 16, 2005
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