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Men and Cars (2)
by Adrian Chamberlain

Over the next month Ted and the mechanic developed a kinship of sorts, an ambiguous alliance in which the eddies of pleasure and business intermingled. Such associations can be confusing, if we take the trouble to give them any thought. Was Aldo just a hired hand or a friend? He seemed affable enough in his fashion. After a visit for a tune-up, Aldo proffered a smile and invited Ted to address him by his first name. For some reason, Ted found himself unable to do so—he ended up not calling him anything. Yet something existed between the pair besides the fact that Aldo was hired to provide a service.

Perhaps the taciturn mechanic was drawn to Ted because he seemed a good listener, a perception shared by others as well.
Ted made his living by writing a man-about-town column for the newspaper. Before that he’d worked on the paper for years as a business writer, finding himself arbitrarily shifted when the old columnist quit.

“Take the job,” his editor told him. “You’ll grow into it.”
At first, he was uncomfortable in the new role, thinking himself an unlikely bon vivant or social butterfly. Yet, to his mild amazement, Ted discovered he enjoyed writing the column, which chronicled the comings and goings of the city’s bigwigs. He was rarely required to go to the events he wrote about. It was enough to interview the social gadflies who attended them. Such an arrangement suited him fine.

He had a singular gift for attracting borderline friendships that existed because people talked to him and he, in return, said very little. Apparently, for many, this is a highly satisfactory method of discourse. Perhaps they found comfort in his face, which was pleasant and ordinary: short brown hair, regular features, pale complexion. Ted sometimes thought it peculiar when people sought him out for no apparent reason, and, as they spoke, wondered if he was perceived as an semi-inanimate object. A sort of human television set, perhaps.

Ted and Aldo were roughly the same age, although initially he’d believed the mechanic to be much older. It was because Aldo knew how to repair automobiles. Ted didn’t know how to fix anything really, and admired anyone who did. He respected the auto mechanic as he respected jazz musicians and cabinet makers. Or his late father, the sort of man who knew how repair car engines or radios. Once, when Ted was a boy, he’d tried in vain to show him how break down and oil his hunting rifle.
Almost from the beginning, he became the repository for the Aldo’s obsessions. And they were multitude. Aldo was one of those who painstakingly develop one talent in a solitary fashion while the rest of the psyche remains stunted and scrunty; like a water-starved plant that manages one rare and exquisite bloom. His life revolved solely around being an expert Italian automobile mechanic. In this regard he was a success, yet Aldo seemed to have sacrificed happiness in cultivating his talent. He toiled alone in his garage like a hermit; a curious genius, an unlikely savant. Aldo intimated the other sports car mechanics in town were in a conspiracy against him. It was because he was Italian, he said. In this Canadian westcoast seasidecommunity, which had attracted waves of of English immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s, vintage British sportscars still reigned supreme: MGs, Triumphs, Morgans, Austin-Healeys.

“But the Italian cars, they’re the best. Fuck them!” said Aldo. He grimaced. What did the British know about Italian autos, the Alfa, the Ferrari? Nothing. They did not know how to repair such cars and, because of this, looked down on them and were disrespectful. The English said the Alfas were troublesome, temperamental. A damned lie. And worse, they tried to fix them when they didn’t know how. Aldo told Ted numerous stories of hapless Alfa owners who’d erroneously taken their vehicles to non-Italian mechanics. He’d had to fix their mistakes, to pay for the sins of others. These experiences were related in painstaking detail, with epic descriptions of exacting mechanical procedures Ted had no hope of comprehending.
As he spoke, Aldo tapped his workbench with a crescent wrench. His voice took on a plaintive note and his milky-blue eyes narrowed.

“Jesus Christ,” said the mechanic. “Jesus.”

One day Aldo mentioned reading one of Ted’s newspaper columns. This surprised Ted because, until now, they’d spoken only of cars. The mechanic said he’d read a column about two Russian teenagers who’d visited the city. They were championship ballroom dancers who’s journeyed to Canada with two chaperons and very little money. The Russians had been hosted by the city’s ballroom dance club, and had performed a showcase exhibition.

When Ted met the couple, he was been struck by how anaemic and childish the boy was. Although in his late teens, he might have been a boy of 12 with his wispy white-blond hair and cherry mouth. The girl was 15. She had Slavic features—attractive hooded eyes, a wide moon face that was foreign looking and appealing. As she answered Ted’s questions through a chaperon, this unsmiling Russian never once looked him in the eye. He had felt a powerful attraction to this girl. It dismayed him, since she was less than half his age. Of late, he found inexpressable desires surfaced at inopportune moments, leaving him reeling and awkward like a gawky adolescent.

As he drove back to the office in his second-hand sportscar, Ted stared disinterestedly at gathering grey clouds. He sighed and imagined what would happen if he squeezed his eyes shut and pushed the accelerator to the floor. Dutifully, he typed up a chirpy, human interest item: “Two indefatigable Russian teens are pursuing their dreams despite harsh economic conditions in their post-Perestroika homeland.”

Ted peered nearsightedly at the sentences on the computer screen and wondered if they made any sense at all. What did it mean? His heart fluttered, and behind him he heard tittering. He glanced about to see if anyone in the newsroom was looking.
Two weeks later, Ted had half-forgotten the column. Aldo, on the other hand, had not.

“I’ve got relatives coming from Italy,” he said, sounding oddly put out. “My uncle, Lorenzo, and my aunt Angelina. They’re champion dancers, just like those people you wrote about in the newspaper. You know, that girl and that guy.”
It was now mid-winter, and for 20 minutes Ted had watched Aldo tinker with his car in the unheated garage. As he stood on the chalky cement floor Ted wiggled toes half-numb in his loafers. He could smell the cold oil on the steel tools. Until now, he’d responded only to the sounds of Aldo’s conversation—really a monologue—with an automatic “Oh yeah?” By habit, Ted only half listened to Aldo as one might absorb the soft drizzle of a radio on a wet afternoon.

Aldo said he wanted Ted to write in the newspaper about Lorenzo and Angelina. They were flying from Rome for a visit in two weeks. Ted suspected the newspaper wouldn’t want two articles about champion dancers so close together. Yet, as Aldo spoke—his eyes sad and his voice taking on a familiar plaintive edge—he found himself nodding. Oh yes, sure. Ted stared at an immaculate silver device Aldo used to calculate the precise measurement of spark plug gaps. He loved the purity of such an instrument, and wished he could somehow leave his body and inhabit its metallic world.

It was arranged that he would meet Uncle Lorenzo and Aunt Angelina in the evening at the home of Aldo’s mother and father. There would be the drinking of homemade red wine, and then, the interview.

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Part two of three.

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