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
“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
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,
“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
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
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
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
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.
Part three of three.