Friday, September 04, 2009

Amber rolls off

Younger, or richer, folks miss something in riding with air conditioning. This is the first time in my life that I've had it consistently, and that's mostly because I tend to drive my girlfriend's car. Still, out of inertia, cheapness, and a certain amount of philosophical post-hoc justification, I rarely turn it on.

It's roughly 95° outside today, and the heat gives an oppressive clarity. I think to myself, people who ride with air conditioning are disconnected from the real world. They watch traffic like they watch television. Not me, man, I'm getting the real thing, the real experience of doing 35 through the armpit of the 110 and 101, baked out of my gourd.

Driving in the mid-afternoon around Los Angeles is a totally different experience than at night; at night, it's an endless extra-spacial drift and best handled a little bit drunk. That's what the huge boulevards and endless sprawl are for. I come from Michigan. I know drunk driving.

But during the day, everything turns into the sweat lodge version of Rockford Files. Huge sedans still cruise here, and Datsun pick-ups with huge plywood walls and beds full of scrap metal roll by with timeless élan. You expect James Garner to cut you off in a low-speed chase at any minute.

I didn't need air conditioning to drive to Amber's. I got there about 10:30, and mornings had been extra cool, what with all the smoke in the air. The mushroom cloud had broken, and now everything just had a fine coating of ash. On the way there, it was enough to have the windows down.

She and Sean had everything boxed by the time I got there, I was strictly for stacking and securing in the trailer she'd rented. Or rather, handing things to her while she stacked them, and narrating the reality show Sean and I invented called "Foreclosure."

The way "Foreclosure" works is similar to an extreme version of Supermarket Sweep, or at least that part of the show where they try to cram everything into a shopping cart. In this show, a trailer would be rented — one of the open ones, so your stacking was only limited by your dreams — and whatever you could fit into it and secure was yours to keep. Though we didn't decide whether this would be prizes provided by some sort of sponsors, or whether this would be all the contestant's own shit. The crux of that is that making you decide which of your own possessions to leave is infinitely crueler, but is cruelty good or bad for reality game shows?

Maybe a mix of old stuff and new stuff, that would add to the strategy.

Have it all narrated by the guys from Takashi's Castle, Sean said, but we couldn't remember their names. For the rest of the afternoon we affected the concerned but facile voices of announcers.

"What do you think Sean, does she have room for the futon?"
"She's going to have to make a call on that lamp soon, Josh."
"Fuck you, fuck both of you and hand me that crate."

Stacking it was the easy part. Amber got her futon and futon frame and other art frames and a reference skeleton and the nice paper she stole from her job all layered in. Even a painting from an ex-boyfriend of some woman with wonky eyes in a lurid Expressionist orange and green.

Then came the securing.

That's the other part of "Foreclosure," you have to drive cross-country with the huge Clampett stack. You only keep what you keep.

So we lashed it down with twine across the top, and it fell to the contestant to tie it down officially, because while Sean might not have been inept enough to have to try to puzzle out the knot-tying instructions on the package of rope ("Wait, are these nine different knots? Where do you start?") he wasn't up to the friendship-bracelet standard that Amber held.

Then Sean went in to shower, and Amber and I went to first the U-Haul store to see if we could buy some ratchet straps. On starting to turn toward the U-Haul, the great cluster of squatting men stood up and started waving their hands. We were too poor and too finished to hire anybody, which meant two passes through them, telling the same guys, no, sorry man.

Getting the straps would have seemed like less of a hassle if we'd known what we needed, and if we'd known what we needed we probably would have known how to use 'em. After returning the first set (overcharged), Amber noticed that one kind was, in eight point type, listed as "Endless ratchet." Neither me nor the manager knew what the hell that meant, but they were cheaper. I thought it meant that it could ratchet forever, whereas the other ones only ratcheted a certain amount of strap.

"But why would people pay less for being able to endlessly ratchet?," Amber asked.
"Closure," I answered.
"Who knows?" said the manager, already being hassled by some other customer needing to return what he called "chrome brakes."

The answer, we found after forcing open the blister packs, is that endless ratchets don't have hooks. Oh, well, fuck it, we got two with ends and plenty of tape.

There are no real instructions on ratchets either. They are of a class of objects where if you have one in your hands, you're expected to already pretty much know how to use it. There are no instructions on a hammer, because if you don't know what to do with a hammer, we as a society have decided that you're not worth talking to. You're either fucking stupid, or haven't seen any of the same TV shows, so what's the point anyway?

The instructions on the ratchet read: "Feed belt into ratchet. Tighten with lever. Check tightness every 20 to 30 miles." That's it. Which meant when the big one fucked up, and Amber was in the shower, Sean and I passed them back and forth between each other like maybe the language was so precise that it needed multiple readings to sink in, like an industrial haiku.

The big one was 30 feet of belt, and anyone who's used a ratchet strap apparently knows that means that you need something pretty close to 30 feet long, or at least closer to 30 than to 25. Because if you try to take up five feet of slack, it turns into a huge impenetrable curl, which you've jammed into the metal using the force of simple machines. Without knowing that this alone will fuck up a ratchet, and underestimating the amount of friction that takes, Sean and I spent half an hour futilely trying to pinch down the huge springs that held the gears in place and pull the belt out. If we couldn't get it, $25 of ratchet strap was wasted and Amber's run as a contestant would be sorely threatened.

Like a skill-less ape, I even took to wedging a stick in there to release the gears before I realized that the belt was only touching the feed lever anyway. It was 2001 without the obelisk.

Even cutting the belt, once Amber gave us the go-ahead, was hard going. Working with a pair of kitchen shears, we got the pinched part of the belt isolated, then spent ten idiot minutes both of us pulling on that little wedge of nylon fabric. At the very least, when we got it on the truck, it'd be proven strong.

"I never took any shop classes. I bet they deal with this there," I said.
"Yeah, I regret that," said Sean. "It's like, they also had this Practical Math class that you took if you weren't taking analysis or calculus or whatever. They taught you how to balance your check book and estimate length. They should have made that regular math, that's the only stuff you need."

Amber slashed the rest of the belt and had it working in about thirty seconds. Once we knew how the ratchet worked, we avoided the same slack problem by lashing around the back grill. Then we taped it on all sides with clear packing tape that will probably only last to Arizona, and made the trailer look like a cross between a mobile rape shed and a present wrapped by the world's largest retard. Sean drew eyes and a snout on it, and that was that.