“We gotta’ get the tractor out of the garage!” He stammered.
Bullshit! I wasn’t worried about the garage. I was thinking about where to bury the body.
“Oh shit man! Do you have a fire extinguisher?”
Of course I have a fire extinguisher. But you don’t just treat the symptom. I was going to fix the cause of this fire. The ignorant fool in front of me must be…
“An extinguisher!” He interrupted my thoughts.
Can you imagine the mess this fool would create with an extinguisher? Starters are electrical components. The “fire” was overheated components and not actual flames.
“I’m not letting you play with a fire extinguisher in my garage.” I growled.
I prioritized. First I would stop the fire. Then I would beat this ignorant shithead into pulp.
I quickly and calmly scooped up a vice grip, wrapped it in a shop towel to protect me from the hot metal, and clamped it to the very hot battery ground cable. The insulation on my new $9 cable was melting. My new battery was giving off heat and it was venting some sort of vapor.
It would be easy to get a nasty burn. I was unconcerned. Dipstick touched something hot and yelped. Then he took a whiff of whatever was coming out of the battery and made a gagging sound. I hoped it hurt.
I eased the grounding cable free. The current ceased. The immediate problem was solved. A starter doesn’t have flammable liquids (like oil or gas) so it wouldn’t burn more. Whatever damage would happen was already a done deal.
I flexed the vice grip and looked back at Dipstick. What shall I use the clamp for now?
Dipstick, nursing his singed finger, looked more scared of me than the smoldering tractor. Which was a correct deduction. Possibly the smartest thing he’d done in his life was to distract me. “Let’s roll it out of the garage.”
I set down the vice grip and we rolled the tractor out of the garage. Outside the sun was shining and my beloved chickadees were calling. The smoke was already dissipating. God wants us to forgive. I like chickadees.
Dipstick continued, “I totally didn’t do that.”
Oh dammit! What a stupid, ignorant, unnecessary statement. Did this guy want to be beaten?
“After two years in my garage it spontaneously combusted? Today? Your presence is a coincidence? This moment, of all possible moments, right now is when the moon and stars aligned to create the fire of Prometheus in my brand new starter? Is that what you’re telling me? I fucking disagree!” I was speaking slowly and not shouting but Dipstick knew what was going on in my head. He’d gone from scared to flat out terrified. I think the mention of Prometheus, a word which surely had no meaning to him, really sent him over the top.
I wasn’t done.
“You. Set. My. Tractor. On. Fire!”
I leaned over the hood, which was still hot, shoved my face through the cloud of foul smelling smoke toward Dipstick who was cowering on the other side of the tractor.
Now I really was shouting.
“No matter how stupid I may be. Even if I couldn’t get the bearings right. Even I’m a lousy mechanic. Even if everything I got machined came back messed up. Even if it takes me the rest of my life to rebuild this stupid little flathead engine… I never set anything on fire!”
“It’s out now.” He offered. His eyes were twitching. I’m neither young nor lithe but I’m not to be trifled with. This was my tractor. Not somebody else’s tractor. He’d burned it.
Actually I was angry at myself too. He was a world class idiot and I’d known it. In my desperation I’d let him infect my garage with his stupidity. This is my garage. My tractor. I wanted to send this cockroach home to whatever hovel from whence he came in a manner so thoroughly complete that he stayed on his couch smoking cigarettes and watching Oprah and whimpering in pain until the end of time!
Dipstick sidled toward his truck. Yes, good move.
“Go.” I growled. I haven’t been so angry in years… decades.
“My buddy can fix that starter. Maybe the battery is under warranty. Call me when you get the parts. It’s just a distributor…”
“Fire! You…” I began but I stopped. I listened to the chickadees. Time to seek perspective. My tractor is so old that it can take serious abuse. It didn’t work when we started and now it didn’t work with some smoked components. A couple hundred for a starter and battery and I’m back where I started. It’s not like the block was cracked. It wasn’t worth going totally unhinged.
“I have an appointment.” I said.
“Uh.” He shuffled his feet.
Did this idiot expect to get paid? An hour’s labor and $200 in smoked components? Who causes that much carnage per hour? Well maybe he really did need a beating!
“Look I’ll just go.”
He must have read my face. Yes, get off my property.
“I don’t want you to be late for your uh…”
“Karate class.” I spoke evenly. “I need to work out some stress. Immediately.” I was thinking alternatively of chickadees and beating him senseless.
Poor Dipstick. I’d have been willing to tolerate anything if he could actually fix the tractor. If he’d been a drunk, stupid, illiterate, scumbag who fixed the tractor I’d have given him a handsome tip. He could have been meaner than Stalin but if the engine ran…fine. I’d let him drop cigarette ashes on the floor and I gave him a beer. But the one and only thing he had to do… he’d done worse than I could have possibly imagined.
He got in his truck and drove away. I never saw him again.