In These Tight Times

Friends called. They know Bruce was a mechanic in his pre-retirement life.  The problem: a geriatric car that didn’t pass inspection. Our friends’ neighbor, already struggling, couldn’t afford the four-hundred dollars estimated for repairs by the inspection station. She called our friends crying. A rejection sticker gave her a mere fifteen days to fix the problems or be ticketed. She lives in the country. There’s no public transportation.

Times here are tight. Unemployment is high, jobs are scarce, and people save now. They don’t spend. Manufacturer’s coupons have become a traded commodity. Gardening is more than a hobby for many, and it’s not unusual for folks around here to cull tilled fields for small root vegetables left behind. Area orchards give discounts for peaches, apples and pears collected from the ground under trees.  Bartering is a burgeoning art. It’s all people can do to pay their bills, buy needed medicines, and pay for their essentials at the grocery store. Thrift stores have a whole new clientele.

“If I go to the junkyard for parts,” Matt asked Bruce over the phone, “can you find the time to fix the problems with the car?”

“Rain’s in the forecast for the next couple of days. Things’ll be slow here.  Drop it off with the parts and I’ll call you when it’s done,” Bruce replied.

“Just leave me a bill in the front seat when you’re through,” Matt said, “or email one to Lori.” Lori is Matt’s wife. She’s one of the best cooks around these parts.

“Will do,” Bruce said.

The late eighties model Ford arrived the next day with a brown paper grocery bag filled with parts from the junk yard, a set of rear light lenses with bulbs, and new brake shoes. Bruce spent a few hours making the repairs. He calculated the total cost well under the four hundred dollar estimate from the inspection station, even with labor.

When I returned home from work the car was in the driveway, pointed in the opposite direction of the day before. That’s the sign that work is complete and the vehicle is ready to return home.  Matt brought the owner by to pick up her car. I watched her hug Bruce in the driveway.

“I need to send Matt and Lori a bill for the work,” Bruce said later that night.

I frowned at him.

“Here,” he said handing me his laptop. I usually type his invoices for him. He suffers from hunt/peck and is a horrific speller.

I crossed my arms over my chest and shook my head.

He took the laptop back and began his slow search for letters.  When he finished, he handed me the laptop to proof his work.

Under payment due, he had typed:

Two homemade Chicken Pot Pies & One Birthday Cake.  Remittance to be paid any time before February 7th.

That’s Bruce’s birthday.


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