mardi 6 janvier 2009

The attendent

The gas station and garage
Rosny sur Seine, France

Someone has a sense of humor, or some time on their hands. Both.

The advantages, he doesn't take time for cigarette breaks, won't go to his doctor whining for an "arrêt de travail", and isn't temperamental. A disadvantage is that he is somewhat subject to a certain listlessness and possibly melancholy during unseasonably warm periods, in addition to being available only during the winter, for longer periods where the weather is harshest, less where the winters are capricious. He is ideally suited to northern climes and high altitudes.

Nose makes a healthy snack.



After a month sitting in the little courtyard between the old school and the house of the neighbor kitty corner across the street, the BMW was taken away to the dealership this morning for repairs.


They (whoever "they" are) tried to steal it. Again. The first time was three years ago in the parking lot of IKEA in Plaisir. I came out of the store at closing time, my cart loaded with things to transform Grégoire's recently vacated lair into a guest room suitable for a friend arriving the next day, and there was the car, alone in a sea of space, vacant parking spaces where the lot had been full a couple hours earlier. I pressed the button on the key and noticed vaguely that it didn't make the usual noise.

Maybe I'd missed it.

I put my hand on the door handle, pulled up and noticed that it felt... loose.

I dismissed it.

I got in the car, and my foot hit a piece of plastic, and it was humming, like the ventilator was turning. As though it had just been turned off. My eyes roamed the dashboard, while I reached for the piece of plastic, and felt the wires dangling from under the steering wheel.

It dawned on me. No one had ever tried to steal my car. It took a minute for all the pieces to register in the cold outside a just closed IKEA in the damp December night.

"Amateurs," sighed the woman in the tow truck with pure derision. I stared at her. A woman tow truck driver. A woman tow truck driver in France. "Kids," she continued her explanation, "They don't know that you have to have the key to the car to hot wire it." I didn't know anything. Audouin was on his way to bring me home on the motorcycle. We assumed the car would go wherever they took broken-down cars in Plaisir.

"Donnez-moi la clé," she said, climbing into the driver's seat. I handed her the car key, wondering what would happen next and taking the seat next to her, glad I happened to have brought mittens and a scarf. "Avec la clé, normalement, je peux la démarrer."

"Cela veut dire que je devrais pouvoir la conduire, jusqu'à la maison?"

"Oui." She inserted the key into something dangling from the steering column and the car turned over, humming like nothing had happened at all.

"Will I be able to do that?"

"You will once I show you how." I thought about Audouin, just home from the hospital and on his way across the countryside of Les Yvelines to pick me up, while I sat in the warm car and waited for him. He'd already left, Sam told me, when I called to tell him he didn't need to. Wouldn't he be surprised, I thought.

This time, they had spotted the car and probably returned, waiting until I went to bed before they forced the door and set to drilling the ignition. I had been working at the computer in the little office across the street from where I had left the car parked, until 5:30 am. My consolation is that they had to wait a long time for me to go to bed. It was the cantonnier, or the village caretaker, who found the car's papers in the street the next morning, and brought them to José and Georges, and Georges who told me once I appeared late in the morning.

According to our mechanic for the routine maintenance, they try to steal it because they think that it doesn't have the security system, but it's a 1996, and while it's the same body type as the older ones that don't have the security system, this one does.

I called BMW. Monsieur Le Corre listened to me and drew breath between his pursed lips. Not good, "Vous devez allez voir si la direction est bloquée. Si oui, ce n'est pas bien. Vous ne pourriez pas la démarrer." He waited while I returned to the car and tried to turn the steering wheel, praying for it to turn so I could do the key in the little plastic thing trick the woman in the tow truck had taught me three years before. I heard a little click, and nothing. The wheel didn't turn. Had locked the direction just trying? I didn't ask. Worse, they couldn't even take the car until after the holidays. I made the appointment, reported the attempted theft to the gendarmes, and drove the others in our flotilla. It wasn't going to be easy for whoever was going to show up to tow it this time.

The car was parked perpendicular to the street in a courtyears alongside a stone wall, nose in, wheels turned to the left as I had left them when I got out of the car. We amused ourselves imaginging how they would extract it. Our favorite solution was the sort of vehicule they use to two parked cars in Paris. Large straps pass under the belly of the car, attaching over the roof, and an arm lifts the car, while the guy turns it in midair to orient it along the bed of the truck on which he will set it.

The guy who showed up last night, exactly when I had to get Sam at the bus 4 km from the house -- the scooter and motorcycles are grounded during the icy and snowy weather right now --, who was wearing only sneakers and had no gloves, and whose cell phone wasn't charged, was in a flurry. There were accidents everywhere. He searched for the ring to screw into the rear bumper to pull the car -- evidently I wasn't going to see my car fly in the air and settle on the bed --, couldn't find it in the falling dark, and had his mind completely elsewhere. He didn't stop talking once, and I stopped trying to follow all the words. He wanted to know if he could come back later in the evening, during the night, the next morning, take care of the people who were stuck alongside roads, their cars blocking traffic. He made phone calls, I got the papers to the car and the key and sent him on his way.

It was purely by chance that I witnessed the car's leavetaking. It was not easy.

He had to move the truck he was trying to position to pull the car out of the space several times to let people get by in the street, completely blocked by his truck, positioned diagonally across its width. Finally, the car's end was in the street. He tried to lift it directly onto the back of the truck. No. He opened the door and rocked it back and forth, actually managing to get it to roll backwards with the wheel turned, from the gravel, across the sidewalk and down onto the street. I moved forward from the Fiat, in which I had been sitting, watching, and he motioned something perfectly incomprehensible with his hands.

"Pardon? Veuillez que je vous aide?" demandai-je.

"Pourriez-vous monter dans la voiture et écraser la pédale de frein, écrasez-la bien pour que les roues glissent." I followed his instructions and sat behind the wheel with the brake pedal to the floor so that the wheels would slide, while he shouted further incomprehenisble directions. Lachez. Ecrasez. Lachez maintenant. Ecrasez bien. Finally, "C'est bon!" He came to the passenger window and indicated that I should pull up on the hand brake. More. More. Again.

"Bon. Et engagez la vitesse, " he said, pointing to the gearstick. I put it in first and got down, watching him lower the bed flat. The car secured. I shook his hand warmly and thanked him profusely for his efforts.

Now -- only now -- it occurs to me that I should have had une pièce for him. A small gesture. I hadn't been prepared. Maybe I'll drive up to Yvelines Auto in Bonnières with something in a little envelope. I'll ask Audouin.

Jacqueline! Jac-que-line!

Joaquim returned today, when I wasn't expecting him. I saw him through the French doors, and ducked like a soldier expecting enemy fire, making a bee-line for the far staircase, hoping that if I had been spotted, I'd been taken for one of the dogs down near the floor. I hadn't washed my hair since Saturday, and I was not going to be seen by anyone other than the towtruck guy (an accident) before I did. I wasn't so proud that I wouldn't take Sam to school with my hair plastered flat and at odd angles to my scalp. It actually hurt. That pain near the roots when you haven't washed your hair recently enough.

I was up in the bathtub, Baccarat barking furiously her greetings to Georges and Joaquim with my head full of shampoo when I heard Joaquim calling to me. He never calls first. If the door hadn't been locked still downstairs, he'd have been at the bottom of the stairs. I'd have been forced to shout back that I was in the shower. It makes me crazy, but I always get over it. That's what I tell myself each time he does it again. You'll get over it, so don't bother getting aggravated.

I took the time to dry my hair.

We made the rounds of the next phase of work. The balcony. The levelling of the entry courtyard and the pouring of the slab. Full bricks, laid on their sides, not thin bricks. Please. The lower part of the walls. The shutters and other metalwork leaving for the shop for sand blasting and painting. The brick walk. The steps and landing outside the living room French door. The yew that will really have to go, as much as Audouin wants to keep it. He wants the new glassed entry, and it's in the way.

"On en mettera ici, plus loin du coin de la maison." Joaquim looked at me with his eyes bugging, the sun glinting off the sparkling snow, the sky impossibly blue over the roof of France Telecom's little building behind his head. I tried to understand his confusion, why it seemed to strange to him to plant another one a little further toward the lawn to make up for the one we'd have to cut down. I'd put something else entirely, but about this, Audouin is adamant.

"Les racines! Tu ne vas pas les enlever! Elles vont droit dans le sol!"

"Elles sont plutôt horizontal, mais de toute manière, ce n'est pas très grande chose de les enlever." Even having explained that the roots of a yew grow mostly horizontal and are fairly easily removed, he still looked at me like I had gone completely crazy. I didn't much like the idea of a yew there, either, but.

"Mais il va mourir!" It would die? Why?

Oh. I got it. He thought I meant to move that yew forward. I laughed, "Mais non! Pas celui-ci. Un nouvel if! Tout bébé, ici."

The relief that I hadn't lost my mind, become so suddenly impossible, so difficult to manage spread across his face and Georges shook his head.

"Cousin, mais non. Bien sur un nouvel if!"

Of course a new yew.

We talked insulation, they tried again to get me to change the windows for double-paned now (later, if we decide to do it), and how to handle the trim work. He rejected moving indoors to work now. Laer, chaque chose dans son temps, il ne faut s'éparpiller.

He left a happy man, having left me the next bill to give to the bank.

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