If It Ain't Broke

To truly be effective, I probably need either this or a ShamWow.

I’m a big believer in the philosophy of ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it’ – largely because it allows you to be lazy as hell depending on how strictly you define the word ‘broke.’ Take the set of metal Ikea drawers I bought a couple weeks ago and still haven’t assembled. I’m not sweating it, because they’re not broke at the moment and my need for storage space is manageable, so I’ll just chill the fuck out and let the box lean up against my entertainment center until I feel like misunderstanding instructions, bruising up my fingers, and screaming obscenities about Sweden.*

*Take it from a Finn – it’s the Washington of Scandinavia.

Those of you who were reading last week may have remembered that last Saturday was my big Day of Improvement for The Mystery Wagon – that is, the day that I went to AutoZone, picked up some scratch remover, and tried to pretty up the side of the car that I totally shitrocked on my way out of the alley.

I had high hopes for that afternoon, as evidenced by the fact that I spent a full two updates planning and talking about it, plus this super-belated update recapping it. I saw it as an excuse to break out of my slothful, ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’ mentality. My car was pretty clearly broke in a cosmetic sense, and the least I could do was try to fix it.

I dropped $20 at AutoZone on a small box of scratch remover and some special polish cloths, drove back, and parked in the alley behind my apartment. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and my Mexican neighbors were throwing a fully fledged birthday fiesta for one of their kids, complete with a bouncy castle and what I’m pretty sure was a Spanish language rendition of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ blasting during the piñata ceremony. These afternoons are the sort of afternoons made for working on your car in an alley.

I opened the box of scratch remover and was immediately disappointed to see two separate balms I had to rub on the scratches, along with several small strips of sandpaper and a lengthy list of bilingual instructions.

For how gung-ho I was about the entire process, it turns out I was really only gung-ho because I thought the process of removing scratches from the side of one’s car was as simple as spending the money and then taking 20 minutes to rub one product onto the affected area, at which point the problem went away forever. Seeing that this was going to be a complicated process – and by complicated I mean ‘one or two more steps than I’d anticipated’ – quickly reduced my enthusiasm.

However, I’d come so far and blogged so much that I figured now was no time to give up. So I set to work, first gently sanding the scratches with strips of wet sandpaper, then applying substance A, rubbing vigorously for two minutes, letting it sit, and then applying substance B and rubbing it equally vigorously for two minutes.*

*I want to say I put in some ‘elbow grease’ but that term has always sounded really gross to me, because I’m sure a lot of people, particularly in states that were enthusiastic about Rick Santorum in the primaries, actually have elbow grease, and it’s not something I want anywhere near The Mystery Wagon.

At first, I wasn’t impressed with the results, but as I worked harder and my expectations dropped lower, I started to feel better and better about the work I was doing. The scratches weren’t going away, no, but they certainly did appear to be shrinking as a direct result of the physical labor that I, Truman Capps, was doing in the sun.

”Pero no dice el corazón, el corazón dolorido de breaky que yo sólo no pienso comprendería…”, a drunken Mexican father wailed into the karaoke machine a few hundred feet away.

My work completed, I packed up the gear, went inside, and watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 while eating vegetables and hummus in hopes of balancing out my previous usefulness by just being a totally lazy shit for a few hours. That night, I went and met some friends at a bar in Los Feliz, the whole time secretly hoping that they’d notice The Mystery Wagon in the parking lot and say something.

”Woah, Truman, your car… There’s clearly some visible damage to the rear right side door, but somehow not as much as I would’ve expected, almost as though somebody with a reasonable degree of competence in the auto maintenance department had worked on it. Did you take it to a shop?”

“Hell no! I did it myself, because I’m an adult male, and that’s the sort of thing that we do.”

It rained that night, and when I got a look at my car in the morning, I was in for a bit of a shock.

The scratches seemed to be just as noticeable as they were before I applied the remover – what’s more, rainwater had unseated the rub-on scratch remover, leading to big swirly stains of it on the side of the car door. I had gone into this venture in the first place because I didn’t want my car to look like I was a typical shitty California driver, and now not only does it look like I’m a shitty California driver, but it also looks like I’m a shitty Oregon car maintenance dude. The only phrase I can think of to describe this situation comes from the brilliant Comedy Central series Workaholics: It’s seriously Loose Butthole.

What I can’t quite figure out, though, is whether the rain fucked up my work, or if I just lost so much perspective in the course of working on my car that it took me a day to get the necessary space and realize that my car was just as fucked up as before and all my work and $20 had done was give me some false sense of accomplishment.

I scratched up the other side of The Mystery Wagon last summer when I lived in Studio City under very similar circumstances – I was trying to pull out of a tight spot in the garage under my apartment and, bingo was his name-o, I’d ground some of the paint off the side of my car. I was pretty bummed about it for a week or so, but gradually I got used to the scratch, and now I barely see it.

I guess that’s going to become the case for the other scratch as well – I’ll notice it less and less until it just becomes yet another story woven into the fascinating tapestry that is the life and times of The Mystery Wagon, like the missing seatbelt in back or the arrhythmic turn signal or the ominous length of black rope coiled up next to the snow chains.

My car was kind of broke, I tried to fix it, and it got slightly more broke, in that I now have to wash scratch remover off the side of my car. I’ve decided to amend the credo: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It – If It Is Broke, Hire A Professional Because You’ll Only Fuck It Up.

Truman Capps is hoping to get some money from Subaru for all this product placement.