Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
October 24, 1973
Tim and Benny had never worked on a van before. The majority of Benny’s car repair experience had been on Volkswagen Beetles. Tim had a wider range of experience, but it was on Volkswagens and regular cars. Although the basic principles of all automobiles are essentially the same, there were several major differences between a van and a Beetle. The first was that the German car was built using the metric system while the Chevrolet used inches. It might sound stupid, but Benny was well familiar with what size the various bolts were in metric and it took him some time to get used to fractions of an inch.
The more obvious difference was where the engine was located. On a Beetle, the engine was in the rear and pulling it required removing the rear bumper, the rear panel, supporting the engine, disconnecting the engine from the power and gas, and then unbolting it from the transmission. In their first pass through life, they could pull the engine of a Volkswagen in thirty minutes. The van was a completely different animal with the engine in the front of the van. Removing it was far more work than pulling one out of a Beetle. They actually required a hoist to pull the engine.
There was a third difference which should have been obvious, but Benny had missed it. The engine of a Volkswagen was air cooled while the engine of the van was water cooled. That meant it was connected in more ways with more things than he had anticipated. Fortunately for them, the 1962 panel van had been built years before catalytic converters were required and before air conditioners became standard equipment. At least it had been built during a time when automotive engineers still left room in the engine compartment for mechanics to work.
After three afternoons of hard work, Tim and Benny had finally pulled the engine out of the van. Their hands were scraped up, bleeding, and covered with oil, grease, and dirt. It had not been an easy job wrestling the engine out of the engine compartment.
“We probably should have purchased a VW van.”
“You’re probably right,” Tim said looking over what they had done. It was hard to believe that it had been so much work. “We could have gotten the engine out three days ago and had it rebuilt by now.”
“Well, we’re a little behind schedule.”
“It’s supposed to be cold and rainy this weekend.”
“I guess we won’t be painting curbs, Saturday. Maybe we can get this beast fixed and put back together before the end of the November.”
“I hope so. Our money situation is getting tight.”
Benny said, “It’s not that bad. We’ve got three hundred in our war chest.”
The van had cost $280 at the dealer. The engine sounded good, there wasn’t any clatter from bent or maladjusted tappets. The suspension seemed okay although there was a little bit of play in the steering wheel. The brakes made a squeal when pressed. The biggest problem was the blue cloud that it produced out the rear and the low growl of a bad muffler. The undercarriage was rust-free, which one expected in a place that never used salt on the roads during winter. The body wasn’t banged up or rusted out anywhere, but there was paint peeling from long exposure to the hot Oklahoma sun. The dealer assured them that they could probably fix it like new for under $50, but no one actually believed him.
“That money is not going to last long. We’re going to be buying car parts and they’re expensive.”
“You’re forgetting. When we kicked the bucket, replacing a muffler was four hundred bucks. In this day and age, its around forty. That’s the most expensive thing we’re going to be doing to get this beast road ready. Used tires are $4.00. Brand new white wall tires are $20 and the tires on this van are still in pretty good shape.”
“You’re right. I’m used to paying for authentic vintage car parts which were four times more expensive than their modern equivalent.”
Tim had rebuilt several automobiles in his previous pass through life. He had done it to recover financially from the divorce with Joyce who got far more of the nonexistent assets than she deserved. It was having to pay her alimony for five years that nearly did him in. He was convinced that she had f•©ked the judge to get that ruling.
Financially stretched to his limit, he had bought an old junker Ford Galaxy 500, often referred to as a vintage car, which was cheap and could be repaired for very little money. It was only after he was nearly done restoring his first car that he realized he didn’t have enough money to finish the job. He had covered most of the parts and gotten it back into excellent running condition, but restoring the chrome and getting it painted was the killer. Without even having to ask him, Benny sent him $5,000 to help cover the cost of parts and the paint job. It was more than enough for Tim to finish restoring the car. All totaled, Tim had put $9,000 into the car and sold it for $16,000.
Tim used the check to purchase a second car that he knew would have much better resale value after being fixed. He managed to find a low mileage 1969 Jaguar E-Type with a body in good condition. It had been stored in a garage and hadn’t been exposed to the weather. The transmission was in good shape and the suspension had not seen any real stress.
The story he had heard was that the original owner had taken it out a couple of times and driven the hell out of it. After having owned it for a couple of months he got the idea (probably due to a nose full of cocaine or a pipeful of hash) that he should be able to reach a 100 mph in second gear. The car might have been high performance, but it wasn’t that high. After running full bore and red lined for ten minutes, the engine became history. While waiting for a tow truck to haul it off, the owner had a tantrum and trashed the interior.
Tim had purchased it from the original owner’s oldest kid for a modest $3,000. It took almost $15,000 to get it restored for sale. He was shocked when he was able to sell it for $52,000. That put his money woes from his divorce behind him.
He restored another couple of cars, including an older Ford F-150 truck. None of them had the payoff of the Jaguar, but all of the cars together did give him enough money to finally purchase an old house that he could rebuild. He ended up with a loan that he could pay on his regular earnings as a building maintenance supervisor and still have enough cash left over to make the necessary repairs. He was 49 at the time he finally bought the house. It had been a red letter day.
His experience restoring the cars had involved a lot of very expensive car parts. Getting a part for a 1969 Jaguar E-Type car cost good money. None of the parts for restoring the interior were cheap. The steering wheel alone had dinged his budget for nearly $400. The engine was a mess and the price for engine parts was the stuff of nightmares.
Benny knocked on the engine with the middle knuckle of his right hand. “If we’re going to be buying parts for this engine, we’ll have to do it Saturday when one of our dads can take us to the parts store.”
In 1973, the blue laws were still in effect. That meant buying just about anything other than food was impossible on Sunday. Sunday was the day of the week when the family was supposed to go to church and not work. For Tim and Benny, that was a problem since they only had one day a week when they could get car parts. If they blew it, they’d have to wait an entire week to get the part they needed unless they could talk someone into taking them to a car parts store.
“We know we’re going to need new belts, gaskets, rings, and bearings. I’m not looking forward to having to pay some outfit to bore the engine block and the expense of replacing the pistons.”
“I doubt we’ll need to go that far. I figure by replacing the rings we can get it to stop smoking like it’s on fire.”
“That’s wishful thinking. These engines weren’t build to last 100,000 miles. This one has more than that on it. We’re going to have to take the block to a machine shop.”
“So what do you think it will cost?”
“The last one I did ended up costing over $300. I’ve got no idea what it’ll cost today.”
Benny shook his head although the fact was that he had no idea. He replied, “The best I’ve been able to figure out from ads in the newspaper is that car maintenance is about 15% of what it was in our time. Based on that, it would probably run us around $45 at the machine shop. The parts would probably be closer to $40. I really don’t remember how much we used to pay for parts for our Beetles. Do you?”
“No. All I remember was having to wait a couple weeks to get the money pay for them.”
“I think the largest paycheck we got back then was $70.00. That was enough to buy parts. I’d be surprised if we ever spent more than $30 on parts.”
“That sounds about right. One paycheck was enough to cover parts and the other things we were paying for at the time.”
“We’ve got more than enough money now.”
They maneuvered the engine stand over to the hoist they had used to lift the engine out of engine compartment. It took them a minute to figure out how to mount the engine onto the stand. Benny’s father had managed to borrow both the engine stand and the hoist from one of the men with whom he worked. Those were two items that Benny wasn’t aware they needed and Tim didn’t realize they didn’t have. This getting sent back to 14 was a little rough on the memory. Tim knew that he had both of those items, but that was 53 years in the future.
“Let’s tear this thing apart.”
Tim went through the hassle of figuring out what size socket was required to remove the heads. Benny was over at the workbench examining the carburetor they had pulled off the engine. It looked pretty gummed up.
“We might have to swing by the junk yard to pick up a rebuilt carburetor.”
“I’m pretty sure that we can fix this one.”
“If we can buy a cheap rebuilt carburetor, then let’s buy it.”
Tim said, “Look at it. It’s not a high performance carburetor with an automatic choke. It was built in 1961. It’s simple compared to what we’re used to dealing with.”
“That’s true, but it’ll still be a lot of work.”
“We’ve got time, particularly if the block and heads are in a machine shop for a week.”
“Okay. You win. We’ll rebuild it.”
“We really should have bought a Volkswagen bus.”
“I’m beginning to agree with you.”
Facing each other across the engine, they started to take it apart. One would remove a part and the other would place it in a plastic bin so that it wouldn’t get lost. The longer they worked, the dirtier their hands got. The oil inside the engine had turned to black sludge.
Tim said, “We’re going to have to take these parts down to the gas station so that the mechanic there can clean them for us.”
“Can’t we just clean it with kerosene?”
“For our Volkswagen Beetles, we did it that way. This is going to be too big of a job. Your dad will never start enough fires in the fire pit to use up that much dirty kerosene.”
“You’re probably right. I’m beginning to wonder if we really saved any money buying this van with the intent of rebuilding the engine.”
“I don’t know whether we’re saving that much money, but I am sure that we’re going to end up with a much more reliable vehicle. We need it to be reliable more than we need it to be cheap. It’s for our business. If it breaks down, we could be in serious trouble.”
“You’re right about reliability,” Benny said. He thought about it for a second and then said, “Will it really be that reliable? Let’s face it, it’s ten years old.”
“We know the engine will be good and the brakes will work. It will have a new muffler. The suspension looks good. We might be able to get by with just greasing the ball joints. We can take the generator apart and replace the bushings and brushes. Once we replace the spark plugs, coil, battery, rotor, distributor cap, and the wires to the spark plugs, then the electrical system will be good for another 20,000 miles.”
“I know. It’s just that cars built back then weren’t all that durable.”
Benny took the plastic bin with parts and set it off to the side. He grabbed another bin and returned to the engine. They were ready to remove the rockers and lifter rods. It was a relatively quick job to remove those parts.
Benny asked, “Did you manage to watch the news last night?”
“What’s happening in the Yom Kippur War?”
“Israel is kicking ass. They’re on the verge of entering Cairo and they control a lot of the territory around the Suez Canal. They’re right outside of Damascus. On Sunday the UN passed a resolution declaring a cease fire, so the war should end any day now. Egypt accepted the ceasefire Monday. It appears that Syria accepted it yesterday. Israel is the wild card at the moment. They made a major land grab and it doesn’t look like they are all that ready to stop fighting, but you know that it will.”
“Jimmy Carter will get a Nobel Peace Prize out of it.”
“We’ve got to get through Nixon and Ford, yet.”
“Dad took the newspaper to work this morning, but I did manage to read about the oil futures prices before he left. We’d have made a killing. The price of oil is still shooting up.”
“We couldn’t use what we knew this time. Next time, we’ll just have to position ourselves better. All we’ve got to do is wait for when the Shah gets kicked out of Iran.”
Benny said, “It’s weird. Knowing what is going to happen makes you watch events differently. It’s like there’s a sense of inevitability about the outcome.”
“What do you mean?”
“Egypt and Syria attack Israel. Of course, Israel responds. The US supports Israel and the Soviet Union supports the Arabs. The Arabs get pissed at us and the price of oil goes up. The UN declares a ceasefire and the losers immediately jump on the ceasefire bandwagon. It’ll take Israel some time to finish this war to its satisfaction. Each step seems to follow logically from the ones before it.
“Yet when I listen to my dad discuss what’s happening, it’s like everything that is about to happen is a great big mystery.”
Tim said, “I see what you mean about watching events differently. I view what’s happening now in a different way than you.”
“Different? In what way?”
“I went to Iraq twice. I watch these events hoping that something happens that could change the future and prevent those wars from breaking out. I keep wondering if you and I could do something to change the future in a significant way. So far, I’m disappointed because I don’t see anything really getting changed for the better. You’re right that there is a sense of inevitability about things except ... we started a business, bought a van, and are doing things quite differently this time through.”
Benny shrugged his shoulders and threw his hands out to the side in an ‘I don’t know’ gesture. “Maybe the small changes in our lives now will have a large impact on the whole world in the future. I don’t know. It just seems to me that the chain of events we’re seeing unfold is inevitable.”
“I can at least hope not.”
“You’re right that we’re doing things differently this time through. We’ve got a hundred times more money now than we had at this point in our first pass. In two years, it could be ten thousand times more money. For all I know, we could be billionaires in twenty years and really change things by getting involved in politics.”
Tim studied Benny’s face for a moment. “Is that what you want to do?”
Benny turned from Friend Benny to Thinking Benny. Tim grimaced hoping that Benny wouldn’t be lost in his thoughts for too long. He knew trying to get Benny’s attention now would be a waste of effort. He went back to work on the engine.
After five minutes of staring off into space, Benny broke the silence. “I don’t think we’re having a second pass to change the world in some big way.”
“How can you say that? Why would this happen to us if it isn’t to change things?”
“I didn’t say we weren’t back here to change things, only that we weren’t given a second pass in order to change things in a big way.”
“You’re going to have to explain this to me in small words because I’m not following you.”
“The world seems to change in two ways: evolutionarily slow and dramatically fast. Dinosaurs evolved over millions of years changing from little things to behemoths. It was a long slow process. Then they were wiped out by a single comet. That happened overnight. I don’t see you and me being a comet. I see us being a small evolutionary force.”
“Why can’t we be a comet?”
“I’m nothing special. Let’s face it, I’m not a whole person. So why send me back?”
“You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met.”
“I’m not the only smart person around. Let’s face it, I wasn’t able to affect the world on my first pass. Why would I be able to do it this pass?”
“You know things now that we didn’t know before.”
“I don’t think so. You’re more likely to affect things than me because you can convince people to do things. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. I don’t want to be hurtful, but ... it’s almost impossible for you to get the credentials that would cause anyone to listen to you.”
“That means it is up to you, Benny.”
“I have to ask myself the question, ‘Why send you and me back together?’ It doesn’t make sense.”