• Melinda

Some Mechanics are Fathers

We see just a slice of someone, but sometimes that piece melts your heart.


My daughter and I sit in the small garage space as we wait for my required SMOG check. It is about 95 degrees outside;

not much cooler in here where we sit. Maybe even hotter with the engines running while the two men certify vehicles. Nobody wants to be here. SMOG checks are required for car registration, and I can only assume everyone else in here has put it off until just before it’s due.


My daughter probably wants to be here least of all. She has a book in her lap. She loves to read but hates picking up a book. I had to force her to bring this one but ever since we sat down she’s been reading in that way where the rest of the world disappears. Every so often she comes back to life to complain about the terrible smell of engines or the heat, but then she goes right back to reading, saying every fifth word or so out loud under her breath. I rub her back and run my fingers through her hair, damp with sweat. I tie it up for her using my hairband, so the heat doesn’t bother her too much. I read a little of my own book, unable to lose myself like my daughter has. She has far less to forget about than I do. My brain bounces from thought to thought. Do I have her paperwork filled out for school, which starts in two days? Does she have enough clean masks? The plumber is coming tomorrow. I can’t forget soccer practice is Mondays and Wednesdays now. She’s so big, having two nights a week instead of one. Did I remember to reply to that email my boss sent me this morning?


The man who runs the SMOG center is in his 50’s, by my estimate. I guess him to be Persian. I have a soft spot in my heart for Persians. My college roommate was half Persian and she used to make stews (ghormeh sabzi was always my favorite) and crisped rice—tadiq—for us. Her father had come to America for university. She had ivory skin and you’d never guess she was Iranian, but if you looked into her large brown eyes, you’d see it. The man that runs the shop scrambles around to try to serve as many clients as possible. His thick fingers are stained with grease and dirt. He is polite and looks everyone in the face when he speaks with them. He writes down where each person has found his shop. Was it the Google or the Yelp? he asks everyone. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring the paper from DMV, I figure out the way for you.


The man’s assistant is a similar age and his longish hair is dyed jet black. Maybe he still gets together with his old buddies after work and plays the drums, his hands not moving quite as fast. He still teases his hair up with hairspray. Or maybe his follicles just remember a different time. He has boots and ripped jeans and I imagine him passing out a concert—definitely The Cure—and waking up 3 decades later in the same clothes. The thought of these two men working in a garage all day side by side amuses me.


My car is finally getting tested and I put down my book to look around the garage. A cork board on the wall displays various certificates. Official SMOG center verification. A D.A.R.E. sticker that is faded from the sun. A diploma from an adult vocational school. I immediately recognize the name of the graduate on it to be Persian and I smile knowing my hunch was right. I think of how hard this man must have worked to get where he is. His voice is thick like the air in the garage, slow as the nights he spent studying for his diploma, viscous like the grease he will scrub and re-scrub from his hands this evening when he sits down for ghormeh sabzi, hopefully with extra crispy tadiq.


The man takes my credit card for payment. His face glistens with sweat. It isn’t even noon yet, and I wonder if he will have time to take breaks, if he remembers to drink water.


“Your daughter reads a lot,” he says, “she is going to be very smart.” His accent is saffron and whole dried limes.


I smile behind my mask, hoping as I always do that he can see the smile in my eyes. He looks down at my daughter.


“My daughter just graduated, valedictorian,” he says. “She reads too. Every night until 2am.”


His eyes shine as he speaks of her. I tell him he must be a wonderful father. My daughter asks what valedictorian means and I tell her, making my voice a little louder and more animated than usual so the man can relive the accomplishment again. He smiles.


I look back at his vocational school certificate and I think what a gift he has given his daughter. I wonder if she is proud of her father or ashamed at his job. Does she look away from his oil-stained pants or does she know that night school and sweat rings and endless insistence that she studied were all part of a plan he had for her? Does she know that strangers all over town know of her? She would have been born just after 9/11 and I wonder if her father, this kind man in front of me now, got threatened or spit at. My college roommate’s father wore a bandana with an American flag print around his neck for months after 9/11 so that people wouldn’t call him a terrorist. Because this country can turn an immigrant’s daughter into a valedictorian, but it can also turn anyone with brown skin into a suspect.


As I leave, I thank the man and tell him again how wonderful it is that his daughter has done so well. The heat and the grease and the thick air don’t touch him at all when he thinks of her, I can see it. He thanks me, with a grin that a mask could never hide.

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