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Chapter 4

My mother, easily the wisest person I’ve ever met, once said to me “if your children show Damn It, How Cool Do Your interest in anything, treat it like a flower, because if you don’t, Parents Have to Be ? you’ll kill it with neglect or worse.” It was easily the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten from anyone, anywhere, about anything. Maire Anne and I have raised our boys, Ethan, Kyle, and Aaron, with my mother’s don’t kill the flower mechanism front and center. All three have found their passions (Ethan film; Kyle theater technology; Aaron photography) and have evolved into wonderful interesting human beings. And as you give, hopefully you shall receive. What was the theme song from that old TV show? It’s about time, it’s about space. I love playing with cars. It is my flower. It appears to be something that is essential to my continuing emotional well being. My family gets that and gives me the physical, temporal, emotional, and financial space to do it. Let me lay this out for you. When I’m in the midst of a major repair, I will retreat to the garage every evening for weeks plus consecutive weekends. And if, in the middle of the repair, I catch a whiff of some car that’s advertised, I will drop everything on a moment’s notice, run out, withdraw several thousand dollars in cash from the bank, drive a hundred miles, and come home with another hobbled car that I’ll then work on for months, starting the cycle all over again. Maire Anne won’t say another car? What are you, nuts? She won’t say we’re due at my mother’s at 3:00. She won’t put her hands on her hips and shrilly declare I want to buy new furniture you’ll have to sell one of those things if I can’t buy new furniture. She sees that buying and working on cars gives me pleasure. She trusts that I am responsible, and that, for the most

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part, I know what I am doing. I would say that, for this, I love her, but it’s the other way around—in our world, this is how people who love and respect each other behave. Maire Anne has her flower as well, and unlike my automotive hobby, hers is also her livelihood. Her interest in animals led to a degree in zoology, which then led to her becoming the co-owner of a business called Bugworks. She and her business partner bring insects and arthropods into classrooms to teach kids about respecting the natural world (professionally, she is “the bug lady”). So in our house, in addition to my garage, we have “the bug room,” which hosts terraria that contain tarantulas, scorpions, praying mantises, giant African millipedes, lubbers (grasshoppers of biblical proportion), Madagascar hissing cockroaches, meal worms, the beetles they metamorphose into, and a vinegaroon, which sounds like a cookie but I assure you is not. In return for the bliss I receive working in the garage, I leave Maire Anne alone when she is upstairs feeding the tarantulas. Recently, Maire Anne called me at work, quite excited. “One of my scorpions had babies!” she said. “I’m a grandmother!” I rushed home with the camera to find ten snow-white baby scorpions, each the size of a thumbnail, on the mother’s back, with an eleventh emerging from beneath her. Maire Anne explained that, unlike the majority of arachnids, scorpions are viviparous, meaning they give live birth. It definitely rang my weird-shit-o-meter. One could say, “Oh your wife brings bugs home so she can’t really complain when you bring cars home,” but that misses the point. It’s not like we keep score, where one new project car equals two tarantulas and a millipede (though I should try that; the baby scorpions alone should justify at least that ’63 Rambler Classic). Maire Anne has no more squeamishness about coming into the garage than I do journeying into the bug room; in fact, she probably has the same overall reaction, which can be summed up as: what is that smell? In my space it’s the curious combination of brake fluid and rust inhibitor; in hers, high humidity and dead crickets. I did give her a hard time when, one night, while working at the computer, I felt something on my ankle and found a cockroach the size of a Swiss Army knife crawling up my leg. (Response: “Honey, one of your cockroaches got out. Again.”) But then again, she still doesn’t know about the time I used The Good Bread Knife to trim a power steering hose.

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At this point, men are probably thinking “who is this woman and how do I inject her Zen-like emotional state into my wife’s body?” I suspect that many women are thinking two things: “I would never let my husband do that. What does she get out of it?” (If you have to ask, you don’t get it, but how about love, respect, fidelity, and your own space?) The second thing is, “Bugs? Really?” Now, you could say, “Well, a woman who handles live tarantulas is the poster girl for non-traditional gender roles, so okay, they’re both weirdos no wonder she puts up with him,” but, actually, Maire Anne has documented the parameters of her tolerance: “I don’t know what my limit for these cars is, but I’ll know it when I see it. Just remember that I have threatened to get dung beetles if you overstep the car line. “And regarding dung beetles, some insect caretakers have observed that, with respect to dietary preferences, dung beetles can be sustained on something other than poop (“preferred poop” seems more vital to breeding and rearing). Beetle chow can be mixed by adding the following to a blender: half an apple, half a banana, a protein source (a four-inch minnow or about ten earthworms), a quarter cup of wheat germ, a handful of freshly pulled grass grown from bird seed, including the roots and a bit of soil. The resulting mash is rolled into little pellets and stored in the fridge. DO YOU WANT THIS IN OUR FRIDGE? Think about that when that next ad on Craigslist lights a fire under your creeper.” God I love this woman. But I must point out that threats of nasty bug-related entities in the refrigerator don’t scare me; we have had a dead solpugid (sun spider; go ahead and Google it) in the freezer for six years. Why? Beats the hell out of me, but who am I to question passion? It does give me food for thought, though, every time I go in there for a Popsicle. When both Aaron and Kyle started doing stage crew for their high school theater productions and began spending every waking hour in the theater, initially Maire Anne and I were concerned. I mean, don’t kill the flower is fine advice, but what about their grades? We quickly

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realized that, in fact, having them passionate and committed to a constructive activity was a gift. So to any long-suffering spouse of a threeyears-to-do-a-frame-off-restoration guy, I can say only this: at least you know where he is. Seriously. Our kids have always accepted “dad’s working on the car” as just one of many points of interest on the landscape. Professionally, I’m an engineer, working in geophysical applications related to the detection of unexploded bombs on old military training ranges, and sometimes I’m gone for weeks at a time on field surveys. Maire Anne and I were in and out of rock and roll bands together for many years (I’m a guitarist, she’s a drummer), and I’m still a quasi-working singer/ songwriter. We’ve often joked with the kids: “Bugs, bombs, cars, and guitars—damn it how cool do your parents have to be?” Familiarity may not breed contempt, but it does foster yawns. The boys’ friends may drop jaw when they see the garage full of cars and the terraria with Maire Anne’s IOUS (Insects of Unusual Size), but it no longer registers much on the boys’ personal radar; it’s just part of the furniture. Now, it is a well-known fact that Dad likes to work on his cars. I am out in the garage many evenings and weekends. Over the years, I’ve let the kids know that they were welcome in the garage, but I neither begged them to join me, nor hung out a dad achieving 3rd level of Zen in the garage do not break the trance this means YOU sign. At dinner, I’d talk about my current automotive project, generally to minimal interest. Now, I am a realist in these matters. In a world of cell phones, instant messaging, and downloaded video, I never constructed wholesale Ward and Beaver fantasies of greasy meaningful father-son bonding over guibos and gaskets. So when the two older boys headed out for the night and the young one queued up in front of The Disney Channel, I shrugged and scooted for the garage. I’ve solicited their help when I needed a strong back or an extra pair of hands, and I’ve tried to mandate Ethan’s participation when I’m working on his car, but if wrenching is in their genes as it apparently is in mine, it hasn’t been expressed yet. Ethan is a big picture guy. If his car is running, he won’t do a thing; if it dies, he’ll call me. Kyle, on the other hand, is very much an implementation guy, but he does not yet own a car. When he does, he may be seduced by the sirens of wrenching, as I was. Aaron is still a work in progress. But so am I.

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I’ll lie, for just a moment, on the couch. Between my father’s getting sick, his understandable remoteness, and his dying, he wasn’t around much. A few years ago I read Iron John by Robert Bly (and anyone who thinks it’s a book about men beating drums to get in touch with their inner warrior hasn’t read it; I can assure you it is 100% drum-free). Mr. Bly’s analysis of how, prior to industrialization, sons worked in the fields or in blacksmith shops next to their fathers and absorbed, at the psychic and cellular levels, their “maleness,” and how this was lost once men began leaving their families to go to work at factories in cities, is remarkably insightful and quite moving. When I read it, I did in fact begin to think that perhaps I’d missed an opportunity for this kind of bone-level bonding, but I’m not sure what I would’ve done differently. I’m sorry, our time is up. Even if we don’t wrench side-by-side, I can’t think of a better example to give my kids of how to live than seeing me working towards a goal, doing things that constructively engage my passion and give me pleasure. A man I know, Jim, has a well-known BMW-specific repair shop. Every few years I’ll call him up with a transmission-related question. Last year when I called the shop, his son Teddy answered the phone. I’d never heard Jim talk about his kids, and I was intrigued that Teddy was now clearly part of the family business. As Teddy and I developed a rapport, I told him about my kids having little interest in accompanying me into the garage and asked him what his path was. “Well,” he said, “like your kids, my interest was always elsewhere, but my dad always made sure I knew that the door was open. It just took me a long time to walk through it.” Maybe, in this world, the best a father can do is let his kids know the door is open.

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Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic
(a memoir with actual useful stuff)

How Fixing Broken BMWs Helped Make Me Whole
by Rob Siegel Price: $29.95 Bentley Stock Number: GBRS Publication Date: 2013.06.03 ISBN: 978-0-8376-1720-6 Softcover, 6” x 9” Case quantity: 10 432 pages, 37 photos

For over 25 years Rob Siegel has written a monthly column called “The Hack Mechanic” for the BMW Car Club of America’s magazine Roundel. In Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic, Siegel shares his secrets to buying, fixing, and driving cool cars without risking the kids’ tuition money or destroying his marriage. And that’s something to brag about considering the dozens of cars, including twenty-five BMW 2002s, that have passed through his garage over the past three decades. A geophysicist by day and self-professed car junkie in his free time, Siegel explores his passion for cars with unflinching honesty and offers a unique window into the Car Guy mind. Along the way he reflects on the genesis of his fascination with boxy little German sedans, the miserable Triumph GT6+ he owned in college, rebuilding the engine of his wife’s VW bus in the kitchen of their first apartment, how cars affect family dynamics, and why men really love cars. And in showing how cars have repeatedly been the conduit for deep human connections in his life, Siegel reveals his controversial theory that beyond their greasy fingernails, gearheads are actually intimate, caring creatures. Siegel also explains why, in a world over which we have so little control, the act of diagnosing and painstakingly fixing broken cars can be immensely therapeutic. Just don’t ask him to fix other people’s cars! With a steady dose of irreverent humor, Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic blends car stories, DIY advice, and cautionary tales in a way that will resonate with the car-obsessed (and the people who love them).

Rob removing the engine from Maire Anne’s ’72 VW Bus in preparation for rebuild and transplant into a ’68 VW Camper. (Photo by Maire Anne Diamond)

Putting the coupe to bed for the winter. This photo, shot by Yale Rachlin, so beautifully captures the care and intimacy that men are capable of feeling for their car. (Photo by Yale Rachlin)

The ’73 Malaga 2002 with camping gear at a Colorado trail head. Tucked into the backpack is the engagement ring Rob would give Maire Anne at the summit. (Photo by Rob Siegel)

“It is heartfelt; it is quirky; and it is mine - a memoir with actual useful stuff. Who else is going to tell you car stories, give you parenting tips, and tell you how to burn out a snapped-off stud with an oxyacetylene torch?” - Rob Siegel, Roundel - October 2012

Bentley Publishers, 1734 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-1804 USA Tel: 617-547-4170 • Toll Free: 800-423-4595 • Fax: 617-876-9235 http://www.bentleypublishers.com/contact-us
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