Two weeks ago I spent two-and-a-half days splitting firewood. Down to the too-long, too-gnarly, too-for-whatever-reason-unsplittable logs that required more than axe, wedge and sledge to rend, and having an uncooperative chainsaw, I needed help. It was time to go to The Man Store.
The Man Store is not the actual name of the business. To protect the innocent and guilty alike, I will not reveal its true identity. If you’ve ever been there, you know already. If you haven’t, you wouldn’t understand anyway.
If you need to pull the engine out of your Malibu, tear down your garage, build a swing set, re-plumb the kitchen or the whole neighborhood, remodel your Econoline or re-roof your house, The Man Store has what you need. In fact, I’m pretty sure The Man Store has a tool set and all the right adaptors to do all the aforementioned jobs simultaneously. All I needed was chainsaw repair.
I pulled into the railroad right of way that serves as pickup truck hitching post for The Man Store clientele – a diverse group, likely to be dressed like The Village People and to smell like creosote, sawdust and diesel fuel. As I entered the building, I felt my testosterone level surge. My back straightened and my chest bulged. I sniffed my armpits to make sure I wasn’t clean. I wasn’t. I felt like a man.
Inside, three men were huddled at one end of the counter discussing the BTU to horsepower ratio of competing models of turbojet kerosene shop heaters. I gripped my saw and listened in.
At the other end of the counter, a tall hunchback assisted a woman who had come in to pick up a thingamajig, or maybe a whatyoumacallit, for her husband. She wasn’t sure which it was.
Behind her were two men, one needing an adaptor, the other an extension. I waited patiently as the woman got her somethingorother and the two men were adapted and extended, respectively.
When it was my turn, in a slightly deeper voice than usual, I asked the hunchback what I should do with a chainsaw in need of service. In the line behind me, several burly men in coveralls and one in an Indian headdress nodded appreciatively at the mention of a chainsaw as the hunchback emerged from behind the counter.
“Walk this way.”
I followed Igor as he stepped with his right foot and dragged his left around the perimeter of the store to a long, dark corridor. At the end of the hall, I could see occasional sparks flying into view accompanied by the raspy crackle of raw electricity and I feared that Igor was leading me to the laboratory where Dr. Frankenstein was waiting with the brainsaw. As I opened my mouth to iterate “chainsaw,” my escort turned right through a heavy metal door.
The room before us was much brighter than the dimly lit passageway we had left. Directly in front of us was a narrow counter behind which two men worked methodically with small screwdrivers and solder guns. Igor gestured towards the chainsaw in my hand and one of the technicians shook his head, “Jack’s still in thee hospital. Send him to the garden shop.”
“You fixed it before,” I said. “Well…we left it with you, but this is the first time we tried to use it since getting it back and it won’t start…I mean, it starts, but then it quits.”
Igor looked at the old claim tag, still hanging from the handle of the saw. “Can we pull his record?”
My record, I thought, wondering how in the world they got my record and trying to remember if any of my offenses had been committed with chainsaws. I couldn’t think of any and was relieved when the three of them surrounded a file cabinet and pulled out a very official-looking document and one of them said: “Jeff?”
“No sir. I’m Jim, but that’s okay. People make that mistake a lot. Jeff is my brother.” Then, remembering that the chainsaw belonged to Jeff, I said, “I mean, yes. Jeff. Jeff Pfitzer. It’s his chainsaw.”
The men looked sympathetically at me and then curiously at the form in front of them.
“This is from July…”
“Yes, but we haven’t used it.”
“But it’s from July.”
“John worked on this,” one of the men said. “See him.”
“Can I take the record with me?” asked Igor.
“Walk this way.”
I followed Igor around the counter to another door leading to a graveled alley surrounded by an assortment of prefabricated industrial buildings and old, brick structures. The same electrical sounds I had heard from the end of the hall, reverberated through the manmade canyon. We made our way across the alley towards an open bay door through which the deep, sandy groan of soft steel being turned on a lathe joined the electricity causing another surge of testosterone. Again, my grip on the saw tightened.
Inside, rows of long, black pipes ranging in diameter from one to ten inches and coated in grease lined the wall to our right. I was careful not to brush the ends of the pipes as I followed Igor to the back of the room. There, standing behind a lathe turning threads on a two inch pipe, in the middle of what I’m pretty sure was part of the set from the movie, Flash Dance, stood John.
Igor showed John the official record. John shook his head. “Jack.”
“Jack’s still in the hospital.”
John shrugged at Igor. Igor shrugged at me. I shrugged at noone then turned and followed Igor back out of the building.
This time, we turned left in the alley to a smaller door leading into one of the brick buildings. At the end of another long hallway, we came to the front counter where the BTU to horsepower debate had been joined by the man in the headdress and a police officer, and had taken on much greater intensity.
At the other end of the counter, a very short, stocky man with very little hair was finishing up helping a customer with a 150 foot snake.
Now there’s a customer who needs no extension, I thought to myself as I nodded to the man leaving with his purchase.
Igor showed the official record to Danny DeVito, who immediately said, “Jack.”
“Jack still has cancer,” Igor and I offered in unison.
“Take it to the repair counter.”
“They sent us to John.”
“Let me see it.”
Igor took his place behind the counter and Danny and I went outside where he tried starting the chainsaw. With one powerful yank, the machine roared to life, but as Danny rolled his eyes at me, it died.
“Does that once a day,” I said. “It won’t start again.”
Danny tried several more times without luck, before taking the saw back inside where he picked up the record he had set on the counter.
“Where’d you get this?”
“No, this,” he said, holding up the document.
“I didn’t get it. Igor gave it to you.”
“Well, where did he get it?”
“The repair counter.”
“He’s not supposed to have this. Who gave it to him?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did he look like.”
“I don’t know,” I iterated. “The three of them were huddled around the file cabinet. I wasn’t invited.”
“I think I can fix it…but we gotta be legal about it. It has to go in your record.”
“It’s my brother’s record. Not mine.”
DeVito squinted suspiciously, then led me back down the long corridor to the repair counter where he amended the record to include the day’s events then gave me a call tag.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” he said.
I made my way back down the hall and past the front counter. As I left, I held the door for a construction worker in a hard hat, surely on his way to the debate.
A week later, when I went back to The Man Store, Mr. DeVito still hadn’t “gotten to” my chainsaw. The store was quiet and I didn’t see Danny or Igor so I made the rounds without an escort. I could’ve just grabbed the saw and left, but wanted to take in the whole experience. Down the corridors, through the sparks, across the alley and by the dance floor I went, reminiscing about my last trip and wondering where everyone was. As I opened the door to the hallway that would take me back to the sales floor, a sound stopped me.
Cocking an ear back to the alley, I heard it. Wafting through the complex, echoing off bricks and steel, music was playing.
Could it be? I asked myself. Indeed, it was.
It’s fun to stay at the Y—M—C—A! It’s fun to stay at the Y—M—C—A!
I resisted the urge to put down my saw and throw my hands over my head as I pictured them–Danny, Igor, the Indian and the cowboy, John and all the rest—perfectly choreographed and in sync.
They might not be able to fix a chainsaw, I thought, but I bet those guys can dance!