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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Where Richie Worked

I am aware that I have a different sensibility about people and education and unskilled labor than a lot of romance writers.

I was never supposed to have as much education as I do.

I was an ADHD child before it was a diagnosis. Nobody looked at me and thought "ADHD" (although now, I'm apparently a poster child for it.) I was flaky, unorganized, moony, different (not in a good way), distracted, and willfully not living up to my potential.

I was not a good bet for college. It was probably better if I got a job like food service and worked my way up. Education was a luxury-- the first thing to be cut off when I moved in with my boyfriend.

Of course to me, it was more like breathing.

The minute I could control the classes I took, thing I wanted, even the essay topic I'd broach, I was free. But I didn't have the words then.

What I did have the words for--still do in fact-- is that as much as I loved my education, that didn't mean I disdained the other ways people learned or made their living.

My parents were both nurses--but I watched my dad work his way through respiratory therapy school as a mechanic. He was good with his hands, logical, smart, and could tinker almost anything into submission. These are, by the by, some of the same things that make a good health care practitioner. In fact, I rather wish the doctors attending me as I gave birth had a modicum of the common fucking sense as my father, the guy who'd rather be in the garage, because policy and procedure have nothing on a guy who knows physics and physicality when you're pushing a can of Crisco from your cooter.

But all that aside, watching my practical, smart, motivated parents work their way into and through nursing gave me a profound respect for people with common sense who worked with their hands

I carried this with me into teaching--I was one of the few teachers who advised people to go to tech schools if their academics were weak and their crafting skills and creativity were high. Some kids told me that the idea that they didn't have to go to a four year school to get a skill that they could use to make a living was the only thing that got them through high school period. And the fact that I could look them in the eye and say--with complete sincerity--that I didn't look down on people because they didn't want to get an academic education, that held weight.

I still believe these things.

But I also believe in the sense of the world, of the way people function, of humanity in general--these are things that you can only get when you read and learn about places and people NOT YOU. These are the benefits of a liberal education--and we need to invest in these things for all the people, so they can make informed decisions.
Yes, I'm talking about politics. 

But I'm also talking about Skip and Richie.

Richie's parents owned a cut-rate Pick-n-Pull. 

A Pick-n-Pull is a place where wrecked cars are taken, and then scavenged for parts.  Now, some of us, we wreck our car, we take it to the auto-body place, and we say, "Fix that!"

And people in mildly oil stained jumpsuits go, "Okay, fine--it'll cost you money."

And we go, *whinge whinge whinge*  "Why does it cost so much, okay, fine, you have me over a barrel, I'll pay."

Unless you're like my dad, and worked your way through college at a junkyard or an auto wreckers, in which case, Pick-n-Pull is your salvation.  You pay your $2, you wander through the lot, and you pull the things you need off of the cars that have it.  Then you cart it all to the front desk, throw it on the counter and wait for the kid at the register to ring up a discounted blue-book price for that particular thing.  

It's sort of the ultimate in recycling and self-sufficiency. You don't need an auto-body parts store, and you don't need no stinking mechanic. You need the men in your family (yes, women too, but there's still a fair amount of gender bias in auto repair) to know about cars.  

So, I already posted the picture of Chicken's car, and how it needed a fender and a quarter panel and a blinker. Today, Chicken and I went on a scouting mission to find the right parts.  While we were there, we tried to pop off a blinker to say, "Hey, we got our $2 worth!"

The result was two women who had no idea how to work on cars banging away at a headlight assemblage with a screwdriver.  The only thing we did like real auto mechanics was swear.  At the end of the adventure (we got headlamps!) I said, "Hey, two women with no mechanical ability go into a pick-n-pull. That's it. That's the joke!" and Chicken laughed uproariously. 

But she'd liked the place. She'd wanted to spend more time there.

I hadn't. 

I remembered junkyards. They were hot, they were boring (if you were a seven year old) and my father had gotten lost in them for hours. They were, for him, what my computer or my books are for me.  

But I did wander the place, smelling cigarette smoke (mechanics smoke--I'm not sure if it's to calm them down, to keep them grounded, or what, but a lot of them do) and thinking about Richie.

I think I made him just right for this place. Physical and unafraid, able to tinker with a headlamp assemblage and come back with the blinker, or able to lean in and yank out an alternator with a wrench and a screwdriver.  Didn't make him the most articulate person on the planet. Meant that sex and physical touching was probably the best communication skill he had.  But this place, with it's twisted metal and crushed fiberglass represented potential to him--potential for doing actual things, things with consequence. Building a car, making it function well-- this is an important mission, especially in a place like California where your car is your independence. 

Richie is a noble creature--and I fell in love with him all over again at the pick-n-pull. 

I also fell in love with Mason and Terry-- neither of whom are good at all with cars.  

Because their story is about Mason, with the MBA and the education and the nice office, and Terry, who, is a lot like Richie in that if it isn't physical and doesn't involve a specific concrete thing it loses his attention.  

And the thing is, Mason, if he wants Terry, has to respect him for who he is.  He needs to look at the things Terry can do, and go "That's AWESOME! I'm impressed!" and not, "Well, if you had an education you could make more money with less dirt."

So I made their story about the balance between education and blue-collar IT work, and between the respect you have for people and your encouragement for them to stretch higher, try new things. How you can be someone's cheerleader without disdaining the things they have done and the place they are in now. 

Mason loves Terry, and will take him any way Terry wants to be taken. 

But that doesn't mean he doesn't want Terry to want a relationship like Mason thinks of one.  Two equals in partnership, living a good life. 

It's a tough balance--and a tough concept, that respect for people who see the world differently.  Education can often set people apart more than it joins them--it's all in how the haves treat the have-nots when it comes to the way they see the world. 

And I just thought it was interesting today, walking around a place I so patently do not fit in--and have no skill set in.  Because my father wanted me to be a mechanic. He thought that would be something that would make me a lot of money, that I could be proud of.

And I actually got an A+ in auto shop. I wrote an entire essay detailing the workings of the internal combustion engine, from the click of the key to the last puff of the exhaust.  My father probably could not have written that essay--but then, I can't in a million years fix the car.  

He does not particularly respect my ability to write that essay-- I wish this was another story. 

But I DO, and always will respect his ability to fix the car.  And THAT'S the story I was trying to tell in these two (three eventually, maybe even four) books. 

And anyway-- Summer Lessons will be out at the end of November. 

And I was thinking about it today. 

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