Jewish World Review April 1, 2013 / 11 Nissan, 5773
Observations from the auto shop holding pen
By A. Barton Hinkle
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Author's note: Prolonged confinement in a car mechanic's waiting room can induce hallucinations. The following is one of them.
From the logbook of Capt. A. Hinkle of the Starship Mazda Protégé, stardate 309782.
Severe mechanical failure occurred at 06383181125, resulting in forced landing in space/time sector 57a5, hereinafter "Auto Repair Shop."
Initial impressions: Atmosphere - stale but breathable. Climate - temperate. Population - humanoid. Vegetation - minimal. Native garb - blue jumpsuit.
My captor is a full-grown adult male - at least 200 pounds. His manner is curt but not overtly hostile. He barks a series of questions at me. I do not understand them, and my attempts to answer only seem to annoy him. He gives me a form to sign, then leads me to a holding pen. There is no door, no gate, no barrier of any kind. Yet he seems confident I will not attempt an escape.
He is right, of course. Where could I possibly go?
The walls of the holding pen are hung with curious signboards. Some of these appear religious or hortatory ( "OUR COMMITMENT"; "SERVICE"). Some give cryptic commands ("STOP 10 FEET SOONER"). Another, perhaps a kind of Zen koan, seems designed to inspire contemplation of life's boundless possibilities: "WHAT'S STOPPING YOU?" Another encourages literacy: "WHAT DOES YOUR ODOMETER READ?"
A fellow prisoner joins me in the holding pen. We make brief eye contact and nod warily to each other, but do not speak. It seems wiser not to. The newcomer claims a chair a safe distance away from me. He removes a small black object from his pocket and gazes intently at it, poking and stroking it from time to time with the tip of a finger. I think it is some kind of pet.
A large window in the holding pen affords a view into a cavernous space. It is filled with machinery, hoses, carts, tanks, and all manner of strange implements. Several of the males in jumpsuits mill about. Their activity seems to lack focus, but its purpose becomes clear enough when a large door opens and a tremendous mechanical creature, perhaps 10 feet long, enters the bay. It is covered in metallic armor plating and gives a deep, menacing rumble. The workers raise it up on a huge throne and begin grooming the creature, polishing it, rendering unto it various ministrations, and pouring it ritual libations from containers marked VALVOLINE. It is clear that the tribesmen worship these mech-beasts, and see the care and feeding of the creatures as their own main purpose in this place.
Afterthought: Their divinity system may be pantheistic. There are numerous totems here honoring MONROE and NAPA. The names may refer to two distinct deities or to one that goes by different
captors seem completely oblivious to
my physical needs. When I could wait no longer and feared I might soil myself I found a lavatory for my evacuations. But I have so far discovered no source of sustenance, at least none suitable to me. My captors occasionally enter the holding pen to drink a foul, black liquid called GOURMET BREW, which they decant into small white cups. They seem to require no other nourishment. Summoning all my courage I ventured to taste the broth when I felt certain no one was looking. A mistake - it was scalding hot and cruelly bitter. I can only conclude it is some kind of burnt offering.
My stomach rumbles constantly; my head swims; I feel weak. If my captors do not feed me soon I may be forced to take desperate measures. Perhaps if they turn their backs I may learn the taste of Valvoline.
The social hierarchy appears egalitarian, but there is a clearly defined division of labor between SERVICE AREA and OFFICE. Yet there must be some kind of stratification beyond these walls. Some of the signboards refer to a TIRE KING and a KING OF THE ROAD. (A feudal system like that of the planet Arrakis?)
Random observation: Initial captor/prisoner interaction highly ritualized. Each encounter begins with captor's incantation: "What can I do you for?" Written form of communication short and emphatic: NEW! FREE! EYE PROTECTION AREA! I do not know whether
long have I been here? I have no way
to know. It feels like years … decades. The experiential nature of temporal phenomena seems different in the holding pen, as though real time has been replaced with a synthetic substitute, a kind of plastic dimension where events transpire but time never passes.
My captors go back and forth, talking among themselves and sipping GOURMET BREW. The metal beasts come in, are serviced, and depart. Auto Repair Shop, I begin to see, has its own internal rhythms. But I am not a part of them. I am in this place, but not of this place. I feel as though I am in stasis.
Another prisoner comes in. He sits, waits, leaves. And another. And another.
How is it that they are free to go, and I am not? No answer comes.
I stay here. Alone. Forgotten. Ignored. Fate has decreed that I shall die here, that much is clear. The only question is whether I will succumb first to starvation or ennui.
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A. Barton Hinkle is Deputy Editor of the Editorial Pages at Richmond Times-Dispatch Comment by clicking here.
© 2011, A. Barton Hinkle