in Daily Life, Stories

Friends and Neighbors

The Chinese man who owns the dry cleaners helped me carry my clothes to the car today. He scolded me for laying the garments on the back seat. (I make one large dry cleaning trip per year, which means transporting a score of shirts, a dozen pairs of pants, and various sundries. I typically stack this mound on the back seat.) “Hang like this,” he said, demonstrating the proper method.

“This your first time here?” he asked, looking at me as if I were a novice at the whole clothes-cleaning thing.

“Second,” I told him.

He nodded and stroked one of my shirts. “Good quality clothes,” he told me, which left me wondering: what does this mean? Despite my wife’s opinion, is my taste in clothing impeccable? Or — and I fear this to be the truth — do I have the same fashion sense as an elderly Chinese man? Does the dry cleaner guy also buy his clothes at Costco?

On the drive home, I decided it might be fun to be a dry cleaner, but an immoral dry cleaner. Imagine! I would never have to shop for clothes again. I would have an entire store filled with garments from which to draw my wardrobe. A nice dinner out? This shirt looks perfect, and it’s not due to be picked up until next Tuesday! Some people fantasize of stealing cars or robbing banks; I dream of borrowing other people’s clothes. (Especially woolen clothes!) My evil-o-meter just doesn’t go very high, I guess.

At home, I stopped to speak with the neighbor across the street. He was wearing a t-shirt which proclaimed in large type: GET IN THE BOAT. John is a retired teacher. He spends his autumns in Oak Grove, but he winters in New Zealand, and then spends the bulk of the year on his boat in Alaska. Today he told me all about his boat generator and how he wants a new one. (“There’s a new Honda model that produces a regular sine wave,” he said. “You can even plug a computer into it!”)

John turned the conversation to my car, and as usual I bemoaned the sorry lot of my Ford Focus. It’s just not the right car for me, and yet I’m not likely to get a new car any time soon. I’m a “drive it til it’s dead” kind of guy.

“Keep the oil changed, and it’ll last forever,” he said.

“Oh, I keep it changed,” I said. “I change it every five thousand miles.”

John shook his head. “That’s not often enough,” he said. “You need to change it every three thousand miles.” He frowned, then turned and walked away. I wanted to protest: for twenty years, I’ve changed my vehicles’ oil every five thousand miles. I’ve never had any trouble! I take care of my cars! I felt I’d failed some crucial test of manhood, as if I’d fallen in his sight.

As I walked to the mailbox (carrying three bundles of dry cleaning), John stopped at his front door: he turned to smile at me and wave.

I spent my evening skimming the library books I’ve had checked out since July: Cooking By Hand, Slow Food, The Elements of Taste, The User’s Guide to the Brain, The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. I soaked in a hot tub and browsed. Then I sat in bed and browsed. I still feel sick, so I went to sleep early, my C-PAP mask and my eyecover dutifully in place.

Kris woke me from a light doze. “You have to listen to this,” she said, handing me the telephone. Jenn had left voice mail earlier in the evening that went something like this (the following is a reconstruction, not a transcriptioin — Jenn is the narrator):

Harrison came up to me tonight and asked for a bath. “You don’t need a bath,” I told him. “You’re already clean. You had a bath last night.” Harrison whined. “Please. You don’t have to wash me. I just want to soak in the tub. It’s so relaxing.” “Alright, J.D.” I said. Harrison laughed and said, “Good one, Kris!”

Maybe this is only funny for the Gingeriches and the Roth-Gates. It’s pretty funny, though. Now I need to go back to sleep.

  1. The demands you place on your car should determine how often you change your oil, as will whether you choose to run conventional “dino” oil or synthetic oil.

    Generally speaking, the less time you spend at a constant speed, the more often you need to change your oil.

    If you’re making mostly short trips and using dino oil, then oil and filter change every 3k miles is not unreasonable. You could feel comfortable stretching that service interval to every 5k miles if you switch to synthetic oil. You’ll need to do the math and see if it makes sense.

    I drive my car (95 Mazda Miata – don’t laugh!) hard. I’ve raced it (Solo II autocrossing) enough to win trophies; been to (from southwest Missouri) N’Awlins (when it was intact) a couple of times; Phoenix once; St. Louis, Kansas City, and Tulsa any number of times… and I’m not forgiving on my 100 mile/day commute, either.

    Back when I was racing and had a short commute, I’d change the synthetic oil and filter every 3k miles. Now that I’ve given up racing and have the long commute, the interval is oil every three months with a filter change twice a year.

    This is all just speculation and opinion on my part, including my belief that maintenance is cheaper than a new engine. In order to really KNOW how often you need to change your oil, the waste oil must be subjected to analysis – which is probably just as expensive as an oil and filter change. 🙂

    If you don’t change your oil yourself, you might consider doing it. A couple of ramps (I favor the ones made by Rhino) make the job MUCH easier. The last time my ex took her Cherokee to a quick-change place, they left a few tools on top of the engine when they closed the hood!


  2. Though I’ve never been much of a car guy, I did use to do all my oil changes myself. In fact, I did so up until the mid-90s. When we moved, I still had a Costco-pack of oil in the storage shed. I hadn’t used any in six or seven years, though.

    As part of my new frugality, perhaps I should learn to change oil on the Focus. It’s surely just as easy as it used to be to change oil on my Datsun 310gx, right?

  3. I love you Jd, but do you really think that you take care of your car? How long have the breaks been making noise? You might change your oil, but there is a lot more to your car then that.

  4. While I do think I take pretty good care of my car, Tiff is right on this point. My brakes have been squeaking for nearly a year, ever since I had them serviced at Canby Ford. Supposedly they changed the brake pads, etc. at that time, but ever since, the brakes squeal like crazy when they’re cold. I’ve known about this for a year, and haven’t taken the car in. That is Not Good. I need to get the oil changed today, actually, so maybe I’ll have them check the brakes while they’re at it.

  5. Brakes squeaking is fine it is when they start grinding that you should worry.

  6. FWIW, our mechanic confirmed what John says. The manual for our Corolla says to change the oil every 5-7K, but when the car began burning oil, we took it in. The mechanic explained that the change is determined by the life of the oil and has little to do with the engine. When the oil breaks down, it’s time to change it, and regular oil breaks down after about 3K.

    Boring, I know. I can name many things I’d rather do than take the car in for oil changes. It seems you’re supposed to rotate your tires every 5K too. Sigh…

  7. J.D.:
    re: changing the oil on a Ford Focus.
    The big consideration is how high r&r’ing the filter ranks on the PITA scale. Open the hood and take a gander at it, and see what you think. May I heartily recommend a box of disposable latex gloves to make cleanup much easier? Fram makes a “sure drain” (“sur-drain”? can’t remember) kit that replaces the oilpan drain bolt with a gizmo that you can hook a tube up to – VERY nice!

    re: brake squeal that’ll raise the dead
    Sounds like they forgot to put a dab of anti-squeal lube between the pads and whatever spring-type mechanism is responsible for keeping tension on the pads. Inquire at your FLAPS (friendly local auto parts store), they’ll have what you need, and you’ll probably be able to apply it yourself.

    re: oil
    It’s nice to have an independent opinion agree with mine. 🙂

    re: tire rotation
    I rotate my tires at every oil change, but I have a rear-wheel drive car and they all wear pretty evenly.

    With a front-wheel drive car, I’ve known many people that wait until the rears are down to nothing, then move the fronts to the back and buy new fronts.

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