I was out shooting video for buzz.mn on Friday – that’s another story, to be related in a minute – and since I was in the neighborhood of the car wash, I ran the Element through. As I drove away I noted that no air was coming from the vents. The blower was roaring away, but nothing was coming out. I’m one of those guys who likes it hot in the car, much to my wife’s distress. Much to all wives’ distress, I think; the battle over the car’s cabin temps is one of those eternal men vs. women issues. Since the hot air was fine before I entered the car wash, I assumed something had gone wrong while I was in the car wash, and I had better get a damage report on file. Back to Mr. Car Wash.

The fellow took my particulars, but I could tell he thought I was nuts. He had no idea what could have happened. I said I was mystified as well, but since it worked as I headed into the wash and did not work when I emerged, there was a fightin’ chance something had happened 'twixt entrance and exeunt.

“You could have blown a fuse,” he said. I wanted to say that was possible, especially since I have a nasty habit of discharging tremendous amounts of electricity through my feet when I’m traveling on metal rails and being blasted with water, but I said I just wanted to make a report in case it turned out something had been damaged.

I drove home and made an appointment with the dealership the next day. That night I went out to finish the video. I did a piece on a fellow who built a three-story ice palace in his backyard. We are a wonderful and strange people, we are. Or rather some of us are. Or rather some of them; it’s not like I’d do this. But he had been fascinated with home-made castles since he was a teenager, and now, in his ripe middle 20s, he built his own in his backyard. If you watch the video, which is here, you will note that I almost matched up the day-to-night dissolve perfectly. I’d made marks in the snow with a tripod, but they got mashed, so I had to guess. Back home; spent the night editing and narrating and uploading and sniffling – the cold, which seemed as if it could be turned away before the onset of symptomus eruptus, finally hit the nose, where it would reside the rest of the weekend.

I don’t remember what else I did that evening, except play Wii with (G)Nat and watch the very first “Kojak” episode. (More about that tomorrow, with screen-grabs galore. It’s historical!)

Weekend retail fun, in which, as usual, I come off as a a prig, a boor, an anal-retentive dork, a bully, and combinations of the above.

Saturday  morning I went to the dealership, feeling like a pile of grot compacted into human form. Slumped in a chair and drank waiting-room coffee and read “Flashman.” It’s been decades since I read it, and I wanted to become reacquainted with the tale. The difference between 1981, when I first encountered the books, and today? I had a mobile computer in my pocket, and could call up pictures of the historical characters, maps of Afghanistan, wikipedia entries on the war, and so on. I was content to sit there all day, really; I didn’t feel like moving, the story was good, and it was five below and snowing outside. I felt all warm and fuzzy. Feverish and addle-brained, to put it another way.

Eventually the service manager found me and delivered the diagnosis. I’d told her the problem started after a car wash.

“The water froze the air-vent filter,” she said. “It got in there and froze it up. I’m afraid it’s not a thing that’s under warranty. We can replace the filter. They’re $110 apiece plus labor.”

I fixed her with my calmest expression, and said – exact quote – “I’m to pay $110 for a filter?” Too much Flashman; it’s a wonder I didn’t add “Damn your eyes” or “I’ll thank ‘ee to kit it up and look smart” or some other affectation.

She nodded. You are to pay.

When you’re feeling poorly you really don’t want to mince around, so I said, calmly, “I bought a car I can’t wash when the temperature drops below freezing?”

That caught her up. She saw my point. Since the dealership staff lives in unceasing fear of bad customer reviews – a giant Hondabot flies over from Japan and kills them all with a heat-ray unless you give them the highest possible marks -  she rethought the matter, and said she would see if she could warranty the matter. She went off to consult with someone – the mirror, perhaps, since she was the floor boss – and came back to tell me it would be covered under warranty.

I thanked her warmly and went back to the book.

Next stop: Best Buy. They were having a sale on WD internal hard drives, and I needed to upgrade. I had a coupon, too. One hundred dollars for 500 gigabytes. We live in an age of wonders. Also the age of superstition: there were two drives by the same manufacturer, equal capacity, but one was 20 dollars cheaper, and the other was a GREEN drive with GREEN features. It used less power. Polar bears would actually find the ice firmer beneath their paws if you bought this drive. I wondered if there was some other distinction, so I went over to the Mac area to ask one of the blue-shirted in-house Mac guys. While I waited a middle-aged wren of a woman wearing an EPSON shirt asked if she could help. I asked if she knew the difference between the two, and she said she didn’t, but what was I going to use them for?

Thanks, I wanted to say, I appreciate the help – God knows I’d be bitching if I stood here and no one came up to lend a hand – but you’re a printer rep, and I don’t want to waste your time or mine, so let me talk to the Mac people. But I am not that much of a jerk, so I thought I would drive her off with technobabble. “Final Cut scratch drive for the four-bay quad-core,” I said.

“Oh!” she said. “I ordered mine but it’s not here yet. It was a custom order. I upgraded the video card.”

I stared at her.

“From the Radion 2400?” I said.

“Yes. I’ve heard they’re having terrible problems with them.” 

“They are!" I said. "I had to replace mine already.”

And so on. I felt like a tool. And not one of those useful-if-you're-lost-in-the-woods tools, either. Lesson: Never judge a kindly middle-aged lady by her pre-branded polo shirt. 

At the checkout counter I got a clerk who acted with bright-eyed glee over the prospect of helping me; usually I like that sort of thing, and it’s a mutual high-palaver swapping session, but there was something ersatz about her cheer, as though she’d had a chip installed with the defaults set to “HIGHEST” quality. I gave her my Rewards Zone coupon and Rewards Zone card, wondering if that meant I was actually standing in the Rewards Zone at that very moment. Possibly. The card reader said I could swipe my card at any time, so I swiped my card.

“NO!” she said, and she grabbed my hand and lifted it off the card reader.

There’s a cardinal rule in retail: don’t grab the customer.

“SORRY,” she said, “but I have to put in the coupon before you swipe or I have to do it all over again. SORRY.”   She felt bad about it, and I bantered away as though nothing had happened, but the incident spooked us both, and we wanted to be done with each other as soon as possible.

That was my weekend retail experience.

In the evening I read and sneezed and did some web work and watched some “Fawlty Towers.” I googled Connie Booth, just to see what became of her; she did make an impression in those days, and not just for her writing abilities. The thinking man’s Carol Cleveland, if you like. Turns out she has taken a vow of silence over Fawlty Towers, has a career as a psychotherapist, and she is married to the son of the Cowardly Lion.

That made my day. It was an odd day, easily made, but I’m still glad to know that. It reminded me of the pleasures of coming to a thing after its vogue has passed; when adults saw “Wizard” in ’39 they probably knew the faces, which made the appearance of Lahr in lion makeup a joke we couldn’t get 30 years later. The modern equivalent would be celebrity voices in computer-animated features, but it’s not the same. Imagine if Buddy Ebsen hadn’t bowed out, and played the Tinman; we would have recognized him as Uncle Jed, and that would have snapped the spell of “Wizard of Oz” on the spot. 

The more I know about late 30s pop culture, the more the various attributes of “Oz” make sense; the disembodied chorus in the credits, the actors, the architecture, the songs. As a kid, though, it’s otherworldly; it doesn’t seem to belong to the past at all. But that’s normal. If you’re so inclined, you can spend the second half of your life learning all the things about the first half you were too dim or too small to understand. It doesn’t make you wise, but it can make you an awful pedant at dinner parties. Or on the internet.

New Match: Amusing how this one came up in the rotation this week. More details at the site; click the match to go there. See you buzz.mn!