With all the bread making we’d been doing since quarantine began, our oven was bound to break. When that happened, I received a recommendation for a local repair shop and scheduled a service call. After greeting the unmasked repairman in my driveway, he put one on and came inside to inspect our out-of-order appliance. While tinkering with some tool that promptly revealed the problem, he complained about the “virus that was made in a Chinese lab” and his annoyance with wearing a facemask.
You may recall, soon after the last election, that Americans were encouraged to “reach out and talk to” those who were politically different from themselves. Remember the appeals to “see the person behind the candidate they endorsed”? That broad call was to help us feel compassion for our fellow Americans. Some of us tried. And most of us failed to find any middle ground.
Here, years later and after learning that this repairman adheres to the notion that the global pandemic was specifically developed overseas to adversely affect Americans, I had an opportunity to “get to know more about someone who you don’t agree with.”
In that moment, I chose to not ask anything of him. I knew there was nothing I could say to persuade him that he was wrong; I knew there was nothing he could say to me to convince me that I’d been hoodwinked by “fake news.” After years of lies and distortions of fact, I simply do not have the inclination, energy, or the time to discuss anything with anyone who chooses to believe that which has no basis of support in evidence. In the same that I wouldn’t engage in serious conversation with a salesperson trying to get me to buy a unicorn, I refused to even briefly indulge in virus conspiracy theories with an oven repairman.
Putting aside politics, we instead got to chatting about fairly banal topics, not the least of which was his prideful boasting about his collection of cars. (Note: the photo above, with approximately thirty vehicles, is not of the oven repairman.)
In my mind, a car is a tool to get people from Point A to Point B. Some people do so in $2k cars, some in $150k ones. Full disclosure: I have never owned a new car. My parents bought me my first car, a 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible with rusted through floorboards and a loose engine mount for $600.00. My car was as old as it’s driver in 1987. Many used cars followed that one. My current car is a 1999 VW Cabrio (yes, another convertible) that I bought for $3,100 with the insurance money I received after a teen driver totaled my 2000 VW Cabrio that I’d been driving for fourteen years. All in all, while it’s nice to go to the grocery store with the top down, it’s nicer to know that I paid $3,100.00 on my transportation “tool.”
So when this repairman told me that owns sixty-three cars, I was dumbstruck. Not in the “wow, that’s so cool” sort of speechlessness that he’s probably used to, but rather the “I live in a country that allows, even promotes, one human being to own so much” kind of horror. That sinking, nauseated reaction is not unfamiliar. I feel it more often than I’d like.
In a nation where what you own projects an image of who you are and often what you possess is an itemized commentary of the quality of your humanity, my disgust at the me-centered value system that accompanies capitalism feels overwhelmingly depressing. And while I can entertain the idea that this repairman might very well do all sorts of things to benefit others, his initial attempt to enter my home to assess our oven without a mask makes me think otherwise.
And so, I find the nexus between verbalizing the annoyance for wearing facemasks and trumpeting the personal ownership of sixty-two superfluous vehicles to be a troubling commentary on an average American’s disregard for others alongside an unmistakably selfish need to have far more than for those same “others.”
And the oven? Fixed and baking bread again.