Jordan Eash’s story, “Deus Ex Machina,” was awarded first place in the humorous essay contest. He won two tickets to see David Sedaris at the Morris Theater on April 19. Jordan’s story is posted below and on the contest tab. Learn more about Jordan here.
Deus Ex Machina
My god died last week. My half-ton, four-wheel drive, 140,000-mile god. And by god, I mean truck.
My truck, Santiago (my deity’s earthly name, because everyone knows an automobile isn’t a car until you’ve given it a name), broke down last Friday. It wasn’t anything sudden, like a terrible tragedy that shatters a well-nurtured cosmology, but a slow, agonizing demise, like a Catholic becoming agnostic becoming an atheist.
It started with the usual winter truck problems (ours are fickle gods, our favor with them turns with the seasons): the trembling exhaust structures, the sluggish engine. Then, even as the weather improved, Santiago worsened. At every stoplight the engine stalled. Then came the vibrations, a crashing shudder, like the engine was trying to leap through the hood of the car. The “check engine” light flashed like an unheeded prophet, and black brimstone poured from the tailpipe. I continued to drive. I wouldn’t look under the hood; the fear was too great. What if it was the transmission again? I would become a pillar of salt.
And then it happened. Good Friday. My truck suffered, died and was buried. And by buried, I mean broke down on the side of the road a block down from the fire station. A lone firefighter stood in the drive, hosing down Engine No. 7. He smiled, waved.
My initiation into the Church of the Carburetor was innocent enough. I was sixteen, ready for a job and the freedom of the open highway. Simple. My parents, saints as they are, and Acolytes of the Accelerator themselves, offered to buy a car for me – provided I pay them in small, monthly installments.
It was wonderful. Cruising down U.S. 20, the engine roaring, the radio singing a canticle for the road. I had accepted the automobile into my heart as my own personal savior, and I was reveling in its glory.
It was too good to be true.
Slowly, problems began to appear. It was like finding the loopholes in your parochial school catechism. First went the starter. Then, the muffler. The tires. The brakes. And the transmission. The transmission cost more to fix than the entire truck. I would need a loan. The bank would give me one, $2,500 at $99.64 a month. My tithe.
The transmission was repaired (the shop’s jingle was “If your tranny’s dead, just call Fred,” which conjured images of a blue-collar man with a beer gut and a knack for disposing of deceased cross-dressers), a brand-new gearbox. I was on the road again, a grateful pilgrim returning to the holy land. Sure, I needed my job more than ever now – my truck’s fuel and payments took up most of my income, and still does – but so what? No cost is too great for the Faithful.
But, as they say, the Lord giveth and taketh away, and there my truck sat, a lifeless hulk on a Main Street curb.
I turned the key and prayed. Whether it was to the dying god before me or to someone else, I don’t know. Either way, my pleas went unanswered. The engine grunted, shook, and fell silent. I beat my head against the steering wheel. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! Forgive me! My penance didn’t help, either.
Greater deities than mine flew by, Tauruses and Impalas, moving in like the god of Constantine to sweep away my pagan lord, and I envied those followers of the New Order. My mind turned to possibilities of reformation, or conversion. Maybe a new Honda would be nice. Or a Beetle. Are Scions any good? They sure look cool. But no. It was impossible: I could never sell my truck for enough to pay back the bank or make a down payment on a new car. Besides, new cars have problems, too. No dogma is perfect.
So, I was stuck. A buggy drifted past. I imagined the Amish man at the reigns. He was probably laughing.
“The poor fool!” he would say, “Does he not see the error of his faith? See how his god tortures him!”
Go ahead and laugh, I thought. If I get a flat tire, I put on the spare. If your horse breaks a leg, you have to shoot it.
Cars really are the American curse, as well as the American god. My friend Simon, from Germany, has never driven a car. Barely ever rode in one. He doesn’t have to. America, unlike Germany – or anywhere else in Europe – is built on wide, open land. It’s almost a federal law that your neighbors can’t live any closer than a half-mile. Besides, we’re lazy. Any distance is too great to walk.
Oh, to live in Europe! I thought, watching another SUV roar past. To be free of this, my accursed god! I’ll take the national guilt of the Holocaust, Inquisition, or Margaret Thatcher over this. Hell, I’d take all three.
So, for the next couple days, my truck sat near the fire station. On the third day, my uncle Greg and I towed it back to his shop to have a look at it. It was Easter Sunday, but Uncle Greg is a bachelor and spends the day alone, and I have no gods before Santiago.
The check engine light flashed its secret code. My uncle, the reverend augur of autos, flipped the pages of the Chilton, that holiest of scriptures, for the arcane wisdom needed to interpret the signs.
“It’s the oxygen sensor,” he says. “It’s running rich, and it’s probably corroded your spark plugs.”
The oxygen sensor. My god has drowned in his own gasoline.
We put it on the lift. My truck ascended toward the heavens, and we got to work. After an hour or so, with the sensor replaced and the plugs changed, I turned the key. I held my breath.
The glory of Santiago’s engine roaring back to life was like the trumpets of Armageddon. My truck rose from the dead. Still, I wasn’t convinced. I was too used to my truck being broken.
“Let me put my hand into his side,” I said.
“What?” my uncle asked.
“Let’s drive it. To make sure it works.”
Uncle Greg did the honors. With him behind the wheel the engine burned like tongues of flame.
“What do you think?” he asked.
I looked at the speedometer. We were going over ninety.
“I didn’t know it could go this fast!”
Cruising then, watching the southern Michigan landscape flash by, I smiled.
My faith was restored.