For a couple of years during our teens, my brother worked pumping gas on the weekends for the snake-oil salesman who owned a local garage. I stopped in one summer Sunday to shoot the shit, and noticed a pile of tires with bright yellow chalk markings of NFG on the sidewalls. In all my small-town naïve innocence, I asked, “What does NFG mean?” “Haw, haw, haw!! Oh, you know what NFG means!”
Even these years later, the arrogant stupidity of that non-answer still irritates me. If I ‘knew’ what NFG meant, I wouldn’t have asked what NFG meant. A couple of years later, when I got out in the cruel, cruel (and often foul-mouthed) world, I found that it meant No Fucking Good. Why didn’t he just say so?
One day he accosted me. “Whaddya doin’ next Saturday?” “Why?” “Wanna make 25 bucks?” That was the equivalent of a half a day’s wages. Rather suspiciously, “Doing what?”
A couple of times a year, he would go to a used-car auction outside Toronto, bring home some lemons vehicles, fix them (almost) up, and sell them at a profit. Oh, he wants another driver. It’s reasonably safe, and almost legal. I could use a little extra spending money. Sure, why not!?
Five of us met at the garage at O-dark-600. He piled us all into a big old Mercury sedan. He drove, with two guys in the front with him. Remember those big old boats, where three could ride in comfort on the front bench seat? Not ‘safely’ though, ‘cause they didn’t have seatbelts.
Two other gullible suckers and I rode in the back. Off we set for a 100 mile, 2-hour drive. The car auction began at 9:00 AM and we arrived with time to spare. Mr. Snake-Oil went inside, but, since we weren’t registered buyers, we had to remain outside.
We wandered around, bored, talking to each other and other teens who’d come with other dealers, searching for washrooms and maybe something to eat or drink. At noon, he came out, all smiles. He’d bought five cars – one for each of us.
We made sure that they all started and ran, and had enough gas for the trip home, and formed up our little convoy. Since I’d previously owned a Morris, and currently owned an Austin, I was assigned a four-cylinder Vauxhall sedan, similar to the station-wagon my Father had recently owned, while the rest got 6- and 8-cylinder Fords and Chevies.
With the chief turkey buzzard leading the parade, we headed for home. I was in third position. When we reached the 60MPH speed limit of the highway, we quickly sped up to 65/70….all except me. It seemed that, no matter what I did (not much), the best I could do was 50/55. Number 4 soon passed me.
A mile down the road, “the best I could do” suddenly dropped to 30/35. Number five pulled out and passed, and Tail-End Charlie was breathing down my tailpipe. Then, the wee beast speeded up again, if you can call 50 MPH, speed.
Another mile, and it faltered again. Soon I was number 6. In a day before cell-phones for emergencies, I wondered what would happen if this thing died all together, as the last of them disappeared over a hill, a half a mile ahead. I thought about just pulling it off to the side, and hitch-hiking back.
After a hundred miles of this, I finally nursed it home. As I pulled in, he yelled, “Where the Hell have you been? Did you get lost? The rest of us have been back for hours.” 25 – 30 minutes, maybe, but, gee thanks for keeping an eye out and worrying about me Boss. “What the Hell kept you?”
I explained that I just couldn’t get any top-end speed, and that it would die off every once in a while. I said, “It feels like I was driving on three cylinders half the time, and the other half, only on two.” “Oh, you just don’t know how to drive!” I took my $25 undeclared cash earnings and left. ‘See if I ever do that for you again.’
About a week later, I pulled in to gas up my Austin, and he swaggered over and stuck his head in my window. “Remember that Vauxhall you drove for me?” I’d been trying to put it out of my mind, but, “Yeah?” “Know what I found?” A llama in the trunk? Bubble-gum in the ashtray? A complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica? “What?”
“When I was working on it, I found that one of the spark plugs was welded closed, and one of the ignition wires from the distributor was loose. If it got bumped, there was no power going to that plug. It was like it was running on three cylinders half the time, and only on two, the other half.”
Do I get a free tank of gas for diagnosing the problem for you? Of course not! Not even a thank you or an admission that I was right, much less an apology. What an arrogant, self-centered asshole. When I went back to school after moving here to Kitchener, I met his then-divorced wife. She couldn’t stand him either. Later, his brother was elected President of the United States.