Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Car Story

It began with an offer for a place to live and transportation. Upon my arrival in Jacksonville FL, I found myself in a motel. I had already checked out craigslist to see what places there were to live. During my first day at the new office, a coworker pulled me aside, offered me a ride back to the motel at the end of the shift, and then made me a seemingly 'can't refuse' offer. He had a room for rent at a reasonable rate and a car that he wanted to sell me.

Having lived in motels and shelters for the previous 4 months, I jumped at the offer for a place to live. He took me back to his place the next day and the room and rent were adequate for my needs. The car...was another story.

I've thought of several names for her: 'Ol Blackie, 0V3RP0W3R3D, Bang, bang, yer dead, and of course: Piece of Shit.

It's a '95 Civic Hatchback with an engine that belonged somewhere else, an '89 Integra, I think. He told me the engine was banned from import now and that is was a rare find. Oh, and there's no muffler on it so it roars.

This is the engine as I found her. The owner, my landlord, told me it needed work. It had a leaky head gasket. It also had problems starting and when it did, it ran rich and backfired every chance it got. Oh, and you had to put water in it every time you ran it. He told me he was quoted at $1000 to get it fixed permanently.

Not pictured is the hood, which from my vantage point, looks like it took fire damage at one point. Also, one of the tires is working off of just enough thread to make it interesting.

So my landlord wanted $1200 for it. He told me the engine was worth at least that much on its own. He recommended a buddy of his come take a look at it to see if he couldn't get it running. I was really hoping at that point that what was really wrong with it was a quick fix, so I went along, and spent some money on recommended parts. The guy came in to look at it and worked well into the night. About $50 in parts later, he got it to start but said it needed tuning. The backfiring was a big hint there. A neighbor came out to complain about the noise,and a few minutes later a cop showed up. Luckily we had just closed up for the night, and he let us go. I gave the mechanic $200 for the labor - too much, I know, but I wanted him to come back to finish the job, and he went his merry way.

I drove the car to work the next day. I had already arranged insurance for it. I made it into work, then after work I was going to take it to get the tags renewed. I got about a quarter of the way, then the car overheated. I had to use the towing feature of my insurance to get it the rest f the way home. At home, I put water in it, and it seemed to run fine. The guy who had worked on it before had gone to the hospital the day after he worked on it, possibly celebrating with my money a bit too much. But he promised to come back at some point. He never did.

The next day I tried to use it again. I made it to a 7-11 just down the street from work, intending to get some breakfast, and then when I departed, I noticed the engine was overheating again. I didn't make it the last half mile to work. I had to get a push the rest of the way to work, and another tow to get it home.

So now it seemed the head gasket was blown. I had several recommendations, from people I had really just met, for service stations. I had it towed to one, only to find they didn't do head gasket replacements because they couldn't guarantee them. I tried to get my insurance to tow it back home, but they apparently had enough of me and said no. So chalk up another $100 in towing fees.

Next place was a garage that had dealt with the car before, where my landlord got his initial estimate of $1000. I paid to have it towed in. They recognized the car right away, and told me the estimate they had given him earlier was not valid anymore, and finally came up with a figure of $2500, but recommended that I give up because the car wasn't worth that much, and was a money pit. I paid $300 plus to get the car towed there and back and for the estimate. Ka-ching.

And for a while, I did give up on it. I was still paying for insurance, but I wasn't paying for anything else. Then, about two weeks ago, my landlord tells me there's a new guy at work who works on cars, and he'd be willing to do it for $800. I grudgingly said I'd talk to him, and he came out and looked at the car and got some numbers off it. The next day he texted me that the cost was going to be $1500 but he could break it into payments of $750.

He was going to completely replace the head instead of just the gasket. He was going to replace the timing chain and do whatever else needed to be done. I almost did a facepalm, but I agreed in the end and give him $750. It was $1000 less than the last shop, after all. Next, he tells me to have it towed to his home, where he apparently has a garage. I really did do a facepalm then, but I was committed. I should have been committed, I know. another $100 out of my pocket.

He sent me a picture a few days later: Halfway done.

Looked considerably less than that, but I went along with him. A week goes by, my bank account is about to be filled again, so I text him about the car. He wondered how to start it, because there's a trick to it. I'm a little confused as to why he didn't ask earlier, but I tell him how to start it, and then he texted back that he had to replace the battery and the oil case, and that would cost another $100. What's $100 among friends? /sarcasm. I agree because I'm not going to get the money back. The next day he tells me that the battery cost more than he thought and it was another $50. At  this point, I asked him if he'd provide the receipts, and he said he didn't usually work that way, but this time, he would. He got really snitty about it, but he had been working on the car for a lot of hours. He didn't say how many, but I believe him because the car was pure evil.  I did let him know that I'm not made of money.

So we agreed that today would be delivery day and when he finally drove up in it, he told me that he'd been working on it until 1 am the night before because it still backfired and then refused to start at times. He said he cleaned the carburetor and that took care of that issue.

So we took it for a spin and it seems to idle a bit fast, but it's such a hybrid of technology that I can learn to live with it.

I hope the saga is over, but he was worried about the distributor. He couldn't find it, but he promised if I can find it and buy a replacement, he'd install it for free.

Was it worth it? Was 'Ol Blackie my Moby Dick? Well, at least I got it, so I'm no Ahab. Friends and family told me to walk away, even tried to find me cheaper cars on craigslist, but something about this car - heh - tasks me. Only time will tell if was worth it, though the last guy to work on it told me to get a paint job and sell the car. I might just do that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Republic of Mike: A 'What If' Scenario.

Maybe it's lack of sleep due to an overactive brain. Maybe it's the overall disgust I have for the current political process. Maybe I'm just nuts. I want to form my own Republic.

Oh, it won't be overly large. It will be stuck in the middle of a desert on land that most people would consider unusable. Let's say 100 square miles, 10 x 10. But since I'm poor I'd have to simply claim it as my own. I might not even say where it was at first. I'd put together a team of robots to start carving out my claim, quietly working at night, and building a city underground.

That's how it would start: The Republic of Mike. The basic Constitution would be similar to the concepts I explored in 'Project Five-Star: The Five Points of Hope:' Guaranteed living quarters, guaranteed healthy food, an education that never ends (as Asimov suggested), health care, and work doing what makes you the happiest.

I think robotics has matured to the point where that's possible. Of course, I have no money, and lack the skills at the moment, but this is all hypothetical anyway.

The point I'm getting at is how the United States government would react if such a claim were made. Let's say I'm able to put together the resources to start such a project. If and when the U.S. finds out about it, what do they do? It would probably start on a local level. Law enforcement comes out to my desert country to find the robots hard at work, and tries to stop them. Being robots, they might be programmed to hide themselves in the sand, only to reappear when law enforcement leaves,

The next level would be the state. Let's say they are ineffective as well, and call out the National Guard. The Guard carpet-bombs the area, destroying the robots (so they think), then leaves it alone. But I'm a bit more clever than that, and my robots feigned death and continue their work.

Now sometime before all this happens I get a visit from the FBI and I'm brought in for questioning. I would still need to work for a living as no permanent structure exists in The Republic of Mike. I would tell them that I'd never be able to afford the equipment necessary and it was all hypothetical anyway. If they let me go (Fools!), then my robots would continue their work until there are viable living quarters and then I would quietly move in unbeknownst to anyone since I work from home anyway.

But eventually, word would get out that I have indeed claimed 100 square miles of desert land as my own republic, after all, if you're  going to establish your own country people need to know that, for diplomatic purposes at least. I'd want to be recognized by the U.N., amirite?

So we get down to the nitty-gritty: How far would the current government go to maintain the integrity of the lower 48? Would the U.S. declare war on Mike?

Lincoln stated that 'A house divided against itself cannot stand,' and used that to justify the Civil War. So if history is any guide, yes, the U.S. would go to war against Mike. So now the question becomes: How many resources would they dedicate to it? Would they carpet-bomb? Seems logical. The only person living there would be me, at least until Mike is established as a sovereign state. But let's say, in this ever-increasing fantasy, that I've prepared for most forms of war and that I resist attempts to invade Mike.

So the bottom line becomes: will the U.S. use nuclear weapons on what used to be their own territory just to bring the Republic of Mike to a fiery end?

I'll leave that question unanswered.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"If you build it..." - Not

Begin Rant

I am the first to admit that I am lacking marketing skills. I used to work for a Radio Shack way back when, and found that if the people came to me, I could sell to them.

But selling books and websites are not quite the same thing as having a physical location and having products that people want to buy.

In other words, marketing is about shoving things down people's throat until they buy what you have to sell. But I'm not like that.

So far the best I can manage is to put out posts in Facebook and Twitter, which are conveniently linked, and hope someone notices. The first time I ran a free Kindle book promotion, I 'sold' hundreds of copies of 'Theater Boy.' I was very pleased. I ran those promotions regularly with all my books, and slowly the numbers are dwindling.

What I'm trying to say is: I can't even give my books away. Is this a testament to the promotional system? Perhaps others have taken advantage of this to the point where the market is saturated with free books and my own books get lost in the ocean of books that Amazon lists.

Making it as an author in the digital age has proven to be harder than I thought. And the biggest problem is that even when someone buys my books, they rarely leave reviews. I'm not the type to pay someone to review my product, and even if I did, Amazon is becoming better at sniffing the culprits out.

I'm a man of great potential and imagination, but also limited means. I can't afford to hire a publicist. So what am I to do?

I could pull a stunt to get noticed and in the mad rush of the press to interview me as to why I pulled the stunt, I could mention that I have several books available. It would have to be the kind of stunt that grabs the eye of the media, even for a brief moment. Lord knows there's a lot of people whose videos of doing stupid things go viral. I'll be the first to admit I've done stupid things. I'm in the process of finishing a task that a fair amount of people would call stupid, but it's not so stupid as to garner the attention I need.

Let me go off on a tangent for a second to say I do not crave attention. I just want people to read and like my books enough to want to tell other people. I'd be happy just writing and publishing like I have been and letting the readers fall where they may. But there's a part of me that's not satisfied with that. In other words, my creative side is at war with my introverted side.

Getting back to the crazy stunt, what sort of stunt grabs the eyes of the media? Looking at as I'm writing this: I could launch a missile. I could yell and scream my way into the Presidential debates. I could escape from jail or prison, but I'd have to do something worthy of going to jail in the first place. Hey, there's another crazy thing I could do.

Or I could die.

But I'd have to either be famous in the first place or die in such an unusual way that I garner attention.

Relax, I'm in no hurry to make a spectacle of myself.

At one point in my life, I traveled the East Coast making videos of everywhere I'd been. You can see the resulting videos on youtube. Every now and then one of them gets a hit. I still get regular hits on videos I made in 2012: How to win playing Sudoku, and a video where I show how to work with a portable washer.

But the idea was to capture a video that would go viral and make some money, at a time when I had no regular income. The money altogether too soon ran out and that idea fizzled.

I still make videos and post them to youtube, but they're gaming videos, and my skills are such that I'm not likely to go viral anytime soon. But the time to renew that concept of traveling and making videos might be returning. I just need to make sure that every video description has a link to my books. Hmmm, there's an idea.

End Rant