While shopping at Thrift Town one Saturday—must’ve been 1996 or 1997—Chris Johnson and I, for some reason, thought it would be funny to purchase matching coveralls, which came emblazoned with name and shop patches like “Doug” and “Dick’s Auto.” Anyway, months went by and these stupid things never came out of our respective closets (mine did a fair job of stinking up the rest of my clothes, also mostly from Thrift Town, so that I went to work every day smelling of stale booze and motor oil) until one fateful fall evening when The Call came through.
“I have a complaint,” the caller matter-of-factly stated through his end of the blower, “about your stupid newspaper box. My kid was out there playing with it and it smashed his hand.”
“The box smashed his hand,” I replied questioningly, but concerned.
“Well, yeah,” the caller said. “The springs are too tight or something, and he opened the door and it came back and smashed his hand.”
After confirming the kid’s hand was neither broken nor severed, nor even bleeding, according to the disgruntled caller, I assured that him I’d see to it The Stupid Newspaper Box issue was rectified immediately, being that the box was parked in front of his restaurant and he was, after all, an occasional client.
It was Johnson’s idea to don the coveralls.
And so we did, heaping our mechanic-looking selves into the NuCity/Alibi company sedan (which was actually a coupe)—a sputtering, jack-o-lantern orange Volkswagen Rabbit affectionately and officially known among staffers as The Rabbi Feldman, and charged off to perform onsite repairs as necessary.
When we arrived at the scene, we moved with the deft expertise of grizzled professional newspaper box repairmen. Laying the box over on one side, a ragged VW floor mat nestled between the sidewalk and the Alibi decal, we performed Spring Tension Analysis (STA), Front-load Recoil Velocity (FLRV) tests and other operational procedures, dicked around with screwdrivers and wrenches, and chatted back and forth in a spontaneous brand of pseudo-technicianspeak that would have made MacGyver proud. The entire performance lasted something along the lines of 10 minutes, with curious passersby gawking at us like the idiots we were. Interestingly, the caller/client watched the entire ordeal through his restaurant window, but never dared set foot outside.
In the end, we just picked up the damn box, threw it in the Rabbit’s gaping hatchback and sped off back to the office to dump it off until it could be placed in a new location. But that’s the way we did things back then. Personally. By hand. And with a great sense of humor. That’s what I remember most. That and the fact that I had the very rare opportunity— and, therefore, a responsibility— to make a positive difference in my community every day I went to work. I also learned to write really long sentences.