Usually there’s this desert nomad, strangely seated, no, eternally trapped, in this bizaare chamber. Sometimes I almost see the ghosts of camels lumbering by.

“What you need?” asked the desert nomad, no doubt hardened by years roaming the desert in search of water.

“Um, well, since this is a smog check ONLY facility, lets just go WAY out on a limb and assume I’m here for THAT”, I thought.

What I said was, “yes, please, thank you sir,” that’s what I certainly said, “yes, I’d like a smog check please, thank you for asking kind sir. thank you my dear friend.”

Ok, ok, so I kiss ass at the smog check ONLY station, what’s the big deal, don’t you? Anyway, its what I do every time. “Yes, thank you,” and “thank you very much,” and “Here let me pay you again.” Stuff like that just rises up from the bowels of me. “Oh, thanks man, thanks for adjusting that, I know you’re not supposed to.” Its endless really, I’m not super proud of it, but there it is. I honestly think everyone kisses ass at the smog check ONLY station, its part of the twisted ritual.

“You need a smog check my friend?” see, I KNEW he’d be calling me his “friend”, the ass kissing seemed to be working.

“Why, yes, thanks, I do in fact, require a smogcheck, and how kind of you to ask me here at the smog check ONLY station. How on EARTH did you KNOW??”

What I said actually was, “yes, thanks very very much indeed, I really hope it will pass, you think it will pass?




“I don’t know.”

He actually SAID that, “well I don’t know” in such a way as to strike TERROR to my heart. A brief, but real moment of terror. Could it FAIL? Could my old jalope FAIL a smog test??  My mouth became dry and I pictured myself dying of thirst, crawling in the desert, fooled by another sadistic mirage of a coke machine.

“Ok, will take about 20 minutes, give me key, you can wait here…” he motioned to a corner of the room where there were a couple car garage type chairs, and some magazines.

Just a casual passing glance at those plastic chairs almost gives you a migraine and a backache. My lips stuck together like fly paper. So thirsty! So very very THIRSTY? Isn’t there a shady little watering hole I could just wait THERE instead, by a lovely little pond maybe? You have one of those instead of this wretched waiting area? Can I wait by the POND instead?

“No Pond.” I’m sure he would have said.

A mute confederate of his, smoked cigarettes from a huge butt filled plastic ash tray and was apparently gambling in Vegas, although it may well have been an Israeli gambling site, or a Saudi Casino for all I know. A glimpse of playing cards layed out on the screen. A blur of spades and diamonds.

They exchanged desert banter oblivious to the outside world, including me, and I considered the possibilities. Are they moslem or jewish? its unclear. WAIT, is that a Jesus thing? Its sort of a twisted blurry and smudged Jesus layered with dust and smog…in some sort of agony, right next to a spread eagle porno centerfold.   Why not a happy radiant Jesus? why this sad smog covered Jesus in AGONY On the wall here? why? why this Jesus trapped in the smog check ONLY station, in Los Angeles. Ok, looks like we have a christian smog checker here, that could be settled…I guess if this were a smog check ONLY station in Palm Springs, we’d get the happy radiant Jesus,but this is a smog check ONLY station in Los Angeles, and so Jesus is in agony. In Palm Springs I hear they overlook his agony, and really hone in on his happy blissful moments with Mary.

Jesus doesn’t want to be here either, next to the centerfold.  He sighs.

Surprisingly, the centerfold isn’t thrilled about being next to the Jesus picture either, quite frankly. I think she would have preferred a Jesus with abs. A Jesus with a six pack would have gone over much better with her and her long painted nails. What? You think you’re HOLIER than me?? Just because you’re partially CLOTHED? Look Pal, that loincloth isn’t leaving much to the imagination, and do you know how much they PAID me to lay naked here on this couch??? They worship me too buddy! The stripper says this stuff, legs spread wide, like she’s used to having deep intellegent conversations while spread eagle like that.  She pops a communion wafer in her mouth seductively.

His friend lights another cigarette, in fact I don’t think the cigarettes ever go out, its his ‘thing’. In fact a great ball of smoke hovered above his head. He may have been making smoke signals to a distant smog check station.

I give him my key and head over to Starbucks down the street.

Having just quit smoking, everyone is a moron in my head this day. I go from zero to moron with people really really fast this day. And the guy is smoking, I’m fine though, at this point, its TOTALLY fine. ok. key goes to him, and I head over, head on over to no-problem-at-all Starbucks. Now I’m craving nicotine ok, I’ll admit it, just a little, its been over a week, but still there’s cravings see? But, no problem at all, this is starbucks.

Everything about starbucks is perfect. Nothing annoying whatsoever about Starbucks, see. Tasteful music on their own seemingly ‘grass roots’ record label. Nothing annoying about this at ALL, see. These are intelligent, aware, clean people, ALL of them, see. Every employee has JUST washed their hands, and cuticles are IMMACULATE. Immaculate cuticles on EVERY hand in here! You can’t knock the cuticles here one bit. Cuticle settings are exactly correct at the counter here, and at every table.

That’s normal see. Just me and my coffee, see. no tobacco, see. Perfect cuticles, see. I’m good. Its all good, there, look, I can see the nice man, over there, bent over halfway inside my trunk, the way mechanics do. I always think they will FALL IN the engine compartment, but he doesn’t, and they never do. Its not like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, its just an engine compartment you MORON. Yes, I’m feeling moronic myself now.  I”m annoyed with myself and my less than perfect cuticles.

There is no shrieking, or frantic kicking of legs up in the air. He’s fine. He does NOT fall in. whew, thank God, or thank Centerfold maybe, wait, I”m confused.. If he had FALLEN IN My engine compartment, with his feet flailing around up in the air, I’m not sure what I would have said or done in my current condition. Quickly I check my cuticles…

What could I DO from my perch at starbucks? what COULD I do to help if he fell in?? Nothing, that’s what. There’s nothing I could have done, I could call 911 and say “please HELP, my mechanic has fallen in the engine compartment, and I can see his legs flailing about frantically, send help right away PLEASE!” And then I could have finished my cafe latte and waited for the paramedics while doing a crossword and studying my cuticles.

Ok, he’s fine. He doesn’t fall in. But I really hope he isn’t doing a ‘visual inspection’ you see, that’s the OTHER thing, I didn’t want him getting all into that ‘visual inspection’ part, damn!!! I hope he doesn’t see that gas leak!! DAMN, he’s been under the trunk now WAY too long? Someone check, see if he’s ok. Is he ok?

Ok, he’s up. Damn, I don’t like how LONG he was in there under the hood inspecting like that, I really get a bad feeling about that…seems like he was ALL up in that engine compartment for HOURS there…damn…ALL up in that engine compartment…ALL up in that shit! and I REALLY don’t want him doing a ‘visual inspection’, that’s the thing. i want him to SKIP the ‘visual inspection’ actually. That’s precisely why I went to THIS smog check! THIS one is supposed to be CROOKED!!! I have a hot tip here…he’s supposed to just PASS the wretched contraption, and send me on my merry way….Is he crooked? Is he crooked? Is he crooked? I want him crooked, but not TOO crooked. Just crooked enough to pass my car, but not crooked enough to burn me too bad.

Finally, I stroll back over. He’s sorry to inform me that I have failed.

The idle is such and such but needs to be such and such. I have failed the test. This causes a frown to spread across my otherwise cheery face. My face that would otherwise be a cheerful happy face, is now magically transformed to a sad face. Happy face to sad face. A simple transition, much easier than sad face to happy face.

“Oh. Ok, if I have my mechanic set the idle to 18, it will pass right?” I ask.


“I don’t know..”



“I hope so,” he adds, to show that he cares, but does he REALLY Hope so? Does he REALLY care??

Again, the ghosts of a few camels can be seen loitering, amused by the room full of crazy smog check equipment, one of them SPAT on a machine in disgust.

My lips stuck together again like fly paper again. I pry them apart somehow, because I have to SAY something about this right?  I must maintain the ass kiss right?  Thats what you must do right?  Am I doing ANY of this correctly?  I wish I were a camel.

“OK, I”ll be back tomorrow,” I proclaim. Feeling a great distance from JOYFUL, I pay him an exorbitant amount, and my frown deepens. New frown wrinkles are formed. I am the tortured Jesus, and this is MY crucifiction I suddenly realize. Maybe I will be nailed to the smog check equipment, or strapped to the gyro and probed with the C02 probe. I wonder if that probe has a sharp tip…

Has he put the jewish symbols and the tortured Jesus to emphasize mainly that he is NOT moslem, oh nooo, everything BUT moslem, see, we’re BUDDHIST TOO…look, where the hell is that BUDDHA…Hamid! where did you put that fucking BUDDHA, I told you we might need that fucking thing, I want you standing BY with that Buddha, you need to have that fucking thing handy ok? so where the fuck is it? when I say BUST out the BUDDHA I really need you to be ON it. I imagine him yelling for the Buddha, jumping up and down waving his arms…where the FUCK is that BUUUDHA?  He yells in farsi.

Its a stupid crazy world, stupid crazy smog check station, just plaster it with Jesus’s, a penthouse spread, its all legit.  A classy, upscale selection I might add. Classy, classy, legs spread wide, but classy I assure you. A wisened porno choice worthy of some admiration and respect certainly. A lacey, beaudoir, is JUST the thing for the wall of a smog check station.  Smooth the edge.  Soften the hardness.  Ease the pain.

I marvel at the restraint shown.

Just ONE spread ok? We only put ONE up see? right next to the twisted Jesus. LOOK! Its all official. Jesus, and ONE centerfold? ok, we’re allowed ONE right? RIGHT? Its a free country, this is AMERICA right??  Fuck it, I’m putting one up, he must have thought.

Fuck it, I’m in AMERICA now, I’m putting up ONE penthouse centerfold, stop busting my balls. All the garages do it, the schmuks, except most of them COVER the wall with girls, but notice we have NOT. there is but ONE centerfold on our wall here, cut me some slack dammit. what you think you’re better than me? Can’t I have ONE damn centerfold on the wall?? I’ll put it RIGHT next to the tortured Jesus, so everything is kosher right? I mean…Must I be JUDGED and CONDEMNED for this??? Where must I GO to escape this persecution?? As you can see I’m a GOOD Jew, I mean Christian, from Iran, PLUS I put this Jesus thing up here, don’t pretend you didn’t see it. After all its RIGHT there, next to the centerfold. STOP busting my balls over this!! I pay my taxes! This is a LEGITIMATE smog check ONLY station. We all have at least ONE centerfold. Its our THING. Get used to it, please just sit in corner, in waiting area…(fucking infidel.)

“Here, watch the news, its pretty bad,” is what he really said.

They also had a tv, pointed at the waiting area I was trapped in. He even switched on a cartoon and watched for a few minutes chuckling to lighten the mood and put me at ease after the bad news channel, instead it made me bite my nails and rock back and forth like a man in a straight jacket.

I just say, “ok, I”ll be back tomorrow after my mechanic sets the timing.”

“Bye Muad D’ib. May the sandstorm spare us tomorrow!”

ok, no, I just said “bye, see you tomorrow, and…and…boy, thanks so much…”

The canvas door to the tent flapped in the wind, the rustling of camels echoing in the desert cave. Laurence of Arabia rides by, blue eyes blazing glory..

I head on home, less joyful than before. But KNOWING that the adventure WILL continue tomorrow! He will certainly be expecting me. He KNOWS I’m coming back tomorrow. He even recommended that I take it to a shop where they have test equipment so they can test it and fix it right there. But I have a friend…our friend Pedro will adjust it, and I’ll come back, no worries.

I couldn’t sleep all that night in fact…thinking about the adventure that lay before me…I tossed, and I turned, staring at the ceiling.

Billowing clouds of exhaust circled overhead like dizzy buzzards. Buzzards exhausted from breathing the fumes below. Haggard and beleaguered buzzards with drooping bags under their eyes. I think I saw one of them, off in the corner of the parking lot coughing and hacking. He really didn’t sound to good, that buzzard.

Next day, our friend Pedro stopped by to tune up the car, and adjust the timing so it would pass.

He forgot his timing light, however, and so, with a battered old silver steel hammer, like Thor, he tapped. I thought he had managed, but as I drove off to the smog check station I notice the idle seemed, well, about the same actually..this does NOT bode well…I have this SINKING feeling on the way back to the smog check ONLY station…

Well, Pedro knows what he’s doing, he’s the expert here, and the smog checker guy, is also an expert. Surely I’m in good hands all the way down the line here. All the way down the PIKE, I’m in good hands here right? From expert to expert, everything should be PERFECT. The engine purred, exactly as it had before…shit…not good, not good…

I pull up at the smog check only station. Remember, that’s ALL they are supposed to do at a ‘test ONLY” station.’ There’s nothing else on the agenda here. Its one thing, and one thing only here, this is the ONE thing that they do. Otherwise, its gambling on the web, cigarettes, religious posters and centerfolds all day. Just there. In that smog check station. Every day. Day in , and day out, they sit. Sometimes switching on the giant silver electric fan. Sometimes bickering about proceedure or politics maybe. They could spend a certain allotment of time each day discussing the mysteries of philosophy and politics, women, the middle east crisis. I could imagine all of these threads in their conversation, between drags on the eternally burning cigarettes in the beaten plastic ashtray, but above ALL else, the single solitary thing of importance they actually DO here, is smog checking. Smog check ONLY, remember. This is their main schtik. Their main gig. Their primary task. Their sole objective as a business establishment…

He looked up from the computer in the corner, and the smoldering plastic ashtray, and beside the centerfold, and the tortured Jesus, looking surprised.

“Smog check?”

Yes, very convincingly surprised. Or he could very easily have been feigning surprise, I realize now. Looking back, its something I NOW realize. In retrospect, he was quite possibly a pretty decent ACTOR as well, this tall, lanky suave and intelligent middle eastern man. Possibly a very decent fellow, with reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose, very scholarly in fact.

My grandfather converted from jewish to christian when he escaped persecution in Russian and moved to America in the 20’s. I wonder if many Islamic people who come to america do this nowadays. “I’m Jewish, I SWEAR, I mean CHRISTIAN, see. I’m jewish CHRISTIAN, see. NO, not MOSLEM. I’m CHRISTIAN for sure. I’m with the Israelis, I’m circumcised and I was barmitzfaad and everything, I’m eating some matzaball soup even as we speak, mmmmm, wait I mean holy wafers. See, I’ve got a whole fucking BOX Of holy wafers here, I’m catholic obviously, can’t you tell?  What the FUCK?  What the FUCK?

What to believe? Holy shit, the smog check guy, THIS smog check guy COULD be a spy? posing as a smog check technician in the sprawl of los angeles. what BETTER place to hide? who would ever suspect, or have any interest in a hazy smog check station lodged behind a gas station where even the baggy eyed vultures don’t realize its there.

“WAIT, one cotton pickin minute, hey RALPH!!!” says one vulture to the other. “What is this CRAP we’ve been breathing all these years, HEY, I think its emanating from that smog check ONLY station I just now noticed, down there, right there, look RALPH, its RIGHT there damn. DAMN! We’ve been perched RIGHT ABOVE IT, all this time…I can’t believe I never noticed this before, holy SHIT, LOOK…RALPH…right there directly below us. DAMN!!! Holy SHIT!!  Holy Shit!! Right there below us!  I wondered what that fucking SMELL was! Holy CRAP!  All this time I thought it was a Church or a Temple or a Mosque.  I love shitting on those!”

Smog check man seems surprised to see me for exactly 10 seconds while he said “smog check?”, then he chirps up and says something or other, I think it was “STOP! I’ll do it” as he held his hands up to stop me from pulling onto the gyro myself. Thing is, ok, ok, I REALLY like pulling up onto the gyro, its definitely the most fun part of this, and now, and NOW, even this tiny joy has been deprived of me, ok, smile, wave, shut off the car. Let HIM do it. Ok, HE gets to pull the car onto the gyro thing. don’t let it get you down, whatever, smile, give him the key. Stay UP!

I give him the key, and head over to starbucks. Ok, I wasn’t really whistling any happy tunes or anything, just trying to stay detached I guess.

I wonder if this guy is really crooked, as I was told by Pedro. Pedro had assured me this place would pass me, and was delightfully crooked. Crooked, in this case, is a good thing. But now I’m wondering, what if this guy is actually selling girl scout cookies and straight as an arrow. He seems true blue this guy. Honest Abe they might call him. Normally, this would be a GOOD thing.

Its a paradox, yes, I want an honest mechanic, no, I don’t want an honest smog checker. I want an honest, but crooked smog checker if that makes sense. Actually, does ANYTHING make sense now?  No.  Nothing does at this point actually.  These endless visits to the smog checker make me question the sanity of the world. The world has gone completely and utterly BONKERS, and these smog check stations are PROOF of this very fact. In a sane world, there would BE no fucking smog check stations.

I look out the window of starbucks to see if there are buzzards and camels milling about, but no, everything is perfectly sane here. Nothing bonkers about this. Oh no. This is perfectly normal stuff. Just the smog check guy, half way inside my engine compartment again. Teetering on the edge again. Tinkering and doing his visual inspection. He’s very visual this guy, and perfectly normal. And Starbucks is ever so normal. Normal, normal, normal, sane, sane, sane.

I pick up some rank thai food to eat at the smog check station, which turns out to be a really disgusting proceedure.

Note to self: Smog check station is NOT a good place to eat, or do anything else really. Its the apocalypse COW I decide. A big juicy pimple on the face of the earth. A boil on the butt of god. With these and other delightful thoughts I consume my pad thai which has no flavor whatsoever at the smog check station. A camel spits in my pad thai and some buzzard drool lands in it with a plop.

I look over at the smog check guy who is now REALLY getting into this, oh man.

He has now WEDGED his head somehow in the engine compartment, with his reading glasses pushed up on his forehead.

He is breathing heavy, and great monumental beads of sweat have now formed on his brow. He definitely looks WEDGED in there now, comically stuck and cursing. His head a part of the engine now. He has fused himself with the engine somehow. He is at ONE with the engine. I imagine myself driving off with him still wedged in there. Will the hood still close? Can he pack the rest of his body in there, or will he be forced to run alongside the car when I leave? Oh lord, he’s having SEX with the car!!! I can hear him grunting!!! The tortured Jesus next to the playboy centerfold, by the plastic ashtray averts its eyes. Even the centerfold shudders and folds itself back up. The cigarette goes out in the dirty plastic ashtray. His partner continues gambling online. A camel farts.

“OK!” he suddenly produces a rectangular black metal part like a prize he just pulled from a box of cracker jacks. “THIS thing was in the way!!” I imagined us playing the board game “OPERATION” and he had a thigh bone in his tweezers now.

Its a small unremarkable rectangular black metal part covered in grease so I mix it in with my pad thai to improve the flavor.

“ok, well, see you next year,” I say entirely without malice.

This sends him over the edge, “I’m not SUPPOSED to do ANY work, this is smog check ONLY station!! You got a really good deal here!!!”

Having paid him twice now, I’m not thrilled or tickled about him not having to do ANY work…why can’t he do a LITTLE work here?? I sort of think he SHOULD do a LITTLE work here right? I’m paying him right?? I actually meant no malice when I said “see you next year”. I mean, this is a ONCE a year thing right? Why the sudden angst?  Am I supposed to come in here every day from now til eternity?

He wags his finger at me angrily sputtering about how I got this GREAT deal here.

The camels appear again, muttering and spitting at me also, and the buzzards shout obscenities at me. The other guy who had been gambling looks up to scowl at me. Synchronized scowls. I wonder if they practice scowling in unison in front of a mirror somewhere.

“GREAT deal.  GREAT deal.  GREAT deal.”

A crown of barbed wire is placed on my head, and I am strapped to the gyro, which switches on and grubby villagers begin poking me with the spearlike exhaust sensor. Bolts are shot through my hands and ankles. A ray of sunshine shoots down from a cloud. A small group of followers miraculously appear at my feet as my car is swallowed by quicksand with a great gulp and is now reduced to a sporadic eruption of various sized bubbles in a puddle at my feet.  “you got VERY good deal”

“yes, I know, thank you, THANK you”

“Come back tomorrow, and we’ll test it again, but I have to charge you because you used up your free re-test again”

“Do you think it will pass tomorrow then?”


“I don’t know…”