Return Cores Here

If you own a car, or want to build one from scratch, sooner or later you'll end up at an auto parts store. As in any specialized culture, it's important to know the language, the customs, and what is expected of you. For example, let's say your car is an '85 Kia. Let's say this so that I might feel superior to you. But I don't, as my car is a '72 Vista Cruiser that looks like a Rustoleum test vehicle.

In case you were wondering, the advantage to driving a '72 Vista Cruiser is that other drivers give me a wider berth than they give to leaky Sani-Kan tanker trucks, or 50 Cent's tour bus, because they know I have nothing to lose. The only noticable damage in my last collision was a bent branch on my pine tree air freshener. The claims adjuster totaled the car rather than replace it. I argued that a new branch could be grafted to it. He said no but was willing to pay for a freshener of lesser value, such as a Mr. T air freshener. I declined because those actually smell like Mr. T. If you don't have a car like mine, but would like the same respect that my car commands, any auto paint shop with a slogan such as "We'll paint any car for $99.95. No ups, no extras, no masking tape" can give your car that urban commando look. And remember to ask about their warranty if you want to see men laugh so hard that tears bead up on their coveralls, which gives you a chance to remove certain items from your car that might get "lost" during the paint job, such as the hubcaps, radio, and engine.

But return with me now to the auto parts store where you stand with your greasy chunk of metal that stopped working or fell off your Kia. (New Kia slogan for the upcoming model year: Kiss your car-jacking worries goodbye!) Do not roam the aisles looking for a salesperson to help you. Salespeople do not walk the aisles in auto parts stores; they clot in the back behind the counter under the sign saying Return Cores Here. Never ask what a core is; this will brand you a novice and they will try to sell you an entire '86 Hundai repackaged in two hundred separate boxes.

The reason salespeople never leave the back of the store is that that is where the real auto parts are kept. The rest of the store is filled with:

One thing you should never buy in an auto parts store is a car stereo, unless your sound-system budget has a ceiling of $29.95, in which case you'll have several brands to choose from: MusiCrap, Tin Tunes, Watt Not, ShrillMaster—all with sound-reproducing abilities to rival anything built by Thomas Edison. There's a reason the demo models are always playing Foreigner.

OK, so you've made it back to the parts counter with your Kia chunk or whatever. Thrust it at one of the experienced parts counter guys, not a rookie; look for dirty fingernails, though some have taken to using Lee Press-On Grease for that genuine parts-guy look. The parts guy will peck at a keyboard seemingly unearthed from the Oldavi Gorge and quiz you: "Three speed 'r ottamatic?" "Zat got the 302 or the 289?" "Jew say it was an '85?" "You got a coat hanger for an antenna?" Make up answers or shrug meekly. Either way, the parts guy will disappear in back to look for your part, hollering at you occasionally so you know he's still searching and isn't just looking up Miss July's part numbers. When he returns, you'll have a conversation like this:

"Here you go: AQ6. You do have a six cylinder, don't you?"
"No, mine's an eight. Would that be AQ8?"
"No, that would be J38-26-36,... or was that Miss July?"
"Will that be hard to find?"
"Not for me. We don't carry 'em. The only parts we have that will fit your car is this stick-on digital clock or a pine-tree-shaped air freshener."

Your trip needn't be fruitless, however. Just look for an end-aisle loss leader, like a case of oil for $2.99. You'll find it beneath a banner that says "It's OPEC-Bustin' Days at Karz 'n' Stuff!" and shows a frantic Arab caricature being dive-bombed by a bald eagle with a wad of dollars in one talon and an American flag in the other. At the register, a perky young woman wearing several pounds of jewelry will tell you that you must have a coupon to get the oil for $2.99, and that after the mail-in rebate you'll actually make ten cents a quart. Do not worry if you don't have the coupon as she will gesture lackadaisically toward an eight-foot high stack of Karz 'n' Stuff coupon books near the register. She'll even tell you what page it's on:

"It's between Fit-Not seat covers and Wallet-Flush transmission tonic".
"Found it. Say, that's an interesting bracelet you have there."
"You like it? It's really a J38-24-36 from an '85 Kia."
"I'll give you $20 for it."
"Awesome! Now I can get that ShrillMaster 5000 for the Camaro! You know what? No joke, that bracelet almost got stolen yesterday. Yeah, this creep tried to hold up the store? But I go 'Hey you gotta use the armed robbery coupon. Store policy.' An' like the cops came before he could find it."