Monday, December 13, 2010

Give Me a Brake

I know a guy. Or, more accurately, I know that if I ever need something done on the cheap and nasty--auto repair, paint job, body dismembering--I know that my brother will know a guy. So when the brakes on the privately-owned automobile began making plaintive, teeth-rattling grinding noises, I put in a call to Mark. Surely any brake-and-wheel franchisee would do the job for a decent price, no?

Biggest rip-off in the car repair business, he says, and he puts me in touch with a retired mechanic who sells all makes of brake pads on Craigslist. Within hours, Bill* is at our door with a set of "premium" pads at a fraction of retail cost:

I don't want my brake rotors getting cancer, so of course I insist on brake pads that are free of asbestos. The thing is, I prefer that these pads be described as asbestos-free. Perhaps I'm being a hyper-hyphenator, but I don't think there should be much argument when it comes to compound modifiers (see "high-efficiency" on the same package): a hyphen is what makes a compound one in its adjectiveness. Some will argue that it depends where the compound is deployed ("a well-read scholar" vs. "a scholar who is well read," to borrow an example from Bill Walsh), but many more will argue that any time you're using a compound ending in free (sugar-free, tax-free) the final component is more suffix than word and always requires a hyphen.

But to get back to the pads. What does a fellow like me, who spent the better part of an evening trying to get the hood open on his vehicle to find out how big the engine is (for some reason, Bill needed to know) do with a set of non-cancer-causing brake pads? Luckily, Mark knows a guy who runs a shop in my neighborhood-- a swarthy man of indeterminate ethnicity and loose ethics--who was willing to install said pads for a reasonable forty bucks, provided I crossed his greasy palm with cash and didn't ask for any verifying paperwork. Which made the whole transaction satisfyingly tax-free (with a hyphen) for both of us.

Shady? Yes, I suppose. But if I get busted on it, I'm confident I can get sharp, aggressive legal representation at a good price. Mark knows a guy.

* Not his real name. His real name is John.