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free stuff

Here's a touching story involving car repair. It didn't happen to me -- all my car repair stories are grim. But the brother of a friend of mine (see how far removed from me this story is? I do not even know this man) had a simply wonderful moment at an auto body shop recently.

Seems that my friend's brother -- I'll call him Steve -- had had his newish Lexus dinged up pretty good in a parking lot and took it to a nearby garage to get an estimate. The mechanic looked the car over and made some notes and came up with a figure rivalling the Greek national debt. Steve blenched (I have this on my friend's authority -- Steve is a blencher) but -- as my friend says -- what are you going to do? Car repair guys have you where the hair is crisp. And then the owner of the car garage came out of his office at the back and recognized Steve. Is it ... Dr Curtis? he said, in a thick accent of indeterminate origin -- kind of like the wine I buy. Steve, I should mention (this is the key to the story), is an eye surgeon. The garage owner gestured dramatically to his employee. This man saved my eyes, he said. I was blind but I can see thanks to this man! He is a genius! How can I help you, Doctor Curtis?

Steve pointed to his car.

The owner shook his head and said to the mechanic, This man does not get a bill! All our work is free. All the parts are free. This man's car will look better than new when we are finished. It is a privilege, he continued, to be able to repay a small part of the great debt I owe you, Dr Curtis. I want to say ...

Apparently he went on for about five minutes, causing Steve some embarrassment, and when the dust settled Steve got a new-looking car for free.

Like I said, touching. As my friend was telling me the story I thought: some professions are really set up for gratitude. Take war heroes, for instance. Go into a store with a chest full of medals and some people will fall all over you for protecting their freedom. Crime fighters too -- if Superman walked around Metropolis in his cape and spandex he'd run into all sorts of thankful citizens who would be happy to offer him donuts and drinks and car repair. Surgeons are in this category. Doctor, you saved my eyes (heart, legs, whatever) means you get free stuff.

What if Steve sold shoes for a living? Would the garage owner be likely to honour excellent in-store assistance with free body work? I don't think so. Or take me. My car needs brakes. I have an appointment tomorrow. Will the guy who owns the local Midas dealership turn out to be a grateful ex-creative-writing student who recognizes me and says, Mr Scrimger, you ... improved my syntax! Thanks to you I can write clearer prose. For you -- no charge! I'm not holding my breath.


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