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Busted knuckles

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Junior, who is shaping up to be quite a geek at the ripe old age of 13, recently informed Ma and Pa of his summertime ambition: to build his own gaming computer, with the terabytes and the rams and the overclocks and the gibbety-flibblety bits that will apparently make it into a cross between the WOPR supercomputer in "WarGames" and the supercharged desktop Anthony Michael Hall used to bring Kelly LeBrock to life in "Weird Science." Yes, The Observer realizes how old those movies are. We were young when we saw them, and we're getting older by the minute.

Junior's calm and well-reasoned explanations of what he plans to do have zoomed over the heads of his near-Luddite parents. It's all very technical. Up until that moment, it had never quite occurred to Yours Truly that you could actually, you know, BUILD a computer all on your lonesome. We thought it was all done somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth, by workers in sparkling white cleanrooms and pristine white jumpsuits. Our kid, whose autobiography would be called "All-Day Bathrobe and Minimal Showering: The Adventure Begins" if he started it right now, could never wear one of those jumpsuits. He'd have a ketchup stain on that sucker quicker than you could say "Steve Wozniak."

When Junior started quoting the prices of components he wanted, we got a bit of a sticker shock, then we told him he'd have to work for it — told him he'd have to wash dishes and cut grass and take out the trash and generally turn his parents into reclining rajahs, who live only to be fanned and fed grapes.

The Observer recalls having a similar conversation with our own Old Man, just after we'd purchased our first car: a 1963 Chevrolet with a straight six, a three-on-the-tree and a stuck clutch. We bought it at a yard sale from the second owner for $200, cash on the barrelhead. Two-hundred clams was a lot of dough in those days, but we soon told Dear Old Dad that we wanted to spend even more: aluminum wheels and chrome go-gaws, a stick shifter and plush upholstery, paint, bodywork, a new engine, da woiks. Dad's only demand, as we recall, was that it be painted white, red or yellow. Sending his 16-year-old kid out in the world — can you believe they trusted us with unfettered drivers' licenses at just-turned-16 back in those days? — he was all about high-visibility.

So, work we did, and build we did, and cuss we did on the dirt floor of Dad's un-air-conditioned shop. The whole summer we turned 16, we worked a roofing crew all day, then turned bolts and busted knuckles deep down into the night while the radio played and the bugs threw themselves against our one droplight, The Greasemonkey Observer sometimes sweating an outline of our body into the dirt. By that fall, we had quite a few more scars, but we drove off in style: Hurst shifter in the floor, new upholstery, rebuilt carburetor, aluminum wheels with spinner caps, raised white letter tires and a new engine that ran like a sewing machine. Pearl white, just like Dad wanted.

And suddenly, there we were: 38-years-old, somebody's father, sitting where our own father sat, listening to Junior lay out the plan for his own dream machine. Sometimes, as you know as you watch this space, The Observer feels like a time traveler in our own skin, as if we blinked to shift a bit of dust from our eye while stretched out underneath that beloved Chevy and woke up here, owner of a grey beard and a foreign car so space-age that we could never fix its ailments with a million years of wrenching and cussing.

And so we will help him. We will slip money into his piggy bank on the sly when we can. We will hop from foot to foot with him whenever the mailman comes with his packages. We will assist in The Great Unboxing. We will peer over his shoulder as it all comes together. We will squint with him into the gleaming guts, and adjust the lamp to light his hands as he works. We will walk him through his busted knuckles, and pretend that we know what the hell we are talking about when he asks questions, and generally make a nuisance of our self. And when it is finished — pearl white for safety — we'll help him fire it up and brag on the grace and beauty of the thing, and on his skill, and make smiling huzzahs to how that baby runs, just like a sewing machine.

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