The Narrator falls asleep at his desk at work. He’s been especially lazy at work, and he’s up for a “formal review.” When he wakes up, he smells gasoline on his hands. Before he can think about this further, he gets a phone call from Tyler, telling him that Project Mayhem is waiting outside for him with a car. The Narrator goes outside, where he finds a team of fight club members waiting for him in a car, and the Narrator climbs in. He realizes that the driver is a mechanic who comes to fight club often. The Narrator asks the mechanic where Tyler is, and the mechanic replies, “your father was your model for God,” something Tyler has said many times before. Gradually, the mechanic and the members in the back seat join in, chanting things Tyler has told them, such as “You’re not your name.” The Narrator realizes that the car is moving faster and faster—suddenly it swerves into oncoming traffic, then quickly back onto the road.
In this chapter, Tyler tries once again to push The Narrator to “rock bottom.” The mechanic, acting as Tyler’s proxy, is trying to frighten and unsettle the Narrator by “almost” crashing the car. While Tyler isn’t present in the car, his influence pervades the entire scene: the “space monkeys” are doing Tyler’s bidding unthinkingly. While the purpose of fight club was to help members immediately get in touch with their “real,” visceral selves through violence, Project Mayhem involves surrendering one’s own personality and individuality to suit Tyler’s plans—plans which he never seems to explain.
The mechanic asks the Narrator what he would have liked to do before dying, and The Narrator, terrified of crashing, isn’t sure what to say—eventually, he claims he would have quit his job. The mechanic continues to swerve the car into oncoming traffic, then back onto his side of the road. The members in the back answer the mechanic’s question (“build a house,” “ride a horse,” etc.), but the Narrator still can’t answer it. He becomes intensely aware of how pathetic and meaningless his life is. Suddenly, feeling a deep urge to “fucking die,” he grabs the steering wheel and swerves the car into oncoming traffic. This time, the Mechanic wrestles with the Narrator for control of the car and finally manages to swerve back onto the road. The Narrator’s head slams into the steering wheel.
The Narrator has no idea what to say in response to the mechanic’s question. The Narrator has tried to “find new meaning” in his life by joining the fight club, but he still seems to be slipping back into a dull, meaningless existence. The space monkeys’ answers to the mechanic’s question don’t seem much better than the Narrator’s; they’re overly specific and often consumerism-based, suggesting the impossibility of summing up one’s “life goals,” and also suggesting that though Project Mayhem might be about destroying “civilization,” it doesn’t offer anything to replace it with, or provide its members with a lasting sense of meaning. Although the Mechanic seems to be trying to get the Narrator to embrace his life in the face of danger, his actions seem to achieve exactly the opposite: they fill the Narrator with self-loathing, and inspire him to try to “fucking die.” Thus, passage calls into question whether Tyler’s violent methods can ultimately improve people’s lives, or just make them into more violent, self-hating people.
The Narrator, dizzy from hitting his head, rests his head in the mechanic’s lap. The mechanic, still driving, smiles and says, “Happy birthday.” He’s gotten the Narrator a cake—which, the Narrator can see, is now splattered all over the interior of the car.
The mechanic—or rather, Tyler, who’s planned the whole affair—thinks of the Narrator’s near-death as a gift, because it forces the Narrator to confront danger and approach real “life.” The ruined birthday cake symbolizes the Narrator’s supposed “growth” under the influence of Tyler. While Tyler claims that the Narrator is accessing truth and the “real,” the Narrator is really self-destructing, as evidenced by his attempt to drive into traffic.