It took the bus two days and eight changes
to new busses for me to get there, and there was only one notable
event that happened, on the first god damned night too. We stopped
in Pissant, Nowhere and that bus station was a dump. I could see
the unlit lights of the Comstock Diner, all you can eat shrimp basket
for 9.99 showing in the gloom of the parking lot lamps just a few
blocks away as we left the bus for a leg stretch, and for me a bathroom
I went over to the bathroom and headed inside to relieve myself
while I plotted my next move. There were only two urinals and since
a guy was standing at one, I chose to head into one of the three
stalls. Funny that, I just can't piss right next to someone. I mean,
I can go if there is some distance between us, but right next to
him? No fucking way! My bladder would burst before letting me just
piss. I unzipped and began the process, hearing a guy cough in the
stall next to me. The door opened and closed as the guy from the
urinal walked out. I finished up and flushed before heading out
of the stall.
"Hey," the voice floated in the confined space. I looked around,
not sure who was speaking. The other stall opened up a little bit
and a pasty face peered out.
"Want to earn some quick cash, man? Won't take but a minute," he
"Doing what?" I asked, not taking another step.
"Just help a guy out, man, that's all. It pays fifty bucks, what
do you say, little dude?" he asked, a strange wavering edge to his
"I dunno, what kind of help you need?" I asked as I slowly moved
towards the door. He burst from the stall, a portly fellow in his
forties, wearing a sweat suit and moving at me with surprising speed.
I turned and fled for the door and just as I placed my hand on the
handle I felt him crush me against the door.
"Come on, just help a guy out, I am sure you're good at it, you'll
be fine," he said as he wrapped his arm around my middle and another
over my mouth, wrenching my neck and lifting me up, carrying me
towards the stall. I thrashed and twisted but he wrenched his arm
down on me and crushed the air from my lungs. I was kicking weakly
and trying to get the breath to yell when the stall door swung shut.
He forced me to my knees and pulled down the front of his sweat
pants. He was erect and sweating from his exertions, pale skin smelling
like stale sweat.
"Ok, so you don't get paid, but you'll still put out," he grinned
like a rabid dog, "If you swallow I might be nice to you."
His penis slapped across my chin and I pulled back, but his hand
was right behind me, forcing my face into his groin. In desperation
I lunged forward and bit...his scrotum.
The taste was awful, the thought even worse but it made me feel
better to hear him scream. I rolled under the divider into the next
stall. He came stumbling out of the stall he forced me into and
tried to enter my stall swearing and threatening all the way, but
I kicked the door shut on his hand. This was accompanied with another
howl of pain and frustration as I rolled out from under that stall
as well, and broke for the door.
I yanked it open and ran in stark terror out of the bus station
and ran to the bus like all the devils in hell were on me. I used
the bathroom on the bus the rest of the trip.
I wasn't all that impressed as I stepped off the last rubberized
step and walked over to retrieve my two bags from the storage compartments.
The last vestiges of summer hung in the air, leaves were changing
into their September wardrobes and the wind whistled off and on.
I stepped into the bus station and headed for the front door. The
town was, as far as I could tell, rural hell. It looked like Mayberry,
you know from the old Andy Griffith re-runs on Nick At Nite and
shit like that? Small, neatly trimmed houses and little hedges surrounding
most yards? This was it.
I managed to hook a cab in front of the bus terminal, ever wonder
why they call them terminals? Anyway, hopped in and gave him the
"614 Mayhew Avenue, Nickles Garage," I told the cabbie who headed
off at a sedate pace. The town was more of the same, not much to
tell you about, just think of Mayberry after Ted Turner got his
hands on it.
The sign for the garage was right out front on the street, next
to what was presumably my grandfather's house. The cabbie wheeled
the car around the side of the house and down a short gravel drive,
passing a tall fence on the left, presumably to keep the offending
sight of automobile work from being seen by the neighbors, and brought
me to the business proper.
I paid the cabbie with the few bucks I had managed to keep from
my folks and climbed out of the car, facing the open garage door
and the sound of cussing from inside.
"Come on, you son of a bitch! Get off a there!" was growled from
the general direction of a small Buick sedan, "God damn whore, don't
make me get the torch!"
Great, he talks to cars and I get to live with him. The cab retreated
down the drive like an intimidated puppy. A loud squealing sound
racked my eardrums and this was followed by a loud snapping noise.
"Aw, Christ! Now I have to get a new one, asshole of a car," the
voice growled. A head popped up, capped with white hair that strayed
in several directions at once. He half turned before I caught his
eye and he stopped, staring at me.
"Who might you be?" he asked.
"I'm Kris, I'm looking for Henry Nickles, he's my grandfather,"
"Nonsense, you aren't supposed to be here until the 31st and today
is the thirtieth. Everyone knows Thirty days has September," he
paused as he took me in with wide eyes, "jumping jesus, welcome
"Um, yeah, whatever," I said with a shrug.
"Henry! Henry Nickles, you answer me, I know you're back there!"
a shrill voice cried out amid the crunch of the gravel in the driveway.
"Shit! Tell her I'm not here!" he said while ducking under the Buick
as a woman in a lavender pantsuit rounded the corner.
"Hen," she stopped, seeing me, "excuse me, didn't mean to yell in
your ear. Have you seen Henry Nickles?" she asked while peering
at me like a bird of prey.
"No, I haven't seen him that I know of," I responded, and pretty
truthfully as I had no idea for sure if the old party was my grandfather,
even though I was pretty certain.
"That, that, man has refused for months to cut that tree's branches!
Why it has been dropping leaves in my yard all day and why should
I have to clean it up? That man is the most irritating, inconsiderate,
degenerate of a man I have ever met!" she fumed.
"Those leaves belong to you once they hit the ground! Don't you
go and make a big fuss about getting out in your yard and getting
some much needed exercise," the old fellow said as he climbed out
from under the Buick, "it's the only exercise you get besides whining,
complaining, and jumping to conclusions!" he said as he rounded
"I have arthritis, as you well know! Gripping that rake handle is
misery, why can't you understand that?" she demanded.
"Well, being in your grip sounds pretty miserable all right, how
do you think the rake handle feels?" he grunted and turned from
"Henry Nickles! Why must you be so crude? You wonder why you haven't
had feminine companionship since the Truman administration, I think
you are hardly the person to tell me what is and is not miserable!"
"I have had more sexual encounters than Elizabeth Taylor!" Henry
thundered as he brandished a wrench.
"She was a slut, and don't you threaten me with that thing, I'll
call the police!" she yelled back.
Henry growled and showed his teeth at her as she marched away, one
hand on her head to hold her hat in place.
"What the fuck was that?" I asked as I entered the garage.
"That was your cue to go inside and make some dinner," he said while
looking at me with one eye closed and the other narrowed to a slit.
"What?" I asked.
"Dinner, you know, the evening meal? Supper, you like that better?
Figured you out west would just call it all dinner," he muttered.
"I can't cook!" I blurted.
"Well, you talk like an adult so I treat you like one, or are you
just being a bratty kid?" he asked, still squinting.
"I am not bratty...man, screw you! I don't have to take this! I thought
I left the assholes in New York!" I said heatedly.
"You're right, get back on the bus, mister Rockefeller, and don't
let the door hit you in the ass on the way out," he stated as he
turned from me.
I grabbed my bags and headed out the door, rounding the garage and
striding purposefully up the gravel driveway. A loud lub-lub-lub
sound echoed from the street and was suddenly approaching me as
a car turned into the drive, all black and chrome. The grill was
polished and there were small chrome lids over the tops of the lights.
`SS' was stamped on the grill and I flattened myself against the
wall as the car went by.
I marched resolutely to the street and turned back towards the bus
station but got no more than ten feet before reality reared its
ugly head. I had very little money left, only a few dollars to be
exact. I continued to walk, but with less purpose than I had left
the garage with, wondering exactly what I might possibly do to get
a bus ticket. Where might I go when I had that ticket? Where would
I end up once the sun finished falling from the sky for the day,
especially if one stopped to consider it was on that journey now?
I stopped walking. I was fucked, there was nowhere to go, but I'll
be god damned before I'd go back to good old granddad, almost looks
like he gave my father his manners. I started walking again, bags
in hand and defiantly made my way to wherever my feet took me. This
was so fucked! I didn't even know the old guy for five minutes before
he started in with this crap! Who does he think he is anyway? I
lifted one arm with its attached bag to wipe a tear defiantly from
my face. I would NOT cry. The steady drone of a powerful engine
crept up behind me and passed slowly by, before slowing to a stop
at a stop sign.
"You lost?" the voice called out from the muscle car. I ignored
"Hey, deaf boy! You lost?" the voice rang out again. I stopped as
an older fellow paused in his raking to watch the scene playing
out before him. I turned slowly and eyed the car as the driver leaned
out from its darkened shadows and smirked. I continued to walk and
the car drove on past me, engine fading in the dying day, then its
brake lights came on and then the little reverse lights, and before
I knew it I was looking onto the interior of the car, and the driver
as well. I started to walk quickly from the car, up the sidewalk
to god only knows where.
"Whoa, deaf boy! Slow down!"
"What do you want?" I asked impatiently, frazzled to my very last
"Well, you are walking, it's a little late, and I got a car, reason
enough?" he asked.
"Sorry," I mumbled, "I could really use a lift."
"Where to?" he asked as he settled into his seat. I told him to
take me to the only place I knew where to go. Nickles Garage.
"Old man Nickles give you a hard time?"
the driver asked.
"He's being a prick," I replied.
"Don't let him under your skin, his bark's worse'n his bite," the
"How do you know him?" I asked distractedly.
"Takes care of Maybelle," he said with a grin and patted the dashboard.
The lights were out in the garage, but the
front porch light was on, and the light just inside, presumably
the living room, was also on. I mounted the steps slowly, after
being dropped off out front, and was unsure of myself. Why was I
here? What did I expect him to do? I knocked on the door mechanically.
"What? If it's about the god damn leaves, Eleanor, you can forget
it, I am not going to rake for you!" he yelled from inside. The
door unlatched and swung wide to reveal my grandfather, in a wife
beater and boxers, black socks completing the effect. He looked
me up and down, then stepped aside to admit me. I stood in his foyer
as he eyed me, the sound of my driver's car fading as he put space
between me and my grandfather.
"Well, I guess you'd best start dinner," he sighed.
"What?" I asked.
"Dinner, you cook it, remember? My house, my rules. I know you have
had it hard, living with my son can't be easy, but you have to learn
your lesson too. Everything you do has a repercussion. If something
bad happens, the bills still come due every month, so get to it."
I resolutely marched down the hall and found the bathroom and the
den before I finally went to the kitchen, which probably looked
modern in nineteen fifty, and began opening cupboards to find things
to cook with. I found things that looked like torture devices. This
one thing looked like you pressed body parts in it, leaving small
square indents wherever it touched bare flesh.
An Hour and a Half later
"Kris, I just have to ask, how did you get this rice into such a
brick? I mean, I have heard of sticky rice, but this? This you could
build houses out of!" he said as he started to chuckle.
"I never made rice before," I said, defeated after a ruinous day
and feeling moisture building in my eyes.
"Look, Kris, you ready to settle this?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"You," he said pointing at my chest, "won't use foul language like
that with me, be respectful and I'll do the same for you. You want
to be a punk, it'll be miserable for you. Agreed?" he asked, busy
"Agreed," I mumbled.
"Good, bedtime, school tomorrow."
"Get up, Kris, we have to register you at
school," my grandfather said through the door. I hadn't slept well
and wasn't in the mood.
"I don't want to go," I said, much as I had with my mother, providing
my father wasn't home, who would then walk off and leave me. My
door opened and I groaned as I heard him cross the distance to my
bed. Instinctively I rolled into the fetal position, ready to be
stricken for my insolence, but suddenly I was sideways, skin burning
slightly as it rubbed down the sheets and then I was on the floor,
mattress on top of me.
"I said get up, and if you want to mouth off, you can make breakfast
too," he growled before leaving the room. I stood slowly and headed
for the bathroom to relieve myself, then went to the kitchen.
"Wash your hands, I'm going to teach you to make omelets," he said.
I walked to the sink and washed my hands in silence before joining
him at the stove in my boxers and a tee shirt.
"Ok, first you crack the eggs all into one bowl, see? Then you take
this whisk and beat the eggs," he began to move the utensil in a
circular motion, "I just LOVE a little violence in the morning,
don't you?" he asked. I grunted and conceded a small smile.
"Ok, so now you pour a little into the pan, then you give it some
time, just so it starts to form up in the heat, see?" he asked,
and I nodded in return.
"Next you add the good stuff, see here we have onions, green peppers,
tomatoes and stuff? Put a little in the egg there, yes, that's right,"
he coached as I followed his lead, gradually filling his space in
front of the stove.
"Good, now pour a little more on top, little more egg, just enough
to cover it. Right, now give it a second to set up, then we'll flop
it over. Get that spatula over there, no, the other one, the wide
one. Yes, that's it," he said approvingly as I placed the spatula
under the omelet, "now flip it over!" and I did, landing it pretty
evenly on the pan.
"Well done, you might be able to feed yourself after all! Now give
it just a few minutes, and we'll get the plates out here," he said
as he removed plates from the cupboard and I removed silverware
from the drawer he indicated.
"Good," he said as I placed the first omelet on a plate, "now make
I glared after him, then proceeded to follow the instructions he
had just given me and in a few minutes had joined him at the table.
I took my first bite and had to admit, it wasn't bad.
"Hey!" he thundered, "You forgot the cheese!"
School wasn't as heinous as I thought it
might be, but it was still school. My schedule sucked, mainly because
each time slot had a class save one, just one study hall. English
was ok, math sucked as it always has and always will. History was
tolerable, and art. Well, we won't go there.
Lunch was exciting, it was Tuna Spam surprise I think. Kind of makes
me wish I had a bag lunch.
"Look at this shit, you can mortar walls with it," I heard a mutter.
I paid for my lunch, as it were, and headed for an empty table,
a small round job. I sat with my back to the wall and watched the
crowd as I tried not to think about what I was eating. One or two
other lost souls sat down at the table I was at, before I got up
and got ready to leave. As I headed for the trash a voice caught
"Hey, deaf boy, you look a little better in the daylight," he said
with a smirk. Snorts of laughter came from the table he had apparently
just stood from. He had nice eyes and his face was cheerful. `Yeah,
thanks,' I thought, and sighed deeply. This was not going to be
my year. Next year wasn't looking all that hot either.
"Maybe you should nudge him a little, get him to talk," someone
called out and before you know it I was on the ground, my shirt
buried in my Tuna/Turkey/Spam surprise.
"Way to go, Bryan!" jeered a few guys at the table as I stood slowly,
pissed off and sad all at once. This had been one of my few good
"Dude, I'm sorry," he turned his head back to the table and raised
his hand at the offender before voicing to them in general, "Why
don't you grow the fuck up?"
"That language is not acceptable," a lunch monitor warned.
I flinched involuntarily at his rapid hand motion, then recovered
and threw the remains of my lunch in the trash, and what I could
scrape off my shirt. At least I started to, then just gave up on
the shirt and threw it away too, deciding I would have to finish
out the day in my undershirt.
"I'm sorry, the guys are a LITTLE less sympathetic," he said while
holding his hands out apologetically. He was a little taller than
me. Well, relatively speaking, I mean six inches isn't that much,
"Yeah, right," I sighed as I dumped my shirt in the trash and headed
for the door. My next class was science, biology to be exact, and
it was the most antagonizing experience. They wanted you to get
a lab partner first freaking day, and I drew Jessica Hussy. If that
name wasn't enough to set your wheels to spinning, the rest of her
would. I think I got about eighty dirty looks in the class as Jessica
bubbled at my side. She was nice enough, don't get me wrong, but
I think more than a few guys wanted to experiment with her.
"Where are you from?" she asked after our lab work was done.
"New York," I replied.
"New York City?" she gasped.
"No, western part of the state," I replied
"Really? Why did you come HERE?" she asked wrinkling her nose.
"Long story, believe me," I replied.
"Oh, well, maybe some time then, huh?" she smiled.
"Yeah, maybe. What about you? Lived here all your life?"
"Yeah, the original small town girl, I guess," she smiled ruefully,
"Dad is the local dentist and he wants his little girl to follow
in his footsteps. Wants his little boy to play football and his
wife to quit nagging him to buy a Mercedes," she giggled.
"Ok, that's kinda weird," I smiled for the first time all day.
"So where do you live?" she asked.
"With my grandpa, he runs Nickles Garage over on Mayhew," I replied.
She wrinkled her nose again before replying.
"He is so funny, he and that old lady next door have been at, like,
war forever. I wonder how come they don't just get over whatever
it is!" She laughed and I laughed with her.
I walked home, not that far really, I imagine
I was going to be walking anyways most of the time. I headed off
across the school lawn but hadn't even made the street when I heard
the pounding of feet from behind me and moments later three guys
ran past me, two chasing the third. The first one slowed to face
his pursuers and they tackled him, quickly turning into a tickling
"Stop, stop! Ahhh!" the kid on the ground squealed.
"Did you ask her? Come on, JR, did you ask her?" the one asked.
"Yeah, dude, what did she say?"
"Ok, ok, she said she'd rather scratch her cat's ass on Saturday
than go out with you," he said before being savagely tickled again.
"Come on, JR, what did she really say?" one finally asked as I walked
"She said she'd think about it, that's all, I swear," he replied
with heaving breaths. I smiled to myself, too funny. They stood,
all smiles and boyish charm before Bryan, the guy from lunch, noticed
me. He had been the chief tickler and interrogator of the aforementioned
"Hey, deaf boy, what's up?" he asked.
"My name isn't deaf boy," I muttered as I stalked by, unhappy to
be suddenly the center of their attention.
"Well, give me a name then, and I'll use that instead," he stated.
I looked at him as I walked past and he flashed that smirk again.
I kept silent.
At some point the muscle car zoomed by me,
presumably with Bryan behind the wheel. It took a corner and spun
the tires, spitting out leaves from the street in its wake. In the
distance it took another tire screeching turn and then faded out
of earshot. I trudged on my way, retracing the route my grandfather
had driven that morning to get me registered and whatnot. I proceeded
to the next block, Mayhew Street, and turned. As I approached the
sign in front of my grandfather's house I heard a rustling and some
giggles. Curious, I rounded the corner to see my grandfather standing
behind Bryan, JR, and whoever the third guy was. Bryan had a long
pole and was whacking the dying leaves from the tree that overhung
the loud woman with the lavender pantsuit's yard. He was deliberately
filling her yard with leaves!
"Kris! How was school?" my grandpa called out.
"Hey, Kris," Bryan said with a smirk.
"You two meet today?" my grandfather asked.
"Sort of," I murmured.
"This ought to burn her biscuits!" my grandfather cackled as he
reached for his wallet and proceeded to hand a ten over to Bryan,
"now get gone, lad, before she sees your car! Next thing she'll
be calling your mother and all hell will break loose," he cackled
"See you, Kris."
All I could do was mutter a goodbye as the three retreated to the
garage and the familiar growl of the muscle car started up. It lub-lubbed
its way out of the driveway and disappeared down the street.
"What was that all about, Grandpa?" I asked.
"Economics, my lad, economics!" he grinned as we headed back towards
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, I pay Bryan ten bucks to dump leaves in the yard and give
Eleanor a coronary and then she calls him to come rake, for five
or ten bucks," he bent over conspiratorially and said in a near
whisper, "Lad makes a small fortune when the leaves start to turn!"
"But why?" I asked, grinning a bit in spite of myself.
"He needs it to help keep that piece of shit running, that's why.
Plus Eleanor hates that car, so it's almost a pleasure to keep it
running," he sniggered.
"Why do you two not get along?" I asked
"I think it's more we don't like each other very much," he replied.
"Ok," I replied, not really thinking that was much of an explanation.
"His car seems like it's pretty nice," I offered to change the subject.
"Bondo, snot, and baling wire holds it together. Appearances can
be deceiving," he replied.
We walked in silence to the large door of the garage where he stopped
suddenly, as if deep in thought."Your
father is an asshole, always was. I don't expect he'll change much
in his lifetime," he said, as if describing the weather. "He used
to beat on you, didn't he?"
I looked up in his face, shocked that he would have any knowledge
of my father's disciplinary methods.
"Yeah, I figured as much," he muttered.
"Was he always like that?" I asked slowly, unsure of the reasoning
in this sudden seizing of a topic.
"Yeah, pretty much. Your grandmother spoiled him and then he ended
up marrying that witch. He never did have the discipline to do what
needs to be done in life, why do you think he works at that used
car shop with Wally Bouchard? Wally was crap from the day the best
part of his DNA trickled down his mamma's leg," he muttered.
"Why didn't you stop him?" I asked.
"Because people make their own decisions, Kris. I'd punish him,
sure, but if he wanted to get up to shit, he would. He'd pay for
it if I caught him, but that was how he thought of things, `it's
not wrong unless you get caught.' Well, his mother would let him
get away with shit. Of course she left, took him up north and afterwards
he met your mamma. Never could stand her, and she told me up front
she didn't want kids but she got pregnant mostly to trap your dad.
"I suppose you wonder why I am telling you all this?" he asked.
I nodded dumbly.
"Well, here's the dilly. There's all kinds of people out there,
good ones and bad ones, saints and sinners. Only you can decide
where you are going to fall on that scale. Sure, others will judge
you, some will try to guide you, others will tempt you. Only you
have to look at your own face in the mirror every day. These cars,"
he waved his hand in the general direction of the silent sentinels
in his lot, "they are a lot like people too. They have their quirks,
they have different colors and they all have a different reason
I looked at him in confusion.
"Well, look, like that old Volvo over there, it's made for safety,
crumple zones and all that. Looks like an upside down shoe box,
but it is there for safety, yuppie families with small kids like
them mostly. Bryan's hunk of crap is built for obnoxious speed and
noise, makes you cool. Different people drive cars that encourage
their personalities. Most working folks have pickups, you know the
manual labor working folks. Buicks for middle class or upper middle
class folks, that sort of thing.
"I can teach you some things, to be sure only as much as you are
willing to learn, but this here is going to teach you a lot too,"
and so saying he began to walk again, to the back right hand corner
of the cavernous garage. A few cars in various states of disrepair
lay about, but one was under a tarp.
"I picked this one out because I think it suits you best," he said
and peeled back the tarp, first revealing a squarish nose with smoothed
edges. Small rectangular running lights appeared under the bumper.
The broad hood was revealed, the paint weathered by the sun. The
roof became exposed to the light of day next, a rectangular cutout
where the moon roof was located. The second set of doors was revealed,
showing the sedan in profile as I walked to the left hand side.
The aluminum wheels were caked with brake dust and at last the tarp
came off completely to reveal the slightly upturned tail end, giving
the car an overall appearance of being ready to pounce or leap into
motion. Controlled power, somewhat sleek but not racy, with faded
metallic black paint completed the effect of the unveiling.
"This here is going to be yours, maybe," he said to me.
"Mine?" I asked, my heart racing, "I don't even have a permit."
"Doesn't matter if you do or don't have a permit, this car doesn't
run. See, it's a lot like you, it needs help, work from hands that
care, but it's all there. It's in one piece just waiting for the
right person to breathe life into it."
"I don't know the first thing about fixing cars," I said morosely.
"I don't know a lot about raising teenage boys anymore. I'll teach
you about the car, and the car will teach us both about you."
After dinner I wanted to look at the car again, but Grandpa made
me do my homework first. That done, I got ready for bed and walked
back out into the garage. I guess it was kind of a normal car, four
doors and all that, but it was special to me because it was mine,
or would be. I never had much that was mine before, but my heart
swelled to know that this could be my very own. I ran my hand up
the fender, feeling the cool metal under my fingers and moved past
the front door. I ran my fingers on the cool glass of the passenger
side, first the front window and then the back window until I reached
the trunk. Across the tailgate was emblazoned the name of the car,
this was my Quantum.