After dinner I polished off the last of my homework before going out to look at my car. The first thing I noticed was the interior needed to be cleaned out, and since that required no mechanical skills whatsoever I dragged the garbage can over to it and opened the passenger side door. The interior was littered with soda bottles and newspapers that were yellowed with age. A distinct moldy smell floated in there as well and I was reminded of our class this afternoon and smirked at Jess's antics.
I plucked the bits of junk from the seats and floor, revealing the gray cloth seats and the darker colored floor carpeting. I removed the items in the back seat first, as there was more there than anyplace else. Small lights were installed over each door, like a reading light which I thought was cool to look at. I imagined making a road trip with friends reading in the backseat while the car consumed the asphalt on its way to our destination. I finally moved into the front seat, passenger side first and cleared out all the large junk, papers, and empty fast food containers. I cleared out the passenger side seat and foot well, and then moved to the driver's side. The carpet was worn heavily where the driver's feet would have rested and the rubber pedals were worn and hanging by a prayer if they were still there at all.
"You can't polish a turd," my grandfather said from behind me.
"What?" I asked.
"The engine needs attention before you can worry about getting a bottle of Armorall, Kris," he rolled his eyes as he walked out into the large bay.
"I don't know the first thing about cars, but I knew I could clean it out at least, make it look better," I wrinkled my nose, "Maybe even smell better."
"That's all well and good, but you should start to learn about the car first. Why don't you pop the hood?" he said to me as he waved a hand and moved towards the front of the car. I felt around the underside of the dash, not finding a handle, and then latched onto one attached to the driver's side of the foot well. The hood popped audibly and I stepped from the car and moved to the front where my grandfather stood.
"Open it," he intoned and I tried to be nonchalant as I put my hand under the front of the hood like they always do in movies, and proceeded to feel around and feel silly. I shrugged at him.
"I can't feel a latch," I said to him.
"Ok, good first lesson, hands are important as well as knowing something about what you are working on. This model year of Volkswagen used this little spring loaded hook to hold the hood down as a latch. What makes it different from other manufacturers is that it teeters front to back instead of side to side. So if you reach over here," he took my hand and moved it along the left of center until I hit a small, upright piece of metal, "there, now bring the hood down just a touch and pull forward."
"Good, the lesson is that a good mechanic must learn to think with his hands, to see what his fingertips are feeling in order to determine what to do next. You felt nothing, but you were sure there was a release under there. Sometimes you can bend down and get a look, sometimes you can't," he said to me before instructing me to lift the hood and make use of the prop rod. I lifted the hood and then gripped the prop rod and found that the prop rod was too long. I looked at my grandfather who was smirking and I thought better of telling him the prop rod was wrong, and studied my car's hood and prop rod. I finally realized I was not tall enough to lift the hood to the right height for the rod to engage with the groove at the forward end of the hood. I gently set the hood down, then stood on the bumper before lifting the hood again and inserting the prop rod, all the while making a mental note that Jess should never know this happened.
"Good!" Grandpa said with a chuckle, "Improvisation is just as important, otherwise you can get trapped really easily if something doesn't go together exactly as specified."
We both peered into the engine compartment, which was a warren of wiring and metal, and the mere thought of attempting to fix something in that space was making me feel nauseous, and sure it was downright impossible.
"Yep," Grandpa said with a sigh as he scratched his head and gave me a sad look, "It's an engine all right."
"Thanks for the professional opinion," I said dryly.
`Well, let me identify some parts for you," Grandpa said, "this here is the valve cover, so named," he looked at me expectantly.
"Because it covers valves?" I said cautiously.
"Yes, indeed, it covers valves. Valves are much like the ones in your heart, they open to allow an air-fuel mixture into the chamber, which is combusted from the spark from your," again he trailed off as he looked at me.
"Spark plugs?" I ventured.
"Exactly. This combustion drives the piston down, turning the crank and thereby the wheels. `Course, I am leaving out a few parts, but that's kind of the basic layout," he said while looking at the car's engine.
"That's basics? I'll need a doctorate to work on this thing if it gets any more complex!" I moaned.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" my grandfather roared.
"I smelled you burning the eggs, Henry, for crying out loud there was smoke coming out your window!" Eleanor fired back.
"They are Cajun eggs, let them be!" he snarled.
"Henry Nickles, your customers may endure your bad temper but I will not!" she said authoritatively as she stomped her foot.
"I'm the sweetest tempered son of a bitch in Beaver County!" he roared.
"Sit down, Henry," Eleanor intoned warningly to Grandpa, who glared at her, showing his teeth.
"Why should I sit down?" he asked petulantly as he sat in his recliner, never taking his eyes off Eleanor.
"Henry, you have a child in the house, someone who depends upon you to care for them. Burnt eggs, in fact any of the cardiac inducing cholesterol festivals you call meals that you make here, aren't good for him. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for him then," she lectured quietly. She spotted me and I mumbled good morning as she smoothed her skirt and nodded at me in greeting before leaving.
"I hate when she does that," my grandfather said to the closed door by which she had left.
"What's that, Grandpa?" I asked.
"Makes sense," he replied.
I headed off to school and was not entirely shocked when Bryan's car pulled up next to me, music playing through the open window and the car grunting in its own peculiar way. I bent down and spotted a smiling Bryan looking at me from the driver's seat.
"Want a ride?" he asked.
"Sure," I replied as I got into Maybelle. He punched the gas and the car leapt forward, tires chirping on the pavement as the car accelerated down the street.
"You have plans this afternoon?" he asked.
"Not really," I replied.
"My Aunt El, she wants me to cut down the branches that hang over into her yard. Says she'll pay forty bucks, which is great except her ladder was made in the great depression, so I'd appreciate some help. I'll throw in fifty fifty with ya, what do you say?" He asked.
"Why me? Why not...," I wrinkled my brow as I thought for the name, "JR or your other buddy, mystery boy?"
"Mystery boy? You must mean Jake," he grinned, "but that's a good question, I was hoping you wouldn't ask, but since you did," he grimaced at me, "I'll need you to help me with your grandfather, `cause when he sees the cut branches, he'll give me hell," he smiled mournfully and gave me the puppy dog eyes. Jesus, does he know what those eyes do to me?
"Ok," I mumbled. At least he was honest with me.
"What's wrong with my clothes?" I asked.
"Nothing, I just think there are a lot of clothes that would bring out some of your features better," she said with a small smile.
I eyed her warily, "Such as?"
"Well, I saw the cutest little shoes," she started.
"Do they have to be described as little?" I eyed her.
"Well, they are for you so, yeah," she rushed on as I rolled my eyes, "But they had these little curls on the end and if we put a bell on the end of the curl...," she smiled sweetly.
"I am not an Elf," I growled and she just giggled at me.
"Well, still, they do have some nice clothes, how about we hit the mall this afternoon? We can window shop?" she asked.
"Oh, and get a ration of short jokes? No, sorry, I think I'm busy!" I sniggered at her, "Besides, Bryan asked for my help with his aunt's yard and I already agreed."
"Well, Bryan Shantz isn't the best influence, you know," she said with a dramatic sigh.
"He doesn't make short jokes," I commented neutrally.
"Ok, fine, go with Bryan," she said with mock irritation, "At least I know my competition. We can go tomorrow if you want, it's Saturday after all, unless you have plans with Bryan," she giggled.
"No, I don't have plans with Bryan, that's cool," I replied with a stern look.
"You are so cute when you try to be all manly," she sniggered, "Oh well, I didn't want to spend Friday afternoon in the Boys section anyway."
I responded in the most gracious way I could think of at the moment. I stuck my tongue out at her.
JR began backing away from the other two and soon the third was after him while Bryan simply shook his head as JR made the other guy work for an opportunity to administer some form of discipline to him. Suddenly the guy was on JR and he was getting a world class nougie and I couldn't help but feel a smile tug at the corners of my mouth. I walked towards Bryan now that his friends were otherwise engaged and he noticed me when I was but a few feet away.
"Hey dude, ready to go?" he asked and I nodded in response. He pointed to the car and called out to JR and mystery boy, err, Jake, and climbed into his car. Maybelle didn't want to start, making harsh noises as he turned the key a few times, then she caught and the engine grumbled to life.
"I need your grandpa to fix this old bitch up, and soon before I am walking again," Bryan grimaced as Jess's Toyota darted by us and out of the parking lot.
"Maybe you could get a ride with her?" I said innocently as I pictured Jess's reaction to that comment.
"Jessica wouldn't piss on me if I was on fire, man," he sighed wistfully. My ears perked a bit as I realized I now had a little ammo to needle her with, something to counter all those short jokes.
"She doesn't like you too well, huh?" I asked, knowing the reasons already.
"I don't know why either," he said as he shook his head a little, "I never said a mean thing to her, never talked behind her back and for some reason..." he trailed off with a shrug.
"That kinda sucks, huh?" I said by way of conversation. We pulled into Eleanor's drive and exited the car. Bryan strode in front of me, jeans displaying very little but his tee shirt clung nicely to his shoulders. I followed him to the garage behind Eleanor's house where he handed me lawn and leaf bags as well as a pair of rakes before he took hold of the ladder.
"I'll just run back and get the clippers after we get this stuff out there, this should go pretty fast with both of us," he grunted as he lifted the ladder and I followed him out of the garage and into the cool autumn afternoon. He was damn right about the ladder, it was a nasty looking thing with age-induced cracks and it creaked as he set it up under the tree.
Bryan trotted back to the garage for the clippers and the screen door behind me clapped shut as Eleanor made her appearance.
"Hello, Kristopher, is Bryan with you? I thought I heard that noise pollution device of his pull up," she frowned slightly.
"Yes ma'am, he's just getting the clippers from your garage," I replied.
"This is going to burn your grandfather's britches," her mouth formed a small, tight smile. "Let's just keep this between us, shall we? I think he should discover this on his own." I nodded uncertainly and was somewhat relieved when Bryan rounded the corner of the house with the clippers.
"You will have to be quick today, Bryan," Eleanor said crisply, "it was very smart of you to bring help."
Bryan gave me a tight smile and gave the ladder a final reposition before beginning his ascent. I stood underneath and held the ladder in place as it pitched and yawed in my hands. Of course, there was the upside of this job, which was looking straight up at the climbing Bryan. He stood and clipped while Eleanor moved about, this way and that to direct his efforts. He climbed down twice to re-adjust the ladder and resume clipping, which was going well when disaster stuck.
Bryan was leaning a bit too far to clip one last branch when a loud, dry snap exploded from the step he was on and he dropped to the next step. He lost his balance as he landed on the step, which promptly broke under the added stress of his falling onto it and Bryan was pinwheeling backwards, and I backed up with my arms wide open as he fell back onto me. Out of reflex I wrapped my arms around his torso and promptly had the wind crushed from my lungs as Bryan fell on top of me.
"Bryan Shantz, my god, are you all right?" Eleanor said in a controlled voice laced with worry. I barely heard this as Bryan thankfully rolled off me and I tried to catch my breath.
"I'm fine, Aunt El, could have been a lot worse though!" he said as he twisted and tested his body for imperfections. At last he noted that I was still on the ground, "Looks like I crushed Kris though," he knelt down to gaze at my face and he began to speak to me in a reassuring tone.
"Take it easy, bud, just try and breathe," he said quietly and as my breath slowly returned I found myself staring right into his eyes. I could have sworn before they were a solid brown, but up close one could see the gradient moving towards hazel or maybe even an olive green. He took my hand and helped me up, dusting off the back of my shirt.
"You ok, man?" he asked with sincerity and I nodded.
"Down but never out," I replied with a small smile that he returned in kind.
"Cool, what say we finish this stuff and throw that ladder out on the curb with the leaves?" he asked and I nodded my assent. Eleanor squawked around us the whole time, apologizing for the ladder and saying how she appreciated our help. A bit annoying after a steady fifteen minutes, really. Bryan and I had the whole thing cleared up finally, and to Eleanor's satisfaction. She paid him twenty dollars and me twenty as well before shooing us along, before my grandfather caught us.
"I should just go over and give this to him now, kind of a down payment for the carb I need," Bryan said so I grabbed my bag from his car and we walked next door.
A steady hammering noise greeted us as we walked down the drive, a small but obvious grunt followed each hit of the hammer. Bryan and I looked at one another and smiled as we shook our heads, wondering what could be happening in that garage right then. As we rounded the corner there was an older Firebird on jack stands, probably a mid to late eighties model when they went for that `wedge' styling and that show with the talking car was popular. Talk about cheesy programming!
"God damn it! What kind of a jackass does it take to come up with this kind of bullshit?" my grandfather muttered as we rounded the corner. He began to tap the outer edges of the rim on the aforementioned car, moving along its outer edges in even quarters.
"Hi," I smiled at him and his less than cheery expression, "what's wrong?"
"I need a bigger hammer," he said with one eye squinting at me. I grabbed the ten pound hammer and handed it to him as he sat on the creeper and he took to tapping the wheel with it before giving that up and grabbing a long handled sledge and taking some mighty whacks before the wheel finally loosened and dropped off.
"Damn right!" my grandfather bellowed as he stepped on the tire and posed for us, big game hunter style. "What the hell are you two up to?" he squinted at us.
"I brought you a few bucks towards my carb," Bryan said as he stepped forward to hand the twenty over to him.
"Well, let's put this in the ledger so we can keep track of it," he said turning towards a small desk in the back of the garage. "Going to come in dribs and drabs, huh?" he said over his shoulder.
"Yeah, until I get a massive inheritance from some relative I don't know or something," Bryan replied.
"Always crying the money blues, that's you, Bryan," Grandpa commented as he notated the twenty on a page titled `Bryan Shantz's POS..
"How come you don't get a car that runs better to start with?" I asked.
"Shut up! Maybelle keeps me in beer and pretzels!" Grandpa groused and Bryan grimaced.
"At least it runs, got your ass to school the past few days, right?" he said, taking a shot at me.
"Well, I have a car too," I said before shutting my mouth with a snap. Yeah, I had a car, one that didn't run.
"You do? Where is it?" Bryan asked with curiosity.
"It's that one," I said in a defeated tone.
"This? You are busting my balls `cause you own this?" he asked with a bemused expression on his face.
"Well, it doesn't look like much now," I said lamely.
"Jesus, Kris, it didn't look like much new!" he crowed and I felt my old defenses springing up inside.
"Good thing it's not yours then, isn't it?" I snapped.
"I was just busting on ya, jeez!" Bryan grinned at me and I smoldered inside. I had let down my defenses and he had picked on me! He had demeaned me, damn it!
An uncomfortable silence settled in and Bryan excused himself to the bathroom while my grandfather ignored us both, returning to beat the tire off the other side of the car. I tried to put the incident behind me. I turned to go in the house when my grandfather called me over.
"Look at this, would you? What a mess! Bryan is the hub and you are the rim," he waved his hand at the wheel hub.
"What?' I asked, irritation showing in my voice.
"This dumb ass engineer put two dissimilar metals together. They naturally are opposites, and when they oxidize, they form this layer of corrosion. They don't mean to be difficult, they don't try to be miserable pieces of shit, but it's their natural tendency. Now, Bryan says something and causes oxidation between the two of you, so will you have a sense of humor and get along with him or will you allow that corrosion to build until it costs you a friend?"
"I never had a car before," I whined.
"This is his first one, he spent a whole summer working to get it. I know it's no Rolls Royce, but it's his just like yours is yours. If you can pick on his, Kris..." he trailed off with an expectant look on his face.
Bryan returned from the bathroom and gave my grandfather a small wave, saying he would see him later. He then clapped me on the shoulder as he headed for the open garage door.
"Bryan, I need a favor," my grandfather intoned gravely. Bryan stopped and looked at him expectantly. My grandfather reached into his back pocket and withdrew his wallet. He undid the two snaps on it and removed a five dollar bill, handing it to Bryan.
"Run to the store and get me a few cans of tuna fish before you rumble home, would you?"
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