Car-Loving People

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Last winter, I slipped on the ice once a day.  It was always while walking home after work, always in the same spot, always when the rest of the city was clear and dry.  The ice snaked down in front of a small dry cleaning shop with a pink awning and an earnest mannequin wearing an ’80s-style wedding dress in the front window.

You might say I should have remembered to look out for the ice.  Perhaps that’s right, but I never did.

Instead, I daily executed the frantic waving of arms and skittering of feet necessary to regain my balance, straightened my coat, and walked on.

A gutter dripping down, I guessed, humiliated.  A particularly shady patch of sidewalk.  A trap set to humble me.  Heck, a hallucination.

And then, having switched to a different work shift, I began walking home earlier than usual, and I discovered the cause of the ice: a man — the owner of the dry cleaner’s, I presumed — had driven his Buick up onto the sidewalk in front of his blush-capped shop.  It was thirty degrees outside, and yet he was hosing down the Buick slowly, carefully.  He leaned over the car, pressed his chest against the still-warm hood to reach that far smudge of salt.  Dabbed at it with a comically oversized sponge shaped like a circus peanut.  Then rinsed.

As I neared, I saw the spray of water sweep over the Buick before dripping down and pooling onto the sidewalk.

Finishing up, the man carefully wound the hose, wrung out the sponge (the wrung-out water dripped down and pooled onto the sidewalk), and went inside.

I took exaggerated steps over the half-frozen pools, seething.

What business did anyone have washing their car in the middle of winter?  And was every single day necessary?  Further, what business did anyone have washing said car on a public sidewalk, where walkers might be imperiled?

Shallow people, I thought.  Car-loving people.  People with driving gloves, steering-wheel locks, air-conditioned seats.  Selfish people.

After that, I passed the man every evening.  He never looked up, never paused at intently buffing his Buick.  I swore I could practically see the frame of the car; the body was scrubbed almost to translucency.  The body was loved away by a car-loving man whose ears turned red with cold only three minutes into the job.  Obsessive people, friendless people, car-loving people.

Spring came, and soon even the most thorough washes couldn’t slicken and torment me.

One day when I walked by, the Buick was already clean (not that I had ever seen proof of its griminess).  Through the window of the dry cleaner’s, I could see the man.  A woman — his wife — sat next to him.  They both sewed at something, cast in shadow by the great mannequin bride.  The man wore the same grimly focused face he wore when washing his car.

I imagined how quiet the inside of the shop must be, how probably the old wedding dress smelled musty and looked yellowed up close.  But then the man’s lips moved, and the woman laughed.  He turned to her and laughed too.

I stood in the leftover soapy puddles and watched for a while: there’s loving a car, and then there’s that.

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