If the old aphorism is true and G-d (or conscience, the Universe, etc.) speaks to us the way we need to be spoken to, than it seems that I need to be spoken to in irony and sardonic wit.
My eyes quickly scan the bookshelves for a title my brain can’t seem to recall. Something to do with art. The Art Finder, The Art Hoarder, The Art Disparager. I know she said it was in the new fiction titles in the library- she being a new friend I’ve made. We only talk about literature. It’s wonderful. She’s taken up reading a novel I recommended to her in passing and reciprocity is the only correct response. Usually, I’m very good with titles.
Not today, though.
I delight in scanning bookshelves, though my pensive scowl might say otherwise. There is something intoxicating about the endless possibilities of thousands of pages lined up neatly and alphabetically according to their creators. Hardcovers are my favorite. They represent the hope for longevity. I revel in the colors and textual elements.
Something large and pink comes into my peripheral vision. A tall girl, at least five inches taller than me. She is not comfortable in her body and her upper half sways precariously with each step. Her feet have a combative relationship with the floor- she looks as though she is walking in deep sea diving flippers. I take a subtle, nearly imperceptible step backward, just in case, and look up at her. She is a giant oak and no more than 13. I smile politely as she catches my gaze and she scrunches her nose up, squinting through thick glasses. She sniffles and is breathing through her mouth when she half-smiles back.
Two things occur to me:
1. She has no chin whatsoever.
2. She is carrying a substantial pile of books- too large, even for her tremendous arms.
Proprieties properly tended to, I return my gaze to the bookshelves.
The Art Accomplice? The Art Bivouac? The Art Codger? When I have trouble remembering something, I play this game to jog my memory- I think of a word for each letter of the alphabet and insert it into whatever fragment I can remember.
For as large as she is, her voice is gratingly meek and mousy. Keep your head down, Cyle. Keep your head down. The Art Demand? The Art Effuser?
It is ironic that I- the guy who is constantly writing and talking about forming community, being good to people and recognizing their humanity- am blatantly ignoring this young woman. It also strikes me that, were she my age and terrifically attractive, I would (probably) not be ignoring her. A wave from the deep and tempestuous Guilt Sea within me crashes atop my head. The Art Fodder- Forger! The Art Forger!
“Eh-eh-eh-‘ssscuthe me, thir? Pleath he- he- help-” Her stack of books fall like a rockslide and make a terrific and jarring noise in the confines of the tomb quiet library. Her arms were probably quaking with effort and they simply gave up. No one looks up, least of all me. She is a ghost, neither seen nor heard. Neither attractive enough to be paid attention to, nor aggressive enough to demand anyone’s attention. I am no more than four feet from her and the literary debris at her gigantic flipper feet. She topples to her knees and begins collecting her books. I can feel the heat of her blushing face from where I stand- still looking at the bookshelf.
Starting a car is a reflexive activity. Depress the brake, turn the key and head toward wherever you’re going. Brainless, easy. So predictable as to be laughable- unless of course, the engine doesn’t turn over and the car doesn’t start. The initial reaction is befuddlement- staring incredulously at the steering wheel as though it has learned how to speak and has just called you an asshole. You try the key again. Nothing. Befuddlement turns to indignation. You will start! You try the key again. Nothing. Indignation turns to agitation. Perhaps you curse, perhaps you become red in the face, perhaps you sigh heavily.
I am pleased to say that my befuddlement at my car not starting in the parking lot of the public library never went farther than befuddlement. I was genuinely confused when my turning the key did not start the ignition of my vehicle. The clutch was firmly depressed, as was the brake. It had started and driven no more than twenty minutes ago and yet the turning of the key illicited no response whatsoever. The radio didn’t go on, nor did the gauges jump as they usually do when the ignition is turned halfway.
Naturally, I blamed the battery.
As my vehicle is a manual transmission, I immediately thought of push starting it. Of course, this would require me pushing my XTerra out of its current parking spot. Doable, despite my weighing only slightly more than the average St. Bernard. I am firmly of the belief that I can do just about anything I set my mind to. I moved the gear shift into neutral, got out of the vehicle, released the parking brake and began to push against the door frame, hoping to move the vehicle backward into the open parking lot.
I did not get far. Bad angle, I decided.
Closing the door, I moved quickly to the front of the vehicle and put all of my weight into pushing against the front bumper. The vehicle moved five feet before the slight incline of the parking lot began working against me and my shoe slipped, letting the vehicle come back to its former resting place.
Feeling a set of eyes on me, I realized that a young man was sitting inside the Volvo parked next to my XTerra. It would serve to reason that I would ask this young man to help me push, but I did not. No need to trouble anyone else. No need to ask for help. I can do this. I again put all of my weight into the front bumper. The vehicle moved six feet before returning to its previous spot.
Undaunted, I pushed again. I pushed until I could feel the vein popping out on my temple. Six and a half feet this time, then back to the same spot.
“You need some help there, son?” An older man had come up from behind me as I pushed. Clearly too feeble to help push, he offered up some jumper cables, pointing to his truck parked on the opposite side of the parking lot. “A’course, we’d hafta move it.”
I looked at the young man in the Volvo.
“You need me to move, bro?” He pointed toward the steering wheel. I nodded and thanked him. The Volvo left and the old man’s truck took its place.
“Thanks very much for offering to help, sir. I greatly appreciate your time,” I said, connecting the jumper cables to my battery.
The old man was favoring one arm and so I popped the hood of his truck and found my way around it, leaving him to supervise. His sizable Golden Labrador was in the cab, swaging its tail vehemently enough to rock the truck slightly. I turned the key in the XTerra to let the two batteries connect.
“Good looking dog you have there, sir.”
“Thank you. He’s a good boy.”
“Ten. You have a dog, son?”
I leaned in to the cabin of my vehicle and tried the key. Nothing. I turned it off.
“Well sir, It looks as though it’s not the battery after all. I don’t want to hold you up,” I removed the jumper cables and wound them up into a neat coil, handing them to him.
“Sorry about that, son. Have you got a cell phone?”
“Yes sir. You have a good day now.”
“Hey brother,” my sister answers the phone. She is the mechanic in the family. So much for gender stereotypes. She spends her weekends either four-wheeling in the mountains or underneath the hood of her SUV covered in grease and grime. “What’s up?” I tell her what has happened.
“Ooo, shit. Does it click?”
It does not.
“Does the radio turn on?”
It does not.
“And you’ve jumped it?”
“Sounds like the starter.”
Both ends of the conversation sigh. She tells me that she is on her way to a wedding in a neighboring town and that she can’t make it. I tell her not to worry.
I get back in to the car and sigh lightly. This afternoon has not gone as planned. So it goes. Before calling someone for help, I try the key again.
Inexplicably, the vehicle roars to life.
It just so happens that the closest mechanic’s shop to me is run by a high school friend of mine and I drive straight there. He smiles wide from behind the counter when he sees me walk in.
“Cyle motherfuckin’ Talley!”
My friend has made a fine business for himself. He has always been engaging and intelligent, though he was a miserable student- mostly because he was too energetic to be cooped up in a classroom for eight hours a day memorizing facts. Now free to run his own hand, he has crafted a reputation for being fair, honest and extremely competent at everything he does.
He is currently with another customer.
“Hey,” he points me out to another guy standing behind the counter. “Take care of that guy.”
The man that comes to help me is a giant boulder, nearly as wide as he is tall. He envelopes my hand as he introduces himself with a handshake and we walk outside to where my car is still running. I tell him what has happened.
“Go ahead and turn your truck off. Pop the hood. I’ll be right back,” he walks briskly back inside. I’ve barely propped the hood open before he’s emerged with a handheld diagnostics machine. He deftly connects the clips to the battery and then presses a few buttons on the device.
“Why don’t you start it up again.”
It turns over without dissent or complaint. He motions for me to turn it off, then holds a finger in the air and waves it in a circle, motioning for me to try again. The engine roars to life. He makes a fist and I turn it off.
“Well,” he says as I join him in front of the vehicle. “It’s not the battery. In fact, everything checks out tip-top. He hands me a receipt paper of test results I know absolutely nothing about, pulls a penlight from his pocket and proceeds to scour the mechanical elements. He jostles the battery, checks the posts and nods, satisfied.
“You could use some contact cleaner to these posts here. Hang on a minute,” He turns and goes inside. He returns with a rag, two spray cans and a gallon bottle of water. He sprays the ports generously and lets the solution eat away at the corrosion before washing it off with water, drying the battery with the rag and spraying a sealant on the posts to keep the corrosion away. He does all of this without saying a word and I catch myself wondering if I ought to offer him a tip or give him money or something.
“Well, that should be set.”
“Thanks very much, sir,” I say, again extending my hand. “What’s your name?”
“Sam,” he says. It is the same as my high school friend’s name. Easy to remember.
We go inside where I thank my New Friend Sam, again and then go to talk to my Old Friend Sam for a bit. I tell him that his employee has done a great job and that I’m very appreciative. That neither of them had to go so far out of their way.
“Bullshit,” he says, jostling my shoulder. “You’d do the same for me, you bastard.”
I couldn’t help but think of the girl in the library as we talked about what was new in both of our lives.
As I drove away, that little voice in the back of my head- call it G-d or conscience, the Universe, etc.- chose its words very carefully and, when it spoke, spoke very clearly and concisely.
“Excuse me, sir. Please help.”