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1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
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Tiny rivulets of grease ran from Harvey’s hand and down his arm as he raised his fingers to his hair.



Miss Crenshaw, said Malcom, was the kind of stunning blond that would bring to mind a Miss USA contestant who, if granted one wish, would ask for ‘world peace.’ Harvey was the kind of mechanic who would joke that if granted a single wish, he would ask Miss C for a piece. That was haute humor for Harvey. He spoke the sentiment to Malcom who had no response. After years of suffering Harvey’s garage school of humor, he’d built an immunity tougher than an iguana hide and in fact, rarely listened anymore.
   Harvey opened the crankshaft and let a stream of dirty oil drain to the ground. He wiped his nose with the side of his hand, painting a greasy moustache across his face. Miss Crenshaw was due to pick up her Volvo from their repair shop and Harvey was finishing the job. He and Malcom ran a specialty garage called Foreign Affairs. The name was Malcom’s idea. Harvey thought it was dumb but went along with it.
   “Jesus, I need a beer. What time izzit?”
   Malcom looked up for the clock, wacking the back of his head on the Saab’s axle that was suspended above him. He was a distracted man that day, having taken Miss Crenshaw’s report on her car’s vulnerability that morning. “It sounds like some small, furry animal squealing under the hood, the kind of sound a squirrel makes when you run it over,” she’d said. Malcom had never hit a squirrel but figured it was a fan belt problem which it was and Harvey gave her an oil change to boot. What preoccupied both Harvey and Malcom that afternoon was the “big surprise” Miss Crenshaw promised them on her return to pick up the car. It was, she coyly hinted, “something they would both like very much.”
   Malcom and Harvey were thinking along the lines of a tit show, like ‘Shannon the Canon’ would give whenever she needed body work on her BMW. Shannon was a pole dancer in a bar over on Geary Street and could fire projectiles from her vagina. She had more money in her G string than Malcom had in his 401 K. Last month, when Shannon swerved to miss a queen leaving a late night drag convention in a run down ball room that was formerly a Baptist church, she hit her bumper against a parked SUV that wrecked havoc on her grill. In lieu of cash, Shannon premiered her assets proudly, a rack upon which her career gladly rested and saved $620 in body repair bills. Harvey and Malcom were in no position to work for trade very often, but Shannon’s chest was an exception and they felt that in their own small way, were contributing to a non-capitalist, free trade society. Or at least Malcom did. Harvey just thought her tits were awesome.
   “Ouch…damn…quarter til four…” said Malcom, rubbing the back of his head.
   “Hey watch it dumb shit, you might hurt the car.”
   Malcom placed his wrench on the floor by his tool box. He was too tired to even respond to his put downs.
   “What time did Miss Crenshaw say she’d pick up her car?” Malcom asked for the third time that afternoon.
   “Quarter after,” said Harvey, now focused on the underside of the jacked-up Volvo. “More or less. Dames though. Never on time.”
   He made some tightening movements with his wrench. Harvey had that ‘squinted’ expression on his face that Malcom knew to be his ‘philosophical’ look. It was a mask Harvey wore when it was close to beer time and the topic of discussion was the mystery of women.
   “You know a dame like that, with all her money, how come you figure she ain’t never been married? I don’t think she’s no lezzy.”
   Harvey was the only guy Malcom knew who still used the term ‘dame.’ In fact the last movie he could recall that used the word had Bogart in it.
   “I don’t know Harv, you know what they say, money isn’t everything.”
   “Hell, of course it ain’t everything but it can buy the rest…goddamn this bolt!”
   Both men stopped to evaluate their own positions.
   Harvey knew Miss Crenshaw was not a woman you could call Jayne Mansfield-esque but she was radiant and alluring. She was different and lived in worlds Harvey never knew, which wasn’t saying a whole lot. Harvey’s world included small, cold rooms that smelled of oil or small hot rooms that smelled of cigarettes, piss and beer.
   “You almost done over there?” Malcom asked.
   “No problemo, the dame will drive out right on schedule.”
   “You mean after we get our surprise,” corrected Malcom.
   “Oh yes, after our surprise.”
   Harvey lowered the Volvo to the ground and wiped his hands on a cloth that was more oil than rag. “Yes sireee, heir to the bunji throne and she still drives an ’87 Volvo. Takes all kinds. Worth her weight in Beanie Babies squared too.”
   “Well look at you,” Malcom retorted. “President of Shit Hole Car Repair Inc. and you still drive a lime-green Plymouth Duster.”
   “I am a modest man. Don’t wear my money on my sleeve.”
   “But that don’t mean you have to keep it buried in a jar,” said Malcom.
   Banter. Thirten years Harvey and Malcom worked together, thirteen years of meaningless banter. Chatter. Wasted wind. If you put it all end-to-end it would reach mars. Light years of banter.
   Malcom reached over to change the radio station. Some cowboy was crooning that you could take his girl but not his hat. Malcom wanted to hear some jazz, it was good music to work to and might sound a little classier to Miss Crenshaw, who, no doubt took them for semi-literate grease monkeys. Malcom wanted her to know that he was no stranger to picking up a book every now and then and if he ever had a CD player he’d listen to the Beethoven discs his ex-wife gave him after she’d won them in a church bingo tourney. There was more to him than nuts and bolts he would like her to know. But as soon as he would touch the dial, Harvey would wail like a lost mall kid.
   “Don’t touch that dial!” Malcom’s arm was in mid reach.
   “Just this once Harv. Miss Crenshaw is comin, c’mon.”
   “Miss Crenshaw has a big surprise for us,” Harvey retorted, “which means. Mr. Minister of Culture, that she a-preciates us just the way we are.”
   For once, Harvey was maybe right, thought Malcom. “I wish she’d get here, I hate surprises.”
   “Maybe I should offer her a ceeegar—“
   “No! Hey, I—“
   “Relax Malc. Christ. Just kidding. Now let’s bring this car down and get ready, she’ll be here in minutes.”
   Harvey often fantasized about Miss Crenshaw. He would dress (or undress her rather) in garters and black leather accessories. Sometimes he imagined her in a mask like the Lone Ranger wore, with a whip that cracked every time. Yah! Giddyap! Rawhide! He enjoyed the contrast between the slutty makeover and her real life, crisp, upper-class demeanor.
   Malcom was more romantic, allowing himself to imagine Miss Crenshaw’s hands in his, walking in some autumnal woods. He favored an episode where they would be driving along a deserted road late at night, in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly her Volvo would break down. Miss Crenshaw would be anxious. “Don’t worry,” he’d say, “sounds like the master cylinder needs a little work.” With a few swift adjustments under the hood, the two of them would quickly be on their way with Miss Crenshaw beaming at him like a supermarket barcode scanner. It didn’t get any better than that.
   Harvey and Malcom made a beeline for the bathroom, running their combs under the faucet sink, straightening the parts in their scalp. Tiny rivulets of grease ran from Harvey’s hand and down his arm as he raised his fingers to his hair. A greenish blue tattoo stained his right arm, so old as to be no longer readable like some faded wrapper in a roadside ditch.
   Malcom squeezed a blackhead at the top of his right cheek, alternately pinching and stepping back from the mirror as if to expect some miraculous change. The hair above his temple had been thinning rapidly for the last three years, raising his hairline and expanding his forehead, giving the impression of greater smarts than he really had.
   Preening, combing, squinting, they looked like a vaudeville act. All they needed was a barking seal.
   “Do not, I repeat, do not be crushed or ultimately defeated if Miss Crenshaw whisks me away as her man of choice. There may still be room for you in the big picture. In fact, we may need a servant and I would be happy to review your resume should you wish to apply,” said Malcom, giving his hair one last flick of the comb.
   “Yeah, I gotta resume for you,” answered Harvey, “bend over.”
   “Now that’s just the kind of class Miss Crenshaw is looking for.”
   Malcom ignored him. “Hey, you know what, five years Miss C has been bringingher car to us. I don’t think I even know her first name.”
   “Well,” said Harvey, rubbing his hands with glee. “I think I have a little advantage over you. See, if you ever helped with the billing, you might be privy to such intimate details. You might even know what L – M – A Crenshaw stands for.”
   “OK, don’t be a jerk, though I know it’s hard. What do they stand for?”
   “Lenore Maribella Ann.”
   “Lenore Mirabella Ann Crenshaw,” repeated Malcom, “kind of a mouthful.”
   “She’s a transplanted southerner. You know how they get with names. She is after all, heir to her father’s bunji fourtune.”
   Malcom continued to sound out her name. “Lenore…Lenore…quoth the raven…”
   “Shuddup, I think I see her coming.”
   “Bella Ann…Lenny Bell…?”
   Harvey was correct. A long white Lincoln Continental pulled into their lot, a shiny car made even more magnificent when contrasted against yards of grimy, oil-stained pavement. Malcom wondered how a family could make so much money for making bunji cords. A uniformed man was driving, an honest to God chauffer was behind the wheel, staring straight ahead like a zombie.
   The Chauffer came quickly to life in time to open the door for Miss Crenshaw as she exited, one long leg at a time. Her hair truly resembled spun gold that morning, just long and straight enough to brush the top of her shoulders. A light, white, cotton dress with a faint floral print glided down her body like a waterfall as though she were the very poster woman for the spring season. A thin slit on the left side of her dress began at her upper mid-thigh and sliced downward, revealing random glimpses of what the Gods may have worked overtime in designing. Malcom had to remind himself, nice bodywork but it’s what’s under the hood that counts.
   “Gentlemen,” she announced, standing erect, the door closed behind her.
   “Miss Crenshaw I presume,” said Harvey, actually surprising Malcom by not saying anything more stupid. In her arms she carried a small box, wrapped in white tissue paper which was tied together by a red string and punctuated with a bow. Hopes of surprises that couldn’t be wrapped (well, at least not in a traditional way), melted down the drain pipes of their garage floor.
   “In appreciation of all your years of work on my car gentlemen, I brought you a little present, something I thought you’d enjoy.” She held the package out in her hands. Harvey accepted, a forced smile wall-papered across his face.
   “Why thank you…Miss Crenshaw. You know you shouldn’t have.”
   “I know, I know, but I wanted to,” she replied. Harvey stood there, dumb, unmoving.
   “Aren’t you going to open it?” she prodded. Malcom stepped forward to help, pulling on one of the bow strings. The two of them clawed at the delicate wrapping like three year olds on Christmas.
   “Books,” said Harvey. “Gee thanks Miss Crenshaw.” In his hands were two volumes of what appeared to be some old and musty texts.
   “Yes, but not just any books,” she said.
   “Old ones,” said Malcom, trying to be helpful. Even he was at a loss for words.
   “1732 to be exact,” she added. Harvey tried to read the spines. “The..Deca…deca…morons. Are these books about retards?”
   Malcom cringed. Whatever it was, Miss Crenshaw was not giving them a book about mental patients. At least he hoped not.
   “No,” she said, almost as if talking to a small child, “it’s The Decameron, by a man named Boccaccio.”
   “Bo…cha…cheo…” repeated Harvey as if hypnotized.
   “Yes, it was written after the great plague of Europe. The book is told from the view point of a few survivors. It’s a wonderful book, full of courage and sadness, tragedy and triumph.”
   Malcom felt as though he were listening to a radio commercial; Now! The Decameron can be yours for only ten low monthly payments of $19.95!
   “Yeah…yeah, I always liked the plague,” said Harvey. “I mean not the plague but reading about it. I’ve heard of this book,” he lied, “always meant to read it. Didn’t they make a movie out of it?”
   “Well, I don’t know. Maybe they did.”
   “Very nice books, thank you Miss Crenshaw,” said Malcom, recalling his childhood manners from Christmas when he had to pretend to be excited about receiving underwear from his grandmother. “It was very nice of you to think of us. You didn’t have to do…this.”
   “Oh I know,” she said, actually blushing, “but I thought you could each read a volume and trade off. However you wanted to do it.”
   Malcom cradled the books under his arms. “Let me get your keys. Car’s good as new. Had a bad fan belt. No more squirrel sounds.”
   After Miss Crenshaw left, Harvey and Malcom moped in dejected silence, avoiding eye contact with each other.
   “You know, I think I had her figured wrong, doesn’t happen very often but this time I was way off,” said Malcom, looking for his own car keys. “If she had only one wish in the world, it wouldn’t be for world peace.”
   “No?” said Harvey. “What would it be for? A cure for the plague?”
   “They cured the plague dummy, lemme buy you a beer and I’ll tell you.”
   He locked the door behind Malcom and the headed toward the neighborhood bar. They could still make Happy Hour if they hurried.



 
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