The last time I washed my truck was in the spring of ‘03. I remember it well because I had a violent fever and was hallucinating at the time.
The only thing I recall from that day is walking outside, without pants on, and washing my truck with a garden hose while singing “Mister Sandman.”
Next thing I knew, my wife was at home with bags of groceries in her arms and shouting, “What in God’s name are you doing?” Then, she threw me into the backseat and drove me to the ER.
“What’s wrong with him?” the doctor said.
“I don’t know, doc,” my wife said. “I left him in bed, I went to the store, and when I got home I found him eating a jar of Turtle Wax.”
“This is very bad,” said the doc. Then he snapped his fingers before my eyes. “Sean, can you hear me?”
I nodded and said, “When can I open my presents, Mommy?”
So today goes down in my own personal history. I took my truck through an automated car wash. I don’t know what made me do it.
First, I bought some licorice at the gas station, then I purchased a ticket for the car wash.
It was great. There were big brushes spinning on hydraulic arms, and high-powered spray nozzles shooting water with enough pressure to bore holes through bricks.
And I was a child again.
It’s funny, sometimes I can’t recall what I had for supper last night, but I still remember when they built the small car wash next to the Conoco station.
I remember the bulldozers breaking ground before it was built, and the old men who stood at a distance, shaking heads in disapproval.
“A car wash,” one man grumbled. “When did people get so lazy they forgot how to use elbow grease?”
“Bah humbug,” said another.
And I remember the grand opening. My father was among the first customers. That Saturday, we were in his F-100— forest green with tan interior.
I brought a snorkel mask for the big event.
In my hands was chocolate milk. Daddy was eating a black licorice whip. God, did that man love licorice.
We waited in a long line of vehicles. I don’t remember what the radio was playing, but I’ll bet it was something like “The Trilogy” by Elvis Presley.
Daddy was craning his head to see what was happening to the cars ahead. We could see splashes of water and hear the loud sounds of Armageddon.
When it was our turn, my father placed quarters into the slot, then hit the red button. We rolled forward.
“Hold on to your unmentionables,” said my father.
I lowered my snorkel mask.
He threw the gear shift in park. The doors closed before and behind us.
Then the whirr of spinning brushes, the high-pitched scream of a motor, the sound of water.
My father ate his licorice whip like he was watching a double-feature Western.
The experience ended far too quickly. When we exited the ramp, my father parked his truck and leapt out to observe the finished product.
He inspected his vehicle, especially around the fenders. I stood beside him, watching him kick the tires. They were as clean as I’d ever seen them. Pure black, no mud.
“Do these tires look dirty to you?” he said. “They look dirty to me.”
Dirty? I was thinking. They were clean enough to serve as an entree. Was he going blind? Then it dawned on me, I knew what he was suggesting.
So I nodded my head. “Yes, they look absolutely filthy.”
“I knew it,” he said. “Just as I expected, what a waste of money. Guess we’d better run it through it one more time.”
We waited in the line of cars again. And when we rolled through the wash the second go round, it was even more fun than the first time.
Today, I’m not much different than that little boy—except within the eyes of the IRS. I can still see my father leaning over his steering wheel, bending his neck to get a better look through the windshield. I can see him gawking at the orchestra of gyrating parts.
Anyway, when my carwash ended today, I stepped out to inspect my truck. I looked at the fenders and tires. I swiped my finger across my wheel and inspected my fingertip.
Just as I expected.
I decided I needed to go through one more time. Not for me, but for the cleanliness of my tires. And, for a man I once knew who died too young.
Besides, I wasn’t even half finished with my black licorice yet.