“It’s a very simple question, son. Have you tried it?”
The old man could be maddening with his off-topic filibustering. Even worse, he never seemed to emerge from beneath the car he was under. The old man was a mechanic; the station had been in business for thirty-some years. His father had seen more than his share of mechanical evolution. He didn’t understand most of today’s cars, powered as they are by computerized systems. Fortunately for Ernie, there were enough of the old-fashioned pre-computer cars running around and requiring maintenance because it was cheaper to fix the old geezers than to mortgage your future on a new hybrid miracle-mystical battery powered street-rod of tomorrow. Sometimes it’s smart to be behind. Ernie often said he was happy to be on the edge of the economy instead of the bleeding edge of business.
“What does that have to do with my dilemma?”
“Everything and nothing, I imagine.” Something metallic clattered to the ground. “Damnit!”
“You all right?” No sound came from beneath the car. “Dad? Are you all right?”
The dolly trundled suddenly from beneath the car revealing Ernie on his back, looking straight up at his son. “I’m fine! These stupid hands just don’t always work right. What do they call it? Motor skills? Yeah. Well, it’s a fine thing for a mechanic to lose his motor skills.” The dolly retreated beneath the car, followed by the usual sound of metal on metal tinkering away at something.
Jess wanted to laugh at his Father’s attempt to diffuse the moment. He had a way of doing that. In reality, it might be a talent. Jess was too tired and frustrated to talk about pimento cheese sandwiches, no matter how good! They could be heavenly; but, it wouldn’t be of any comfort.
“No I didn’t taste it. I’m not hungry. I got too much on my mind.”
“Yawght to. Damndest thing. She substituted cream cheese in her pimento cheese, and it is to die for! Nearly melts in yer mouth. I ate two sandwiches for lunch. Mother, I says, you ought to patent this concoction, make a fortune, like Famous Amos Cookies.”
The thud was sharp and brutal. What followed was the jangle of metal on concrete as any number of hand tools bounced, skidded, or tumbled across the concrete floor with a penetratingly jarring punch of colliding metal, too. When it was finally quiet, Ernie rolled out from beneath the auto. Ernie stood up and looked around.
“Absolutely nothing! The story of my life. I have lived thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have
told me nothing, and probably cannot tell my anything, to the purpose. Excuse me, you just told me a secret ingredient to Mom’s pimento cheese sandwich.”
“It’s good, and you should try it.” Ernie bent over and slid onto the dolly. Once down, he walked himself back under the car and began working again. “So that’s what your pissed about-”
“The deck is stacked against me, Dad! No matter where I go, what I try to do, there’s some gate keeper telling me I’m not eligible for access!”
“I’ve been trying to give you advice most of my days. I guess you think there’s some kind of teacher’s manual comes with this business, and the answers are all in the back of the book. I don’t know what the answer is for you, but I’ve spent most of my time trying to tell you what the answer is for me.”
“Pimento cheese sandwiches.”
“With cream cheese instead of cottage cheese! Now that’s some living, son.”
“It’s not what I want.”
“And that’s ok, too. But, if what you want is one of them – whaddyacallit – Reuben sandwiches? Well, I don’t have no clue how to construct one of them kids. I don’t even know what all’s in it! You think you’re frustrated? Ever stop to consider your mother and me? Ever wonder what we think, wish, or hope?”
Jess folded his arms and leaned against the car; his head bowed.
“You wanna know what frustrates me? To have the quality of my speaking judged by the quality of your listening. You’re continually listening from somewhere I don’t recognize.”
Jess nodded his head and forced his weight up over his feet, away from the car. He slowly walked out from the shaded garage bay and into the sun. Ernie looked over his shoulder to see his son framed in the bay opening, standing in the bright sun.
Jess stopped and turned back. “Yeah, Dad?”
Ernie rolled the dolly from beneath the car and stood up. He looked hard at his son.
“What is it, Dad? I gotta go.”
“I want you to listen closely to what I’m gonna say, because I don’t know how else to say it, son. My speaking and your listening are often two different gears that don’t seem to mesh, you know.
Jess stood very still in the sunlight; Ernie shifted his weight a little, standing in the cool shade of the garage bay.
“I was brought up on John Wayne movies, you know.”
Jess sighed and let his head sink.
“But there was only one movie ever puzzled me, and you remind me of that movie right now. The Duke was hunting a captive niece, and he brought her home finally. At the end of the picture – and I pretty well figured out the Duke was the old west – he stood in the sun and couldn’t come inside because his world was elsewhere.”
“The Searchers, Dad.”
“Yeah, might be. Anyway you’re framed in this garage bay opening and I’m feeling the opposite. I’m stuck in here and can’t get out.”
The mystery of connections is that they are always a surprise, like now.
“I know you’re in a hurry. I was hoping you could stay a little longer and share one of your mother’s pimento cheese sandwiches. They really are to die for!”