Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Sunday threatened to be a real scorcher, so Jerry was hard at work while the temperatures were still reasonable. He had filled four trash bags with paper, rotten food, and broken kitchenware. He was washing the counters when he heard a noise behind him.
Without turning around, he said, “Hello, Abe.”
“You’re sure workin’ here,” replied the black youth as he scratched his neck. He had always considered his mother to be a terror about dirt, but she had to take a backseat to this guy.
“I plan to eat in here,” replied Jerry. Seeing the look on the kid’s face, he said, “There are enough germs in this room to kill an army.”
“Germs? You worry ‘bout germs,” asked Abe thinking that this guy sounded just as bad as his mother.
“Yeah, imagine that. Big man scared of something he can’t see,” Jerry answered in a joking voice.
“My momma always talks ‘bout germs.”
“Smart woman. You’ve ever had the shits for a week?”
“Your mother is the reason why,” replied Jerry with a smirk. In a way, Abe was like a lot of kids in the sense that if they didn’t see the danger, then it wasn’t really there. Bending to his work, he scrubbed at a particularly tough spot.
“Guess so. I always thought she was crazy.”
“So what are you doing today?”
“Want to help me?” asked Jerry anticipating a negative answer.
“You crazy?” asked Abe as though Jerry had asked him to fly.
“I didn’t think so,” replied Jerry. He poured more of the cleaning powder on the counter and wet the cleaning pad at the sink. As he went back to work scrubbing, he said, “I’m looking for a stock boy at the store.”
“You calling me a boy?” asked Abe in an offended manner.
“No. That’s what the position is called. I need someone to unpack the stock and put it on the shelves,” answered Jerry surprised that Abe had taken offense. That’s how he had started in the auto parts business.
“You talkin’ ‘bout a job?”
“Yes, I am. Two hours a day, Monday through Friday.”
“How much does it pay?”
“Five fifty an hour,” replied Jerry without looking at Abe. He wondered if the kid was going to take the job.
Abe stood where he was thinking about what he could do with fifty-five dollars a week. It sounded like a lot of money for a kid that was fifteen. Shrugging his shoulders, he said, “I guess so.”
“Guess so, what?” asked Jerry.
“I’ll take the job.”
“I didn’t say I was offering it to you,” replied Jerry.
“Why not? ‘Cause I’m black?” asked Abe getting angrier by the minute.
“The job is yours on two conditions.”
“Aw shit! Here it comes. My brother said you were a faggot.”
Jerry turned to look at Abe in surprise. The people in this neighborhood really didn’t trust whites. Shaking his head, he replied, “Fuck you, kid. All I was going to say was that you had to go to school everyday.”
“Why would you want that?” asked Abe puzzled. He was still trying to figure the angle that this guy was taking.
“I’m not training you for a career if you can’t get promoted. Without a high school diploma, I can’t make you a full time salesman when you turn eighteen.”
“Shit. Why would I want to be a salesman?”
“It starts at about thirty-six a year,” answered Jerry. At that pay, he could move out of this neighborhood and start a family.
“Thirty-six a year? What’s that?”
“That’s thirty-six thousand dollars a year,” replied Jerry knowing that amount of money would tempt Abe more than anything else he could offer.
“That’s a lot of money.”
“Well, you might decide to go to college. Probably make more money that way, but I don’t know much about that. I’ve never been to college.” The truth was that he never thought he was smart enough for college.
Jerry wiped down the counter trying to get all of the powder off the surface he had just cleaned. This was the part of this job he never seemed to be able to do well. It was easy enough to get lots of cleaning powder down, but tough to get it off. The countertop was clean enough to see it was a light blue speckled pattern. Shaking his head, he said, “I thought it was yellow under all that crap.”
Abe was leaning against the door into the kitchen thinking about what Jerry had said. There had to be a trick in all of this, but he didn’t know what it was. Finally, he said, “I’ll talk to my brother.”
“Might want to talk to your mother, too.”
“What’s my momma got to do wit’ this?” asked Abe.
“She can say no, and I won’t hire you,” replied Jerry.
Jerry turned his attention to the stove with built-in oven. Whoever had lived in this house before him had loved to fry food. There was old baked-on grease that covered the whole surface and the wall around it. Spraying the entire inside and outside with the oven cleaner, the smell almost drove him to his knees. Eyes watering, he headed out of the kitchen.
Eyes tearing, Abe swore as he backed out of the room, “Shit, man. I can’t believe you did that.”
Jerry grabbed the six-pack of cokes and headed towards the front door as he answered, “Let’s sit on the porch and drink a coke.”
“I’ll be there before you,” cried Abe as he rushed out of the house. Once outside, he wiped his eyes clearing the tears out of them.
Jerry left the house and sat down next to Abe. Ripping a can off the plastic holder, he tossed it over to Abe and then took one for himself. For a long time he examined what passed for a lawn. Crabgrass, dandelions, and thistle broke up the bare spots. There was one oak tree that provided some shade. After a minute, he asked, “Think there would be any problem with keeping my car on the lawn?”
“Shit, ain’t no one gonna complain about that around here,” replied Abe looking at the houses across the street. Several of them had cars in the yard. He looked over at Jerry and asked, “You worried about someone puttin’ another dent in the heap of yours?”
“No. I want to work on it under that tree over there.”
Abe closed one eye and looked at Jerry. “I thought white dudes had nice cars.”
Jerry laughed at the comment and pointed over to his truck as he said, “That’s the best car I’m ever going to own. It’s a real beauty.”
“Are you crazy? That’s a wreck. Someone ought to shoot it and put it out of its misery.”
Opening the coke, Jerry took a long sip from it before he replied, “I’ll bet you money that you’ll be begging to borrow my truck a year from now.”
Abe shook his head in the negative confident there was no way that he would want to borrow that wreck. They’d laugh him out of the neighborhood if he were to show up driving something that looked so bad. He didn’t even think it would be running in a year. “You’re one crazy white man.”
They sat together on the porch watching the activity around the neighborhood. Old folks sat on the porches, rocking in their chairs. The few young kids were riding bikes in the middle of the street unconcerned about cars. Martin and his friends were sitting on a curb talking about what they were going to do. Young women were busy with housework. There weren’t many men around who acted like fathers.
Finished with his soda, Jerry stood up and returned to the house to finish cleaning the kitchen. The odor had died down a little and he went to work wiping the grease off the stove and the residue out of the oven. Stepping back to look at the result, he said, “I had no idea they sold stoves painted gray.”
Examining it closer, he saw that someone had painted it a gray color in the past. It looked like hell, but was basically clean. He wondered how many of the burners worked. There was only one way to find out so he turned on all of the burners, but nothing happened. The oven worked, but he would have to check that it came up to a hot enough temperature to cook anything. He decided that it would be a problem to solve another day.
Shrugging his shoulders, he went to work on the other surfaces in the kitchen. For the next three hours, he did nothing except scrub the kitchen clean. By the time he was done, most of the surfaces actually shined. Standing at the doorway, he was pleased with the progress made on the room.
Returning from a late lunch, the temperature had reached the high nineties and looked like it might break triple digits before the afternoon ended. Entering the house, he found it was broiling inside. Of course, there wasn’t even a window unit to cool the house down. Stepping out to the porch, he noticed all of the elderly neighbors were sitting on their porches using folded newspapers as fans to cool themselves.
Seated on the porch, he leaned over and pulled his work list out of his back pocket. The yellow paper was folded into eighths. Unfolding it, he looked over the list trying to decide what he could do in this heat. Cleaning the bedroom or bathroom wasn’t possible in this heat. Looking over at his truck, he decided the only thing he could do was work on it.
The doors of the house were open in the hope that what little breeze might exist would help push some of the heat out. Rather than lock it up, he decided to leave them open while he ran to the auto parts shop. Going out to the truck, he noticed the old folks watched him while shaking their heads. He didn’t know why they reacted in such a negative fashion to his presence. Perhaps, it was because he was a white living in the neighborhood. Alternatively, it could be because he left the doors wide open.
Rather than heading directly to the parts store, he swung by a hardware store to buy a sheet of plywood. Until he rebuilt the wood bed of the truck, the plywood would have to serve. At least that way, he could haul lightweight things around in the back of the truck.
When he reached the auto parts store, he got out his power saw and cut the board to size. He wasn’t too careful with the fit, but it was good enough to function for a while. He threw the scraps in the back of the truck to use elsewhere, including fixing the step to the porch. Making several trips into the store, he loaded the truck with his tools. Once the truck was filled, he went into the store and looked up the parts for a 1956 F-100 Ford Pickup Truck. He loaded the truck with all of the easily replaceable parts, including a new battery.
At the house, he parked the truck under the oak tree, driving it over what was laughingly called a curb. Sitting on the porch waiting for his return were Abe and Martin. Jerry didn’t greet them, but went to the back of the truck to remove his toolbox. Martin came over to see what he was doing. When he reached the shade of the tree, he stopped and asked, “What are you doing?”
“Fixing my truck.”
“Thanks,” replied Jerry as he glanced down at it. The tools were the only things that were his throughout his marriage. Everything else belonged to the others in the family. It was the family television, the family house, and the family pet. The dog had died two years ago and he was the only one in the family who missed it.
The conversation died as Jerry lifted the hood of the truck and looked at the engine. The engine was built in the days before all of the electronics, pollution control, and air conditioners had been added to cars. There was room to get at every part of the engine, even with his huge hands.
He started by replacing the battery. The old one was long past its prime and he didn’t want to be stuck somewhere unable to start the truck. After that, he rebuilt the distributor and then replaced the ignition wires and spark plugs. Getting out the strobe, he started the car and adjusted the timing. The truck began to purr like a tiger although the tappets were rattling a little.
Removing the cover, he adjusted the gap on the tappets setting them back to book value. The lifter rods were all in good shape, a fact that surprised him. He was replacing the cover when Martin commented, “You really know cars and shit, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I like these old cars the most. A man can really work on them. It doesn’t require a computer or any of the fancy equipment.”
“My mom’s car doesn’t work.”
“What’s the matter with it?” asked Jerry as he examined the belts. He had brought belts just in case they needed to be replaced. The ones on the truck were old, but not too worn. Picking up the wrench, he loosened the bolt on the generator to replace them any ways.
“Shit, I don’t know.”
“If you knew, you could fix it.”
“I don’t have the tools,” replied Martin as he looked down at the toolbox.
“Well, if you were to find out what was wrong with it and wanted to fix it yourself, I see no reason you couldn’t bring the car over here and work on it while I’m working on this one.”
“No shit. Of course, you’d have to buy parts.”
“How much did all this stuff you’re putting into this car cost?”
“About a hundred. I get an employee discount that lets me buy them at wholesale.”
“Must be nice.”
Jerry slipped the old belt off the pulleys and threw it down on the ground. After slipping the new belt on, he pulled the generator so that the belt tightened. As he tightened the bolt on the generator mount, he said, “I’m looking for a full time salesman.”
Martin had been about to walk off when Jerry hadn’t replied to him immediately, but stopped in mid-step and turned around to look at Jerry. He asked, “You’re looking for a full time salesman?”
“Yes, I am. Of course, they have to be qualified for the position.”
Martin frowned and said, “Yeah right. Got to have experience and all of that kind of shit.”
“High school degree or equivalent.”
“I graduated High School this year.”
Jerry didn’t say a word, but checked the tightness of the bolt. Satisfied that it was tight enough, he put the wrench back in his toolbox. Looking up at Martin, he asked, “Well?”
“You’d hire me?”
“Possibly, but you’d have to convince me that you want the job. Believe me, it is a real job. It requires you to show up when you are scheduled, dress in business casual clothes, and work hard.” Jerry grinned in a manner that looked almost feral as he added, “I’m not an easy boss. I don’t tolerate drunks or druggies working for me.”
Jerry checked the oil and found it was a little low and definitely required an oil change. He had the oil, the filter, and everything else required for changing the oil except an oil pan to drain the old oil into. The quick change in town was cheap and would use his parts since they’d have to order them from him anyway.
He noticed Martin wasn’t talking and wondered which of his conditions had put doubts in his head. He removed the hoses and replaced them with new ones. After checking the radiator, he topped it off with a little antifreeze. He noticed that it had little metal flakes floating on the water. Someone had used ‘stop leak’ to hide a radiator problem. He’d have to replace it before long.
Martin broke the silence when he said, “I’d do a good job for you, but I don’t have the clothes.”
Jerry smiled and replied, “I suppose you would probably pull parts for the salesman until you learned the inventory and lingo. Then you could probably work on the phone until your first paycheck. By then, you’d have enough money to afford an outfit.”
Martin listened and asked, “So you’d hire me?”
“Yes, I probably would. You’d have to fill out an application and I’d check your references. We’d have a formal interview where I could see you function in a business environment.” Jerry was enjoying this discussion since he was getting to see Martin’s mind at work.
“So what does it pay?”
“About thirty-six a year.” He slammed the hood closed with a resounding clang.