Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
The rest of the day passed slowly as nothing of significance happened. Mike had taken over some of the duties of assistant manager, Martin was learning how to look up orders, and Abe had finished putting up the stock. Mike’s wife, Karen, was learning her job and trying his patience at the same time. He wasn’t a good teacher and he knew it. Overall, the atmosphere at the store was better than it had been for years.
Stepping out onto the front porch, Jerry looked around the neighborhood. The old folks were on their porches watching life pass by as kids played in the street. Stretching, Jerry went over to the Camaro and opened the hood. The engine compartment was a mess.
Returning to the house, he brought out his toolbox. He went to work removing every part that was attached to the engine. It was going to take him most of the day to do it properly. He hadn’t done much more than start on the job, before Martin came over to where he was working. Looking up at his neighbor, Jerry asked, “What can I do for you this afternoon?”
“I want to learn how to fix a car,” replied Martin feeling a little uneasy about intruding.
“Which car do you want to learn on?” asked Jerry.
“Nope. How about your mother’s car?”
“I guess so,” replied Martin as he looked at the old monster parked in front of the house.
“Okay. You get in and steer. I’ll push it. We’ll park it on the other side of this tree,” said Jerry.
The pair walked over to the twenty-five year old Caddy, and Martin went into his house for the keys. When he came back, Jerry said, “Not a bad looking car. It needs some bodywork, chrome, and a new roof. You’ll definitely have to redo the interior to get it back to good shape. It’s rather large for the streets today, but you’ll be able to trade it for a new low-end car and perhaps pick up another old one to fix up. We’ll have to see about the mechanical parts of the car, first though.”
There was a moment of silence as Martin considered that. He looked back at his house and wondered what his mother would say to that. For now, she was stuck taking a bus to work. Nodding, he got behind the wheel. Stretching, Jerry went behind the car and shouted, “Put it into neutral and release the brake. I’ll push.”
Leaning forward, Jerry started pushing the car. This was a heavy monster and it took all of his strength to get it moving. Slowly he got the car rolling, his muscles reveling in being challenged in a feat of continuing strength. Martin steered the car away from the curb and into the middle of the street. The kids cleared the way, watching in amazement at the sheer strength of the man pushing the car. It sped up even more.
Turning the wheel, Martin drove the car over the curb. The sudden jarring of the car almost tripped Jerry, but he recovered for about ten more steps. In a spectacular fall, he tripped over the curb reaching out to catch his fall with his hands. His hands slid across the ground for a yard before he came to a stop.
The grass and dirt slowed the car down to the point where it stopped before it reached the tree. As soon as the car had stopped, Martin pulled the parking break and ran out of the car over to where Jerry was picking himself off the ground. Excited, he asked, “Are you okay?”
“Forgot about the curb,” replied Jerry. He looked at his hands expecting them to be all torn up by his fall, but outside of a little redness there was no sign that he had fallen. They should have been torn up, but the calluses had protected them. Shaking his head, he said, “These bones of mine are encased in leather.”
“No. Stubbed my toe, but there isn’t much you can do about that,” replied Jerry. He walked over to where the Caddy was parked and said, “Let’s move it up about five more feet. No need to be working on the car in the sun.”
It didn’t take them long to get the car positioned under the tree. Walking around the car to the driver side door, Jerry said, “Open the hood and let’s take a look at what you have.”
Martin got out of the car and went to the hood. It took him a few moments to figure out how to open the hood. When he opened it, he found that some animal had built a nest in the engine compartment. Shaking his head, he said, “This is a mess.”
“I suggest the first thing you do is get rid of nest. Looks like a rat or something decided to live there for a while,” remarked Jerry looking over the collection of sticks and leaves that had been carried into the engine area.
As Martin removed his shirt and went to work on the car, Jerry returned to working on his. As he removed each part, he carried it around to the back of the car and put it in the trunk. Since he didn’t have a garage, the trunk would have to suffice as a place to store the parts. He had just removed the battery when Martin declared, “That’s done. Now what?”-
Jerry went over and pointed out all of the easily removable parts. The air filter, battery, and distributor cap were the first to go. For the next three hours, the men worked side by side, each on their own car, and talking occasionally about what needed to be done. As they worked, a small crowd of teenage boys gathered to watch what they were doing. In this neighborhood, fixing a car passed for grand entertainment.
Jerry gave one of the kids ten dollars and sent him to the store to buy a couple six packs of soft drinks. It was forty minutes before he returned, but the drinks were still cool. Passing drinks around to all of the observers, they took a break to replace the fluids lost by sweating.
Standing around, Martin said, “This is hard work. I’m bleeding on every knuckle.”
Looking down at his paws, Jerry saw that his hands were developing calluses beyond those that he’d had the day before. He held out his hands for Martin to examine and said, “In a few weeks, you won’t recognize these as hands.”
“Shit, Man. That ain’t normal,” remarked Martin as he looked over the hands. A number of the boys standing around nodded their agreement.
“I know,” replied Jerry. The physical work had pushed the rage well into the background, but turned his body into something just as monstrous.
At the end of the afternoon, both cars had been stripped to where the only thing remaining in the engine compartments were the engine blocks. Jerry stepped back and said, “I’d say that is enough for today.”
“What? We’ve still got a couple of hours that we can work,” replied Martin. He had thought they would actually get the cars working that day.
“We need to get a hoist to help pull the engine. After that, we have to break the engine down and replace all of the parts that are out of spec. That will take a whole day for each engine.”
“How do you know that I need to replace any parts?” asked Martin confused. As far as he knew, Jerry didn’t even know what was wrong with his mother’s car.
Smiling at the obvious confusion expressed by Martin, Jerry said, “You wanted to learn how to fix a car. Best way that I know of is to completely rebuild one.”
“Oh. So how long is this going to take?” replied Martin.
“A couple of weeks, I would imagine. We’ve got to finish the engine and put it back in. After that, we’ll rebuild the carburetor and generator. Then we’ll spend some time checking every part as we put it back on the engine. Then, you get to hold your breath, as we see if it starts.”
The amount of work was daunting and he wondered if he was willing to go through all of that effort to get the car fixed. Almost as though Jerry was reading his mind, he said, “You’ve got to finish what you started. In this shape, it is worth about a hundred dollars. Fix it and you’ll have something worth about eighteen thousand dollars.”
A number of the kids that were still hanging around looked at each other in surprise. The idea that they could get money fixing something was a novel concept to them. Martin nodded to himself and said, “I didn’t realize how much work I was getting into.”
“That’s life,” replied Jerry as he looked over his audience. He continued, “I know that sucks, but it is true. Too often we get involved in something without being aware of the full effort that is required, and without knowing the long term consequences.”
One of the kids asked, “So why bother doin’ anything?”
Shaking his head, Jerry replied, “There’s no easy way to get through life. Everything you do has consequences.”
“Shit, I don’t want to do hard work,” replied the kid.
“The easy way leads to the hardest work in the long run. Of course, I don’t expect you to believe me,” replied Jerry with a sigh as he looked at the kid. It seemed highly unlikely that this kid would change his opinion anytime in the future. Grasping at a last straw, he said, “The best way is to find something that you like to do and make money doing it.”
“I like smoking grass,” joked the kid.
“I like f•©king, but there are some things that are better not pursued as a career,” replied Jerry with a shake of his head.
His comment caused everyone to laugh, but it was an uneasy laugh as people thought about what he had said. Now that they had finished working on the car, the crowd of watchers slowly dispersed. When it was only Martin and Jerry, the young black man said, “I figured you’d have taken Kenny’s head off when he said that he liked to smoke grass.”
“You think he would listen to a white man?”
“I’d rather keep him open to future dialogs than slam him down, now. You never know what the future will bring.” Jerry slowly turned and walked to the porch. Taking a seat, on the step, he watched as Martin came to join him. He asked, “Where’s your little brother?”
Martin shook his head and said, “He borrowed ten bucks from Mom and left the house early this morning. I’ve got no idea what he’s up to.”
Curious, Jerry didn’t make a comment. He hoped that the kid wasn’t doing anything crazy, but it wasn’t up to him. Shrugging, he said, “I hope that he doesn’t get in trouble. I like the kid.”
“He told me about the bonus program based on grades,” replied Martin. A rather muted Abe had told him about the program. He knew his brother well enough to know that his brother would want to get a bonus, but that it would be hard for him to do. The other kids in the school didn’t think that much of working hard on schoolwork.
“It’s going to be tough for him. I get the impression that a lot of the kids around here don’t think much of working hard,” remarked Jerry.
“Are you saying that you think Blacks are lazy?” asked Martin rather disturbed by the comment.
“Not really, just echoing the comments made by our audience after we finished working on the car. Of course, their attitude isn’t all that unusual. Hell, it seems like my own kid doesn’t believe in working hard,” remarked Jerry.
“You have a kid?”
“Where are they?”
A sense of sadness fell on Jerry as he answered, “They are at home with their mother.”
Not having a father in his life, Martin didn’t know what he thought about the situation. Curious, he asked, “Do you want to see them?”
“I don’t know. They’ve never really cared to see me in the past and I don’t know much about them.” Admitting that out loud was one of the hardest things he could do.
Wearing a strange expression on his face, Martin replied, “Shit. I don’t know who my Daddy was. Still, it would be kind of nice to meet him some day.”
“What would you say to him?” asked Jerry.
“Where the f•©k have you been my whole life?” answered Martin with a little anger in his voice. Calming down, he asked, “What else am I supposed to ask him?”
Laughing, it was easy to understand how that would be the logical question. However, life wasn’t that simple and the absence could be explained by a thousand reasons. The one the kid didn’t want to hear is that his father didn’t care enough to be bothered. Jerry answered, “Yeah, I suppose that is a reasonable question. So I guess you think I should invite the kids over here?”
“I wasn’t saying that,” replied Martin. He spat on the ground in front of him and then said, “I guess it wouldn’t be a bad idea anyway. You don’t work tomorrow and school doesn’t start until after Labor Day. Bring them over tomorrow.”
There wasn’t any reason not to do that. Of course, getting in touch with the kids was going to be tough, particularly without having to talk to his wife. Looking over at Martin, he asked, “Would you mind making a telephone call for me?”
“You haven’t got a telephone?”
“No. We’ll have to go someplace where there is a telephone.”
Shaking his head, Martin asked, “Why do you need me to make the call?”
“I don’t want to talk to my wife.”
Remembering the raw anger on his boss’s face after the other day, Martin could understand why it might be for the better if Jerry didn’t talk to his wife. Nodding his head, he said, “Sure, I can do that.”
The pair of them went to the store, so that Martin could make the call.
While Martin explained to Bill that he could meet his father at the mall tomorrow morning, Jerry searched the catalogs for the parts he would need for the Camaro. With a list in hand, he went through the stock to see if he had the parts. He was going through his money faster than he had budgeted and was going to have to slow down his spending a bit.
Martin returned from the front desk and said, “I told your son that you would be at the mall tomorrow at ten. He didn’t make any promises.”
“That’s about what I expected.”
Sitting in the mall on Tuesday morning drinking a coffee and eating a cinnamon roll, Jerry watched the people walking past. The time was getting close to ten and the stores were preparing to open. The mall walkers were starting to clear out of the mall, only to be replaced by the early shoppers. There were a number of mothers with children of all ages waiting for stores to open to buy back-to-school clothes. As a general rule, the older the child was, the less happy they were to be with their mothers.
Taking a sip of his coffee, he noticed his son slowly wandering in his direction. Waving to get the attention of the boy, he waited to see if his son saw him. For the first time, he noticed how threadbare his son’s clothes were. His son saw him, but didn’t speed up his approach to the table. In fact, it appeared as though he was about to change his mind about coming over to the table on several occasions.
Jerry pointed to the cinnamon roll on the plate across from him. It was still hot and the frosting was melting into the kind of gooey mess that made eating them half the battle and most of the fun. Bill slowly made his way to the table and sat down without saying a word. Jerry said, “I’m glad you came, Bill.”
A grin flickered over the face of his son at the adult form of his name as opposed to the ‘Billy’ used by his mother. He shrugged in the manner of a teenager and said, “I almost didn’t come here.”
That was understandable. Jerry had no idea what his wife was saying about him at the house, but it would have been pretty bad. He replied, “I understand. I guess your sister decided not to come.”
Bill snorted and said, “She’s at home with Mom.”
“I guess things have been pretty unpleasant there.”
“Unpleasant? It’s been sheer hell there. You’d think you had killed someone from the way they are talking about you,” replied Bill in a tone of disgust. As the only male in the house, it was hard listening to how horrible men were. His mother didn’t think too much of men and he had always been the recipient of that attitude, only now it was a hundred times worse.
“I’m not going to talk bad about her. It just isn’t worth the energy.”
Taking a bite of the cinnamon roll, Bill ate quietly working up the energy to ask the questions that had bothered him the most. After swallowing, he realized that he wanted something to drink. He croaked, “Got anything for me to drink?”
Pointing to a cup, Jerry answered, “I bought you a coffee.”
Surprised at the adult choice of drink, Bill took a sip of the hot liquid and couldn’t decide if he liked it or not. After another minute, he asked, “What happened the night you left?”
“I was in a car accident and arrived late at home.”
“Were you okay?” asked Bill surprised by the statement, as it was the first that he heard of his father being in an accident.
“Fortunately, but the engine of my car was totaled. The car accident wasn’t anything compared to getting knocked on my ass by the lightning bolt that struck less than ten feet away from me.” The events of that night were still fresh in his mind.
“Wow! So what happened when you got home?”
“Let’s just say that she didn’t care that I almost died. It was leave, or kill her. I figured it was better for everyone that I leave,” replied Jerry with a sigh.