Not sure what's going on? Read Part One!
Chuck and Irene
Next to Leonard, Irene would receive the biggest tips from customers, often in the range of four to five dollars a car. I'd guess she was in her early forties, or in her early thirties and showing the effects of alcoholism. She had sensibly cut reddish-brown hair and while not really pretty, was somewhat attractive by standards of the wash. Also, she had a stutter --- in fact was the only person I've actually met who stuttered. As a result she wasn't a big talker, but she didn't seem particularly ashamed of the defect.
Irene's boyfriend, Chuck, wore a brown beard, was slender, about 5'11 in height and sported the beginnings of an alcoholic's ruddy complexion. Soft spoken, he was a nice guy. He seemed to genuinely care about Irene. They were a nice couple.
That's why it was always a bit hard to believe the stories that would pop up about them. Chuck would be doing time in jail because he got drunk and beat up Irene. Irene had attacked Chuck with a broom handle. They'd both gotten kicked out of their low rent apartment for failing to pay rent. Apparently, the Chuck and Irene at the wash were decidedly different from the Chuck and Irene that went home and started drinking.
One night, their apartment building in downtown Seattle caught fire (I think it was arson but unrelated to them.) and Irene woke up with smoke streaming into their room. Somehow, she got herself and Chuck out, though I believe they lost most of their possessions. While Irene was mostly unscathed, Chuck had inhaled a lot of smoke and suffered some 2nd degree burns on his face and chest. He was out for a couple weeks and when he showed up at the wash, he face was bandaged and covered with blisters. Management decided he was too scary looking to present to customers, so they had him work in the back, scrubbing down cars. I remember working with him at the time and thinking he was like our own private monster.
The Two Vaguely Homosexual Dudes
That One Guy
Dax, the white gangsta and Clown Girl
After a couple years at the West Seattle location, I saved up some money and quit. I didn't have any particular plan but I wanted some time off. Determined to stretch my savings as long as possible, I entered into a monk-like existence, limiting my expenses to five dollars a day (sans rent, utilities etc.) Most days I would wander over to the Seattle Public Library and read guitar magazines or graphic novels like Dan Clowes' "Lout Rampage" or the "Love and Rockets" series. Then I'd borrow a movie from the library's video collection which consisted entirely of weird art/foreign films and Hollywood classics from the 50's. On the way home I'd grab a 22 ouncer of malt liqueur like St. Ides or Old English and crash out on the couch watching the film. It was one of the happiest periods of my life.
After about three months though, my money ran out. I had to get a job. So I wandered over to the downtown Elephant Car Wash. I knew the manager from a period when all the downtown boys had come to work at the South Seattle location while their wash was undergoing renovation. After a five minute chat he gave me a job. I worked there for a couple more years and met a whole new assortment on lunatics including...
"You should have gone for it," I advised.
"Well, I'm gay so it wouldn't have mattered," he replied.
I was, I must confess, quite in awe of Jay's balls. Being openly gay at a place so steeped in male bravado and for that matter, violence, struck me as courageous. On the other hand, no one seemed to really give him a hard time which leads me to believe it might be easier to be "out" in the 90s at a car wash than, say, a law firm.
One more thing about Jay. Across his throat was a large scar. As he told it, he had been in the men's room of the downtown McDonalds and a black dude had snuck up behind him and demanded his wallet. Despite Jay's compliance the dude'd still sliced his blade across Jay's throat, but not enough to open the windpipe.
*Yet, as soon as I say that, I find myself backpeddling. For instance, one would rightfully wonder, if Earl hated gays, how did he interact with Jay? Truth is they were quite friendly and Earl seemed to have a genuine affection for the guy. And whatever bigotry Earl might have felt towards blacks or Mexicans didn't stop him from playing cards or sharing a beer with them. For all his slurs, a guy like Earl was probably far more comfortable with "diversity" than most of the politically correct robots that populated Seattle's uber-hipster Capital Hill area and read the then humorless, hyper-polemical Stranger magazine.
But my main memory about Jason took place away from the car wash. After I moved out of the apartment building where I'd lived for my first five years in Seattle, he moved in. One day I took a couple forty ouncers over there and we decided to climb up to the roof. This was a dangerous proposal because, if caught, Jason could have been evicted. Nevertheless, we took our now opened beers, silently climbed out a hallway window to the fire escape and, like a pair of ninjas, ascended upward. We got just about to the top and I was handing my beer to Jason when it slipped out of his fingers. It crashed down on the iron grate (didn't break though) and what seemed like several gallons of beer fell seven stories and spattered on the concrete, the sound echoing across the alleyway. It could not have been fucking louder! But at that point we figured, fuck it, if we're going to get caught we're going to get caught. As it was, we weren't.
One day Alex walked into the break room and announced to everyone that he had something important to show us. We marched outside and there were a group of Christian minstrel singers. Apparently they were just traveling the neighborhood, singing songs of Jesus to whomever they could ensnare. Alex, in his mischievous way, thought it vital that we sit through several of their songs.
One difference between the South and downtown car washes was that the downtown wash also had gas pumps. Customers would drive up, get their ticket and walk off while we gassed the car and vacuumed the interior. Once the tank was filled we'd replace the gas nozzle and drive the car around the back for scrubbing. But on one occasion Brian skipped the "replace the gas nozzle" part and drove off. As can be predicted the nozzle ripped off and gas poured all over the ground. Now, truth is, this wasn't an entirely uncommon occurrence. (I did it myself a few times.) What was unusual is that Brian managed to do the same thing few hours later. But he handled it with good natured aplomb.
The second story I didn't find out about until years after I'd left the wash. At the time, we had a 20ish, blonde, hippie-ish sales girl who drove around in a VW Bug while listening to Phish tunes (I don't know if she actually did this, it's just what I assume all hippie-ish girls do.). I can't remember her name so we'll call her Liz. Liz was quite attractive and was salivated over by most of the guys at the wash, myself included, but we all knew we hadn't a chance with her.
Brian on the other hand was a puffy-faced 35 year-old who looked like a young Alfred Hitchcock with Elvis hair. No way anything could happen between him and Liz, right? That's what I thought. And there certainly never appeared to be any sparks between them on the lot. But as I found out later they'd been getting it on for some time despite the fact that one of them, I can't remember whom, had a significant other.
Ok, you might say, maybe this makes some sense. After all, history is replete with attractive young women sleeping with their older bosses. But you would think Liz would be the one who had the power in the relationship, the one who had to be courted with gifts and compliments. But as I heard it, it was more a matter of Liz putting up with Brian's constant foolishness. At one point he crashed her car. On another occasion when they were up at her father's summer cabin he managed to trash her father's motorboat. The whole thing just never made sense. Yet, she stuck with him in her exasperated hippie way. Years later I ran into her a few times when I was going to classes at Seattle's South Central Community College and I assume she'd dumped him by then.
Little Man guy
They guy was probably around my age and went out of his way to annoy me with plain idiotic jokes like coming up behind me and yelling in my ear. It wasn't so much bothersome for the volume as much as the plain stupidity. But when I'd push back he'd look genuinely wounded and say something like, "You know I wouldn't give you a hard time if I didn't like you."
At one point, he developed a habit of driving cars onto the track and then pounding the horn. This was, of course, grossly irritating to myself and whatever hapless Mexican I happened to be working with. After several of these occasions I came really close to losing it. I remember the moment as if it was yesterday. Ron was exiting a car after just pounding the horn and I lifted up my 5 foot long scrub brush. Ron was bigger than me, but I calculated that if I managed to swing the brush forward I'd be able to catch Ron between the car door and knock the wind out of him. At that point, I could take advantage of his surprise and leap over and start kicking him, hopefully knocking him unconscious before he had a chance to fight back. I'd be fired of course, but it just might work.
Fortunately, I decided against the plan, as it probably would have failed. Ron would have pounded me into hamburger and with good reason since I'd have been the one who attacked him. And a few months later I realized just how unaware he was of my feelings about him. He came up, announced he'd been kicked out of his apartment and asked if I'd like to share a place with him. Of course not, I thought. I absolutely detest you. But I couldn't say that to his expectant, puppy dog face. (Instead I made up some excuse.)
A couple months after that, Ron developed a habit of coming into the wash drunk and they fired him.
Brian #2 (I might be wrong about this guy's name but it rings a bell.)
My main memory was of Brian and Jason coming by my apartment one day. They were both smoking pot, and duly elevated, Jason convinced Brian to show me his singing voice. As a result I had the pleasure of a thoroughly stoned and giggling white dude singing some sort of Al Jolson tune in a barely tolerable baritone.
Jim was on work release, he eventually ended up doing sales (which was also my job at the time.) While performing that duty I remember one occasion where an irate customer who'd been waiting in line walked up to him and said, "Who did I have to blow to get car wash around here?" I would've predicted a few reactions to come out of Jim at that point, all involving physical violence directed at the man and his car. Instead, Jim - swaggering, cursing Jim - said, "Sir, I'm not going to talk to you if you're are going to use that kind of language."
After a couple years at the downtown car wash, I quit again. Then I started college, and for another year went back to the South Seattle location. Finally, I quit that place for good, did some temp work, and ended up getting into the bourgeoning web development scene that was overtaking Seattle in the late 90's.
On occasion, I feel like I should regret the time wasted at the wash, time spent in near poverty whereas I could have been in college of something. But I don't. In a strange way, the car wash was excellent preparation for the white-collar world of Internet development and software design. No client can be as intimidating as a 6'5, 300 pound convicted murderer looming over you, or and a sputtering, angry black man promising to stab you in the neck with his pen. No looming deadline can equal a lot full of thirty-five cars piling up after chain has just broken. I realized at the wash that when life tries to bury you all you can do is take a breath and start digging your way out. And to this day when I come across people who will tell some story of some purportedly crazy person they know - someone on drugs or in jail - and I just nod and think to myself, "Man, you have no idea"
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Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - email@example.com
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.
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