Seventeen Points in Which Each Point Is to Be Ignored
- Claude changes the spark plugs on his car for the first time. Actually the first time he’s worked on his car, or any car.
- Demi is proud of her boyfriend. But more relieved he no longer worries about not having an automobile. She had never seen anything like it.
- He scoured several message boards on the Internet to find details on the operation. He needed to acquire a standard 17-millimeter ratchet head with a rubber stopper that holds onto the plastic end of the plug when he pulls it out of the block. Of all personages, his neighbor Wharton had one he could borrow. Piece of cake.
- She thought his blood pressure would go over 250 points. In fact most of the people Demi knew were paralyzed by the fear of living without whimsical transportation. It was like a reminder of their mortality.
- When he got back from the auto store and pried open the beige mouth of their Toyota, exposing its patinas for anyone to see, his inclination was to detach everything from the distributor. Arranging the new spark plug wires on a used assorted popcorn can he found by the trash, Claude apprehended the graveness of his mistake.
- In high school Demi was attracted to anyone in a band. Contrariwise anyone who drew pictures of robots was attracted to Demi. She remembers when Claude drew pictures of robots.
- Knowing if he connected the wires in the wrong order, he would have no car, Claude proceeded with his first guess. The longer wires should go to the ports that are farther away, and the shorter wires to the closer ones. Made sense, but when Claude stepped back — admiring the delicate yet insensitive labyrinth of metal and rubber — he thought of all the times he was bungled by doing things the way it made sense.
The hood still up, he stepped into the front seat and placed his finger on the key in the ignition. He got out and squinted at the workings, got back in the car. After so long, he knew he could not do it.
Their neighbor Wharton was still home. He was always home. As far as they knew, Wharton didn’t work, only smoked and took his dog for walks. However, he spoke as if he had once been a mechanic and Claude was getting desperate for an opinion that harmonized with his own. Indecisively, he climbed the badly painted stairs in their tolerable apartment complex to the second level and knocked on Wharton’s door. He answered the door after the first knock.
Claude said, “I don’t think I have a problem, but I may.”
Wharton was wearing a hat. He stepped outside and viewed his neighbor’s gaping Toyota. “Is it necessary?”
Wharton nodded his head and went inside, returning moments later. The two pottered down the steps, Wharton slowly and somberly. Claude wondered, did I do something wrong?
- When Demi first started seeing Claude, her mother requested a description of him. She said: “I don’t know, Mom. What would you say if I told you he worked at a pawn shop and had false teeth?”
Demi’s mother laughed. They were resting on a bench in her English garden. “My baby loves to kid. Right, baby?”
- The time Demi ran away to join the circus was not lost from her mother’s memory. She was 13, well old enough to know not to do such things. However, she had a conviction that she belonged on the trapeze. Having been to the big top each time it visited town for the last seven years, Demi had seen enough. When the shining aerialist floated off the platform, his slender parts passing through the spotlighted heights as easily as a basketball, a feeling of empowerment stuck in her chest like a shard of silver. She took up gymnastics and checked out a book from the library about the great Alfredo Codona. Her parents’ and teachers’ skepticism wore on her, and she slipped out her bedroom window to cover seven miles in the aching cold of night to the arching parking lot ramparts. She had conviction.
An administrator drove her home that night himself.
- “Does he work?” her mother had asked.
“Then he doesn’t go to school.” Her mother’s voice became a touch reedy.
“He goes to school and he works. He’s like me, Mom.”
The flavor of Demi’s vexation in these moments was like watching a slow-motion sequence of a car rolling down a hill, except not in an action movie and not because she wanted to. Her mother’s shamanic silences in the garden were always stressful, as if the dahlias were gossiping about her.
“Does he have a car?”
“Yes he has a car,” Demi droned.
Her mother stood and lilted over to a water trough, perfectly contented.
- Claude was feeling happy when Demi’s dad, Bart, rang his doorbell. Not that he was unhappy answering the door, but what was Bart doing here?
- Waiting for her friend to pick her up, Demi attempted to comfort Claude earlier that morning, after his report that the engine — the whole fucking engine — was vibrating.
“What do you mean it’s just a car?” he demanded with sudden venom. “It’s a Toyota and it’s only five years old. It’s supposed to be purring as the day I bought it. You know, sometimes you scare me.”
“We have bikes, moron.” She responded in kind.
“Campus is less than a mile away.”
This was true.
“I’m going to figure this out,” Claude said to himself. He began shaking and said again, “Just going to figure this out.”
- Bart worked in the maintenance division of a plastics factory. Things broke all the live long day. He would take the things apart, hunt down the assembly instructions for them, try this, try that. This failed, that failed. Bart would come home in his shambling truck, where things continued breaking.
Though he was glad none of Demi’s boyfriends knew how to fix things or work with their hands. It meant they were smarter than him, he hoped. However, it would be nice if one of them could show a glint of common sense. The slightest intimation that they could be useful, too, would help.
Claude detailed for him very cooly the diagnostic he ran to discover that one of the spark plugs was bad, saying these things in the doorway with half a squint, as if to add, Why? What would you have done?
The two shifted to the poor vehicle. Whether or not the problem was amended, Bart wanted to see. Claude started his car; Bart examined the whirring innards, hands on his waist. He moved around to the passenger seat and said, “Let’s go to the store, Claude.” They went to the supermarket, less than a mile away, and Bart bought the two of them a six pack.
Back at the apartment, they drank. Something was sealed for Bart. This was the one he wanted. The thrumming, rhythmic rumble of his daughter’s friend’s automobile spilled through the poorly insulated walls, encroaching on their dialogue about sports teams and gas prices.
If only Demi wouldn’t mess it up.
- Claude felt an invisible current of approval from Demi’s father as he belched in moderation. “I just did what I had to do, now the car’s fine.”
“Daddy helped you?”
Claude shook his head, pleased, but added as if out of conscience, “Our neighbor, Wharton, took a look at it.”
“Well, I had everything there. I just wanted him to look at it before I turned it on. Didn’t want to mess that one up,” he pleaded.
“How’s the old carp?” Bart had heard of him.
“Not that great. His son’s in Iraq. He said it would be okay and just walked off. Like, he literally walked off with out saying good-bye.”
- The night Demi was prevented from joining the circus, the car of the operations manager was deliciously warm. The impending dread of facing her parents was left at the doorstep of her rational mind with all the gravity of a celebrity rumor. Fog had covered the street lights, creating a pleasant, moving web of bronze energy. It was as if she had earned the ride home.
Of all the lectures she had withstood in her long upbringing, she vividly remembered the one she got that night. It was not particularly brutal or nasty. And she couldn’t remember how her parents had arrived at the conclusion, but it was: The real world isn’t run under a circus tent.
Demi went through life remembering that — the real world isn’t run under a circus tent — without knowing what her parents were getting at. It was like a line in a pop song, the rest of whose words have been muddled over time or perhaps were never received.
- “There’s no reason that man’s son is in Iraq. No reason,” Demi pronounced.
Her father would normally look away, but at this time he had Claude.
“You don’t need to be going around saying that,” Bart replied with an unfamiliar tone of authority. “The president may have gotten bad information — it happens — but whatever the reason, we’re there. And we have to stay there until the Middle East is stabilized.”
“Stabilized,” Demi laughed.
“You don’t need to laugh. The Iranians are funding the insurgents and if we leave now, Iran’s going to move heavier forces in and piss off some other faction. We have to stay until the job is done.”
- When Bart said stabilized, he meant when American-operated oil rigs were emplaced.
Copyright 2007, Thomas Wauhob
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