Jethro finds FU
Malory works at the TRU STOP convenience store, where I used to buy coffee most mornings. She’s pretty in a way that doesn’t seem painted on. She has shiny, straight, black hair and deep, blue, almond-shaped eyes that sometimes look like they’re half closed when she’s talking to you. There have been times when I almost forgot why I went into the store when I looked into them. She’s curvy, plus she’s very friendly, which is always disarming to me.
One November morning she wore a black t-shirt with a gold Chinese symbol that seemed to stand out on the front of her shirt. I brought my coffee to the counter and couldn’t take my eyes off her. I wanted to say something nice that wasn’t weather related.
“Cool shirt,” I said, “I don’t know what that means, but I like the way it looks.” I figured she could take that more than one way and ignore any meaning she didn’t like.
“That’s FU! It means Luck,” she said and smiled. She spotted my grease-stained hands and asked if I fell down on the playground, then laughed a little as she rang up my coffee.
“No, I didn’t fall down, not today. I’m a mechanic at ARF and ARF Specialties.” Which at the time was true.
“I need a mechanic,” she said, “My check engine light is on and my emissions test is due.”
“It happens a lot,” I said.
I don’t suppose you do work on the side. ARF wanted a hundred twenty just to look at it.”
As a rule, I don’t do side work for people I don’t know, but she looked warm and sexy and I was between squeezes, a combination of circumstances which always clouds my judgement. Jesus, those eyes!
I said, “Well, I don’t do much on the side in winter as a rule, but depending on what the problem is, I might be able to help you out. What kind of car is it?”
She pointed at a white 2003 Sebring Convertible. A fucking Chrysler! I thought, Why didn’t I look at the parking lot before I asked? I didn’t want to make her feel bad about a car she was obviously stuck with, but I hate working on Chryslers, even when I’m getting paid. I thought If I blow her off, I won’t want to come back here for coffee. I can’t tell her the car is a pile of shit without making her feel bad. If I think with my dick and tell her I’ll take a look at it, I’ll probably get sucked into a vortex of hard-to-reach sensors, insane diagnostic puzzles and a nest of brittle, leaking plastic vacuum lines that spread like tentacles all over the car and I’ll probably end up not charging her for it. What a nightmare. Man, look at those eyes!
I took a deep breath and said, “Sure. I can take a look at it for you.”
Then I ran through the usual pre-diagnostic questions: “How does it run? Has anybody read the codes? Has anybody worked on it recently?”
Usually, a boyfriend, father or uncle who shouldn’t be allowed to open the hood has been in there pulling wires, replacing sensors and filling the driver’s head with nonsense like: You need a flux capacitor. That’s a dealer item, which is code for I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.
She said, “The engine light came on the day my license sticker expired.” “My brother was going to look at it, but he’s been too busy.”
I said, “Okay. Tell your brother not to worry about it. I’ll check it out and see what I can do.”
After work that day, back at the TRU STOP, I gave the Sebring’s gas cap a twist, then opened the hood and looked for obvious problems. I checked the air filter and as many vacuum hoses and lines as I could reach. Everything looked okay on the surface. I took a deep breath, plugged my scanner into the data port, turned the ignition on and hit the button to pull the trouble codes. The scanner read COMMUNICATING WITH VEHICLE, then NO CODES FOUND. I started the engine and waited for the dash lights to clear. The engine light wasn’t on. I drove the car around for about ten minutes. It was fine.
This has happened to me before on cars, trucks, bikes, even a washing machine. There’s a problem. Somebody calls me. I look at it, check a few things and there’s no problem. It’s like all I had to do was lay hands on it and the subject was cured. It’s strange, but I don’t question it anymore. FU!
I went back into the store and handed Malory the keys. “The light’s off,” I said.
“What was the problem?”
“I don’t know. I checked it out and the car is okay.”
She smiled and stood up behind the counter. The gold symbol on her chest looked like it was 3D.
She said, “That’s great! How much do I owe you?”
“Well, nothing,” I said, “I didn’t actually fix anything. I don’t charge for no results. Drive the car for a couple of days to make sure the light doesn’t come back on, then get the emissions test. It’ll pass if the check engine light isn’t on.”
“Can I get you anything? Would you like coffee? Water?” she asked.
I was so relieved that there wasn’t any reason for me to crawl around on the monkey-puzzle that her car should have been that all I could think about was getting out of there while I was ahead.
“No thanks,” I said, “Maybe one of these mornings you can buy my coffee.”
“Deal. Thanks! How about a lottery ticket?” She handed me two one-dollar scratch-off cards and a quick-pick for Mega Millions. I didn’t win shit.
I waited until I saw a new sticker on her license plate, then stopped in for a free coffee about a week later. She was excited to see me. The store was almost empty. She came from behind the counter and gave me a great hug.
“You’re a miracle worker,” she said.
I smiled and accepted the hug happily, thinking it was worth the risk of working on that car just for the hug. I drank my coffee in the store that morning as we talked.
“Let me make you dinner,” she said, as she rang up a customer who bought a handful of scratch-off tickets. “That will be a hundred and twenty even,” she said to the old man. “Thanks! Good luck, Fred!” He shuffled out to a waiting cab.
“Sure,” I said, “Let me know when you’re ready.”
Weeks later, on Saturday after Christmas, but before New Year’s Eve, she came to my place and cooked spaghetti. She brought meatballs and sauce too. I supplied the beer.
We ate in near silence. The spaghetti was good, so I just kept eating to avoid the risk of saying the wrong thing too soon, which is something I seem to have a knack for. After dinner we sat around and had a few beers. Finally, I asked her what she does for fun, hoping she would read my mind. She didn’t.
“I like motorcycles,” She said.
“That’s cool,” I have a couple of them.” Which I knew she had seen me on at the store, but conversation is conversation. “Wanna see?”
I brought her out to the garage and showed her my bikes. December is not the best time of year for motorcycles, not in Chicago. If they’re not broken and waiting for parts, they’re shiny boat anchors. All you can do is stare at them. They seem silly and useless when there’s snow on the driveway. You usually get nothing out of telling a girl about changing the jets to match the exhaust or the benefits of having a six-degree trigger wheel on the crank. Unless she’s two-chain Jane, which Malory isn’t. I felt lame, like I was completely out of season. Christmas lights in July.
We went back inside and sat on the couch. I turned on the TV and heard Robert di Nero’s voice, “That’s the truth about Las Vegas. We’re the only winners. The players don’t stand a chance.” I told her that Casino was one of my favorite movies. I wasn’t sure she heard me. She stared at the TV in a daze.
She said, “I go to the casino in Aurora every New Year’s Eve on my birthday.” After shifting in her seat like her ass itched, she said, “I usually go with my friends, but they’re busy this year. If you want, you can be my date next week.”
I’d never been to a casino. I’ve seen it in the movies and on documentaries. It looks to me like it is what it is, except for the one with Elvis. I think that was a promotional video. I’ve known people who used to go to Vegas a couple times a year, before Illinois realized how much revenue they were losing and legalized gambling here. When they talked about playing the slots it seemed like their eyes kind of glazed over. Nobody actually described the act of gambling as fun. They talked about the food and the shows like that was why they went. But none of them came back rich. I’ve never felt the need to go there.
But Malory is awful cute. Plus, she said “date!” I thought I have some extra pocket money. I’m lonely and I’m bored. I have nothing else to do. I’ve heard that Vegas is like a big adult amusement park. Aurora, Illinois isn’t Las Vegas, but it’s a casino. What’s the worst that could happen?
I said, “That sounds great!”
Malory lives east of my house and the casino in Aurora is further west.
She said, “I’ll come here New Year’s Eve and we can go from your house.”
We had a plan. She went home and I started waiting for December 31st to roll up.
*Continued in Part Three*