My friend Alex got me a job at the car wash for the summer. I was supposed to have gotten this gig at a catalog business that mostly sold household items – whatever those are – doing calligraphy for personalized gifts like coffee mugs, but my piss was too cloudy for their liking. Taking a couple of tablets and drinking a gallon of water is apparently not enough for a stream of sunshine.
Working at the car wash was horrible. I don’t know what the hell I expected. Crawling into the back of a car to wipe windows or spray the floor mats with a sinus-burning, cinnamon-scented air freshener as fast as you could, covered in sweat from the work and the huge, poorly-ventilated garage we were in pretty much sucked. Most of the time Alex worked out front taking the cars in so I didn’t even get to hang out with him much. But I needed the cash. Another year of college was bearing down on me. But it wasn’t all bullshit. There were some cool people there. And Michelle.
It was my fourth day working at the wash and I was about to walk out. I was only two hours into my shift. I was dripping with sweat and had bits of dirt, dust and car seat latched to my skin. I wanted to go home and sleep. I wanted the only responsibility in my life to be the Summer. I wanted the freedom those fucking twelve year olds had, screaming at each other on their bikes as they passed the wash. Three more cars were about to come off the track, fat beads of water on their hoods mocking the now gelatinous muscles in my arms. Out of the lobby where the car owners hung out and the cash register was, a girl came out into the garage. She was tall and thin with shoulder-length hair, dirty-blonde in color. Her face was like the bust of a Spartan queen, soft and smooth as marble but intense like a warrior. Her eyes were green and brighter than the speedometer lights on a dashboard (the job was getting to me). There was something vulnerable in them but distant. I figured she was the owner of the Mazda Miata we were about to dry until I noticed the stitched name of the car wash on her shirt.
The first thing I learned about Michelle was from these two football-playing ogres who were juniors at the college. As Michelle glided over to the car coming off the track, so she could drive it up by the door for us to dry, Derek and Kyle talked about how she was gonna start school in the fall.
-Big Man here got an A+ in Blowjobs 101 last year.
-Yeah, your mom’s a great professor.
-Listen to this little shit!
-Skinny bastard’s doing the interior for the next hour it sounds like.
These two weren’t all bad but this was pretty much how it went when I worked with them. Alex and I actually hung out with them at their place on campus a couple of times, taking shots of Everclear and dips of Skoal. Alex thought they were a riot. Plus they had free booze and smoke, which was probably enough for him. What pissed me off sometimes about them was really about me. Falling into this douchebag macho posturing and shit to be liked. Like I gave a fuck about these two muscleheads. I guess I did. But I didn’t talk like that in front of Michelle.
When Alex came into the garage so we could go to lunch, he caught me watching Michelle.
-December Boy’s got it bad. Been so cold and lonely for so long. How can he help fallin’ for a September Girl?
Michelle was out of range bringing up another car but I punched Alex in the arm anyway.
He punched me right back.
Alex is a cool guy. Not everyone thinks so. He comes off rough and wild. I remember in high school how people’d give him a wide berth as he passed, like he was going to lash out at any moment. It’s funny once you get to know him. He’s a badass but he’s also really kind and got a lotta heart.
We became friends sophomore year in Art class. The teacher, Mr. Leeds, let us bring in records to play during class. Because he always hated getting picked in the middle for everything when he was in school, he began the record list at L, which my last name also began with. I brought in The Velvet Underground and Nico and Revolver. I remember working on this charcoal sketch when this kid came up to me.
-You bring in this shit?
He pointed up in the air at the drones of “Venus in Furs” churning by.
-Shit? This is like one of the greatest records of all time.
-Shoulda brought in White Light/White Heat.
-Ha-ha! I figured by minute twelve of “Sister Ray” people’d be freakin’ out.
We spent the rest of the class neglecting the charcoal while we talked about VU, The Beatles, Dylan and The Stones. Shit, almost five years later we’re still talkin’ about them.
The night after first seeing Michelle, at home in bed, I let a romantic fantasy of her and I play out. By that I don’t mean sex. There was that, yes, but much later. With any girl I had a crush on I played out everything. How the next time we worked together she’d start talking to me as we waited for a car to come. The way she’d look at me. The way she’d smile. How at ease I’d feel when I spoke to her. At the end of the day, Alex, Michelle and I would be walking out to our cars in the employee lot at the back of the wash. Her hair would be pulled back and her neck would glisten. Alex would propose Michelle come with some friends to this party he heard about that night. She’d agree. Later, she’d show up with some friends to the party. Alex would scoop them all up and Michelle and I would be left. We’d move off to the porch of the house, where it was quiet – though people would come out to smoke sometimes. We’d talk more about ourselves as we drank our beers. Then it would be time to leave and Michelle would invite me to her house. Her room would be in the basement. There’d be posters on the wall and piles of books on the floor and the couch that was in her family’s living room fifteen years ago. We’d watch a movie or listen to a record. One we’d talked about so fondly earlier on the porch. It would get quiet during her favorite scene or song. We’d move close. Then there would be the sex part.
The next time I worked with Michelle, I was so nervous. We were drying a Ford Escort when she looked across the hood at me and smiled.
-You have a huge piece of lint or something in your hair.
-Oh. It’s, uh, a new look.
She smiled again.
And that was it for the next two months. One confident moment. There was some small talk after that but it all ended quickly thanks to my awkwardness, which must have been taking the only break it’s had in nineteen years during that one moment. Alex did his best to help me out but I could never learn his ways. He gave up around mid-July. There was no party. No talks on the porch. No invitations. No records. No nothing. Just pining, ineffectual me, hoping day after day that she’d ask me out. She didn’t.
At the end of August I found out Michelle was actually starting school at another university across the state. My scenarios of us sharing a class on campus, becoming study partners, then lovers, dissolved. They changed to her transferring, to me transferring. Then those too dissolved. I haven’t seen her since. I love her, in a way, I guess, still. I mean, cause she’s this untainted ideal or something. Cause we never got together then doesn’t me…well…never mind. Maybe Alex and I’ll write a song about it. We’ve got a band now. We don’t work at that fuckin’ car wash no more.