I was in junior high, that most miserable stage of anyone’s life, unless you happen to be Del Latham, who was getting laid something like three times a day by all the girls who spent their lunch break in the woods smoking cigarettes. Those girls didn’t even know my name.
Like everyone else my parents were divorced, but unlike most, I actually went to Dad’s house every once in awhile. Quality time hadn’t been invented yet, but still I went. Driving to my Dad’s house one particularly nasty afternoon, the rain was pouring out of the sky; one did not need to know how to drive to see that seeing out of the windshield was next to impossible. It looked like we were driving through an automatic car wash, only it didn’t end with big blowers, it was going to last all the way to Dad’s house.
I had never seen wipers so ineffective. We stopped at an auto parts store. I think that was the only time I was ever to be in an auto parts store with my dad. All that manly stuff looked formidable; the operation of all these tools and strange parts was contained in brains that mine would never communicate with on an equal level. I was intimidated, and so was my dad. There were men behind counters speaking about things I would never know using words I didn’t know, in dialects that I had never heard before. These people had to live around me, but they were strangers. Living in a different world, a world where men tore apart cars, and could put them back together, or at least talk like they could put them back together.
We scanned the store, trying to look at ease, scanning desperately for the wiper section. There was a variety to choose from, even after consulting the book. It took awhile to find the car in the book, some sort of crappy Toyota from the seventies. Dad’s didn’t have much spare dough in those days because they were all paying alimony and child support, and the rest went towards their weekends of carousing. Because of this Dad bought the wipers refills, not the replacements. He waited at the front counter for one of the men from the back counter to notice him with his purchase. And no one did. We stood, fidgeted, and dropped coin on the counter. I thought to myself, lets just walk out, since that is how I was procuring albums in those days; music filled my hours, since I wasn’t Del Latham, and the smoking girls didn’t know my name.
In the parking lot, the rain was relentless. My dad read the package, he then struggled to open them, and in the process he bent the refill blades. He sliced his finger trying to remove the old blades, pinching this, squeezing that, torqueing it this way and that, until he was finally left with mangled wipers. Men came out of the store and walked by us, glanced furtively and climbed up into their big pick up trucks, inside their sanctuary they grinned and shook their heads, amused at my dad’s incompetence. I knew this was a sad statement of our manhood. junkyards near me
Dad threw the blades down in the parking lot and got in the car. Now we didn’t even have worn out wipers, we had wipers that touched the window in only a few spots because they were frustrated my Dad beyond the control he had over his emotions. We went across the street to a super center store and shopped again for wipers. This time my dad bought the replacements that snap on the arm. There were no know it alls here, it was a friendlier place filled with incompetents, these folks could have been my neighbors, no strange dialects, and no huge pick-ups. Perhaps at the auto parts store men didn’t have to worry about alimony or child support. They could spend all their money on those huge trucks and had time to learn how to replace wipers in the seclusion of their garage. I thought maybe they were the missing fathers of all the smoking girls who gave sex several times a day to Del Latham. Perhaps that was the parallel world these people lived. That would explain how foreign it felt inside that other store, this store I was among friends, even my kleptomania of record albums was accepted.
I watched as my dad tried to pry off the old wipers, bending again this way and that, twisting, and flicking, and then screaming ‘How the hell do these go on?’ Finally we returned to the dryness of the car and continued with visibility limited to a very unsafe distance. This time at least the new wipers were tucked away safely in the backseat. I found this as a step towards improving our manhood scorecard.
I do not know how those wipers ever got replaced. But I think about it every time I replace my own. I remember once replacing them while a co-worker friend looked on and it went quickly, and he said I could work at a service station, in a tone that revealed admiration. This was a guy who would have fit it at that auto parts store, he could speak that dialect, saved only for men who can work on cars. I felt my Dad would have been proud at that moment, restoring our collective manhood.
But now I have reached the age my father was on that day, and it takes me several minutes to remember how to do it, although I try to change them before it has reached a crises. Some years I have them changed at the service station with the oil, but if I’m between oil changes it is too much of an ego blow to just swing in and have them change only the wipers, the admission of laziness would be OK, but the sheepish grins of their superiority might be revealed. I couldn’t stand for that. There is only so much incompetence a man can admit to.