Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ford Granada, Afro Sheen tan

Wells' grandmother was an alcoholic who liked to do two things when she drank: Take off all her clothes and drive around town in her Ford Granada. Wow, you might be thinking. That's pretty bad. Well, it gets worse.

Picture this: very small southern town in a dry county, circa 1980. In this place, ten-year-old Wells was on a Little League team. His team had a game one evening. The sun was still up. The stands were full of people, including Well's dad, and the game was underway. The sound of squealing tires and a collision made everybody whip round to look at the top of the hill. A Ford Granada had hit a telephone pole.

Can you imagine the horror Wells' dad felt when he saw his mother-in-law's car wrecked like that, and heard wailing start from within it? He ran up the hill to the roadway, just like everybody else in the stands. The kids playing ball were the last to notice, but pretty soon they followed suit.

By the time Wells arrived on the scene, a crowd had formed around the car. His naked grandmother was in the driver's seat screaming "David, David, hold me!" at his father.

She wasn't seriously hurt. In fact, that accident probably did more damage to Wells and his dad. What does a man do with his mother-in-law in a situation like this? How does a young boy recover from seeing his mother's mother naked? When he's one of many seeing her that way at the same time? And she's goofy drunk and asking his dad to hold her?

I used to pick on Wells in elementary school because I thought he was such a prim and proper stuffed shirt. We became friends in high school and he told me this story about himself, which I think explains a lot. When you have such a loose family member, you tend to react by becoming uptight.

When we were sixteen, Wells and I were both guests of the Yearly family during their stay at a time-share condo in Myrtle Beach. We were in school and good friends with Cath Yearly. Since Wells had his car (mid-70s VW bug) there, we hatched a plan to sneak out after her parents went to bed one night. At the last minute Cath chickened out, perhaps because her parents weren't as far away as ours were.

It was fantastic. That was my first unsupervised-riding-around with a friend experience. We went to a convenience store and bought a number of Hostess products, some candy bars, a Coke and a Yoohoo. We cruised around and yelled at people. At last I could fearlessly snack between meals and be rude and loud with impunity.

The next day we went out and bought Afro-Sheen, a Black haircare product, even though we are both white. Wells swore that Afro-Sheen slathered onto the skin would yield the best tan. This was in an era before people worried so much about skin cancer and wrinkles, and all the white people at school had a different arcane recipe for tanning lotion. Roma, another friend of ours, liked to sun in a mixture of salt, butter, and lemon juice.

Blowing sand stuck to the Afro Sheen and made for a gritty sunbathing experience, but indeed, I got a hell of a tan.

In the fall, Wells and Blake rolled up to my house in the VW bug and we went cruising. There was a rusted-out hole in the back seat floorboard. I don't remember whose idea this was, but we collected some wire clothes hangers from my closets. We took them to the mall to experiment with trying to make sparks fly out behind the car by dragging the hangers along the pavement through the floorboard hole. It sort of worked, but it mostly just made an annoying sound.

"I've got an idea," Wells said. He pulled into a parking space along the perimeter of the mall parking lot and popped the hood. (The trunk was in the front of his car). When he slammed it back down, he had what looked like a stumpy yet substantial metal pipe in his hand. It was part of the jack.

"Try this," he said.

Blake and I took turns. The jack was much harder to hold onto but it created a much more satisfying show of sparks, which more people were likely to see because the noise it made turned so many heads. It was kind of like millions of nails across millions of blackboards and it rang out throughout the acres of mall parking lot. We cruised around like that for a satisfying while, until Wells remembered that he had a small gas tank leak, and the gas tank might be too close to our sparking action.

I have to get drunk to have that much fun these days.

I skipped my high school reunion, and I really hate it because Cath told me Wells was there. I haven't seen him since my freshman year of college.

Oh well. Wells, if you're out there and you recognize yourself in here, e-mail me. Remind me of details I've forgotten. Hope you're well.

1 comment:

Billy Jones said...

I can only imagine the horror of everyone I know seeing my grandmother naked... Is that my grandma on the cover of that girly magazine...

Being the gas tank in a VW Bug is in the front it probably wasn't a problem but it's probably just as well that he decided to discontinue the mobile light show.

I spent much of last night reading and enjoying your stories here-- you really deserve a wider audience.
Thanks -Billy The Blogging Poet