Spring 1960, I was living in Detroit like I had my whole stupid life to that point. Eighteen I was that year and it was the first time I wasn't dealing with the dumb ass questions about why I wasn't in school. Yeah, I did my time at that. I got caught in a holding pattern in the 9th grade and stuck it out until I was old enough to drop out. I honestly think old Hannity the principal was happier to see me gone than I was to be going-though it might have been a tie. I'm not dumb or anything and I don't try to get into trouble but trouble seems to come looking for me and I ain't got good enough at dodging it yet. Or I hadn't then. Besides, I had enough years in auto shop to get a job working for Al at his garage. It was an honest living anyway and Al was good people. Sure, us kids used to joke behind his back about how he'd go on with his stories and his advice but we all kept coming back around to hang out with him and it wasn't just 'cause he'd offer work to a bunch of drop outs and delinquents. Wasn't a one of us had a decent home to go to. If any of us had two parents to live with, at least one of 'em was too drunk to know we was there. Sure, we all had parents but for all the good they ever did us, we wasn't no better off than orphans. Hell, it was worse 'cause at least people feel sorry for orphans and try to help 'em. The only person ever showed a one of us even a little bit of kindness or understanding was Al. Okay, that's not all true. There was Al's neighbor lady Emma. How a decent lady like that ended up living in that dump of a house in that part of town, I still don't know. Woman like that should've took one look at us and got a few more locks for her door but she didn't. She'd spend her days cooking and when the other kids got out of school and stopped by to help Al, or just listen to his stories, or really just avoid going home, she'd bring the food. If it wasn't for her, I don't think any of us would've known what a home cooked meal tasted like. Best we got was a burger if we could scrape together a couple nickels.
We wasn't bad kids, none of us. I know we looked tough but you have to understand that looking tough was the best way to keep from getting your ass kicked and getting your ass kicked was a real danger where we lived. Don't get me wrong, I love Detroit. It's a cool town and all. But we didn't get to see as much of the cool parts as some other folks did.
But then, I wasn't legally a kid no more. It didn't matter much to me one way or the other. I'd been taking care of myself as long as I remembered so there wasn't any more responsibility. It did mean I'd have to get better dodging when trouble came calling though 'cause my days of juvie were long gone. Working for Al made easy work of that. I moved into a spare room Al had over the garage and spent most of every day working so I didn't have much chance for trouble and, like I said, I never went looking for it to begin with. And it was starting to seem like I'd shaken it for good. I had a job and some good friends and a place of my own where I didn't have to sit and watch my folks get hammered and fight. That gets mighty old after a while. Or maybe it was just the fact that it was spring and for some sappy reason spring always made me feel like there was a second chance for everyone. Hell, even the Tigers were looking like contenders to me at that point. Of course when you break training camp with Norm Cash, Al Kaline and Jim Bunning on your roster, it's easy to get cocky. Or maybe it's just the God given right of baseball fans to feel optimistic in April. I take some heat from Al about rooting for the Tigers but then he's from somewhere down south and roots for the Athletics. Even I could tell out of the gate, the A's weren't going to do anything and for the record they finished dead last that season. My guys didn't do much better but they did do better.
It was funny how well I got along with Al, we didn't have a hell of a lot in common but then I suspect that maybe if I had known him when he'd been my age that we'd have shared a lot more than most would think. As for the rest of the guys, they weren't much younger than me. Couple were the same age but they stayed in school. Kid, we didn't find out until years later what his name really was so we always just called him 'Kid'. If he hadn't-well, now I'm just getting ahead of myself here. His real name don't matter one bit. He was a good friend and probably the closest thing to a brother I ever had. Anyway, Kid tried to convince me to stay in school but the rate I was going I would have been lucky to graduate with his girlfriend's kid sister and she had to have been a good ten years younger. 'Sides, I could read and write and had a trade, school was just a little more crap from people who thought they were superior and weren't than I was able to deal with at that age. I've mellowed some but I still don't think I'd be able to handle old Hannity. Even Al, who tried to lecture me about having respect for my elders, whether they were my betters or not, called Hannity a pompous ass.
Man, it's tough to think on Kid sometimes. We was real tight like I said. He was something else though, always seemed to know what everyone else ought to do. The number of times I wanted to punch his lights out, well, I lost count and he did take me out a few times. He had a pretty good right cross if I recall correct. But I guess that just made us more like brothers. We fought and butted heads but he was always there when the trouble tracked me down and if I could've been there, well, again I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's just say, if things were in my control, I would've laid down my life for his.
Now Lou, Kid's girl, was something back in the day, as the kids nowadays might say. She had spunk, that was for sure and she wasn't like any girl I ever knew. Oh she could look just as pretty in a dress as any of the rest, even if she didn't fill it like some did, but she could also get her hands dirty under the hood of a car just like a man and was just as likely to fix the damned thing. She and Kid married nearly right out of high school and I know everyone thought it was 'cause they had to but that wasn't the case at all. Hell, nearly everyone that got married those days it seemed did it right out of high school. Only reason anyone tried to say anything about Kid and Lou was the side of the tracks we came from. I'll say it's a damned good thing Lou was the way she was, not many girls or even women would put up with our rowdy lot. I'll tell you though, I loved Lou as much as I did Kid. Takes a lot of years for a man to be able to admit feelings like that, especially coming from the times I did. Kid was like a brother and I loved him as such, ain't no shame in a man loving his brother. Hell, things I've seen in my life, I'll go as far as to say there ain't no shame in any love. The Beatles told us it was all we need and you know, those guys might've just had it right. I know there sure ain't enough of it going around these days. Now there were plenty of times that Kid doubted what I am about to say and those are the very times I learned about that right cross of his, but I loved Lou like a sister. I won't deny she was a beautiful girl and I'll even admit that the first time I saw her, I contemplated some impure thoughts. If Kid hadn't fallen head over heels for her at practically the same moment he first spotted her, maybe I would have even acted on those thoughts. But my best friend was in love with this girl and I wasn't going to be the guy to stand in the way of that. Besides, by the time I saw Lou that day, I had sworn of females for good. Yeah, that is something people say but I did a right fine job of keeping to it for a while. I won't say I didn't look 'cause that would be a lie. But looking ain't talking and it's even farther from touching.
I was real good at falling in love in those days. Not good at any of the things that come after and before you give me that look, that ain't what I'm talking about. Most of the girls I seemed to take a shine to weren't loose. Though the times that one would put out, as we used to call it, I didn't get any complaints. I'm talking about the other stuff, like listening to her and being sensitive and all those things that some guys are naturally good at and the rest of us have to learn or else take up a life of bachelorhood. My skill at falling in love was a good deal of how I would get in the crosshairs of trouble and so I swore off women and girls and well everyone of the female persuasion except Emma, Lou and Lou's baby sister Theresa. I took some ribbing for it, that's for sure but it was safer for me that way.
So this one day, I'm armpit deep in some lady's old Ford that was so far on its last legs, I would have liked to have gotten it a wheelchair and the rest of the guys come in laughing. I looked up and saw they were kind of teasing at Ike and he was blushing redder than Gordie Howe's sweater. Ike was a year younger than me, I guess. He was so quiet too. I think in all the time I knew him I might've heard a dozen words from him. He was a gentle sort. He'd stick up for his own but didn't always stick up for himself, especially against our bunch. Now we never teased him to be hurtful and I think he knew there was tenderness behind it and we didn't tease him anymore than what the rest of us took either. The difference was that the rest of us gave as good as we got and he rarely got any of us back for it. That day though there was something different. He was blushing sure but there was something about his smile that said that no amount of joshing around was going to upset him too bad. That kid was in love and I could tell just looking at him. Well, I guess any of us could because when someone is that quiet, you'd better learn to read him somehow. As much as the rest were jabbing at him, Buck was still sort of guarding him too. If Kid and I were close as brothers then Buck and Ike were close as identical twins. You know how they say that twins sometimes make up their own language that no one else understands? Well, that was those two. They grew up on the same floor of the same run down piece of crap apartment building and, though they each lived with a mother and a father; they didn't have one real parent between the two of them. Ike's folks worked so much, they were never there. Of course neither one of them made enough to keep a mouse alive, let alone Ike and his sister. Buck's dad was a mean drunk and his mom had checked out mentally years earlier. She just sat there and stared ahead. I saw it once and, while you might not believe it, she didn't even react to getting hit. I don't know where her mind was but it wasn't in that dump of a flat.
I looked up from the car that I wasn't so sure I'd be able to patch together this time and smiled too at their merriment.
"What's her name, Ike?" I asked. No one even batted an eye that I had figured out the reason for the laughter and teasing. It's funny, I know I asked Ike the question but I also know I looked to Buck for the answer. I'm sure that was just habit and it was Buck who answered.
"Annie, she just transferred in and she's in his homeroom."
I just smiled. I didn't feel like teasing the guy at all. And if he wanted my input, he'd seek me out.
"Jimmy," I heard Al holler at me from across the garage, "Do I pay you to sit around shooting the breeze with your little friends?"
"Al," I answered, "You hardly pay me at all." I stared at him all serious but neither one of us was. It was sort of a ritual we had. Truth was he paid a decent wage for a drop out with a reputation like mine and he knew I'd been working hard all day. After a pause so that he could assess the situation, he spoke.
"Looks like the old adage is right, here it is spring and that young man's fancy has turned to love," he paused again admiring his wit, "Don't let 'em get to you Ike. Ain't nothing sweeter than love except for young love and that's what you got."
We joked plenty about Al's little pearls of wisdom but didn't none of us have a dad we could count on outside that garage and we'd have been lost, every one of us, if not for that man.
"Al," I said bringing his attention away from poor love struck Ike, "I think we're gonna have to sign the death certificate on Mrs. Jenkins' car. I might be able to get her running again but there's no way that poor lady could afford what it would take."
"She can't afford another car neither, Jimmy," he said back.
I shook my head, knowing the truth of his words but also knowing they didn't change anything about the condition of that poor Ford.
"She's riding the bus now. If she cuts her losses on this heap, she could save for another and start that saving with what she was going to pay us."
Al considered this a bit. Some other mechanics wouldn't think like this, they'd fix the car and charge her even more than they ought just because Mrs. Jenkins is a woman on her own and doesn't know about cars. Whatever anyone ever thought or said about me, and I'm sure there's many out there that have said and thought plenty and most of it not too kind, but whatever else might be true, it ain't in my nature to cheat someone like that, especially not a woman. Al was the same way. It was why we didn't only have poor customers from the neighborhood; wealthier woman came from the better parts of town to have their cars worked on because they knew they wouldn't get taken advantage of. It was a reputation I was proud of-still am.
Al finally made up his mind. "I'll give her a call," he said.
About then I heard the ding that told me someone had just pulled into the driveway and I went out, doing my best to wipe the grease off my hands as I went. I remember I looked up to see what was up and that quick I was in love. Of course I don't know a red blooded American man who wouldn't fall head over heels at first sight with a cherry red 1958 Corvette. I will swear to my dying day that the Corvette was the best idea those GM boys ever had, even if they did start looking a little like every other sports car for a few years in the '90's. But whatever they looked like later and whatever they look like now ain't nothing prettier than a late '50's or early '60's 'Vette. You can look it up. Google it as the grandkids say.
So I was nearly drooling over this car and the thought that I'd be getting my hands on her soon when I heard the motor cut off and with it cutting off Frankie Lymon singing about fools falling in love. That song was a couple years old by then but it's still a damned fine song and poses a pretty good question. The driver's side door opened and for the second time in the span of about a minute and a half, I fell in love and I fell hard. Now maybe that had something to do with my weakened state from seeing that 'Vette or maybe it was 'cause love was on my mind what with Ike's new lady or maybe it was 'cause it had been a good year at least since I had sworn off women but it was a good thing my name was on my coveralls so I could look down and see it. I wouldn't've known it otherwise.
Okay, this is not our typical TYR fare and I know that but the idea came to me the other day when I was listening to Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" off of the Innocent Man album. It's not that the song lyrics inspired this so much as the doo-wop nature of it...hence the reference to Frankie Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" The title actually is a song by Stevie Wonder who is from Michigan and was actually educated right here in the Capital City of Lansing. Talking about the Tigers is part because it starts in the spring and so does baseball season but also because I recently found out that Wild Bill was a huge baseball fan.
Um...Oh yeah, Al is Teaspoon if you didn't figure that out, though I am sure you all did. And if I referenced anything else in here that is not clear, let me know...Oh, I know...Gordie Howe was a hockey player...one of the best ever and 1960 was part of his playing career which was almost entirely spent as a Detroit Red Wing and hockey jerseys are more properly known as sweaters so "Red as Gordie Howe's sweater" was pretty darned red.
So...yeah...that's all I guess...I'd like to know what you all think...I don't typically go all AU but I am having fun playing pretend with the gang. I had to take some liberties for the sake of realism for that time period but I think I kept things pretty believable for the most part...you tell me. Kisses!-J