Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Car For All Seasons

Last week I took my car to an Oldsmobile dealership in Washington, IA to have them try and stop it from dying at every stop-sign, stop-light, cross-walk, left-turn, and flip of the radio dial. They didn't fix it but the trip was not wasted. Washington is a very interesting town. It's a poor-man's Ottumwa or a rich-man's Kewannee. Or if socio-economic similes don't do it for you it is an outsider's cold-hand shake and unimpassioned conversation about the weather. While I was waiting for Mr. Perdock to run my 1986 Oldsmobile 88 through a computer to archive for posterity the fact that someone still drives a 1986 Oldsmobile 88, I took a walking tour of the city. Now, I'd been there before - once - soliciting money door-to-door for a liberal interest group, and made a surprising number of enemies. But in Iowa's dirtbelt, memory spans are as short as the local chapter of the ACLU is on cash. On my way to the old-fashioned town-square I imagined I'd be just in time for the 4-H parade and 'The-Guy-in-the-Striped-Jacket's Medicine Show'. As it was I had just missed both.

I was excited to see they had a Goodwill store. But first I walked through the park at the center of the city. It was pretty. There were vacant benches, and cigarettes butts, and an eerie absence of birds. There was also a giant vacant concrete base guarded by rails at the heart of the park just waiting for someone in Washington, IA to do something important enough to memorialize. So far, not so good.

The Goodwill store was buzzing with misfits, balding women, and an occasional elderly bachelor. The selection was awful, but I thought I might find a gem in the book section, something along the line of Chris Schenkel's How To Watch Football On Television. To my dismay there was only one book-shelf and it was being restocked by a middle-aged leisure wife and a younger girl. I indiscretely browsed the neighboring record selection hoping to send a signal, but to no avail. I did pick up on a disturbing conversation though. It turned out the young girl was mentally challenged and the middle-aged woman was trying to instruct how to put books on a shelf. Unfortunately the young girl couldn't quite grasp it.

"Okay, put this book on the empty shelf"
"That shelf has books on it, see? You can't put books there because they wont fit. Now, which shelf is empty?"
"This One?"
"Good, so put the book on the empty shelf."
"Alright, that's the shelf you already tried to put the book on. It's not empty. That one is - the one you just pointed at when I asked you which shelf is empty. Now, put the book on the empty shelf. Okay?"
"No, come on. That's the same shelf you've been trying to put the book on. You know it's not empty. What are you re..."

I found this a good cue to leave. I found an Alf trash-can and a book about Lucille Ball - both for Mary- at an antique store, and had lo-mein at the lone chinese restaurant - Happy China Garden, or somthing to that effect. I could feel the locals start to finger me out at this point and headed back to the dealership.

As I've already mentioned my car did not get fixed. That's alright however because I don't think much ever does down in Washington, IA. As the mayor once said on the campaign trail, "Vote for me or I'll tell the sherriff where all those ephedrin pills have been disappearing to." And they all did.

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