How's that again?
Chronic mumblers at the car wash
By Ed McClanahan

Recently (say for about the last 10 years, or roughly 80 percent of our married life), the Madam has been on my case about having my hearing tested-usually just after I've been on hers about her unfortunate habit of mumbling. Heedless to my admonishments, she just mumbles on and on; when it comes to listening to reason, the woman is as deaf as an oyster.

But one fine day last fall, I had an experience that gave me pause. Here's how it started:

That morning the UPS brownie (get it? brownie?) had delivered, to my delight, the swank new $189.95 goatsuede jacket I'd ordered from the Rugged Geezer o' the Old West catalog. The fit was just right, and for a while I strutted around the house, quite pleased with my new goatsuede Outer Man, imagining I favored that TV lawyer, Gerry Spence, with his fringed buckskins and flowing white locks-until I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror, and recognized not Gerry Spence, but Gabby Hayes. Eventually, the Madam mumbled-better make that "muttered grimly"-that she'd seen enough non-productive preening, and sent me off to run some errands.

So I was tooling around town on this nice autumn afternoon in my little Wildcat Blue '96 Toyota RAV4-for reasons I'll explain momentarily, his name is Cleave- running my errands and tolerantly allowing the odious Rush Limbaugh, the man I love to loathe, to shout at me at the top of his odious lungs (I've noticed lately that if I don't turn the volume up, Rush has a tendency to mumble) when it occurred to me that Cleave's own Outer Vehicle was looking pretty scruffy, and needed attention. Would Gerry Spence gad about in muddy rolling stock? Time to spruce up! Giddyap, Cleave!

Aside: vehicular monikers

Now, while we're toddling out Winchester Road to the car wash, let me take the opportunity to make it clear that I don't generally hold much for the sentimentalizing or anthropomorphizing of vehicles, no matter how endearingly or infuriatingly sentient they sometimes seem. The practice does have literary antecedents-Gurney Norman's Urge, Kesey's Furthur, my own late VW microbus, the McClanavan-but in the main, assigning one's motorized conveyance an affectionate nickname-"Ole Bessie," or "Peaches," or "Buckfuddy"-is a risky proposition at best, considering that, like Shakespeare's thankless child with the serpent's tooth, sooner or later the beast will surely turn on you, or fail you in some time of need or crisis, and reduce you to kicking its tires in rage and frustration-no way to treat a member of the family.

Anyhow, at the time of the adventure from which we're presently digressing, Cleave had no nickname at all, despite the fact that he'd been my good and faithful servant for the past six years, and had just last summer borne me all the way to Oregon and back without a whimper. Nonetheless, although it was my devout hope that my RAV4 and I held lifetime warranties on each other, Cleave didn't acquire a name of his own until, sadly, the recent ice storm that was the crashing grand finale of this dismal winter, when a tree fell on him and clove his little blue noggin right down the middle. Hence, Cleave.

As of this writing, Cleave's on life support at the body shop, and it's a tossup whether he's going to make it or be ...Totalled. Stay tuned on that.

Meanwhile, back to our story:

At the new Winchester Road automated drive-thru car wash, I'm discovering that the word "automated" is more nuanced than I'd supposed, and the word "drive-thru" a downright misnomer. For starters, the automated cashier rejects my money-treats me like a goddamn counterfeiter, if you want to know. But then what-or who-turns up but, of all things, a human being!

There's an attendant, it seems, a pleasant young man who takes my dough and gives me change and directs me to pull forward into a sort of bay, where he personally applies a soothing balm of soapy pre-wash to my RAV4's grubby exterior, while I resume my argument with Rush. The prepping accomplished, the pleasant young man motions for me to ease my front wheels onto the trolley-track affair which is to guide me into the maelstrom of great whirling, swirling brushes and cascading waters just ahead.

And right there is where the drive-thru ends and the drag-thru begins.

Suddenly, with a heavy metallic clank, some unseen mechanism reaches up from the hellish car wash underworld and grabs Cleave-to-be by the shorthairs and unceremoniously yanks us toward the roaring car wash Niagara even as I realize that the pleasant young man is now to my immediate left at the driver's-side window gesturing excitedly and mouthing what I interpret as "Put your foot on the brake and put the car in gear!" which seems passing strange because that's what I'm already doing anyhow, but the pleasant young man keeps on gesturing and shouting until finally I roll the window down half-way (for the purpose of telling him to stop mumbling, fer crissakes) and hear instead "Take your foot off the brake and take the car out of gear!" (as any competent audiologist can tell you, "put" and "take" sound remarkably alike under certain atmospheric conditions), but before I can sort out and obey these apparently contradictory instructions the car lurches forward-"lurch" is going to be the operative word from here on-and I see to my horror that rushing toward me is this great hideous spongy pink alien thing with long flabby tentacles slapping at my fenders, my hood, my windshield, and now these vile slimy pink tendrils are actually inside the car, flippetty-flappetty-flopping through the still half-open window, invading my personal space and flinging nasty car wash juices all over me and my glasses and my nice upholstery and my new goatsuede jacket, and I'm frantically trying to poke them back out with one hand while fumbling for the electric window button with the other, but the more tentacles I push out the more come flopping in behind them, the car lurches again, lurch lurch lurch, I still have my foot on the brake and the car is still in gear but I'm far too busy to deal with that right now, my finger finds the button and the window goes up and closes on several limp flabby sopping tentacles, I lower it to fling them out whereupon the terrible pink alien instantly expels a jet of hot soapy venom that strikes me right between the eyes, Rush Limbaugh calls me a contemptible liberal Democrat and chortles insanely, lurch lurch, I finally get the last tentacle out and the window rolled up and lunge for the gearshift to yank it out of drive but in my haste almost succeed in slamming it into reverse instead, Cleave gnashes his metallic teeth
“Cleave didn’t acquire a name of his own until, sadly, the recent ice storm that was the crashing grand finale of this dismal winter, when a tree fell on him and clove his little blue noggin right down the middle.”
alarmingly, then the great pink Gorgon is somehow behind us and with Rush Limbaugh fulminating mightily about milksop liberals we lurch lurch lurch into the drying phase so that now we are buffeted by roaring tornadic blasts of hot air both without and within, I go for the volume knob and-imagining that I have Rush by the nose-twist it viciously till he shuts the hell up... and then it is as though a brief but terrible storm has passed, the dark car wash cave where lurks the loathsome pink Shelob is somehow behind us, and Cleave and I are outside on the tarmac in the sunny afternoon, and the pleasant young man is tap-tap-tapping at my window.

After a quick glance at the rear-view mirror to make sure the monster hasn't followed us out, I roll the window down.

"Next time, sir," the pleasant young man advises me, "put the car out of gear and-"

"Right!" I assure him brightly, tapping the accelerator in my eagerness to be elsewhere, ASAP. "Absolutely, yes indeed, you bet!""

"-and take your foot off the-"

But Cleave and I are already making tracks, beating it, skedaddling for the barn. Giddyap, Cleave!

At home, when I breathlessly recount my ordeal to the Madam, she is utterly unsympathetic, and blames the whole thing on me-me, of all people!-for being such a horse's ass on the subject of hearing aids. (She doesn't actually say "horse's ass," of course, but I daresay we horse's asses can read between the lines as well as the next fellow.) Undaunted, I stick to my principles. No dice, I snort disdainfully, rising, in my wrath, to my full four-foot-nine; I hate those ugly little "flesh-colored" things that make a person look like he's got some kind of growth in his ear! I'll get a hearing aid, I tell her, when they make a big red one! That's the ticket, designer hearing aids! Why the hell not? They make designer eyeglasses, don't they? I demand a hearing aid shaped like a pig's ear!

But the Madam (who is a Central European, and therefore not as advanced as we are) has heard all this before, and she is not impressed by my philosophy.

"Sweethearrrt," she coos, as I stalk off to lick my wounds and brush the water spots off my goatsuede jacket, "you are sotch a dummy sometimes."

And at this convenient impasse, our story ends-except that I promised an update on Cleave's condition, after that treacherous Ent (a water maple, wouldn't you know?) parted his hair and tried to make a dune buggy of him.

Well, all of you who have joined me in praying for his recovery will be happy to learn that a few minutes ago Dr. Panelbeater called from the body shop to tell me it looks like Cleave is gonna be...okay!

At least I think that's what he said. The way some people mumble nowadays, there's just no telling.