Thursday, June 26, 2008


This is not an editorial on the price of the stuff that makes our cars go. This is about gasoline specifically, the actual substance, and another power that it fuels.

This evening when I came home, I knew of the chore that awaited me. My wife’s chariot, the Grand Caravan, was in need (again) of new disc brakes. Not a particularly difficult job, since I have gotten so much practice with this machine and its penchant for eating brake pads.

I went to Auto Zona and obtained the needed supplies. I then came back, knocked on my best neighbor’s door and asked him if I could use his mechanic’s tools to do my brakes. Since I help him whenever I can and mostly since he’s an old school-type guy, he said, “Of course,” and proceeded out to gather the tools while I replaced his silver Grand Caravan with ours in his driveway.

It wasn’t long before I had made the swap with the disc brake pads and even one of the rotors, and began cleaning up. This is where ol’ Larry picked up one of his red shop rags, opened the hood of Black Beauty (his riding lawn mower that I mow our yards with) and dipped a corner in the gas tank for a good old-fashioned instant hand cleaner. At first there was a slight catch in my brain about using such a precious and dangerous commodity for cutting the stubborn brake dust from my hands. Immediately, the smell of gasoline permeated the garage as we stood around and talked, me wiping my hands of as much of the solid black dust as I could.

We hung out at his truck and spoke of many things that geezers talk about, actually for longer than it took me to change out the brakes.

When we finally adjourned to our respective dens, I was fairly hungry, since it was about eight o’clock by that time. I washed my hands about five times, each time removing a small amount more of the black brake soot that accentuated every line on my fingers and framed every fingernail with a near-indelible line of ebony. I would have made a fine engraving or pen drawing. Even now, as I type on this satin-smooth aluminum computer keyboard, I can see that I will be wearing the evidence for several days to come.

I ate my spaghetti, aware of the faint but unmistakable odor of “Eau De Refinery” emanating from my fingers. As I ate my peach for dessert, slurping and juggling the slippery globe, I even got a closer encounter with the 87 octane cologne I wore on my hands.

The smell was a comfort, though. The peach brought back many summer days, enjoying my favorite fruit in the shade of a mimosa tree in GranMommy’s back yard.

The petrol scent was what caught me, though. It immediately transported me back to GranDaddy’s garage, the cool, dark cavern that smelled of gasoline, dirt, grease and old wood. On a hot day, I often retreated into the relative cool of the garage to explore what he had in there. The usual things, the broken hammer, the small vise, the coffee cans full of bolts, screws, nails and whatnots. There was an old outboard motor clamped to the end of the workbench. In under the shelves, the ancient pickle crocks were nested. And at any time, there was a good chance that one of the local feline tramps had dropped her latest litter of kittens in there. Maybe I’d find an old, interesting relic from his days as the owner of a car dealership. Or an ancient fishing reel. It was possible.

Whether I found anything of interest or not, I was always satisfied to go in there to spend a few minutes or an hour. I was never disappointed.

All of that from some gas on my fingers. In much less time than it takes to read it. The nose and the brain are a fantastic team.


Anonymous said...

Creative once again - I like this:
"the black brake soot that accentuated every line on my fingers and framed every fingernail with a near-indelible line of ebony. I would have made a fine engraving or pen drawing."
And a guy who called his grandfather "Grandaddy" can't be all bad-
Enjoyed this one!

Anonymous said...

Big Toe...
That takes me back to my childhood when I spent many weekends at my Grandparents house. My Grnandfathers garage had that same smell and darkness, you could hear the rock polisher motor running. I haven't heard whatnot used in a long time, A word he uses often. One time he built me a whatnot shelf to hold all of my what nots. I called him Papa, one of the most kind and patient loving man that I have missed since the day he passed away. I will never forget all the memories.

rthmcdragn said...

seems like “Eau De Refinery”, as you so eloquintly put it, brings back memories for a lot of us... i spent my summers behind lawnmowers, slinging weed whackers & blowers, and constantly tinkering in the garage with various gas powered *toys* to my mother's dismay [dad loved it}... used to luv cleaning up with it, too.... not only the lingering smell, but i liked the way it made my hands feel...... strange, yeah i know.......

aA said...

this is why i do this. thanks for the comments!

Rob V. said...

Strange -- the link between smells and memories. The smell of freshly mowed grass often evokes memories of my rough-and-tumble boyhood -- running barefoot through the front yard, the back yard, the neighbor's yard ... stepping on a red wasp hidden in the grass and getting stung between the toes .. stepping on a place where a dog did his business (which brings to mind other smells and yet other memories). I have often wondered about this strange link between smells and memories. Great post aA. Thanks for posting. Wish you would have included a pic or graphic.

Howlsatmoon said...

The smell of rain coming in over the desert....smell it a good half hour before it hits, wafted in on the breeze....took a bit to figure it out, but it's the clean smell of wet creosote bush....amazing

aA said...

Good one Wollf! I like the smell of rain coming, too. Wet concrete (or limestone) that is already hot does it for me.

Rob V, unfortunately, i never got any shots of the garage in it's prime. I tried to think of a graphic, but non would do it justice!