Sweaters and Gas Pumps
The cashier at Preston Hardware is serving the guy ahead of me. She could be anywhere between 17 and 30. She has a chunky frame, no makeup. She wears cloudy dark prescription glasses. Her hair is long and wavy brown and reaches down to her nametag “Sheri”.
The sixty-something customer is wearing a grey sweatshirt. He picks his paper bag up from the stainless steel counter as they round up their banter.
“Stay MARRIED!!” she taunts warmly, and the man chuckles and heads out the door.
“What can I do for you?” Sheri asks me.
She even means it.
Her round face and smile (with braces) lights up the cash area. I’m instantly humoured, but I keep my gratitude to myself.
I tell her I want to return this stove-top espresso pot that my husband bought.
It’s a cute thimble of a Bialetti, but when it comes to espresso, supersize me.
I wonder what it means if Sheri ends up being the best part of my day.
She shouts across the store, “Hey DINO!" Pause. "I need your AUTOGRAPH!”, writing in the air with her right hand. Flirty.
I turn, hoping Dino is thick chested and sporting bling.
But Dino is suddenly beside me wearing requisite Preston Hardware red polo shirt, saying nothing, signing the receipt.
Dino looks like the kind of man who quietly mends your fence on time. Good dad material.
Possibly even on the school parent council committee.
Not the president.
I’ll bet my Bialetti he has never considered wearing bling.
I have a husband Jake who is in excellent physical shape. I’ve told him that he might live another forty years and, consequently, I might not cope with decades of old man noises.
The flip side of that is that I’m essentially the easiest person to be married to. But I do own a sweater that Jake might object to.
After two and a half decades together Jake choses his battles carefully.
My asset is a loose three-tiered turtleneck with paint stains.
When I obtained this sweater a decade ago it did have a previous owner.
The top third is oatmeal greige, a stripe of grey and then black below.
When I slip it on it says “outboard engine”, in a comforting way.
Objectively speaking it is possible Jake will not want to look at this sweater for the next forty years.
I don’t ask.
And, with my criteria, this one could last forty years.
Looking down at the one I have now, it occurs to me there is a significant discrepancy between how I feel in the sweater (clearly a rock star) and how it might actually look which might be painful for me. More shabby than chic.
It also occurs to me that looking at this sweater for decades might manifest (or at least correlate with) Jake’s old man noises.
When I was growing up our family had a cottage on Georgian Bay. I would have pulled a sweater just like this out of the bottom drawer of an old dresser. I would wear the same big sweater for years, pulling it over my head before ambling down the granite rocks edged with rubbery hens and chickens, to bounce onto the ancient floating dock. I would step into an ancient fiberglass boat; a dated white with little flecks of black paint.
I was probably 8 when I started driving an outboard.
I learned to hook the gas line onto the motor, unscrew the air valve, pump the bulb on the cord lightly before yanking on the cord of the 9.9 horsepower. It was exhilarating to click the handle into reverse, watching below the surface for rocks, and then slide the tiller in the opposite direction, bouncing across the waves to the marina.
When I was younger my job would have been to pick up milk, some eggs or a newspaper. I would also check for phone messages that the marina wrote down for their customers out on their islands.
We imagined an ominous day would come when power and phone lines would criss-cross the waters. Phone messages were written by and on a carbon receipt with a blue letterhead with Beacon Marina, two holes at the top. In Laura’s slanted writing, “The Goodhands won’t be at the station until 4pm”.
In my teens I would have made the trip in the outboard to the marina to arrange plans for friend to visit.
It didn’t occur to me how outrageously luxurious this was.
I’d wait until 6pm, cheap phone time. I’d sit on the expanse of docks for the public phone booth to be empty.
The phone booth was always in use, and the caller would have a one-way conversation that would echo across the bay. People would conduct loud logistical conversations about what might happen a week Friday.
I’d sit on the dock in my thick sweater, breeze lifting my hair, that post-swim soft skin, receiver to carry across the marina docks. I would wonder if it would happen before the sun set.
I would listen carefully for signs that the talker was wrapping things up, waiting for the sound of the receiver clinking into place. Hoping that by the time I nestle into that cobwebbed phone booth and pull the folding door behind me that my boyfriend would still be home.
The truth is, I don’t think of washing fat sweaters.
At 6am I pulled myself out of bed to gas up the car before our carpool shift.
On the other side of the pump was a bearded grey haired man reaching across the windshield of a dump truck. The silver faced dump truck is old but really solid. In the back it had rough bits of plywood screwed along the heavy metal frame.
Washing the windshield took some effort, stretching his arm awkwardly, one foot on the running board.
I couldn’t tell if he enjoyed this task or not. He wore thick wire rimmed glasses, his face entirely neutral.
He stepped down off the running board, appraising his work. His eyes focused on the nose of the truck, I watched as he walked around to the far side and began wiping the headlights.
I wondered if he owns the truck.
Is he the exacting employee of someone half his age?
Maybe he is that cheerful, enviable kind of person who doesn’t care, either way.
Is retirement an option for him? Does he feel that after six decades that the world is indifferent to him?
Are fries and prostitutes his chief solace? Or is that a classist assumption, and statistically more feasible for the businessmen?
Equally he might have a pristine home, a wife who adores him. Maybe he retired early from diplomatic service. This could be a post-retirement gig.
I stood holding the buzzing gas nozzle in my right hand, leaning my sweatered shoulder against our dusty van window.
I wrack my brain trying to imagine any condition under which it might occur to me to clean headlights.
I watched him lumber across the pavement in his understated plaid grey shirt.
Windshield fluid? Lottery tickets?
I replaced the nozzle and pressed the button for my receipt.
As my teens start to flap their wings, applying to universities and peeking out from the nest to consider life’s options, I listen to their banter. I hear them make presumptions about how things will unfold for their peers, the cheerful drug dealers, the miserable high achievers.
You think you know, I keep saying, but you just don’t.