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MY FATHER IN CAT’S SKIN – free chapter


On our way to Vancouver, WA, Jim and I, carrying three jacks, one behind the wheel. 

It’s a steal, said Jim. Four almost new tires for $150…

Let’s hope he didn’t use them much…

He couldn’t get a life out of them in a year, plus he’s retired…

Subaru was flopping like a giddy old mule.

Jim hoped its tires would hold till Vancouver without blowing up on us.

I’m a coward, he laughed. You wouldn’t want to be changing a flat tire on the freeway, there’s nowhere to pull over! They’d plow right into you the way they drive these days…

I laughed too. I was amazed how easily he admitted to being a coward. I knew he was joking, but there was half a truth in it, like in any joke. 

And it was a good thing, I thought. Back home it would take forever for some people to even joke about it. Being a coward.

I stopped looking at it that way a long time ago. 

There comes a time in your life when, no matter how bad you tried, nothing changed, and then you just start accepting it. 

No job, fine. 

Not much money, okay. 

Your tires bald, well, your hair stopped growing too.

So you just keep going, but this time slowly without hurrying. You’re hardly scheduled anywhere, apart from a few casual appointments. 

It’s all it takes to realize that life, anybody’s life, would be way much easier if they didn’t have to run around like puffed out hamsters in huge invisible wheels.

Right now I heard some noise and saw a big blue-green peacock on our porch nibbling on Betty the cat’s food. It’s been awhile. The spring must have sprung.

His body is way bigger than his head, his brain the size of a sweet pea. He must have read my thoughts somehow, as he graciously walked away dragging his big wafting tail behind like a gnarled wedding dress train.

For the first time I truly felt what it feels like to be retired. Just an A and D minus I shy of retarded.

As long as you have a bit of a sustainable income dripping from a divine gutter, you get a luxury of taking it easy. It’s all there is to it. You stop chasing dreams, people too. You are who you are, and what you got is what you get. 

The younger ones keep coming crazier every year. 

Their faces in electronic games, as Jim said, all I had to do was watch TV…

He baby-sat three boys, since their grandma was bedridden and their ma at work.

We overpassed the big Columbia River, crossing the I-205 Bridge, The War Veterans Memorial Freeway, a bypass route of I-5, as Jim was amazed by its length.

I heard there were going to set the toll booths here, but this bridge is already paid off… Maybe they’re just talking about it…

If they talk about it, it means they’ll do it… They are just warming us up…

Yeah, the government, they can do what they want… They just let you scream and holler for a while until you settle into it and start paying…

After that we talked about our silly cats. 

We both get woken up early in the morning by their scratching our mattresses right beneath our faces. 

Mine comes up and just stares at me until I start patting it…

Mine too.

Bruised and battered, his showed one day at the doorstep a few years back. 

He’d spent $500 at the vet just to bring it back to basics…

Then our exit popped up around the bend.

Coming to Vancouver evoked the same feeling every time. It’s spread out and empty. The historical Fort Vancouver has grown into more military looking beige and gray homes, pastel malls, and a never ending chain of fast food outposts.

I always get lost here, said Jim.

It was weird, because there is way more people in Portland, but Vancouver somehow managed to turn into a hick labyrinth. One called it Portland’s armpit. Its proud republicans probably wouldn’t agree with it, calling Portland weird instead. 

I always wished Hollywood made a movie there. I wondered how they’d disguise it into a Pleasantville. It’s way too dreary.

The cream on top was Jim’s buddy Boyd.

Half of his teeth missing, his gut hanging over his pants, his hair greasier than his dog’s, pronouncing R like Elmer Fudd saying wabbits. 

He thought I was god damn lucky for getting them almost brand new…

His tiwes still had nipples on ‘em! 

He already had taken the wheels off his car and we were heading to a service station nearby. It was called Five Corners. A couple of guys talked inside between stacks of tires, as Boyd hollered:

You got some payin’ customews waiting hewe!

They either didn’t hear us, or they didn’t understand us, so we waited a while until they came out. 

A chubby Mexican looking guy with a full moon face addressed us kindly. But when he answered our question on how much would cost to dismount and mount the tires back on different wheels, Boyd went berserk.

You out of yow mind! A hundwed dollaws!

The guy was still polite, but he started slowly coming out like a turtle:

Well, if you don’t like it, you can leave, you don’t have to insult me…

You damn wight we’we going to leave, I know whewe we can do it for sixty!

The funny thing was the door wouldn’t open and Boyd went at it obviously brave enough to holler while we were all out of the car. But now he was there on his own, facing the full moon face guy on his own.

I pushed the button to lock and unlock all the doors, and he got in. Him and Jim went on and on about how the guy was greedy, how he could have made himself 50-60 bucks, but now we were on our way to Les Schwab. 

I didn’t think they would be any cheaper, what’s more the guy there said he’d have to check the tires first before putting them on. Safety measures. Boyd only needed any kind of rubber on his wheels so that one could haul his car to a junkyard.

As they lifted Subaru in the air, it’s then I could see the bumps on the tires. The service attendant used chalk to mark big circles around them. The back left tire had the cord almost coming out of it. Everybody was amazed we made it safely. Apparently it could have gone off anytime.

You’we god damn lucky!

Boyd kept hollering like a cowboy suffering from rhotacism. We were the only customers, so we had two attendants putting up with us, one of them a girl that kept asking whose turn was to go to lunch next. She was not bad looking, but had inherited all the manners of a tire guy, and it just felt awkward seeing her there. 

She seemed out of place, still somehow fitting in. 

No one but me gave it a time of day anyway. She did her job, and she did it well, and it’s all that mattered. And whose turn was to go to lunch, of course.

Boyd’s hollering did the job in the end. Even one of the supervisors came out to help, and after trying to convince Boyd that it was against law to mount bad tires back on for whatever reason, he then gave up offering him a couple of old tires from the store for free. 

$62 all together, including the show.

I paid Boyd $180.

It was a pleasuw doing business with you, mistew!

The pleasure’s all mine! I saved $140.

On our way back, Subaru felt like Cadillac.

One needed so little to be happy again.