While we were in Yosemite, Rick’s girlfriend had stolen Mike’s guitar and pawned it.

Sleeping between episodes of "Get Smart"

As a result, Mike and I spent the month of November at Rick’s apartment trying to resolve an unpleasant situation.   Though Beach Boulevard offers numerous activities to fill one’s day, they all cost more money than we had to spend.  We splurged to go to Disneyland and that was as far as our money stretched.

Each morning we cut through the local car wash parking lot and crossed the busy boulevard to buy fresh melons at the market.  When we noticed a “help wanted” sign posted at the car wash we decided to apply.  It would be convenient to earn a few dollars within walking distance of the apartment.  Mike had previous car wash experience.  I did not.

Half an hour later we were employed as the custom detailers.  Mike made it clear that we only worked together and that we only did hand polishing. (We didn’t know how to work the equipment.) He convinced the boss that the polishing machines damaged the paint.  Advertising that it was hand-polished would increase his car dealership business.  The boss had recently acquired the car wash and knew very little about the business, perhaps only a little more than I knew and I knew nothing.

There was never a dull moment.  Business increased, just as predicted.  I was in charge of the interiors and Mike was in charge of the exteriors.  My cleaning lotions and potions consisted of dozens of bottles, mostly unlabeled, filled with various colored liquids and creams.  For the most part, it was trial by error.  I became a bit overly energetic on one occasion when cleaning a car for a dealer.  The fabric seats were exceptionally dirty.  After trying two or three of my potions I found one that worked well, so well that with my vigorous scrubbing it changed the color of the fabric.  Mike, in cleaning the exterior of the car discovered that the car had been in an accident and portions had been replaced and repainted.  Most likely, the passenger seat had also been replaced and dyed to match the rest of the seats.  I had, unintentionally scrubbed out the dye. By parking the car on the far side of the lot, with the passenger seat in the shade of a tree, the discrepancy was not immediately apparent.

A  week into the job, one of the kids who delivered the clean cars back to the dealers decided to take it for a ride around town instead.  He returned to the car wash squealing his tires, driving in circles through the lot with a police car chasing him.  About that same time the owner of a hearse we were detailing arrived to pick up his vehicle.  He was doing bodywork on it.  It wore only the gray primer coat.  When he dropped it off he was pleased that we were not going to use machines on his primer.  When he arrived to pick it up he complained that we had not used machines to polish it and refused to pay.  I was furious.  My fuse was lit.  We had spent a great deal of time on his vehicle and I was not planning on letting him get away with not paying.  As the police car spun in circles, lights flashing and siren blowing, the argument between the hearse man and me escalated to the point where Mike thought he was going to hit me.  As always, Mike saved the day.  The man had to pay before getting his keys back.  The young driver was handcuffed and taken away by the police.

A day or two later the chain broke on the conveyor that carried the cars through the wash.  Mike heard the commotion and went to see if he could help.  As he stood watching the brushes wearing off the finish of the paint from the car immobilized between them, the woman standing next to him informed him that it was her Cadillac that was being destroyed.  Mike not only fixed the broken chain, he also managed to work magic on the woman’s damaged car.  Little did we know what his helpfulness would earn him.  All too soon, we found out.

A day or two later the owners wife and young children showed up to take him to Jack’ n the Box for dinner. Some new crisis was in the works that made it impossible for him to leave. For some peculiar reason, I had dinner with his wife and children instead.  Over fried fast food I learned that the owner had an ulcer that was getting worse by the day due to the pressures of the Car Wash.  He had talked to his wife about asking us if we wanted to be partners in his business.  She begged me to say yes.

The situation had become out of control.  All we wanted was to retrieve his guitar and head to Colorado.  The owner wouldn’t take no for an answer.  We told him we were leaving town.

For the next week we had to awaken early so that we could get our melons before the Car Wash opened.  We stayed in the apartment and watched “Get Smart”.  It played at least five times a day.  I knit eight pair of mittens and a giant sweater for Mike.  We saw “The Ramones” for the first time on TV.  Even the waterfall landscape painted on velvet hanging on the wall over the kitchen table began to look good to me.  We were living in the altered reality of Southern California and couldn’t wait to leave.

Rick's Palm Tree, watercolor sketch

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