This is gonna feel a lot like being on an airplane when the pilot comes over the PA and says, Folks, we’re about to experience some turbulence, please return to your seats and buckle your safety belts. My throat dries and dread pools in the depths of my stomach. I don’t know that I like what’s about to come—at best it’s gonna be choppy (the key words there are “at best”), but we’re doing it anyway. So please—buckle up and stick with me.
We’ll start at the end—everything turned out fine. With the benefit of hindsight the problem was quite manageable—so manageable that telling it straight fails to convey the proper anxieties I felt at the time.
I realize that’s an unsatisfactory beginning and likely not a constructive way to build an engaging narrative arc. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.
Those who’ve been following this series already know that the issue was car trouble. In this case, the following: thinking I had an oil leak and working at night without enough light to guide me, I added oil to the car’s system. I did this multiple times, which culminated in my adding too much oil to the system, which in turn led to the car burning oil, which manifested as a big black cloud trailing behind me on I-5, visible even at midnight.
You can’t drive a car like that. Bad things will happen: irreparable things from the car’s perspective, potentially the same from the perspective of the person from whom I had borrowed the car.
Anxiously, I hobbled into the town of Castle Rock, WA, and found a gas station that appeared to be open. Inside I found a guy behind a big machine that looked like the ones high school janitors use to wax floors, only with a giant chisel on the end. He turned off the machine and listened as I nervously explained the problem with the car. He looked at me and said,
I’m sorry, but I don’t work here. In fact, this store is closed. I’m just a general contractor hired to rip up the floors.
He then asked, What type of car did you say it was?
I told him it was a Jetta.
He smiled and said, You’re in luck—I love Jetta’s and am pretty good at fixing them up. Let’s go take a look.
I have dreams about angels. Not the ones you think, with the big feathery white wings sitting on chairs of clouds and backed by wide halos of blinding light. I dream about the weird ones, specifically of the cowboy variety, who give music criticism at bars and buy shots of cheap whiskey and ride rickety, piebald horses made of gun-steel into gray, rain-soaked sunsets.
I dream about more than this specific one—my mind hums with the songs of many of these beings. And the fact is that I do more than dream about them, these angels of nonsense. They burn bright as scarlet in the darkness of my head, and in case you haven’t put it together, this story, like all the others in this series, is about running into yet another angel, in this case a general contractor ripping up the floor in a gas station at midnight. ((I do not believe that you have to be religious to believe in religious things. Life asks of a lot of big questions that most of us wonder about at some point or another—Are we alone in the Universe? Does life have some larger meaning or purpose? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Who created Donald Trump, and was it the result of a fraternity prank gone awry?—and while religion can provide direction for answering such questions, one needn’t belong to a certain sect or community to have thoughts on them.
What scares me when thinking about such things is people who have definitively determined the outcomes to these types of questions. For example, people who know (and there is a difference between knowing and believing, and it’s an important one), YES or NO, that there is a God, are usually obnoxious blowhards, which is an annoying trait at dinner parties and also when hosting televised talk shows, but worse, I don’t find their thinking very thoughtful: that is, if you’re 100% positive, either way, you’re probably a little bonkers.
To wit: without an external aid you’ve never seen your own face or the middle of your back or the inside of your ear, and you certainly don’t know what you smell like or taste like or feel like to someone other than yourself. But despite these deficiencies of self-perception (and that’s only to talk about your own self) you’re somehow confident enough to definitively conclude that there is or is not a God? To echo a great Louis CK bit: you’re a human animal who struggles to clearly see something 100-yards in the distance, yet you’ve determined that there is or is not a God in entirety of the cosmos?? What the hell’s wrong with you?!?!
I don’t mean to indicate that we should all throw up our hands in a weak-willed, warm-blanket-agnosticism that basically answers Whatever-works-for-you to these concerns, because the reality is that what works for some people is very harmful and destructive, and we should fight against those beliefs (e.g.: it’s a good rule of thumb that gods who exhort killing in their names should only be listened when the killing undertaken is of the gods themselves).
Before I go off-track any further, let me say that if there’s any point contained above, it’s this: obviously the world is much bigger than any of us can determine or comprehend, and as such it seems smartest to remain open to things that stretch our understandings. One of those things is angels, which is what all these stores are ultimately about.))
Below are instructions for interacting with an angel.
HOW TO INTERACT WITH AN ANGEL =
His name was Mike, this general contractor with a working knowledge of Jettas, and out into the cool night we stepped. He looked over the car and quickly concluded what I explained above: too much oil was in the system and the car was un-driveable. The solution was simple: remove some oil.
He searched his van for a tube to siphon out some oil, to no avail. He then found a pair of pliers and an old paint tray and said, You can wait for the engine to cool, then climb under there, loosen the bolt on the oil pan and drain out enough oil to get you moving again.
I nodded and sighed. He then produced a ceramic pipe and asked if I wanted to get high. I took stock of the situation—it was nearly one in the morning in Castle Rock, WA, and it was going to take a solid hour for the engine to cool enough for me even to touch it.
I followed the instructions outlined above: who was I to blow against the wind?
Mike’s co-worker, Tommy, a young black guy with a lean face and anxious eyes, came out and sat with us. I still had the cooler full of cold Coors, and we sat and bullshitted and hung out, all of which clearly was preferable to ripping up the gas station floors.
This was the sign across the street from the gas station:
My natural inclination is to say that I don’t believe in signs. Mostly, my thinking is this—if you allow the possibility of metaphysical/supernatural signs, then anything could be one of them, including them mold that grows atop your old yogurt container, the bubbles that form on your soap in the shower or, heaven-forbid, this fucking essay. And let’s be honest—that sounds both exhausting and far too much pressure to place on such a disjointed author.
But I suppose if I’m going to say that I believe in angels then I’d be veering strongly toward inconsistency if I decide to throw out the notion of signs. Under duress I’ll let them stay, but I can’t pretend I have the time to bother trying to read them all.
Likely you’re wondering several things about my Angel Instructions:
To whom are you saying Yes? Both them and you.
To what are you saying Yes? To the thing they’re all asking—can I come in a little closer out of the darkness?
The How is pretty self-explanatory and the answer to The When is As much as you can.
The Why—well, that one’s yours to figure out.
On these trips I met a variety of oddballs. I’ve called some of them angels, but then that’s just a starter version of what I believe all of us are anyway, even though we sometimes try and disguise it pretty heavily. What made things interesting was listening to these people; sadly, what’s infinitely easier, and infinitely less interesting, is ignoring them all together.
I’ve never liked the preachers of doom-and-gloom and I’ve also always thought Kumbaya sounded like hokum. Since that leaves us sinking atop a shitty and arguably inconclusive atoll of ambivalence, let’s try and find a better middle ground: the truth is that the older I get the more it seems that life is like
a box of chocolates a farmer’s field: You can’t control all the various factors that go into raising a crop, but one thing’s for sure—you’ll never reap a thing if you don’t first sow the seeds.
Fill in your own conclusions here.
The long and short on my night in Castle Rock was this: Mike ended up climbing under the car for me and draining out enough oil. Like I said when we started this mess of an essay, everything turned out fine.
I shook Mike and Tommy’s hands, left them a couple cold beers and drove north into the slow rise of dawn.