Champion

“I remember,” he said. “Yeah, I remember.”

He leaned into the engine compartment of his old pickup. By old we’re talking decades, a 1985 model now well into the twenty first century.

That’s old.

Trouble started with the misfiring of a couple cylinders. He didn’t know how many. He didn’t know which ones, but he knew what to do. He’d have to pull them, check them, dress them and put them back clean and ready to fire, the spark plugs, all eight of them in an engine with half the emission controls disconnected. It didn’t matter in a state without vehicle emission inspection. He’d lived in California. That was a different story, but this wasn’t that story and it wasn’t California. It was November in a state with snow and ice early this year and the truck began misfiring because he pushed too hard on warm up and the after-market carburetor dumped too much gas into the intake manifold and the spark plugs fouled. There might be something else he could do about it, but that would have to wait. Right now all his time and talent had to be concentrated on the spark plugs. He wouldn’t buy new spark plugs. He’d clean up the old ones. He’d done it many times.

“I remember,” he said leaning into the engine compartment of his old pickup. “Yeah, I remember.”

He sure as hell did.

“I remember what it was like to change spark plugs in a 1974 Chevy Vega station wagon in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a little town so little it barely had a middle in the middle of a county known for nothing but lies it told about itself in the middle of an Iowa winter, delivering Sunday papers for small change while she stayed home safe in bed. I remember.”

He used a three-eighths inch flexible head ratchet now on this three hundred and fifty cubic inch engine with a three inch extension and a five eighths socket the same as he used then on that shitty little four cylinder aluminum block, back in the day.

Some things don’t change much.

Some things don’t change at all.

“I remember,” he said as he leaned way into the engine compartment with the aid of a ladder and an adjustable LED lamp worn outside his cap on his head. In those days he had nothing. He held the flashlight in his teeth and risked frostbite in temperatures below zero, but the car fouled the plugs halfway through the route it burned so much oil, so he carried extra plugs and knew he had to change them. A V-8 truck will run on a few cylinders, but a four cylinder tin can car won’t run at all if one or two goes out. He hated that car. He loved the woman, but they both tended to run rough.

“I remember.”

He remembered driving seventy-five miles to deliver seventy-five newspapers and earning about forty cents per delivery. It helped pay the bills. He counted the money when he got home about dawn on the front room floor where he might sit with a cup of coffee. He hated to wake her so early, but she hadn’t been sleeping. He got the dog route. The longer a driver worked for the paper, the more opportunities a driver got to consolidate or customize the route, deliver the most papers possible over the shortest possible distance. He hadn’t been driving long enough. He got what was left.

She got the neighbor’s son, a nice handsome lad with a college degree in agricultural engineering and a car and a pickup truck every so often and a snowmobile and pilot’s license and got his Sunday paper over at the old home place he stood to inherit from his Dad from another carrier so that made it a little less awkward.

“I remember,” the way the sheets felt when he got back into bed at five or five thirty in the morning on those cold winter nights when the sheets felt warmer than he might have imagined or she slept on top of them in the summer months with the windows open yet she seemed to have been sweating. It got light a lot earlier in the summer, but they lived a long way from town and there was no one for miles, well, exactly two miles and that didn’t take long over the county roads. They were generally well maintained. A new pickup could always get through, fully equipped with four wheel drive and fuel injection or a snowmobile for sure cross country with no trouble at all.

Now he had all eight plugs out and cleaned with a wire brush and strip of emery cloth, then heated with a propane torch playing the flame across the gap and threads to burn away any oil or carbon residue. All the plugs went back in with the left side easier than the right and the last plug back by the firewall always the most difficult, in and under the piping and wires and exhaust manifold. He worked mostly by touch, by feel. He could feel when it threaded in and then and only then did he use the ratchet to avoid cross threading. He only dropped one tool which was the three inch extension. He had another and eventually retrieved the one he dropped from beneath the truck with the help of a garden hoe. No sense crawling round down under there. Then he put his tools away and slammed the hood without bothering to start the engine. He knew it would start. He  just knew it would and run better than before. He would clean his hands with the lanolin cleanser he kept under the bathroom sink and use his hand brush and make himself presentable for the woman he lived with now, decades after the one he lived with then and decades better.

“I remember,” he said one last time and felt proud he spent no money, actually saved money and time by doing what knew how to do and fixed his truck the way he learned how on the farm when he delivered Sunday papers once upon a time to get by and the woman who couldn’t wait for him to leave who pretended to be asleep, knew how long he’d be gone and knew exactly the next voice she heard other than her own in the darkened bedroom of the farm house on the second floor would be the neighbor’s son.