Directly across from Judy's Tire Barn ("used tires $11 and down"), on the southeast corner of Buchanan and D.B. Todd, a liquor store sits diagonally so as to face both streets. Even on rainy days it gathers a certain local crowd, mostly men. I'm standing in the drizzle at Judy's, hands in pockets so I won't seem to be supervising with crossed arms, and leaning to hear over the sound of wet traffic the guy who is removing the lugnuts of the left front tire with an air impact wrench.
"I tell them to let him alone, don't pay attention. He gets drunk, comes over here talking smack. Let him alone, nothing he can do but talk. See, he's mad at us because we are working and getting our hands all dirty and black."
I'd seen the guy cross the street, with a somewhat abstracted air, then cross the lot half-skipping around the piled-up tires in front of the building and go in the door here at Judy's. I'd thought he was another employee reporting back to work after lunch. He was kidding with the men, saying things I couldn't hear, but then apparently he struck a nerve. Suddenly in the doorway fists were flying. Then he and this other guy were in a lock, and the other guy clipped him on the cheek and on the back of his head a couple of times before three other employees pulled them apart and sent the drunk back across the street.
"And to think," I said to the man changing my tire, "that I was going to put this off until tomorrow."
I've been coming here for 15 years or more. Judy, a pleasant-looking and authoritative middle-aged white lady, used to run it herself. The office in front is windowed straight across on two adjoining sides, and she used to sit in the front corner on the other end from the door and give instructions and write receipts. She was a planet the tire mechanics revolved around like moons. Her place has been taken by a big white guy who exacts obedience but not affection. He runs the ship as tight as he can and keeps a sharp eye out.
The man changing my tire tells me his name is Darrell. "I won't tell you what they call me," he says, "because you won't remember it."
"Oh?" I say. "What is it?"
"It's my nickname here. They call me 'Kryptonite'."
"Like with Superman."
As a customer I am a kind of cordial stranger who shows his face maybe once or twice a year, so I feel I should probably call him Darrell and not Kryptonite. Darrell's right hand looks weak and twisted with arthritis. Or maybe there is some violence in his past. The way he uses his hand to pound the hubcap back on suggests it is a past injury maybe, and not ongoing pain, that has done this. Still, he is no younger than I am, and neither of us is stronger than Superman. He is anything but Kryptonite.
While I've watched him work it has occurred to me that the reason I have to replace the left front tire more often than the others is that I am heavy and rarely have passengers. I never rotate my tires and am always sitting on that tire when I drive.
The drunk guy has rejoined his colleagues in front of the liquor store, still in the drizzle. They talk to him and look this direction in a challenging way. They are egging him on. It's a game. If he gets beat up, that's entertainment. He crosses the street again in a not quite straight line. In the face he looks not more than thirty, but his bearing suggests a seasoned alcoholic. His shoulders don't line up. His eyes seem focused more on what he feels than on what he sees.
Darrell says to the other mechanics, "Let him alone. Don't pay him any attention."
It is easy to be wise. All you have to do is stand back and take a long view. What is hard is standing back and taking a long view. For a few, the injuries from being unwise add up to wisdom, but those you share your wisdom with will rarely pay attention to it. When you turn out to be right, they will think you can see around corners.
On the drunk's second attempt the other mechanics ignore him. They block the doorway so he can't get inside, but they don't say anything. Eventually he leaves.
I have paid and am leaving too. I say to Darrell, "Do you want an umbrella? I have an extra one I don't need."
He says, "Yeah, thanks." I give him the better one because I don't want him to think I am giving him something I would otherwise be throwing away.
As I am backing my car out the big white guy comes running and saying, "Sir! Sir!"
I roll down my window. "Did he bum this from you?" he asks. DarrellKryptoniteis behind him saying, "No, he offered it." I say, "He didn't bum it. I had two and thought he needed one when I saw him out here in the rain." I show him the one I have left.
"You sure he didn't bum it?"
"He didn't bum it," I say, knowing I wouldn't admit it if he had. The boss probably knows that too. Denied self-satisfaction, I leave a cloud of suspicion over Kryptonite and drive across the street to Ed's Fish, where the lady at the drive-through calls me "darling" when she hands me my order.