ON HE RODE — Chapter Twenty-Two

Liquidity. English teachers are not good sources of information about this term. What they (we) don’t know can’t hurt them (us), but I’d guess that if they knew much about liquidity they wouldn’t be English teachers. But here we go. Liquidity is money. When you get more, you liquidify . When you get less, you liquidate. That’s about all I know on that topic, which is possibly why I remain an English teacher: I don’t know any better.

What gets my head cranking on liquidity is when I pull into a Union 76 station to fill up, check the water and oil — liquids, you know. I do the checking myself and ask the guy to borrow a spout so I can add a quart of my own oil. Kinda careful about not mixing brands, etc., I explain. No problem. I add the quart of oil, a dribble of water, pay my tab, and I’m good to go.

I’ve got two credit cards, a SHELL and a Union 76, because you can almost always find one or the other when you need gas. I’ve also got a JCPenney’s card because it’s easy to get cash at Ala Moana Mall on weekends when the banks are closed. Kind of makes you wonder why somebody doesn’t invent a credit card you can use everywhere, one card fits all. Call it the God Card for its ubiquity. Nah, God and money don’t mix. Shouldn’t anyway. So, call it Gold Card or Mr. Money, or whatever you want. Fat chance any of that happening. Another wild idea eats dirt.

Speaking of eating, what the hell is happening to my fingernails? I’m heading east, cruising along at a comfortable 45 or 50, trying not to get in anybody’s way. The extra quart of oil should help ameliorate the bad effects of seawater, so, yeah, I’m giving God a helping hand. Not that He needs it, but He’d probably think I was too stupid to deserve His assistance if I couldn’t even maintain my car’s fluid levels. Liquidify.

(What did you think of “ameliorate”? Cool, no? How often do you see that in a sentence? I tell you, dear reader, you could choose worse than an English teacher for keeping the language alive in all its parts. I no keed you, bra.)

Asides aside, I’m cruising along in one of those California vineyard valleys and really noticing the heat. First I check the temperature gauge, which reads slightly above normal. And my Haleiwa Strained Poi shirt clings to my hot, damp skin.

And . . . me bloody nails! Aghast I am, though only the right index is actually bloody. But they’re all down to the pink, quite raw and nasty. Chewed-on, you might say. By a very worried man, you might guess. Me. Myself. I.

And why hadn’t I stopped? Because I never noticed. That’s a fact, and I think it traces back to a history of nail-biting that began when Whitey was drafted and we were forced to move from the only home I’d ever known, a place I loved. The uncertainty led to my first experience with nail biting. Carrie applied THUM, a foul-smelling, evil-tasting medication designed to discourage thumb-sucking, etcetera. Because it also caused an unpleasant burning sensation, its primary effect was to make me touch my private parts very carefully when I took a piss or wiped my butt.

The initial nail-biting stopped when I accommodated to living at my grandparents’, then started all over again a couple years later, when I entered first grade. Then it let up, reinforcing a behavior that accompanied stressful situations all my life. Nail biter, a term describing both those who are subject to such behavior and to the situation that brings it on. Are we all potential nail-biters? Is it shameful, and is that why people try to hide it? Or just nasty to look at? Or both?

Once the surprise of unanticipated digital carnage has worn off, I can accept that muscle memory has responded to stress much more strongly and independently than usual. Usually these days I notice what’s happening soon enough to head off any serious damage. But now I’ve got these bloody finger stumps to go along with the facial grotesque that threatens me from every mirrored surface. Am I “going through something”, and is that why I’m dining on my nails? Well of course I’m “going through something”. It’s called life, and for all its good aspects, it seems like kind of a tough experience for a lot of people. Like me.

The first thing I do when I pull into the winery’s parking lot is to peel off my sweaty Haleiwa Strained Poi shirt and replace it with one that says BULL SHIRT with the portrait of an angry male bovine on front. All fresh and dry, of course. Then, forgotten items from the crypt-like depths of my Chevy’s trunk, I pull on a Navy-blue wool watch cap and a gently used pair of White Ox gloves, the logger’s choice for sawing, chopping, or pulling cable.

White Ox gloves are unbleached cotton with red stitching and cuffs and WHITE OX printed in black letters on the back. Modest and unassuming by design, they are unapologetically practical working gloves, so well conceived and executed that nothing else comes close. The elegance of my apparel is conspicuously on display in the air-conditioned refinement of a Central Valley tasting room grasping a stem of fragrant Beaujolais.

“To the only man here who knows how to dress for the weather,” the chubby fellow in puckered blue seersucker raises his glass.

“Air-conditioning,” I say, raising mine. “Protect against frostbite.”

“Ha, ha, ha,” he replies. His friends raise their glasses and nod appreciation. Mixed couples, they silently pick up their glasses and fade to a table across the twilit room. “That liquefaction of her clothes,” I murmur, appreciating an auburn-tressed beauty in retreat. See Herrick, Robert.

Talk story

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