The Vertical Brush / 22 September 1999

I worked at a car wash one summer back in high school, and this was the summer when the cirrus thread through the sky like hot omens and everyone’s heart was doing a mean squarepusher, it was that one summer. Folks came and got their cars washed when it was too humid for fucking. Everyone wanted the wax that summer. They wanted the garish colors aflame and the hard edges rubbed smooth and the chrome blinding. They wanted the sun reflected back at themselves and the world in metalflake glory.

I was lean and standoffish then, but I might as well have been a mop in the corner thanks to the burly Marko, who somehow managed to turn his throbbing arm-veins into a tactile roadmap to Actionville, USA. Population: You and Me, Baby.

It didn’t matter, though, because there was (let’s call her) Maria, and we’d already exchanged letters of increasing bluntness, smeared Erasermate on intricately folded binder paper, the holes torn open, hers terse haiku of Latinic words, mine of course ever prolix and purple. American History was where it all began, both of us soothed to a kind of postcoital state by the steadily droning tones of Mr. Drister, languidly handing the thick, tiny paper squares to one another, afloat in late-afternoon tedium.

But the words could only take us so far, you know, text being sinuous and seductive but ultimately pretty low-impact, and so what really sold her on the whole deal was the Track Override.

I was Secretary of the Interior at the Superwash and as a result not allowed to mess with the control panel or anything else to do with the Washer itself, but I still knew how it worked and after hours I could send a car through there and hit the Track Override and that would stop the car from moving forward while the brushes worked back and forth, the soap endlessly raining down, the sprayers breathing and coughing, and no one would be the wiser. This was strictly for emergencies only.

The main problem was that the control panel was on the side of the Washer, so if I wanted, say, to hit the Override and then get in the now-stranded car, I had to worm my way past giant spinning brushes the color of arterial blood, ducking shafts of water and squirting wax and squeezing into the car. This meant I was soaked and a good portion of the driver’s seat was soaked as well. Luckily, Maria’s beater could take it and we bought a new tree for the mirror every couple of weeks to take care of the mildew. Flipping through the different scents there at the auto parts store — vanilla, fruit punch, potpourri, green apple — it was sort of like picking out a brand of condoms.

Three moments:

1. My middle finger hovers over the dim red switch, waiting for just the right moment. There’s a sweet spot where everything aligns properly, allowing me a relatively easy path to the car. I see it fall into place before me. 2. The door slams shut and the roar outside is dulled and we’re buried in this world of soapy activity, a multicolored thunderstorm blotting out the entire world, and it’s humid and it smells like lavender and coffee and that’s Maria. 3. My hand skimming up her back, nothing but a pure expanse of skin.

We went through there I don’t know how many times. Her car eventually became too clean, the paint actually being stripped from the hood and roof, rust settling in and eating away. But it was OK because we couldn’t stop, we couldn’t stop coming back to that sealed, noisy, safe place, and we couldn’t stop we couldn’t.

And then the sound stopped, one time, grinding down to a halt, tones dropping in pitch but neither of us noticing because the inside of the car was already so deafening and feverish, and I pulled back suddenly to look at her, this was what I did sometimes, quickly so as to get an honest idea of what she looked like, sweaty ringlets and blurred eyes, and she hated it but I couldn’t stop. And it was then I realized how quiet it was and I glanced over and there’s Marko, groomed eyebrows aloft, mouth a tiny circle, there looking in through the back window, muscles unflexed thereby making him almost unrecognizable.

I mean, yeah, I threw the car back into Drive and took off, Maria’s arms crisscrossed over her breasts, her yelling “go go go go go go go” and me taking a fair amount of what the boss called The Vertical Brush with me, it bobbing on the hood of the car for a good five or six blocks before giving up and falling by the wayside.

The Vertical Brush, I found, cost a nice, round $1200.00. And Maria.

One last time I went through that corridor with the Track Override engaged, one last time at midnight, which was Our Time, but I went without Maria’s car, protected only by denim and Members Only. It hurt, it cut me up, it blinded me, but when I staggered out the other end, supersaturated, unemployed, set adrift for the remainder of the summer, I felt OK because I was too clean, too too clean.

Joshua Green Allen

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