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Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2004
I always wondered, as a thin youth, how exciting and wonderful things would be in the adult life that was yawning ahead of me. How childish wants and needs would be swept away by a commanding, firm visage of mature and steady habits. And having conquered the world and convinced all within it of my sure and noble means, I would sail off into some just reward.

But having reached the age where achieving adulthood is unquestioned, I can tell you this.

Me, and everybody around me, is still 14 years old.

Oh I can sit and hold a serious adult conversation. I get to vote, and drink beer legally. I’m too old to be drafted, or probably even serve in the military. Young people occasionally ask my advice. There’s a fair amount of gray hair to be seen.

It’s all window dressing. And it’s gotten to the point where I don’t think there really are any adults around. At least not in the sense that you might expect.

Witness thusly.

The regular crew at the Watering Hole, as defined by who shows up nearly every afternoon, consists of a number of pretend adults. A retired civil servant. Two of them in fact. A semi-retired Navy chief who now schleps wholesale foodstuffs – our much beloved Filipino – Ike. Our equally beloved and nearly retired Master Chief – Mo. Stu and myself. And a schoolteacher. A lady schoolteacher for crying out loud. How much more adult can you get than that?

Our teacher made her entrance yesterday with a frightening lack of schoolmarm chic. She was, in fact, pawing the air and gasping with no uncertain panic, “My car’s on fire! My car’s on fire!”

Now you have to know Mary to understand why this little tidbit didn’t cause us to rush outside. Mo, for one, merely raised an eyebrow and offered, “Really? Again?”

Mary is one to sit for hours at the bar and putter in gloom over the devastation that is her day. With thirty screaming kids, all of whom know just how to push her buttons. She is a Xanax queen, her hair is a wild question mark, she twists napkins into interesting shapes while firing up a cigarette. Her purse suggests a Himalayan outing. Yet, for all her issues and concerns (and she’ll be the first to tell you. “I have issues and concerns!”) she is one of us, the adults who pretend, and who come to the Hole to celebrate same.

Last week she raced in to proclaim “My car’s on fire!” in nearly the same way, and it turned out that yes, the vehicle was rather warm, which often happens to a car when it has run out of oil. And has a big red light on the dash that says so. One of the semi-regulars had gone out to check, discovered that the oil reservoir cap was not only loose, it was all the way off and rolling about the engine compartment.

“Mary,” we explained as one. “You’ve got to put oil in the car, but you’ve also got to put the oil cap back on when you’re done. Remember last year? When you ran out of oil and we showed you how to do it? And check the dipstick and all? Remember the last thing we did? Put the cap on?”

“Yes I do, smartasses. And I did put it on. I just don’t like to put it on so tight that I can’t get it off next time.” And she listened to the now familiar litany from the gathered (and hugely male) audience about how she needed to be more careful, that wasn’t now the time to consider trading in the 14 year old car, and wasn’t it curious how she always ran out of oil or whatever just in time to pull into the Hole in the afternoon.

Eventually, Stu and I rose wearily from our perches to check the latest catastrophe in the world of Mary’s Auto, and saw a cloud of steam rising steadily from the hood, which she had thoughtfully propped open. “Water. ‘S’got to be the radiator,” mused Stu from around his unlit stogie.

I popped back inside and addressed the barmaid. “Three pitchers full, lass. And put water in the first two, if you would.”

We poured and filled and started the car (my God, the inside of that car could only be described as an environmental issue) and sipped from the third pitcher which we had perched on top of the air cleaner. Found the culprit – a break in a water line hose - which Stu hacked off with his Tom Mix pocketknife and somehow reaffixed to the water pump.

Other regulars began to arrive and straggle by and would stop, poke a nose under the hood and remark, “Mary’s car at it again eh?” and wander into the Hole to update our progress to the more sedate of the crew, who opted to sit in comfort rather that get all greasy.

It was Mo who came out and announced “Now then. Got that all unf*cked yet? Good! You boys go back inside. It’s time for a test run.” Whereupon our nearly retired Chief hopped in the car and vroomed his way around the parking lot a couple of times with horn blaring, as Mary cradled her shaking head in one hand and wished for a rock to crawl under.

I turned in the three pitchers (all of which, as you might have guessed, were empty) and sat next to Mary. “Listen dear. You’ve got water back in the car. It’s one of those things, you know? You’ve got to keep water in there, and oil, and gas. They all kinda work together for the common good, you see.”

She nodded with a hand to her chin, dragging deeply from a Newport. “Yep. It’s a good thing you guys were here. ‘Course, I don’t know where else you’d be at this time of day. Think that car will get me home and to school tomorrow?”

“Question is, will it get you back here?”

And that, fellow pretend adults, is the question, isn’t it?

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