Good morning. Has everyone recovered from my “fake” journey down Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”? I’m sorry my attempt at satire scared you all awake. Even though most of the concerns were about “She,” I do appreciate your many notes and calls.

I promise not to do it again.

To avoid any further fears, I’ve trashed the column about our trip to Nairobi by balloon.

Sensing a more secure future, I told my lawn man to continue to cut the grass, and include me in his winter snow-blowing schedule.

I will also continue to have the trash picked up, and order ripe bananas and baked beans for the coming weeks. See how refreshed I am after asylum? (I can’t quit, can I?)

Oh, yes, the car. It sits there in the dark garage like a petulant child. I can hear it grumbling in the night. “What happened to fun rides to Augusta and Freeport? And that fun drive-thru at Starbucks?”

It now seems safe to run my beloved Toyota through the brushes and fountains and remove any trace of the virus that may have tainted it while it sat idle in my garage. That should cheer it up.

But then I recall the terrifying experience of my last visit on the early weeks of the “attack,” when everyone was in the first stages of the jitters. We had yet to full embrace masks or gloves, but the bad news was coming in by the hour.

My local car wash is a very modern, high-tech business that seems to please everyone but me. Still, I continue to be confused by the dueling gates, buttons and choices on the card machine.

So on a bright spring day, I bravely followed a woman in a green Volvo into the line, and watched carefully how she did it and made notes on my iPhone.

1. Read and select one of the choices on the menu. It listed prices that ranged from 10 bucks to 20. I hate choices. If I had been on that game show where you have to pick the right door? I’d wind up with a year’s supply of nail polish.

2. Insert credit card in slot.

Oh boy. I’m really bad at card sliding. I always put the card in backwards, or sideways, upside down, or use the wrong card. Just last week I tried to buy gas with my expired Subway card.

This device looks complicated. I fear one misstep, and lights will flash and a siren will go off.

I decided to give it a try. The gate didn’t go up. I began to sweat. I started pressing all the buttons, even the 20-buck button. Even if there was a deluxe, Lexis-only 50-buck button, I would have pressed it. Cars were lining up behind me. I’m thinking, “Please don’t let them start honking.”

Cars then started flashing their lights. I guess tempers are fragile. I began to sweat, then I saw it in the top right corner in small, almost invisible letters. The HELP button.

More cars were pulling in. Then I saw him.

A big, muscular guy with a wet, company T-shirt was coming toward me from the steamy interior of the wash box, like “Keyser Söze” from “The Usual Suspects.” I just knew I had interrupted his cigarette break.

He stopped at my window, towering over me. His lips moved. I could see tiny drops of moisture from his lips floating in the air in slow motion, each drop in my imagination a virus bullet aimed at my face. I kept my window up, the door locked.

He spoke. “What’s the problem?”

The words floated in the air between us like jellied blobs of virus phlegm. He grew impatient and shouted, “ROLL YOUR WINDOW DOWN!”

I was frozen and embarrassed. I had forgotten to bring a mask, and he wasn’t wearing one.

He spoke again in a booming baritone, and made a rolling gesture to lower the window.

I shouted, “MY CARD DIDN’T WORK!”

He leaned in closer, face pressed against the glass. “GIVE – ME – YOUR- CARD.”

I froze. That would expose myself to the deadly droplets, have him fondle my card with his sweaty hands, thus changing and possibly terminating my life.

Exhausted with me, the guy smiled, raised the gate and waved me through. I thought it was over. No such luck.

I pulled into the wash room, and another employee’s lips moved. Keeping the window down, I shouted “WHAT?”

He shouted, “PUT — IT — IN — NEUTRAL.”

It’s clear that I won’t be going back to the car wash this summer or anywhere else where I would be required to lower my window, except maybe a drive-thru confessional. Anyone know of one?

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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