I remember him like it was yesterday. He was tall and thin with a bald head and gray beard. On any given Saturday morning he could be seen in the driveway of 395 East 4th next door to my house with his gold 1965 Mustang convertible. With all the doors open and the mats laid neatly on the concrete, there he was just polishing away. He kept all his wax, rags and compound all neatly organized too; they were all inside an old wooden milk crate in front of his car. I clearly remember that the interior of the car was white with the emblem of a mustang running that could be seen in-between the pillar of the two back seats. The paint job shined like glass, along with the chrome plated hubcaps and bumpers.
We were always in awe when we saw his car; it had to be the cleanest, shiniest car I have ever seen in my seven years of Kensington life. The smell of chrome polish and carnauba wax just filled the air like a fragrant flower on Saturday mornings.
And there we would stand on the other side of the fence just watching him rub the tops of the fenders for what seemed like hours.
“Hey mister, your car is really nice” He just kept waxing away not looking at us.
“Excuse me mister, your car is really nice” Still no response from the man with the bald head and gray beard.
“Excuse me mister”…
”And if you ever touch it, I’ll break your little hand”
In shock my brother Joseph, cousin Pete and I just walked away to the front stoop of our house. We just sat there in silence; we could not believe that the man with the bald head and gray beard said that to us. Especially after we told him how nice his car was. It was just so wrong and bad. After a few minutes of being scared and upset waves of anger started to take control of our little minds. And my brother looked at a box of smoked trout that my Mom had thrown out the night before. It was just sticking out from the top of the dull silver garbage can.
He just stared at it and then slowly began to smile.
“Ronnie, I have a great idea”.
The trout must have gotten run over at least fifty times on East 4th before it was ready. I ran into the street with a thin piece of cardboard and gently scooped it up. Making sure not to break it in two, I placed our culinary masterpiece in my front yard and watched it bake in the hot Kensington sun.
And then like he did every Saturday, the man with the bald head and beard backed his shiny Mustang convertible out of the driveway and parked it in front of my house, 399 East 4th. As he walked back to the driveway he gave us a mean look. He then turned around and walked back to his car and raised the white convertible top, got inside and rolled up the windows.
There we sat on our stoop, devastated, looking at our squashed trout sitting in the front yard. Well, we could throw it on his hood or roof, but what kind of lesson is that? Just smear it on his door? no. It had to be better than that.
Then we saw it, and we couldn’t believe our eyes. We started stomping our little feet together on the red brick steps of my house. Just the opening we needed. The man with the bald head and beard forgot to fully close the driver’s side window; it was opened about an inch.
The glory would be ours today!
Under the direct orders of my older brother Joseph and cousin Pete, I gingerly picked up the trout in it’s stained cardboard serving tray and walked over to the car. They made sure to keep an eye out or the man with the bald head and beard, and he was nowhere in sight.
I slid the squashed trout through the one-inch crack that he left open. The bloody flat fish landed directly on his clean white driver’s seat.
With that we ran.
We never saw the man with the bald head and beard that day; he must have walked home to one of the apartment buildings on Ocean Parkway. And I couldn’t imagine what that car must have smelled like when he opened it up the next day either, because we were at mass in IHM Church on Ft. Hamilton Parkway when he moved it. Just the good little Catholic angels we were.
So the next time you’re waxing your car and some little kid says “nice car”. Instead of getting angry and telling him “he better not touch it”. Just look at him and say “thanks”.