Sunday, January 11, 2009

Finding Howard

Two years after scraping Gina's car down the left side I figured it was time to make amends and have it repaired. So I decided to tool around Saturday to find an auto body shop for a price quote.

I pulled into a run-down-looking automotive garage on Lawrenceville Highway to see if they could recommend anyone to do the work. Everyone poured out of the building, rubbing the car and chatting with each other in Spanish. It seemed like some divination rite. Finally one of the smallest and obviously most senior mechanics pronounced the group verdict: "Howard." The oracle had spoken.

Howard, it seems, is a free-lance body repair wizard, with a reputation somewhere between the Lone Ranger and Gandalf. And like those two remarkable do-gooders he is not easily reached by anyone who lacks sufficient fortitude and desperation. The only problem was that nobody knew his phone number, but I was directed with wavering finger to a Pak-N-Sak down the road. "The one that burned down", I was told ominously. They would know.

I soon found the apparently no-longer-burned-down store. There was hardly any merchandise inside except for beer and pork rinds, but the counter had a certain low-rent majesty. It was about chest-high, fronting a wall of video poker machines (money pay-outs are illegal, so why are so many grizzled individuals sitting stooped on their stools in front of them clicking buttons like rats after a hit of coke?). The clerk at the register was flanked by a solid wall of lottery tickets dispensers.

"Jose the mechanic told me I could get Howard's number here", I mumbled self-consciously. The clerk returned my gaze knowingly like I had just uttered the secret word folks were supposedly able to say back in the 70's at the original Mellow Mushroom to get the "special" mushroom pie. "Sheila's the only one with his number," said the clerk, "and she don't get here until 4. You come back then." The clerk's tag identified her as Dawn, same as my demented mother. I practically heard a heart beating ominously under the floorboards.

I ran some errands and returned after the appointed hour, took up my place behind the lottery hopefuls (I always have to resist the urge to thank them for putting my kids through college) and waited patiently for my turn at the alter. "Are you Sheila?" I asked with the growing confidence of a repeat customer. She nodded so I spilled the beans: Jose sent me to Dawn in order to locate Howard and Dawn fingered Sheila for the rap. As if she had done it every day of her working life Sheila immediately punched a button to release a length of blank receipt paper from the cash register and scribbled the elusive number. I bought a lottery ticket as tribute. Maybe I'll win.

Did you hear about the new $10 million dollar Georgia lottery? The winner gets $10 a year for a million years.
So I've got Howard's number in my trembling hands. I'm Jonesing but tomorrow I can call him to get well again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Soooooooooo, whats the end of the story? What happened? Was Howard the Gandalf he was reputed to be? Inquiring minds want to know.