Wednesday, February 5, 2014


            Eben Danforth always drives around in a beat-up old pick-up, but years ago he had a VW Beetle. The men who worked with him at the pulp mill used to tease him about the car.
            “You see that thing on the road,” Bill Farley would say, “and you can’t hardly tell whether it’s coming or going.”
            The teasing didn’t bother Eben. He’d just go on talking about how easy the beetle was to drive, how inexpensive and easy it was to repair, and what good gas mileage it got. He especially liked to talk about the gas mileage.                                      
            Everyone at work got tired of hearing how many miles per gallon Eben had got on his last trip, everyone, that is, except Bill Farley, who would just egg him on and tell him how he could get even better mileage.
            “You put some of that XO-10 in that gas tank, and let me tune it up, and you’ll get some real gas mileage out of it,” Bill would say.
            They’d get together at lunch break, the four men who work in the bleaching department, Eben and Bill and Horace Slocum, and Bill’s sidekick, Burt Bickford. Like the time about two months after Eben first got the car, Bill asked, “You know what that car of yours looks like?”
            He nudged Burt, who smiled because he knew something funny was coming.
            “It looks like a giant beetle.”
            Although he had heard the joke at least a dozen times, Burt broke out laughing.
            “Yeah, it looks like a great big bug,” Burt added, adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses on his nose and pushing his red suspenders up on his shoulders.
            Horace scowled and took a sandwich out of his lunch bucket.
            “I’ll tell you,” Eben answered, “that car is the finest kind. It’s the easiest thing to drive I ever had. I jest step on the exhilerator, and it goes along as smooth as nawthing at all. I went to Bangor last week, and I didn’t even have to parallel park. I jest drove right into a spot.”
            “Not to change the subject,” Horace interrupted, resting his hands on his big belly, “I been watching this new soap opera when I ain’t working on the day shift. I don’t usually listen to them things, but Martha has it on, and I kind of got interested in it.”
            Bill ignored him and asked Eben, “What kind of mileage did you get on that trip to Bangor?”
            Horace scowled again, and Eben answered, “Thirty-two miles to a gallon. That’s pretty good, if you ask me.”
            Burt frowned, trying to comprehend something. “I never could figure out how you know how many miles you get to a gallon,” he finally said.
            “There ain’t nawthing to it,” Eben replied, taking a pencil stub and an old pay envelope out of his shirt pocket. “Let’s say your odometer readers 17,435 when you fill your tank with gas.” He put the figures on the back of his pay envelope.
            “That wouldn’t be right for my car,” Burt said, “’cause I’ve got almost 80,000 miles on my car.
            “That don’t make no difference,” Eben responded. “I ain’t explaining the particulars. I’m explaining the principles. So let’s say your odometer reads 17,435.”
            Burt had his face all twisted up trying to understand. It was clear to everyone except Eben that Burt had no idea what Eben was talking about.
            Eben went on to say, “Then, let’s say the next time you fill it up, your odometer readers 17,725, see. You subtract the 17,435 from 17,725.”
            He screwed up his face and stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth as he did the calculation. Burt, sitting opposite Eben, had the same expression on his face, even down to the tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, but it didn’t help him understand what Eben was doing.
            “Let’s see,” Eben went on, “five from five leaves nawthing, and three from two, let’s see. Take away one from seven, and that makes twelve and subtract three and that leaves nine, and four from seven is three. Ayuh, that’s right. That means you’ve drove three hundred and ninety miles.”
            Horace had listened patiently while Eben tried to explain to Burt how to figure out mileage. Then he felt it was his turn. “This here soap opera,” he began, “it’s called ‘The Gathering Gloom.’ It’s about this young girl named Aurora who’s trying to get into show business.”
            Eben ignored him and went on with his explanation: “So, let’s say when you get gas, your tank takes twelve gallons.”
            “My car always takes more than twelve gallons. I always have to put in at least fifteen or sixteen gallons, sometimes more.”
            “That don’t make no difference,” Eben went on. “Just say this one time it took only twelve gallons.”
            Burt nodded, but his eyes betrayed hopeless bewilderment.
            “So you divide the twelve into three hundred and ninety,” sticking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth while he did his calculation.
            “Anyway,” Horace continued, “Aurora met this rich man named Lance LaRoux, and he promised to get her a part in the chorus line of this show called ‘The Purple Passion of Pompey.’”
            “Let’s see, Eben said, “twelve goes into thirty-nine four—no, three times. Three times two is six. Three times one is three. That makes thirty-six. Take that away from thirty-nine, and you get, let me see, four. Add a zero, and you get forty. Twelve goes into forty, let’s see, four times, so that means you’re getting thirty-four miles to a gallon.”   
            “It’s all too complicated for me,’ Burt said. “All I know is, that old Plymouth of mine is falling apart. I had a valve job done last week, and now it’s leaking oil. Yesterday I was driving home after work, and the muffler fell off. Fell off right there on Hardy Road while I was going home.”
            “What kind of gas mileage you getting on that Plymouth?” Bill asked, stuffing the last of his sandwich into his mouth and winking at Horace.
            Horace just scowled.
            “I don’t know,” Burt answered. “I just know it uses an awful lot of gas. I can’t hardly afford to drive it.” He pushed his red suspenders up on the shoulder of his red flannel shirt.
            Bill turned to Eben, who was eating blueberry pie out of a plastic dish. “Tell you what you ought to do,” he said. “You bring that VW over to me Satady, and I’ll tune ‘er up for you. Then you’ll get some real mileage out of ‘er.”
            He nudged Burt, who then said, “Ayuh, you let Bill tune ‘er up for you, and you’ll get some real gas mileage out of it.”
A week later the four men were sitting in Maisie’s Diner eating lunch.
            “What kind of gas mileage you getting on your VW now that I tuned ‘er up for you?” Bill asked.
            “I went to Houlton last Sunday, and I didn’t have to fill it up until Tuesday.” He pulled an old envelope covered with figures from his pocket. “I got sixty-eight miles to a gallon on the trip. I went to Bangor yesterday, and the gas gauge is still up above three-quarters.”
            Horace looked at him skeptically.
            “I told you you’d get better mileage if you let me tune it up,” Bill said, winking at Burt.
            “I tried to figure out my gas mileage like Eben does,” Burt cut in. “I don’t know if I done it right or not, but I’m just getting four miles to a gallon. The carburetor went last week, and them brakes is beginning to squeal.”
            “That show, ‘The Gathering Gloom,’ is getting pretty good,” Horace offered. “That rich guy, Lance Laroux, who helped Aurora get a part in the chorus line, wants a reward for helping her.”
            If you guys want anything else to eat,” Maisie yelled to them, “you better get it now. You ain’t got but six minutes to get back to the mill.” She stuck a cigarette into the corner of her mouth and lit it with a wooden match.
            “Give me a piece of blueberry pie,” Eben said.
            “Me too,” Burt added.
            “We better get back to the mill,” Horace said. “We’ll see you guys there.”
            As they went out the door, Horace said to Bill, “Eben couldn’t possibly get getting sixty-eight miles to a gallon. He must of figured it wrong.”
            Bill laughed but waited until they were outside to answer. “He didn’t figure it wrong,” Bill laughed. “Don’t say nawthing to him. I been adding a gallon of gas to his tank every morning. But now I’m really going to drive him nuts. I’m going to start siphoning some gas out of the tank every day. See if he can figure that out.”
For the next week Bill waited for Eben to say something about his gas mileage, but Eben never mentioned the gas mileage at all. Finally Bill couldn’t wait any longer. He asked Eben what kind of mileage the VW was getting.
            “I don’t know,” Eben said. “I need to get grain for Flora’s chickens, and I was having troubled getting the bags of gain in and out of the back seat of the VW, so I went to John Trembley’s and got a pick-up truck.”
            “But I seen that VW in the parking lot every morning,” Bill said.
            “Oh, I thought you knew,” Eben replied. “I sold that VW to Burt a week ago.”
            Bill’s face dropped as Burt said, “I still don’t know how to figure gas mileage, but it seems to use an awful lot of gas. I’ve filled it up twice this week, and I ain’t driven no place but back and forth to work.”

"The Beetle Bug " first appeared in The Braided Quilt.  

A kindle edition of RFD 1, Grangley will be coming out in the next few weeks.

No comments: