Another installment of my writing on my author friend Luis Alberto Urrea’s prompt “What Your Hands Remember.”
The Stick Shift on My Mom’s Mazda…
Every teenage boy’s hands remember cars. Gripping the steering wheel. Roaring down the road with that sense of power and independence. I learned to drive in our 1964 silver blue Chevy Impala. It was a huge car with a V-8. Boy, could that car accelerate. My mom taught me to drive, since my dad died when I was 15. That Chevy was big, but it was easy to drive. It was an automatic.
Then, just before I was due to take my test at the DMV, my mom sold the Chevy and bought a new car. I was so bummed. The new car was a stick shift, so I had to delay taking my test until I mastered that. My hands remember so well grasping the cool round knob of the shifter. Race car driver fantasies began to play in my mind.
After learning to shift smoothly, I got my license. I could drive. Like a maniac. 115 mph sideways, steering crossed up as we slid around the 805 North-52 West interchange. Oooh, my hands remember gripping the wheel and making the fine adjustments in steering that kept us all in this world, postponing our death. My ears remember the screams of the two girls in the car who felt they were too young to die. They didn’t trust my hands. Hmmph. My hands still remember being offended.
Backtracking, my hands remember the first night “with the keys.” Driving without Mom. I had the car, baby. I picked up some friends and we drove around. Back in Clairemont, some junior high punk was holding this bit of fireworks. It was spitting and spewing red-hot embers in all directions, some going into the window of the car. My first night with the Mazda and I’m gonna take it home with burn marks inside? My mind blanked out as I raged with fury. My hands remember grabbing that kid’s shirt and slamming him to the ground. They would have the memory of pounding his face, but Vic and Jimbo stopped me. My anger passed in a moment. Just a brief, mindless, solar flare. I was not normally a violent guy. But my hands remember that night.
Pulling Back My Pony Tail and Tying It
In those mid teenage years, my hands remember the feel of hair. Long, thick, wavy hair. Gimme down to there (hair!) Shoulder length or longer. Oh yeah. Halfway down my back, actually. My hands remember pulling it back and securing the pony tail with those color-coated elastic hair ties. Then tying it again. And again. Even though it was long, my hair was as rebellious as I was in those days. It was so thick that one single hair tie at the base of my skull would leave a fuzzed-out unruly ball of frizz below it. So I had to bind it every few inches. A Barbie ponytail, my wife-to-be later called it. My hands remember that hair and miss it. I do, too.
Setting a Tone Arm Down on a Record Album
If your hands remember this, you must be old. Or very retro. Holding the cool plastic of the tone arm on a record player and setting it ever-so-gently down into a particular groove on the vinyl LP. Your whole being waiting for that hiss and pop, followed by raw analog music. Once again, the hands leading the way into another world.
Petting Butch’s Ears, Alone and Pensive
My dad died when I was 15. He was only 54. No one seemed to notice, but this destroyed my life. Soon afterward, my married sister scored a German Shepherd puppy for me. I named him Butch. He was beautiful and intelligent and is worth his own whole book. My hands remember petting him, mostly rubbing his velvety ears between my fingers like a baby fondles the satin edge of a blanket for comfort. I’d sit on the back porch for hours every day, petting those ears, my mind either blank or full of swirling, soundless images of rain clouds and dust storms. Petting those ears. Holding onto that dog so I wouldn’t get washed out to sea and drown.
Holding the Marksman® BB pistol
I went to Campus Life’s Haunted House dressed as a gangster (not gangstah, folks). We were the protestant mafia. Blue felt fedora hat, suit coat, and, as my hands remember so well, the cold steel of a Marksman BB pistol which looked exactly like a 45 caliber automatic. Amazingly realistic. Frighteningly so to the ticket girl. My suave, calm, and extremely foolish hands pulled out the gun and pointed it at the girl. “Dis is moy ticket!” I proudly exclaimed. She shook and turned white and looked faint. When I realized how scared she was, my hands put the gun away, but only after waving it around while I said, “It’s just a BB gun. Part of my costume.”
She nodded. She breathed rapidly. She forced a smile. She took my real ticket. Then she notified security the moment I passed by. “FREEZE!!” My hands remember the feel of the pickup truck roof as I was slammed against it by the California Highway Patrol a few minutes later, real guns clicking behind me while my pockets were emptied. “It’s just a #%@*%&!! BB gun, Sarge.” But still a possible assault with a deadly weapon charge, I was told.
My hands remember shaking as the cool gangster’s fate was decided by several very angry CHPs. They remember driving home in the Mazda. But the never got to hold that Marksman again. I bet the cop’s kid got it.
I miss that BB gun…