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The Parking Lot Full of Incredibly Clean Automobiles

Ivory Soap

I seldom looked for it, but trouble had a way of landing smack dab in the middle of my lap. Ray Lamontagne could have been thinking about me when he sang, “Trouble been doggin’ my soul since the day I was born.” It seemed like I was always getting caught in my mischievous hi-jinks, dragging others along in my wake. Eventually, word got around town: “Don’t run around with Bay. No matter what he’s doing or who he’s with, he always seems to get caught doing something he’s not supposed to.” Even when I wasn’t caught, there were often unpleasant circumstances surrounding many of those adventures, one of which I will relate here, and many of which I will leave out to protect the innocent among my friends.

At a certain age, around seventh grade, kids begin to ask their parents a question that will be repeated numerous times over the next few years: “Can I spend the night with ‘fill in the blank?’” The answer usually depends on who “fill in the blank” happens to be, and a follow-up question from the parent is something like, “Did ‘fill in the blank’s’ parents say it was okay?” Another one of those strange parent questions. Why would ‘fill in the blank’ ask me to spend the night if it wasn’t okay with his parents?

Well, it finally became my turn to ask the question of my parents, so I did. “Mom, can I spend the night with Jim?” Mom asked the required parental follow-up question, “Is it okay with Jim’s parents?” Trying to avoid a yes-or-no answer, I evaded the question with “He said it was.” Mom then did what moms of all generations have done; she deflected the decision and said, “Did you ask your father?” Why did Mom have to do that? She always made the mountain that much more difficult to climb, and I hated to ask Dad permission to do anything, mainly because he was often prone to say no, and I wasn’t partial to that response.

I finally worked up enough nerve to ask Dad if it was okay to spend the night with Jim, and he had his usual questions. “Who’s going to be there besides you and Jim?” You see, Dad was not only keenly aware of all my friends and their shortcomings, but he was also savvy and liked to put me on the spot. Even though I knew there would be others, others that weren’t on the approved list, I lied and responded, “Just Andy,” knowing that Dad would react favorably to that name. Not only was I a known liar, I also knew when to leave out information that would be detrimental to my agenda. If I told him that Jimmy would also be there, the whole deal would be off. Whereas I was a sheep and usually followed the other sheep off the cliff, Jimmy was known to be a leader, a mischievous one at that, and Dad assumed that where Jimmy led I would probably follow. He knew and trusted Jim and Andy, so his answer was favorable, but with one condition; I could not leave Jim’s backyard at any point during the night. I knew better than to challenge his restriction and also knew that our intent all along was to leave the backyard, so I agreed to the stipulation.

Once the four of us had finally settled in the backyard, tent up, sleeping bags in place, and Sam, the dog, ready to have some company out by the doghouse, we began to plan our escape from the fenced-in backyard prison. We didn’t have any grand plans; we just knew we weren’t staying there all night. Jim’s mom should have been suspicious when he asked her if there were any spare bars of soap lying around, but if she was, she didn’t let on. As usual in these “spending the night” affairs, we didn’t sleep, but spent the first few hours talking and teasing each other, with girls, sports, and life in general being the topics of conversation. We had to give Jim’s parents plenty of time to fall asleep once the final light had been switched off.

When the right moment finally arrived, we each, bar of soap in hand, headed out the back gate, and down the street we went. The first thing we saw was a “For Sale” sign in someone’s front yard. The sign called out to us, “Please don’t leave me here,” so we didn’t. It was removed from one yard and planted in the yard of another, a few houses down the street. We really thought we were hooligans. We hadn’t gone very far when we noticed an apartment complex down a side street. For our soaping plans, this complex was a veritable gold mine, with multiple cars parked out behind the building.

We slipped into the parking lot and noticed that the complex was dark, and then each of us took our bar of soap and began soaping car windows, whispering instructions to each other and giggling as we lathered up car after car. After quite some time, we returned to the street with our bar of soap worn down to a small stub, and then we stood back and surveyed our masterpiece— satisfied at the work we had done. The windows in every car in the parking lot were covered in soap (Ivory, Dial, and Zest fully clean!). We figured that since all of the cars were dirty and needed a washing, our soaping, instead of being a detriment, would assist each owner in keeping their cars clean.

The first sign of daylight had yet to arrive, but we noticed lights being turned on in the windows of the apartments, and we ran back to Jim’s house, through the backyard gate and into the sleeping bags, and once Sam was settled back down, fell off to a short morning of sleep. Since the lone tent was a “pup” tent, most of us slept on the open ground under the stars. We discovered that waking up in a sleeping bag covered in dew is a chilling experience. When the sun became visible in the eastern sky, we packed up our sleeping bags, deciding not to stick around for breakfast. Then each of us walked or rode our bikes back to our own homes where we crawled into bed to get some much-needed sleep.

That evening, upon Dad’s arrival home from work, he asked me how my previous night had gone. He seemed genuinely interested in whether or not I had enjoyed the experience. I told him that we all had a great time. The line of questioning then took an ominous turn as he said, “Did you stay in Jim’s yard like I told you to?”

As usual, in order to avoid punishment, I lied and said yes. Dad, knowing full well I was not being forthcoming about the previous evening’s events, continued, “Well, the reason I asked is the guy I work with lives over at the apartment complex, right down the street from Jim’s house. He was late for work today.”

There was a long pause as Dad stared right into my soul, and I grew nervous and suspicious at the same time. Dad continued, “He said that he had to remove a layer of soap from all the windows of his car. He also said that every other car in the parking lot had the same layer of soap on their windows. Are you sure you stayed in Jim’s backyard all night?” Dad was being gracious by offering me a second chance to come clean.

At this point, I was caught, and any further lying (I was a terrible liar anyway) would just deepen the hole I had dug for myself. In the remaining interrogation, it also came to light that it wasn’t just Jim and Andy that had spent the night—Jimmy was there too. I was in deep “doo doo,” which was par for the course with me. It would be a while before the subject of spending the night with anyone would be broached again. At least, there were a lot of cars driving around town with sparkling-clean windows.

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