The heater in my car was on the blink, so I drove over to my neighborhood service station and asked Tiffany, the receptionist, if they could fix it that day. One of the mechanics was standing next to her, writing up a bill.
“Can you take Mrs. Shoup’s car today?” she asked him.
He looked up—your generic mechanic. Tall and rangy, he was wearing a filthy gray jumpsuit. His hands were streaked with oil, there was oil beneath his fingernails, which were—Oh! My! God!—painted bright pink. A dainty row of three diamonds dangled from his ears—those “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” earrings that certain kinds of husbands give their wives. He was wearing sparkly blue eye shadow. His hair, dyed strawberry blonde, had a black streak at the part where it was growing back in.
“Yeah, we can take it,” he said, in a deep baritone.
“Phone number?” Tiffany asked me.
“257—” I began
Then, apparently, I spaced out, staring at him.
Tiffany cleared her throat. “257—” she repeated.
“Oh.” I could feel myself turning beet-red. “Jeez. I’m sorry. 2682.”
If the mechanic noticed my discomposure, it wasn’t apparent. He nodded, walked toward the garage to get back to work.
“It’s not what you think!” I wanted to shout after him. “I'm shocked with delight!”
It totally made my day: the simple image of him--and as I felt it enter the wacky mix of stuff in my right brain that cycles round and round trying to become stories, I thought of a something the writer Stephané Mallarme said: “Everything in the world exists to end up in a book.” Who knows what future scene the mechanic in drag might walk into?
This happens to me all the time. I see things that I know instantly are mine—and, more often than not, eventually, they plop themselves into stories. A pink Volvo with a decal of pastel teddy bears dancing across the back window, driven by a preppy girl with streaked blonde hair ended up at—of all things—the funeral procession for a murdered teenager. A young punk couple dressed in leather, struggling to open a stroller for their beautiful baby who was dressed in a pink snowsuit trimmed in white fur, strolled into the mall when a character of mine was Christmas shopping. A seven-year old Elvis impersonator I saw at Graceland made his way into another’s road trip.
There are some things you just can’t make up! And the world is such an amazing place that you don’t have to. Stories are made of it.