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​Working at the Carwash Blues

It's 1970, and I work a couple of days a week at a Newport Beach carwash for $1.50 an hour, which keeps me in Banquet TV dinners, Hostess cherry pies, and Kool Kings.

by Scot Sothern
Nov 11 2014, 9:45pm

1970. I'm bumming off my friend Danny who pays the rent on a two-bedroom dump in Orange County. Orange County sucks but Danny likes it, so here I stay. I work a couple of days a week at a Newport Beach carwash for a buck-fifty an hour, which keeps me in Banquet TV dinners, Hostess cherry pies, and Kool Kings. Danny pays for the drugs and alcohol. 

I'm wasting my life but can't seem to do what it takes to do anything else. My SoCal life of luxury ends when Danny goes to prison for hauling bales of marijuana. I stay in the apartment for two months and then the landlord changes the lock while I'm at the carwash. I go in and out through the window for a couple more weeks. My friend Larry, who is AWOL from Uncle Sam's Army, is also out on the street, so we partner up. I get my duffel and sleeping bag and we move to the carwash.

Every morning at eight the carwash manager employs the workers who are first in line. We get there late so we've got the day off. Larry finds a nice spot behind the carwash under a stand of trees. He borrows a hammer and nails and swipes a bunch of orange crates from a fruit and vegetable stand. He builds himself a little crawlway home-away-from-home.

I thumb down to the beach and hang out and panhandle enough for dinner at IHOP. I bring a jug of wine back and hang with the five Mexicans who live in the carwash storage room. They sit a circle around a hotplate eating tortillas and beans. I finish the jug of wine and it's getting late and I haven't worked out a place to sleep. Larry has his hut and the Mexicans all sleep on the floor where they sit. A scrawny little guy named Jorge tells me I can bunk with him. He calls me Philippe and winks and grins. I tell him gracias but no.

I'm drunk and I should probably go pass out under a tree but I'm envious of Larry's house and want to sleep in a nice place of my own. There's not much light beyond the moon and I tie my army-surplus poncho to a fence, make a little lean-to and lay out my sleeping bag. I don't notice I'm backed up to a dumpster until seven in the morning when a garbage truck is beeping, cranking gears, and picking up the dumpster along with my poncho.

A squeezable hippie chick named Patsy is working the window at the burger joint next door. She's a strawberry blonde with innocent eyes and freckles. I go over and get a chili burger and tell her I like her spots. I ask her if she wants to get high after work and she says absolutely. I nab four orange-crates and a box from behind an appliance store, and cobble together a deluxe bachelor pad, using my salvaged poncho for a ceiling. I lay out my sleeping bag and class the place up with a handful of flowers I picked from the nearest manicured lawn.

Six o'clock, the sun is low and Patsy and I are passing a joint in the master bedroom. I'm plotting a smooth move when she wiggles out of her clothes and advises I do the same. No smooth moves required. I strip and climb on top and we skip the incidentals. Right away she's gouging my back with her nails and telling me harder, harder. I push up on my arms and slam into her and I'm already counting down from ten to ejaculation. I look up for a moment and through the slats I see my little south-of-the-border amigo, Jorge, smiling, winking at me with his hand down his pants. I grit my teeth and come and yelp like it hurts. I tell Patsy, fuck, that guy was watching us. She says yeah, that's really hot, let's do it again. I can't get it back up and she says that's OK she has to go anyway, she has a date to take drugs and party with a bunch of guys. She says she will see me around and gives me a wet kiss goodbye.

The next day I start to itch and I know right away I've got crabs. Last time I had crabs it was a shared endeavor at a crash pad. We held crab races on a white Formica kitchen table but they move pretty slowly so we roasted the little cocksuckers with a butane lighter. I wash cars all day and then when I get off I hitch to the Rexall and buy a can of Sergeant's flea and tick spray and pick up another jug of red wine. Back at camp I spray everything I own, including myself. I give it an hour to make sure they're dead; then I strip and go into the boiler room where there is a rubber hose and a drain and a bar of soap. I lock the door and I get wet and soapy and decide to jerk off. It's coming along well but I lose my grip when I hear Jorge giggling. There is a transom window above the door and it's pushed open and Jorge has his head through the opening. I don't know how he got up there, but there he is, making kiss-kiss noises and having a good time.

One afternoon, film legend John Wayne brings his Cadillac in for a wash. I'm up front working final dry and detail. John Wayne has an American flag sticker on his back window and I spray it with Windex until it fades and the colors run. He gives the car a quick appraisal and doesn't notice the desecrated flag. I give him the keys and he gives me a quarter and tells me to go get a haircut. I tell him power to the people and have a nice day.

One morning I wake with a twisting pain in my neck, bolts down the inside of my right arm. It hurts so much it's fucking scary. I ask around and the closest free clinic is in Santa Ana. It takes me two hours of hitching and walking to get there. It's another four hours before I see a doctor and describe my symptoms. He takes a look at my arm and asks me about the knot of scar tissue in the crook. I tell him it's from shooting up reds but that was about a year ago and not related to the pain I'm having now. He says how do I know it's not related, am I a doctor? Do I think I can just take drugs and do whatever I want to do?

I tell him if I could do whatever I want, I'd go to a real doctor. He tells me we're done and I thumb back to the car wash. A couple of days later I wake up and my neck and arm are better. The next time it starts to hurt, I score some Demerol from Patsy who is dealing meds from the take-out window at the hamburger joint. She wants ten dollars but all I've got is seven so I throw in the can of Sergeant's flea and tick spray.

Scot's first book, Lowlife, was released in 2011, and his memoir, Cu​​rb ​Service, is out now. You can find more information on his we​bsite.