Everybody liked Carlos. He was the “leader” of our carpool association. Carlos wasn’t much of a leader but that really didn‘t matter. We weren‘t much of an association.
He was elected “leader” because he was the only guy on the block with a Suburban. It seated seven, unless Big Willie happened to have gainful employment, which wasn’t often. Edna Schenkwitz had a Ford Explorer. She also had a schnauzer with a bladder control problem and a fondness for sleeping in the bench seat on long weekend drives to Edna’s mother’s.
I drove a Honda. That left me out of the driving rotation. Louis Dalton had been in our carpool for three years. The guy was hairier than a sheepdog. That in itself didn’t make him strange, although in the spring he did shed like a Orangutan undergoing chemo. Nobody liked Louis. Mostly because he creeped everyone out. He was a big, burly guy who had a distinct wheeze. Sounded like an accordion being played under water. In all the time he had been riding with us, Louis had never uttered a single word. Edna said he was shy because he had endured ridicule as a child. I just figured he had a hair ball.
Arlene Ralston was the talker. Arlene “Rattles on” , as we called her behind her back, jabbered so much she could make a mime blow his brains out with an imaginary pistol. Current events. The snooty lady with the big behind at church. Brad and Jennifer breaking up. We heard about all of it. Whether we wanted to or not. Don’t get me wrong, Arlene was a very nice woman. She was just lonely. I think she was married to some guy named Bill back in the early eighties. Edna felt they grew apart because they had different interests. She was interested in making their marriage work. He was interested in Portia, the waitress at the Snack Shack.
That left the Lufton twins. Thirty-seven years old and still living with their mother. The Luftons were an odd brother and sister pair. He was 5’6” and had a voice that made Mike Tyson sound like Barry White. She was 6’3” and a had consistent rash that made her squirm in her seat the entire ride. Winter was bad for her. Summer bordered on being apocalyptic in nature.
So there we all were. One great big squirming, yapping, shedding, wheezing, happy family! We were a dysfunctional little clan, but it was a forty-five minute drive to Engleton, so it wasn’t too much to ask for everyone to tolerate one another given the money we saved.
Everything was going quite well with the carpool. That was until the “incident”. It will forever be known as the “incident” primarily due to the heinous nature of the event. You see, Big Willie’s house was the last one on the block. His house was like a low budget Bronx zoo. No lions or tigers, but every stray cat and dog in the city of Gladstone wound up at Big Willie’s.
Willie loved all of his animals, but he had one favorite in particular. A cat named “Boots.” Boots was a one-eyed Siamese with a bobbed tail. He was also the only car-chasing cat known to man. On the morning of the “incident,” Boots decided to race us to the end of the street. It was a straight shot. Unfortunately, Boots received information from someone that there was a left turn along the way.
You guessed it. I won’t say we hit him square but two stamps would have mailed Boots anywhere in the continental U.S. after the accident. Carlos was driving. He was crushed. Not literally like Boots, mind you. Emotionally though, Carlos was devastated. No one wanted to tell Big Willie. Not even Arlene. Actually, it was the only time I’d ever seen Arlene quiet. Edna fainted. The twins were alternately screeching and scratching. Carlos was speaking uncontrollable Spanish. That left me and Louis.
Before I could say a word, Louis got out of the suburban. He cradled that poor lifeless cat in his arms and delivered it to Big Willie’s front door. Louis explained everything. He made Boot’s funeral arrangements right then and there. He even bought Big Willie a new cat. One that didn’t chase cars.
Everybody still likes Carlos, but Louis is the “leader” of the carpool now. It’s easy to be in control when things are rosy. Louis did it when things got hairy.
No pun intended.