“Twisting” on the Balcony
KC worked at United Auto, Hillsdale, when I first began at Story Road in the Fall of 1974. I spoke with him occasionally on the phone, stock-checking this item or that for availability, but only met him a few times before he came back to work at Story Road. KC was one of a half-dozen who started at Story Road back in the day, and then had been farmed out to the new stores, as they had been added to the chain.
Pescalone had gone to Mckee Road taking Doug with him, while KC had gone with Stephen to Hillsdale Avenue when the fourth store opened up around 1973. Eventually, they all came back to Story Road, as circumstances, work schedules and school dictated.
There were only two weeks difference in age between KC and me, he being the senior. He is un rubio, a blondie, and he wore a beard, mostly just allowed to roam wildly around his face. His eyes are blue and his complexion somewhat ruddy. He is certainly a key reason why Old Paint came to serve as the employee lounge out in the parking lot, midway between United Auto and Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. KC liked the “happy smoke” too, especially after a Saturday, when things started off crazy and rocketed right up to frantic.
KC spoke fluent Spanish, and had the music of the language mastered, and spoke more fluidly than I did. The difference between the two of us was that he spoke barrio Spanish, whereas I spoke the Spanish taught at the university. Hugo called me el professor all of the years I knew him, not because I was scholarly, but because I spoke grammatically correct Spanish.
KC spoke Spanish in the present tense, whereas I was required to learn all conjugations of the verbs, regular and irregular, including el subjectivo, the subjective tense, a concept challenging enough to convey in English, let alone Spanish. Now, I have to tell you that it didn’t matter to the good customers of United Auto, whether the Spanish spoken was of university level, or that of a primary school student. I never spoke Spanish with a hispanic person in that store, who did not respond with a huge smile. There was the sense that a more level playing field was available if we pooled our language resources, and tried to arrive at a successful conclusion to the expedition to the auto parts house.
As did most of the employees at UA at one time or another, KC attended San Jose State, so we had one additional thing in common. He was a science major, always taking these courses with labs attached. It came as no surprise to learn that, after devoting close to twenty years to the auto parts business, in one form or another, KC went back to school to get his teaching credential and now teaches high school chemistry in San Jose.
The thing I will never forget about KC, was his totally unflappable nature when it came to the intricacies of rebuilding engines, specifically VW engines. The time I tackled brother Brian’s ancient VW bug, with its 36 horse power engine, I had to split those cases four times, to finally get it back on the road. It was not a paying proposition, because Brian didn’t have any money and I wasn’t hurting for cash. Our apartment cost 145 dollars a month, with the utilities included, so it was more because I could do it, than because I was forced by economic circumstances to tackle it, especially without a garage in which to work. The kitchen table simply had to suffice.
The first time back through the engine was the result of a mechanical failure of an oil pump, whereas the second time involved a leaky gasket. The third was the result of a stripped bolt, and the fourth time was because a nut was allowed to fall into the intake manifold, and down into the inner recesses of the engine. Ouch. The whole engine had to be broken down each time. The fourth time I realized that we had to go through it again, I was in tears. KC took me out onto the balcony of our upstairs studio apartment, and twisted up a bomber.
“The first thing we’re going to do is smoke a joint. Then we’re going to forget about it until tomorrow.”
“And then?” I asked fearfully.
“And then we’re going to split these cases again and take care of your brother’s VW.”
That’s just what we did.