Friday, August 04, 2006

Scars Have Stories

Ray Bradbury wrote about the Illustrated Man, each tattoo having a story that compelled the viewer to learn something about life while gazing at the artwork in ink. Locksmiths have no need of tattoos, we have scars. Jim Reed, the fellow who taught me about locksmith work when I was getting started used to say you could tell a journeyman locksmith by looking at his wrist, “They all look like they’ve tried to commit suicide” he would say, reminding me to be especially careful when working inside a door panel of a car.

Someday I’ll send a thank you note to the United Auto Workers Union, that and a bill for the many band aids I’ve had to purchase after having sliced myself on a sharp piece of metal while trying to remove a stubborn lock. I suppose I’ve been fairly lucky; still have all my fingers, even if some of them are bent just a tad.

I know that I’m not the only fool who ever ran a knuckle into a key cutter wheel. You’d have thought once was enough; but some of us must get distracted easily, either that or plain careless around sharp objects. I have three little scar lines next to the knuckle of my index finger to remind me. They look like the Finger Lakes in New York State. Does that mean I have two more mishaps to go with my key machine; I sure hope not.

There’s a really nasty scar on the second digit of my right index finger. I was trying to jerk an old GM in-dash ignition with a slam hammer and my finger got in the way. Talk about letting out a yelp. The skin on my finger opened up like a piece of cauliflower as it got pinched between the slide hammer and the slide hammer stop. It didn’t bleed at first, not a good sign, and then it bled quite a bit. I had an x-ray taken and sure enough I’d broken the bone; only it “railed it” long wise instead of snapping it in half. That was a long time ago and it still hurts when the weather changes.

I was at the barber shop this afternoon and the lady who cuts my hair had a band aid on her finger. The band aid was about ready to fall off from getting wet while doing her barber shop thing as she explained how it had happened. She’d been preparing dinner and sliced it with a pair of scissors while cutting some steak to be stir fried, mistaking her finger for a piece of steak. It got me to thinking as I showed her the little “Y” scar on my pinky, not near as visible as it was twenty years ago.

Way back when I was working night shift for the Houston Police Department I would shut down my locksmith work in the evening, have dinner, shower and get ready for my “other life” in a blue uniform. I would run calls as a locksmith during the day and then turn into a police officer working for the City of Houston at night. Most of the AAA dispatchers, they being one of my accounts, recognized that I had a limited window in the evening and not to call too late, knowing that I’d be unavailable.

I got the call around 9:30 in the evening and had already put on my police uniform when AAA asked if I would take care of a little old lady with an ignition problem on her Dodge in a rough neighborhood. I did some calculations in my head and figured that if everything went perfectly that I had just enough time to squeeze it in and then make it across town in time for roll call.

I drove over in my service vehicle, at the time I think I was still in my old Ford Club Wagon; maybe not, it’s been such a long time ago. I saw the vehicle parked in a grocery store lot right where she said it would be, an elderly black woman standing next to it with her long white gloves, purse and her “goin’ to church Sunday best dress”. I had explained to her that I was a police officer and also a locksmith over the telephone; all the same it came as a shock to her system when I stepped out wearing my police uniform carrying a tool box.

I checked the ignition switch and decided that in the interest of speed that I’d snatch it out with the slam hammer and slap a new one in its place. There was a challenge involved because with that particular Dodge product there was a piece of padded plastic molding that wrapped around the instrument panel and ignition switch making it difficult to line up the slam hammer. I reckoned that if I held the slide “just so” that I could avoid the plastic trim. I let the hammer fly; but I must have been cheating with my pinky finger, trying to make sure that the sliding hammer wouldn’t do any damage. (to the car)

There was a terrible pain in the tip of my finger, one that instantly informs you just how badly you’ve screwed up. The good thing was that the ignition came out on that very same motion. I glanced down and saw that I was bleeding so I cupped my hand to keep from dripping on the carpet inside the lady’s car. I turned to exit the driver’s seat and held my cupped hand away from me to avoid getting any blood on my police uniform.

The elderly black woman had gone pale on me, observing that a white police officer had just injured himself inside her car. The look on her face told me that she was aware of the history between white police officers and black folks, a terror of what she perceived to be the next logical chain of events. I could read her thoughts, “I’m either going jail or the hospital; it’s all over but the cryin’”.

My hand had filled with blood as I carefully let it splash to the ground, “No extra charge for the blood, Ma’am, no extra charge.” I smiled at her and tried to let her know that I was okay, that it was my own fault and that she had nothing to fear. She had seen too much over the years as her life flash before her eyes, quietly waiting for the “end” to come.

I felt badly for the whole human race as I read her emotions that night, the result of horrible race relations, real or imagined, it didn’t really matter. Some scars don’t show up on the surface, they lie deep inside of us.

I’ve linked with TMH Bacon Bits where it’s “Open Line Friday” as I like to call it; a chance to read some interesting articles by other bloggers.

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