Tiny's Car - a meaningful encounter in my youth

 Tiny's Car

This is not Tiny's car, but it is similar and he would have loved this.

In a small town it is hard to get away with much.  A person does not have to be doing anything wrong to be the topic of discussion. Someone sees you.  They talk.  Someone else knows who you are.  Then right or wrong, a story is created and passed around town.  The theory is that one should be on their best behavior at all times.  Young people ignore this philosophy.  They know they are too smart and stealthy to get caught, or figure nobody knows them or just do not care if they do.  This is a sense of security provided by a false aura of anonymity.  The reality is that everybody knows everybody in a small town. 

            It was the summer of 1967, and I was a sophomore in high school.   I was walking to my job at the local drug store where I was employed as a “soda jerk” at the lunch counter and soda fountain.   The owner assigned me a multitude of other tasks as well, but soda jerk, short-order cook, and cashier were my primary functions.  Instead of walking down the sidewalk along the main drag through town, I preferred to take a back and more obscure way.   My route passed by the municipal swimming pool, through a park, then around the electric company storage yard, before entering the main business section of the village via the backside of several businesses.  This way I could check out who was at the swimming pool.   More importantly, they could see me in my white soda-jerk uniform and know that I was cool.  It also allowed me to surreptitiously smoke one or two cigarettes along the way without being seen by the many prying eyes in the houses along the sidewalk, and having my bad habit reported back to my mother.  So, my circuitous route served two purposes – hoping people would see me and think I was something, while also doing something I knew I should not be doing and wishing not to be seen.  Yes, I was a conflicted teenager.

            The big old black car was parked in a strange place.  It was in a gravel area at the rear of a row of old commercial buildings containing a restaurant, the bank, and several other businesses.  It was an area typically used by delivery and trash trucks, by way of two alleys, and not readily visible from any of the streets.  The car was partially hidden by some dumpsters and a low concrete wall.  I had a good idea who the owner was.  One person was infamous for his flat-black vehicles.  Tiny Young!  He was anything but tiny.  He had a notorious reputation which was almost mythical in the small rural village where I lived.  This big hulk of a man sported a deep crevasse below his left eye, which allegedly was acquired while being hit in the face with a beer bottle during a fight.  That was the story, and as a young teenager I believed it.  I believed most of the stories I heard about rough characters around the area. 

The story about Tiny’s fondness for painting his cars this way was because he claimed fingerprints could not be lifted off flat-black paint.  This was important if the car had been stolen or was reportedly involved in unsavory activities.  That did not make much sense to me because they stuck out like a sore thumb.   The other story was that he stole a lot of his cars, and he then painted them so the owner would not recognize it.  This made no sense either.  If your ’55 Chevy Belair came up missing, and a black one appeared in town several days later, it was rather obvious who had it.  But who wanted to challenge Tiny about a thing like that?  It was all part of the myth, yet most myths have their origins based in fact.

I knew the reputation of its probable owner.  Heck, everybody knew that!  I approached the black behemoth with apprehension and more than a little bit of fear.  The front door windows were rolled down on this giant four-door beast, but the rear windows were up.  The rear windows seemed the safest to peer into.  The back seat had been removed.  The dirty bare metal floor contained tools, cans, assorted paper and clothing, all of which was strewn about.  No passengers would be joy-riding in this car.

On the front bench seat was the reclined body of the one and only Tiny Young, and it startled me.  I was not sure if he was alive or dead, plus I did not want him to see me.  With trepidation I moved closer to the open window, hoping a bloody wound would not reveal itself somewhere on his massive girth.  Curiosity had won over.  The prone form must have sensed my presence, for it moved.

“Get away from here!” he snarled.

“Sorry, Tiny!  I was just checking to see if you were okay!” I replied with genuine concern, and a measure of fear.

A swollen eye barely cracked open and stared at me.  “Don’t tell anyone I am back here,” he commanded.

“No problem, Tiny!”

“And if I am still back here when you get off work, wake me up,” the big man growled.

“Okay!  No problem!  See, ya!”

The aspect of everybody knowing everybody in a small-town cuts both ways.  I had no clue that Tiny Young would know me.  I was just a kid soda-jerk, and he was one of the town’s more notorious individuals.  In a perverse way it made me feel good.  It made me feel a bit more important.  A guy like that apparently trusted me.  He could have just have easily crushed me like a bug, or otherwise intimidated me.  But, no, he asked for a favor.

The car was gone that evening, but it was back the next day and for the next several days afterward.  I always checked on the occupant but did not talk to him.  It also struck me that here was an individual with an infamous reputation, and the means to take just about anything he wanted by force, yet he was sleeping in his car.  For that week in August, he was homeless, and maybe others as well.  Maybe the wild-life was not all that attractive, or romantic after all.  Where were his so-called friends?  He had a soda-jerk kid for a friend that week.

Tiny and I became actual friends later on.  His real name was Gary.  For some reason he always called me Shred.  He went on to pull some outrageous pranks around town and had more than a few other old big flat-black cars.  But the notorious side was not a bluff.  He got shot by a shotgun in a bar and lived to tell the tale, plus confront the shooter many months later.  He did time in prison.

Besides all that, I knew Tiny as a funny, genuine, loyal, and kindhearted man.  He died as the result of his excesses, but not before he got sober and tried to dissuade others from taking the same path as he did.  And for a moment in time, back in my youth, a scary man in a big black car made me feel a bit special by knowing and trusting me.



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