Do you remember The Marlboro Man? The cowboy hat, the look, oh God that look. Back in the bad old days before Politically Correct Behaviour and the ugly C word, there were cigarette advertisements. Shock, horror and all that. A long campaign for Marlboro Cigarettes featuring the sexiest men in the world. Well when I was 16, I sure thought so. Do you remember the Marlboro Man?
I just wanted to make sure that you knew what the Marlboro Man looked like because I almost married him once. Oh well, yes you are right, there were more than one. So just roll them all together, the swagger, the slim hips, those shoulders, those boots. That look! The pick-up truck. The horse. That dip down to light his cigarette. Got him in your minds eye. Whether you loved him or hated him you have to admit that guy was all sex.
Now let us time travel back to teenage Celi. I passed my drivers license on my 15th birthday, well you could in those days. In fact the traffic cop who took me for my test said ‘You’re not a bad driver, you’re just not a very good one!’ Huh. Well it goes without saying that I went to sit my test in my convent girl school uniform!
My Dad had bought a little white mini van for the teenagers of the house to drive. So this one sunny summer morning I had stuffed my books into a bag, grabbed a towel and my confiscated bikini top that I had confiscated back without my Mothers actual knowledge, so it wasn’t really stealing and driven out to Ocean Beach by myself. I would read and work on joining all my freckles together into something resembling a tan. We were not allowed to sunbathe on the beach at home because Mum said it was bad for your skin. We had no idea what she was on about! It was hot. Dry. Perfect. The beach was delicious, I lazed about for a few hours swam, read, you know the thing.
Fast forward. I was on my way home. The windows down, radio blaring when I felt the tell-tale wiggle of an approaching flattie (flat tire). So I pulled over, driving in bare feet as you do and climbed out. Sure enough. The tell tale hiss. Not a problem, as kids we had been thoroughly coached by our dad on how to change a tire. In fact he used to send the girls out to rotate the tyres on his Rover just for the practice. What the boys were doing I have no idea, probably baking cupcakes or something. I proceeded to get out the spare, and the tools. I was dragging the jack into place (no mean feet in a long summer skirt and barefoot) when I heard a truck rattle to a stop behind my car. I looked up and guess who I saw.
You guessed it Laurel and Hardy but ancient, Laurel and Hardy gone bad and in messy old fishing garb. Two gents were beginning a slow descent from an old rattly truck. One emerged really really Tall and one really really Fat. Both pushing eighty or maybe ninety, well now that I think about it they could have been approaching a hundred. They were clambering down with great difficulty from their truck. Muttering and talking to themselves like these old codgers do. Thrilled to bits about having discovered a damsel in distress. All in flickery slow motion. The really fat one sort of toppled tippsely over and collapsed weazing onto the spare tire. Oh, we’ll do that, he said as he took the spannery thing out of my hand, and he proceeded to mash at the bolts, or lugs or whatever you call them. By this time Tall had reached us. He moved very, very slowly, it became painfully obvious that he was afraid that one or other of his limbs may fall off at any minute, every movement considered.
So to make a long story a trifle shorter, Tall had a bad back and could not bend over, Fat had bad knees and could not stand for long. There was a lot of heaving and creaking, and mumbling and sighing and huffing and puffing and that was just getting the pair of them situated in front of the flat tyre. I had to physically close my mouth a dozen times. No, no we’re fine lass don’t you worry. Together, though, they seemed to have worked out a way to create one reasonably useful old man. They told me to sit on the bank, don’t stand in my light. Watch out for the traffic, did I want a wee tipple? Oh no, probably too young. We will take care of this. Well I will just wet my whistle, don’t you worry, you will be on your way in no time. They worked at the lugs or whatever you call them, Tall ended up standing on the wrench to loosen a couple while Fat held it in place. Tall shoved the jack in and Fat jacked up the car. Together they levered the bad tire off. Then Fat swapped tire seats and they rolled the spare into place.
With enormous difficulty, no thats fine girlie we have it, they were trying to lift the spare tire on (mainly Fat as he was the low man, Tall holding it upright) when I heard a truck stop across the narrow country road. I stood up and looked across. The truck door opened and all I could see were The Marlboro mans boots, then his long long legs encased in those studio jeans. He unfolded himself out of his cab, his body lean and strong, turned to reveal a rebellious thick blonde mane of hair that blew up in the gentle summer breeze. He stood to his full height, adjusted his belt with two hands and smiled straight at me.
I was ablaze with light I am sure. I simply glowed at him. The soundtrack burst into violins and cellos and the birds sung the melody. I was 16 and I was in love. An unbearably handsome man was smiling at me! I mean I had beaten up and sometimes shouted actual words at my older brothers friends . One fell out of a row boat into the sea once and hit me in the face, with his head, when I was swimming. He apologised in a spluttery way, which was kind of intimate I suppose, if you didn’t count the black eye. But you see I went to a girls convent school. No man, no real grown up man had ever smiled straight at me before… well not like that. Choirs of angels. Pan in the woods. I almost fell flat on my face from lack of oxygen. I wished I had been wearing something more flattering other than this silly little hand me down top that didn’t fit properly and my long batik wrap around that only showed my bare toes!. And why was I so thin, I had no curves. I knew that men were meant to like curves. My Dad said that he could rent me to a deer hunter cause I was so thin. I could just sidle up to the deer and bonk it on the head with a stick. Save on bullets. That thin. A deer would not notice me. Thanks Dad. But the Marlboro Man noticed me. He smiled at me and said
‘You need any help?’ Oh , that smoky deep voice. Oh, he wanted to help me. My knees trembled. I opened my mouth to speak, drew in a breath. Mouth gobbing like a fish. Then Tall popped up from behind my tiny car, like an ancient jack-in-the-box stringing himself out to his full considerable height, dropped the tire which rolled onto Fat. Fat grunted, struggling against the tire, weazing to his feet. Hauling himself up the side of my car And before I could even make a sound. “Nope!” the old fella’s bellowed in unison. Their voices were suddenly strong and hale and hearty. “Nope, no we’re right. She’ll be right mate, Thanks.. yup, yup, mumble mumble” and DISMISSED my Marlboro Man with a wave of their stained and gnarled old hands. Then, galvanised, soaking up energy, they shot back into place hauling the tire onto the pins and practically twirling the wrench! Suddenly they were twenty years younger. Straightening their backs and rounding their chests. Eyes glinting. Off with you young chappy!
I turned and looked at Marlboro Man and he looked back at me. He raised his eyebrows. you ok? I looked at my old men as they muttered to each other, their youth pulsing alongside their age and looking back at my Marlboro Man, standing beside his truck, shimmering in the afternoon heat, an Adonis (in jeans). I raised my eyebrows back, with a shift of my bony shoulders and a head tilted to my old men and a nod. Marlboro Man lifted his head in assent, slid back into his truck and just drove away. As he drove off I realised that he had new tires in the back of his truck and a big Dunlop sign on the side. I am not making this up! He was a tire man! He would have had tools and everything.
Fat, now sitting on the deflated tire, taking another quick swig of his medicine, muttered ‘Showed that young buck!’ This is exactly what he said, I have never forgotton it. Tall snorted with satisfaction. And back to work they went. Darling, rusty old fellas. The whole thing had quite made their day.
I sat down again in my designated spot on the bank, watching the dust settle back down onto the road and could not help a small smile at my old knights in their battered grumbling armour as they worked on my car. Bless them.