We were in fifth grade, standing on the edge of my front lawn, our bicycles tossed to the ground. "Whaddaya wanna do now?" Leigh asked.
"Let’s be grease monkeys," I said. I wanted to be good at something. It couldn’t be just any old thing. Like making good rainbows with the sprinkler or belting out a decent rendition of Annie’s "Maybe." It had to be surprising and somehow underhanded. Like a pool hall hustler, I wanted to catch people off guard. And in my world "off guard" meant a girl who was good at fixing things. Not patching up relationships or ripped jeans, but a girl who could get all greased lightening.
"What the hell’s a grease monkey?"
"You know, when you wipe your brow with a rag and make like you’re adjusting your ball sack," I said as I rubbed my hands over the loose bicycle chain that had come undone. We examined the dark goop, then I smeared it on my face as if I were a quarterback.
"That’s not gonna work," Leigh said.
She was right. We went upstairs and played my Grease album on a record player. I kept lifting the needle, so we could keep hearing the word tit. That’s as close as I got.
Three years later, we were forced to take a technology class with Mr. Heilbrun, where we studied inventions and inventors, people who surprised you for a living. My favorite inventor? The dude who invented the bra. His name, our teacher told us, was "Caresse.*" Easy mnemonic device. Awesome.
Except, upon looking it up now, I realize I memorized the wrong fact! The bra was invented, not by a man named "caress" but, by a woman named Mary. Oh, the terrible irony. A prissy straight-laced dame named Mary adiosed her whale bone corset in favor of some silk and a pink bow. What a ringer.
* Turns out Caresse Crosby was the business name Mary used for her brassiere production company. Oh well, so I got it wrong. Technology class did, however, finally prove useful. I built a wooden cutting board, and a small race car with an egg strapped in (to test its safety features upon impact). Most of all, though, I learned how to make one surprising thing: a spectacle of myself. A talent I’d carry with me all through the days of my life.