IT was obvious from the first day of school that I would be competing with the internal combustion engine for the mind and soul of Paul Pringle. Paul swaggered into my first-period English class exuding a strong aroma of gasoline. His hands and forearms were smudged with grease, and a stained toothpick dangled carelessly from his lips. He was 20 minutes late, thus establishing a precedent for punctual tardiness he was to maintain for the balance of the year.Skip to next paragraph
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``You must be Paul Pringle,'' I said, surveying my roster. Paul nodded and slumped his angular frame into a seat by the window. He turned to acknowledge the greetings of his buddies in the room.
``Paul, you are 20 minutes late,'' I said. ``May I ask why?''
``Camshaft,'' said Paul.
``See that it doesn't happen again,'' I said, handing Paul a sheet of composition paper. ``Your first assignment is to write a brief autobiography. Get out your pen and begin.''
Paul rummaged through his pockets, from which he drew a tire gauge, a spark-plug gapper, and a rotor button. ``I don't got no pen,'' he shrugged.
``I don't got no pen,'' I flared; ``what kind of English is that? Make sure you come on time tomorrow - with pen and paper. Is that clear?''
Paul shifted his toothpick. ``OK, Ace, OK.''
``And get rid of that toothpick.'' He put the toothpick in his pocket. ``And don't call me Ace.''
At the risk of taxing the reader's credulity, I am compelled to report that the subject of Paul's autobiography was his car, a souped-up, fiery red Mustang, with ``Pringle's Pride'' stenciled on each door. My initial reaction was that Paul was playing word games, and I was tempted to lecture him on the sins of levity. As it turned out, Paul's affection for Pringle's Pride surpassed even Don Quixote's for Rocinante. The Mustang became the centerpiece of all subsequent compositions, playing the lead role in such diverse themes as, ``My Favorite Hobby,'' ``My Narrowest Escape,'' and ``My Most Unforgettable Character.''
Paul's chronic tardiness seldom grew out of anything as commonplace as a flat tire or a leaky gas tank. It ranged into the mystical areas of manifold gaskets, distributor caps, and universal joints. I am so mechanically inept that I need help when changing flashlight batteries, so Paul sensed quickly that he was negotiating from a position of strength.
One morning he breezed in at the usual 20 minutes past the bell, with his arms grease-smeared and with the customary toothpick in his mouth. I motioned him to my desk, made him remove the toothpick, and asked the routine question. ``Paul, why are you late?''
``Intake valve,'' he whispered. ``It was stuck.''
``Wasn't that the same trouble you had yesterday?''
Paul stared at me in disbelief. ``Yesterday it was the generator brushes. C'mon, Ace, you remember.'' He nudged me playfully.
I gave Paul his assignment, a brief summary of ``The Killers.'' He pleaded that it was too far along in the period to begin such an important assignment, and that he would be at a distinct disadvantage. Nevertheless, I insisted that he get started.
``Can I wash my hands? They're greasy.''
``C'mon, Ace, you want I should fail English?''
``No, I don't want you should - I don't want you to fail English. And stop calling me Ace.''