I was changing my car's oil near the corner of 17th Avenue and Rivera Street when I noticed that a mousy-looking lady was standing on her front steps a few houses down, watching me attentively. I'd say she was glaring at me, but her face was too timid to deliver a full-on glare. She skittered back into her house when she realized I'd noticed her, and a minute later she was back at the doorway with a chunky guy I imagined to be her husband. The mousy woman pointed at me, and hubby got me in his sights, then came lumbering in my direction. Mousy clutched the doorjamb, looking on.
When hubby got about five feet away, he hit me with: "What do you think you're doing?" I looked down at the full oil pan at my feet, and back at him, and paused for a moment, trying to think of the best way to state the obvious. Before I could, he hit me with another question: "Are you changing your oil?"
"Yes," I said.
"You're not supposed to do that. Where do you live?"
"I live right around the corner," I said, and turned to face him. He stayed on the curb, well out of arms reach, looking down on me. His shirt was tucked in, and his fat belly hung out over his belt, a soft sack of flesh.
"You can't just drive up on the curb, and change your oil here."
"Why not?" I asked.
The haughty look on his face soured into a scowl. "Why don't you change your oil in front of your own house?"
"I live on 19th. I can't change my oil there." (For those of you not familiar with San Francisco, 19th Avenue is where Highway 1 cuts through the city. Six lanes wide, a constant torrent of traffic.)
"Well you can't change your oil here."
I stood there looking at him, with a dozen ideas running through my head. He was only a few inches taller than me, but he probably carried at least 50 pounds more weight on his frame. Still, I entertained thoughts of smashing him one in the face. I also thought of responding to his attitude in kind, giving the guy some insolent quip that took into account the fact that there were no laws saying I couldn't change my oil in the street, or telling him that I wasn't in front of his house, or pointing out the plentiful oil stains that already adorned the asphalt. What gave him the right to be pissy with me when an oil slick the size of a floormat was just twelve inches from his right foot?
In the end I just stood there for a beat, looking him in the eyes, without saying anything. I imagine my face looked emotionless. I felt a bit angry with the guy's blowhard attitude, but not enough to really get all worked up about it.
After a few minutes of this, the guy shrugged his shoulders and said "Just don't spill any," before turning around and walking away.
And I didn't spill any, at least for the most part (a couple drops here and there, I admit, but nothing significant). I wonder if he came back out to the curb later, and combed over where I'd been, looking for evidence. If he did, and found the site relatively clean, did he think this cleanliness was a result of his efforts? I wonder. If wasn't for him, in his mind, would I have painted the street with used motor oil?