In downtown Paragraph City, with sky scrapers soaring high enough around it to cast the shop in shadows for most of the day, stands the ancient Strunk’s Service Station. He and his pal Ebenezer Whitey hire high school kids and put them in snappy uniforms with their first names over the station’s crest on the chest pocket. They run out with spray bottles and shop towels to clean your glasses and check the dipstick on your inspriration the moment you pull in by the two old pumps with Pegasus on the tops and hoses with clear plastic filters and colored marbles that dance as the kids pump whatever it is they pump into your tank.
But pumping petrol is just a sideline here, like the Briar’s Birch Beer and Vernor’s Ginger Ale and Kutztown Cream Soda in the chest cooler where the glass bottles are suspended in ice water, and after you thumb in your quarter, you take the bottle you want by the crimped metal cap and work it along the rails to the corner where you can lift it out dripping wet and cold. No, the real work is revealed in the service station’s sub-title: “or Composition Collision and Towing.” Three fire engine red wreckers are parked by the rusy iron railing along the River Mnemosyne that flows through Paragraph City. On the wreckers’ doors it reads, “to reign by due praise or to seize for vain rights.”
I asked old Whitey about the company slogan one day when I was getting a tune-up on an old scrap of Drivel I drove around one summer. He grinned and told me it was a mnemoic for calling the shop. “You can’t reach us on a cellphone or land line,” he said. “To reach us, use a homophone.”
Some days, the writing teacher can’t find a single running idea all day, for the mechanical mayhem the students have wrought. Or written.
Thanks to Marilyn vos Savant and a 14 May 2006 “Ask Marilyn” column for the homophone phrase.