Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mephistopheles Motors, Part II

In the first place, you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.
- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

The first car I ever owned was a dark blue Chevy Nova that my sister had sitting in her driveway. “If you can make it run, you can have it,” she told me. Against all odds, it eventually moved from her driveway and, for a full two months, took me back and forth to work as a hostess at a seafood restaurant where I held my breath in the smoking section and exaggerated the estimated wait time by at least an hour so the customers would just go away. The radio and the speedometer were broken, the left rear tire deflated regularly, and the crack in the windshield only impeded my vision if I turned a sharp right. It let me know I’d gone too far the day I attempted to drive it from Long Island, New York to south Jersey. It wasn’t about drama, this car, it had just done its time and that was that. I stopped to get gas in Toms River and it never started again. My Nova was like sex without any emotional strings attached. When it was over, everyone just walked away, having gotten what they wanted, no hard feelings. A decade would go by before I owned another car.

Upon finishing my graduate program, I landed a job 20 miles away and needed a car. It just so happened that a classmate of mine was selling one. It was a 1989 Dodge. Blue like my Nova, old, like my Nova, but boxy and tough. It had been passed down through many a student. Mike and I went to my friend’s house to close the deal. “We’ve made a decision,” Masako told me as we took a seat on their couch. “We want to charge you $100 less than we told you originally.” “Um….Okay?...” I cocked my head, perplexed. “Because it’s an old car,” Shuji continued for his wife, “and…” He waved his hands in a way that showed me it wasn’t up for further discussion. Next, we were drinking tea. And soon, the “Shuji-mobile” and I were on the road.

The Shuji-mobile and I drove through the fields picked of lettuce, planted with brussel sprouts to teach English. Two years later, one week after I quit my job, the Shuji-mobile met its end. Having reached the end of its duty, it went out like a true hero – full tank of gas, smoke billowing from the engine. Mike was driving. I was elsewhere. It knew I wouldn’t have had the heart to watch. We donated it to the fire station, where they used it to train people on the jaws of life. Honorable life; honorable death.

Five days have gone by since Chris and his sales manager wasted my time at Mephistopheles Motors. I accidentally left my registration at the dealership before I calmly shook Chris’ hand and marched out the door to my waiting, beeping Jetta. In that time, we had gained new energy. Even the baby was feeling better. We devised a new offer. We had to go back – we had the excuse of retrieving the registration. We bring the checkbook. I’m gonna get me a orange car.

We drive halfway there before we realize we don’t have the title to the Jetta. We turn around. Get the title. When we start out a second time, I have just the slightest bit of nostalgia for the Jetta. “Maybe…” I begin wistful. “Maybe the Jetta is just…” Right on cue the beeping and flashing start. “exactly the piece of shit I thought it was!” I finish.

I don’t see the orange Mazda when we pull into the lot. Chris spots me and approaches with my registration. “Did you sell the car?” I ask trying to sound nonchalant. “We wholesaled it. The day after you looked at it.” “What does that mean?” “We gave it to a wholesaler” he offers helpfully. “It’s gone. We got rid of it.”

“They wholesaled it.” I parrot to Mike back in the Jetta. “I think that means they figured out they couldn’t sell it for what they wanted and they took a loss on it instead of selling it to me. Whaddawedo?”

“I guess we go to the Mazda dealer,” says my practical husband.

“Okay.” I am deflated. It’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday. We have plans later.

Even before we can park at the Mazda dealership, we see a face we recognize among the salespeople stationed out front. We know Patrick from other venues, not well, but enough. Maybe this won’t be so unpleasant after all.

I tell Patrick exactly what I want. I tell him Mike researched it and there is an orange one about two hours north of here. Get it for me. He agrees, but must show me the BEST deal on the lot first. I MUST drive this stupid sedan. I’ll love it. It’s a better car; a better deal; it’s PERFECT for me. I whine and drag my feet over to the stupid Subaru. All wheel drive. Yawn. “We want a hatchback.” Yeah, but. “We want better gas mileage.” Yeah, but. “Does it come in orange?” Of course not. I drive the stupid sedan and another used hatchback that’s appealing but for it’s souped up exhaust system, it’s bumpers out o’ da hood, and it’s gear shift that aggravates my bad wrist. I’ve wasted enough time; get me my orange car.

Richie is the finance guy. Richie has way too much energy. Richie is 10 feet away in the office next to us. Patrick is his courier. We remain at Patrick’s desk while various versions of the deal arrive from around the corner scribbled on paper complete with upbeat notes from Richie like “We want your business!” which Patrick reads out loud for our benefit. After negotiating half a dozen times back and forth with this mysterious man in the next office, close enough I could have spit on him (and I thought about it), the paper comes back again with “It’s a deal!” written across the top in black marker and a smiley face drawn on it. “It’s a deal!” Patrick reads out. I add horns, a tail, and a pitchfork to the face in blue ballpoint and slide the paper back across the table to Patrick. We move on to Jim, the paperwork guy. While I (literally) attempt to read the fine print and sign my name 100 times, Jim talks in a steady monotone about everything I care nothing about. More than once, I ask Jim to stop talking.

This is more money than I’ve ever spent on anything in my life. More money than I ever expected to spend on anything in my life. Money that could be doing so many other things. I am close to tears. I’m experiencing something like vertigo. I try to tell myself I deserve a new car, but it doesn’t hold up. No one “deserves” a six-CD changer. People deserve enough to eat and a safe place to sleep. People deserve respect and love. No one “deserves” an orange car.

Four long hours have passed since we left home in the Jetta. I haven’t felt this tired since Isaac was born. We trash our day’s plans and head home for a family nap.

The next day, Monday, Patrick calls to tell me my car is here. He sounds much more excited than I could ever be about a car. Nonetheless, I feel ever so slightly proud when he mentions they have it sitting in the showroom with a sign on it that reads “Sorry! This one is sold.” When we go to pick it up after Mike gets home, it’s already dark. As we approach the car I see that it is in no way orange. “This isn’t my car,” I tell them. “This car is red.” “An orangey-red,” Patrick blurts. “They don’t make the orange color you saw in the ’05 anymore.” Now he tells me? Never content to leave any situation without making a fool of myself, instead of walking away from what is obviously not an orange car, I choose to allow him to drive it out, under the lights to show me more closely how my red car is really orange.

It’s a slow night and a gaggle of employees are outside hanging around hoping for a bite. “Great color!” they croon when they see my car. “Wow!” They’ve been coached, I think bitterly. The bloody emperor is naked. The baby is tired; we are all tired. I am unsettled, but leave more or less convinced that while it isn’t the orange of the orange Mazda I test drove last week, it is perhaps an updated version, more in the “burnt sienna” or “rust metallic” family.

In the morning, I go out to look at the car I bought in daylight. I return to the house fuming. “That car is red. Red. Not orange. Not even a little orange. Red.”

“Wait til the sun comes out more,” Mike suggests. I want to kill him with my bare hands and put the body in the trunk of my red car.

It’s not quite 7:30am, but for some reason that I’d rather not ponder, someone actually answers the phone at the Mazda dealership. “I’d like to leave a message for Patrick,” I say in my calmest, sweetest cadence. There is rummaging. Paper. Pen. “Okay, go ahead,” says the voice. “This is Kitty and the message is: My car is red.” “…car…is…red. Got it.” “Thank you,” I tell him. “You bet.”

Two hours go by. Isaac takes a nap. I find myself with time enough to dwell on how I felt cheated. Patrick calls. “My car is red, Patrick. And you knew it was red.” “I’m a little color blind,” he starts. We wrangle about for a while, each defensive and unsatisfied, he with a commission on the line, me with god knows what. “What do you want?” he asks me finally. “What color do you want?” “Orange.” “It doesn’t come in orange anymore. It doesn’t come in pink either,” he jabs. “Sell many cars mocking people?” I inquire.

Two days go by in which I cry often out of frustration, exhaustion, and anger, then rebuke myself severely for getting so wrapped up over a car, knowing all the while it is not about the car. I decide I can’t afford to spend more precious life moments car shopping and decide to keep some version of the Mazda. I think about getting a blue one. Patrick offers me all-weather floor mats if I keep the car I have – “an 80 dollar value!” He offers me another car wash. I could give a rat’s ass about either of the above, but finally, feeling broken and tired, tell him I’ll keep the red car he insists on referring to as “copper.” He thinks he has won and tells me where to find my floor mats if he’s not there when I come to get them. In my people-pleasing voice, I thank him. We hang up.

Isaac can sort of crawl now. Lots of babies younger than he is have far surpassed him, but my son does a wounded soldier, commando drag that gets him around. He finds all kinds of things I don’t this way – strands of hair he picks up and presents me with (his manual dexterity is quite impressive), the phone I’ve tried to hide away behind everything in the world. Apparently, he has the right vantage point for finding the tiniest things, the details, and as a poet, I tend to believe that details are what matter. But for the rest of us, we can all go home now, stop rubbernecking. There’s nothing to see here.

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