The car stopped turning. Jay would drive to the deli, reverse the process once the six-pack or bag of 40s was chilling his inner thighs. The job of the person with him was to rotate their head to the middle of their back. Bumper distance within ten feet required a preemptory “Yo.” In tighter circumstances, random curses were substituted. Increasing volume emphasized proximity of the parked car/oncoming vehicle/pedestrian.
Walking the five blocks was never a consideration.
My father’s car was parked in the yard with hedges growing from one of the wheels.
On the screen in front of him, men in red uniforms zipped around each other. They appeared to be chasing another man, this one in a green uniform with a black dot he slid back and forth with a stick. The man with the dot had the confidence of someone who had just acquired magical powers. Powers that included disappearing into the TV’s faux-wood grain.
There was a smell in Freddy’s car on hot days. Strong, with the animate quality of freshly prepared food. Sometimes we would turn around, expecting to see someone in the back seat cooking a Big Mac and fries. Freddy thought the smell was a gift from the car’s previous owner. A built-in air freshener. Freddy changed his mind when the smell became a heavy sourness, a stench that absorbed all the air in the car. A stench that lingered even after we drove 80 miles an hour on the highway with the windows down. It would return whenever the temperature rose above 90 degrees. Its lesson, delivered from deep inside the vinyl, was to remind us what the body did to a Big Mac and fries once they had passed the teeth.
Being a non-driver allows you to see what your friends would do if they were God.
“Do you have any warrants?”
“Are you guys wanted?” asked the cop whose bumper we almost flattened, thanks to Freddy’s fondness for rolling stop signs.
“No, no. Nobody wants us,” I said.
The cop undid the clip on his holster.
“I want you, out of the car,” he said.
He knew to point at me, even though I was a baby sheep, tucked behind my friend’s shoulders in the back seat.
The mechanic didn’t give Jay a price. He gave him the number for a used car lot. This would have been useful information, if it wasn’t the place Jay bought the car that had lost the will to steer.
“Look out your window,” Jay said on the phone. A black Lincoln slid up the middle of the block, taking up three car lengths. Jay was dating a woman we called Cold Cuts who worked as a dispatcher at a car service. She sent him limos anytime he wanted. That first one we took to get slices of pizza. Other times we’d go to a club or just ride around. Jay took his to his window cleaning job on days he overslept.
Glen picked me up in the driveway in my socks.
When someone says they “need to do something for five minutes,” that estimate does not include travel-time to a pile of sawdust in Delaware.
He walked out five minutes later, exactly. Right pocket bulging, knuckles bleeding.
What would you say to new clothes, free food and coke all weekend in Virginia Beach?
What would you say when he asks if you’re interested in another side-trip? Friend of his in Florida will take good, good care of us.
Grand Prix was a popular model. With a back seat more commodious than the beds we slept in at home. Motels were for special occasions.
Rearview mirrors threaded with silk scarves. White. Names in red script—with date—stitched across the front. Ladies first, always.
Angela & Tony2/14/82
Anne-Marie & Vincenzo7/2/81
Tina & Joey9/22/83
The scarves were from the same old woman in Morris Park. For a few dollars extra, she added a heart pierced by an arrow, or a brief saying. At Last. Together 4-ever.
My friends had trouble matching the scarf to the person they were with. The scarves were jammed in the glove compartment like an overstuffed sock drawer. Getting busted with the wrong scarf meant coming up with a lie. The more intelligent young women would snatch the scarf from the mirror, hold it tight in their fist as they punched. The less intelligent/less emotionally mature would believe explanations worthy of a senator. “My friend Jay, who I know has the same name as me, borrowed the car.”
Everything was about sex, except the sex.
Troy at my house at 8 a.m. with tequila, a gift of his parent’s liquor cabinet. He was back from LA with three tattoos he didn’t remember getting. The most visible: a woman’s name uncoiling across his right forearm. Cath or Kate.
Calm person, crazy driver. The instructor said it was always opposite, yet mid-season Columbo episodes disproved this theory.
The drunk driver who killed Commodore Jones’ wife turns out to be Mr. Sketchy McSketch, the one we thought it was from the first five minutes.
The writers were tired, perhaps low on blow.
He gestured with the remote. Waving it over different body parts to demonstrate bathing in a stranger’s swimming pool.
“The things I did.”
The line of tequila even with the eyes of the pirate on the label.
Put car in Park, catch a few winks, drive on at the green. Freddy’s system for driving under the influence was a success. He arrived home, bladder full, tank empty. Total travel time, for the 15 blocks from Dawn’s house: just under six hours.
Jay’s limo-on-demand lifestyle ended when one of the drivers told Cold Cuts that Jay’s trip to First Blood Part II last Thursday night wasn’t a solo.
Troy at my house at 8:30 a.m. with crème de menthe. He had drunk his way through the rest of the cabinet. He was left with the booze his parents poured on their ice cream.
“How about we go find a wall to break that up against?”
Dropping the unwanted cassettes in a pile on the floormat, fingers mashing buttons. He put in a tape, drove a few feet, popped it out, tried another.
Fast Forward, to the last tape in the ashtray: “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”—Diamond Dave vibrated in the left kickpanel. The perfect soundtrack for exiting that movie parking lot.
When the brake is no longer the brake.
Glen showed up at Jay’s house every day with a different car.
T-Bird on Tuesday was good. But it was the Seville on Friday that got him. Emerald Green. Spoked rims.
Jay offered him 3 grand cash. Right there.
“Next week—and I want the wreck in the driveway.”
He flashed the knot under Glen’s nose, close enough for him to smell it.
“Monday. I promise. I’ll even make sure it’s detailed.”
No word from Glen Monday.
No word from Glen Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.
Friday. Glen waiting for Jay first thing in the morning. The driver-side door swung open, even with the front gate at 5:30 a.m.
“You still got the money?”
He leaned over the steering wheel in a way that Jay could see something he didn’t want to see.
Everyone in the neighborhood thought Glen must’ve been high when he sold the Seville for only $1,500. The next week, Jay had it painted. Red.