The car handled well. Both the exterior and interior were in good condition, except for the tacky ALOHA SURF stickers James had tacked onto both doors. As advertised, the mileage was low and the pep high.
Imade an offer. He went white under his tan.
Then the phone rang. I heard a lot of baby and okay.
Fifteen minutes later, we were writing up a contract.
“One more thing,” he said. “We’re going to have to go down to Monterey to get the pink slip.”
“I bought it with my ex-girlfriend,” he said. “We need to pay off the bank loan before I can sell you the car.”
Starting a business, my ass. The wife wanted the last vestiges of the ex-girlfriend out of her hair and, in particular, out of her garage. I was in my mid-twenties and had never been in a serious relationship, but I understood what was up.
The next day he picked me up at my apartment in Oakland and we drove the hour and a half to Monterey, top down, not speaking very much. When we arrived at the bank and I met his ex, I understood why he looked even paler under his tan than he had the previous afternoon. She had high, sharp boots and an expression to match.
“James,” she said, “I’m not so sure I want to sell the car.”
Ah. I’d stumbled into the cat’s cradle of an unresolved relationship. Fuck that. I wanted this car.
"I'm going for a walk,” I told them. “Five minutes. When I come back, I expect to buy the car and leave.”
I left, my heart pounding. What if she wouldn’t let him sell the car? But the wet palms were all for naught. When I came back, we did our business. Then I took the wheel and we drove back just as silently as we’d come.“Two pieces of advice,” he said when I dropped him off. “First, if the car doesn’t start, jiggle the key a little bit. Secondly, don’t bother with relationships. Just get a cat.”
Little Girl was my let’s-see-what-I-can-do car. I off-roaded in her, got her up past where the speedometer stopped counting off the numbers. One night, on the way to a fling, I was so worked up that I backed right into a telephone pole. I didn’t bother to inspect the damage that time. I just said “Shit!” casually, as I’d said it a million times earlier, and tore off.
Two months after Sept. 11, at five-thirty in the morning, I squealed around and around a parking garage on two wheels, “Raspberry Beret” howling on the stereo. Then the squeal turned into a slam – I’d hit a concrete pillar. I jumped out of the car, ran around to the passenger side, checked out the damage, and shrugged. Then I leaped back in the car and kept on squealing.
Two days later, I parked Little Girl in a friend’s backyard and abandoned her. I was off to teach English in Europe for six months. Little Girl was left to rust and sulk, the winter rain washing down on her expired registration tags.
She was still sitting in that backyard in the dusty ass end of Oakland, Asian dance parties and more-than-occasional gunshots echoing around her, when I returned from the Czech Republic. She was going to need some work to become street-legal, and that required money. So I got a temp job, and that’s where I met Adam.
Adam. The point in the story where the tone changes. The moment when the tone softens. The time when I stop, take a breath, and signal to you that this is where things go a little deeper.