Fifteen Minutes, Max
It is not a demon sent straight from Hell to torture me on earth, kill me and drag me - probably still complaining in the afterlife - to eternal torment in a lake of fire. No. It's a Chrysler LeBaron and My Mechanical Nemesis. Two weeks ago, getting into the car became more difficult than it had been. Before, I'd stick the key in the driver's side lock, turn it, yank the door open with all my "I'm 900 years old but exercise every day" might and shove from the other side to open the door wide enough to twist myself under the steering wheel and drop into the seat. The car whined metallically about the whole affair, but you know how unprincipled cars can be. Then one day yanking with all my might produced full-scale metal groaning. I could barely wedge my small person sideways through the doorway and despite years of dance and gymnastics training and decades of aerobics, weightlifting and yoga, I could not fluidly move from the car's exterior to its interior without whacking my head on the door frame. Naturally, I did what any mature, independent woman, confident in her own accomplishments and self-worth, would do: I called the ex-boyfriend.
Tata: Dahhhhhhhhhhhling, would you have time to look at the car door, please?
Paulie Gonzalez: Absolutely.
Paulie changed out of a silk Tony Soprano shirt, into a synthetic blend Tony Soprano shirt, and came right over. Later, he stood in the kitchen and washed his hands with grease-removing goop called Goop.
Tata: How bad is it?
Paulie: The good news is I can fix it. The bad news is until I weld the pieces back together you should not use the door for a door.
Tata: What's its new job?
Paulie: Being a statue of a door. But with a sometimes open window.
As I shut off the alarm this morning I knew the embarrassingly brief commute to work would be interesting. Clearly visible in the backyard two houses over three drunken men were trying to brawl. Fortunately, the drunks were so drunk they had trouble grabbing lawn chairs and each other. There's an omen for you. I took it to mean I shouldn't operate farm equipment, which is good because I don't have any and I'd have to steal it first.
From the moment I step out of my building until I throw gear on my desk so little time elapses that I should be deeply ashamed of driving to work. Anywhere else, I'd probably bicycle to work but in New Brunswick the drivers are so reckless that the only people on bikes are pale, sensitive people who have just intuited the real trick to killing themselves is to get an uninsured driver to do it. Since I occasionally still have the will to live, I drive.
I unlock the passenger door, throw my stuff on the floor, sit crookedly in the seat and slam the door behind me. I fold myself in half, heave my butt over the console while trying to avoid the seat belt lock. I fold my legs, spin around and plant my feet on the floor. Yesterday I was not a moron and pushed the seat all the way back before I reversed this process to get out, so now my legs are not pinned against the steering wheel. Yes, I feel very, very smart.
Five traffic lights and two death-defying intersections later, I park in a deck. The drive is so quick clicking the face plate onto the car stereo takes longer than the first two lights. In the deck, it's all concrete and quiet, except it takes me two tries to park. I can't really see over the dashboard so I guess where the white lines might be, probably the way George Bush used to.
The interminable walk from my car to my desk takes me on a 50-foot Garbage Tour. Imagine the people who threw these now-flat things from car windows while driving through a college parking deck at a cautious 15 mph! The garbage changes a little each day. For instance: yesterday, I wondered about a pregnancy test and the Buddy Holly glasses. What kind of madcap denial and legal blindness did that imply? This morning, I was thinking about the broken concrete chunks from the ceiling when I looked up and a miniature street sweeper appeared before me, as if by Department of Public Works magic. I was immediately overjoyed, because I cherish few unrealized dreams as I cherish my hope that someday - someday! - I can steal one of these outdoor Zambonis and scour the Holland Tunnel. But, as the pedestrian in this story, I know my life is now in grave danger: whenever you see a streetcleaner, you will also find another driver who has stopped paying attention to what he's doing and could run you over even if you don't have a bicycle and a death wish. The second driver appeared right on cue behind the streetsweeper, staring at the apparition in front of him and didn't see me at all.
I recognized the expression on the DPW worker's face. Years ago, when drunk driving was still hilarious, my friends and I all worked New Year's Eve, made merry and took a brief nap on recycled couches and diner furniture that should have been considered petri dishes for the next great vaccine, not to mention paternity tests for half the city's young voters. An hour later, we drank some coffee and poured ourselves into a well-windowed customized van and drove off to the bar where all our other friends were converging with intent to spend New Year's Day at an odd angle. Our drunkest friend was at the wheel. Our most sober friend was in charge of navigating and nagging. I sat in the back next to a window, completely responsible for trying not to scream as our driver rocketed through the nearly empty streets of New Brunswick. When the van took a corner on two wheels, I found myself less than a foot away - nearly face to face - with a guy in a streetsweeper. Our eyes were locked on each other. Our feelings for one another were perfectly clear.
I was screaming -
He was screaming -
I was screaming -
He was screaming - not that I could hear him, but there was no mistaking the fact that if I could've taken my eyes off his I could've seen clear to his uvula. In less than a second, we raced off. So I recognized the expression on the streetcleaner driver's face when he thought he was caught between a pedestrian and a typical New Brunswick driver. Fortunately, I'm in good shape for a fat 900-year-old and have novel ideas about which end is up.
After that, I wanted a nap - or a good, stiff drink.