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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   truck purchasing odyssey
Thursday, October 10 2002

There were a tense couple of hours this morning during which Gretchen and I waited for our hottest potential buyer to come back with an offer on our brownstone co-op. Today had been a street-sweeping day on the side of the street where our car had been parked, and it was on me to double park it at 8am and repark it at 11am. As I was coming in from the second of those moves, Gretchen was on the phone with our prospective buyer. The haggling had already concluded and we had an agreed-upon price, $370,000. I wanted to pop open the champagne, but Gretchen thought we should wait to pass another milestone in the process first.
We spent much of the rest of the day driving around in exotic parts of suburban New York looking at various used pickup trucks that I might potentially buy. The first of these suburbs was Mount Vernon, just north of the Bronx. There we looked at a 1990 Mitsubishi, even though I was already poorly disposed to it from something I'd read about how Mitsubishi parts are impossible to procure from anywhere except Mitsubishi dealers. This is the sort of scam perpetrated by Compaq and other makers of proprietary equipment, locking their customers into a supplier-controlled relationship lasting the life of the product.
As expected, the Mitsubishi looked fairly junky from the outside, and under the hood it looked like it had been plagued by fluid leaks and bone-devouring rust. A sadly comic highlight was the white plastic radiator fan, which looked like a toy. The truck had belonged to some guy who had recently passed away, and it was the father-in-law of the deceased who sat beside me as I drove it around the block. He was a wiry old man with bad hearing and an effusively accommodating attitude. But I didn't really like the truck. It seemed as if it might join its former owner in Heaven any second.
Next stop was a seedy used car dealership in Yonkers down near the Hudson River. The truck I'd come to see was a bright fire engine red Nissan and featured an extra pair of tiny fold-down seats in the cab. Despite its dealer-perfect shininess, the truck seemed to have a couple of problems, one being that the driver's door couldn't be opened from the outside. What was more, it had over 150 thousand miles on the odometer. Then there was the dealer himself, who hopped around on crutches and tried to convince us that the driver's side door wasn't actually broken. He wouldn't let us take the truck for a test drive unless we promised first to make a down payment if it ran okay. This had something to do with his laziness about putting the plates on. It wasn't the right attitude to cop with the likes of us, so we promptly departed without so much as a goodbye.
I'd done all the driving up until this point, and I hadn't been doing too well, what with the confusing similarly-named roads and freeways and the general absence of informative road signs. Now Gretchen took over, and she immediately began having a miserable time, not knowing what direction we were headed beneath overcast grey skies, and frustrated that I hadn't thoroughly researched the geography or the vehicles we'd come up here to examine. Compounding everybody's misery was that ever-lurking tormentor, low blood sugar. [REDACTED]
We called a guy in Long Beach, Long Island to ask if we could come look at his pickup truck tonight, even though I'd originally planned to come out to look at it on Saturday. He said sure, and gave me directions.
Yonkers and Mount Vernon had been typical ugly suburbs, most of whose hapless dwellings seemed to lie within range of the sound of freeway surf. The ride down I-695 across the spectacular Bronx-Whitestone Bridge was a welcomed respite from the ugliness; it even seemed that the Whitestone Expressway had been specially designed for visual spectacle as it passed beneath elegant stone bridges, tip-toed across the marshy lowlands between the Bronx and Queens, passed the structural remnants of the 1964 World's Fair and ending at JFK International Airport.
Once again we were surrounded by drab suburbs, now passing at a crawl since we were also stuck in traffic. To our left was a K-Mart, to our right was a development of small houses built around a series of docks and small pleasure craft.
Trai, the guy selling the truck in Long Beach, was a crater-faced misogynist of Turkish extraction. Gretchen could tell he was a misogynist because he wouldn't acknowledge her presence when he met us in the parking lot. Also, while Gretchen was walking Sally on the beach, Trai said a few things to me indicating that his experience with his former wife had caused him to lose all trust in women. None of that really mattered, except that I liked his truck and wanted to buy it from him.
It was tall four-wheel-drive Xtra-Cab with huge Uniroyal Laredo tires. In the course of a 'round-the-block test drive, I liked the stiff suspension and the way the bucket seats hugged my hips.
Trai indicated that he was unwilling to negotiate a price any lower than the $3000 he was advertising it for, and that seemed to make sense, since he had a good place to park it and a reliable flow of people coming to look at it. Its only problem was a nasty gash of rust running along the outside of the bed, nearly girdling it. Trai said that this was a common problem in this generation of Toyota trucks, and that it had something to do with a poorly-engineered external weld. Interestingly, there was almost no other rust anywhere else on the truck. I opened the engine and it looked clean, mostly rust-free and unspattered with the spilled blood of engine fluids.
After talking to Gretchen on the beach, I decided to agree to the guy's price. Gretchen wanted me to just take the truck tonight so I called Trai on her cell phone and immediately agreed to the price. I also said I wanted to take it now. Trai said this was impossible, and "I don't work that way." He insisted that I get plates and insurance first. So we went back to Trai's condo to handle the what paper work we could.
As expected, Trai's apartment had the decor of a lonely single misogynist. In his loneliness he had chosen to surround himself with floral wallpaper and an aquarium of fish, one of whom delighted in sucking algæ from the glass. Hanging out on the couch was a mustachioed friend and his girlfriend, a hard-faced blond. There was also a little boy there who amused himself on a flat-screen-equipped computer. He was using some sort of drawing program whose colorful text-free interface seemed designed for three year olds.
As we dealt with the vehicle documents, Gretchen's experience with registering her Honda proved indispensable. She knew precisely what forms we needed, and when it seemed we might have to make a couple of back and forth trips so that we could get forms and have Trai sign them, Gretchen came up with the idea of downloading the forms directly from the web, which was possible because Trai had a subscription to AOL. I agreed to come out and pick up the truck as soon as I got the plates.
On the way home, Gretchen and I stopped at a Long Beach sports bar called Minnesota's, where we ate sports bar food beneath enormous projected teevee screens. The waiters were clean-cut schteve types, the only kind one ever sees working at a sports bar.
It rained throughout the entire drive home, and this just added to my confusion as I drove through unfamiliar territory. Not being able to see the lines of the road and wanting to be home and dry conspired to make me nervous and irritable, and it all came to a head when I found myself in all the wrong lanes and being beeped at by all the people behind me as I tried to do the right thing, whatever the fuck it was, in the loop road that circles Grand Army Plaza.

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