had a dream about Jen Wade last night. Her hair was very long, very limp and very shiny, with parts that looked like spun gold. It looked liked it had soaked for weeks in a sink full of hair conditioner. Her clothes were soft and extremely shiny too, as if somebody had a petit mal seizure while adding fabric softener to a load of her laundry. We were flirting with each other and dishing out discrete little kisses, but trying to participate in a conversation with others as though nothing was happening at all. I went to Tate's junk yard again to trade in some wheels whose hubs did not fit the Dart. The white-haired old lady who runs the place is an extremely suspicious woman, always on her guard that she's being ripped off. I guess if you're a little old lady working at a junk yard, you see your share of rednecks trying to pull a fast one on you. Little old ladies don't exactly have a reputation for knowing anything about car parts. Anyway, she hemmed and hawed and said she didn't normally allow people to replace wheels if they got the wrong size. "How do I know you're not just bringing me your old tires?" But after coming up with several contradictory policies that would seem to prevent me from trading in my wheels, she relented.
I took the new wheels home and found they didn't fit my Dart either. They were easier to file to size than the ones I'd taken back to Tate's, but even then, they were oriented in a funny way that put the treads closer to the center of the car than the originals. So I decided not to use them immediately.
set out for Malvern on the errand to relocate Jessika to Virginia. The car ran good on US 29 North, and I was pretty sure I was going to make it all the way okay.
On I-95, I stopped at the Maryland Welcome Center between Baltimore and DC (also between Laurel and Columbia) to take a piss and score a free Welcome Center map. When I returned to my car and turned the key, the starter groaned slowly and then died. I opened the hood and saw a puff of smoke coming out of it. It was too hot to touch, but I got out my tools and pulled it off anyway. I knew I was in deep shit when it wouldn't turn even when it was off the motor. So began my Kafkaesque adventure.
went to the Welcome Center desk and asked if there was any sort of place I could call for car trouble. The butler-like desk man (whose chief goal in life appeared to be getting reluctant travelers to sign the guestbook) seemed perplexed by my request for information, but he gave me the number of a towing company. I called the towing company and was told that all they did was tow cars, that (in their entrenched inflexibility) they couldn't do anything useful like bringing me a specific part, and they knew of no one who could deliver parts.
I thought it must be cheaper to pay to get my body moved than to get my Dart towed, so I returned to the butler-like desk man and asked for the number of a taxi company.
Another couple quarters in the hungry pay phone (it seems all numbers in this part of the world, even those to places a scant five miles away, are long-distance), and I raised a very surly taxi cab dispatcher. I described where I was, but she demanded a street address. Everybody knows that interstate rest stops don't have street addresses, and I pleaded to have the opportunity to explain this to her, but she took an immediate dislike to me (as she no doubt does to all the calls she answers) and decided to punish me by hanging up on me. Another two quarters had sacrificed themselves to the inflexible bureaucratic capitalist juggernaut without buying me anything.
I eventually did call a cab company that claimed it would send me a ride, but after a long wait, I gave up and started walking.
I'd consulted my map and determined that the best place to go to find a new Dodge Dart starter would be an urban center, and the largest nearby urban center appeared to be Columbia, which lay across the interstate to the northwest. So I started walking parallel to the big road through the nearby woods until I became impossibly cornered by endless tracts of viciously arching briers. I climbed the fence and walked adjacent to the interstate until I came to a bridge of a local road that crossed it, burrowed and climbed my way through the pedestrian blockades and found myself in suburbia.
A calm pervaded the place. Single-family homes packed together in high density among tall straight trees lined an excessively wide roadway. It was a beautiful springlike day, and evidence of children could be seen in most of the yards, but almost no children were outside. Almost no people were outside. It was as if a neutron bomb had killed them all and left their possessions intact for the benefit of an invading army.
I walked a long time through this neighborhood, and it was uniformly creepy in this manner.
But wait, it got creepier. I found my way to a bigger road and turned and followed it for a ways, thinking that any moment the residential neighborhood would come to an end and a commercial district would pop up burgeoning with capitalist exuberance. I found myself thinking as a developer would think, that at some point all these people in all these residences are going to need to buy something, a starter for their car, say, and they're going to gravitate to the closest place, which should be right about....
But Columbia wasn't built by capitalism alone. It was designed with a more sinister quasi-utopian goal in mind. I'd heard somewhere once that Columbia is in fact a completely planned community, spun directly out of one person's head, without any regard for the way communities actually grow and exist in the real world. Instead of a tacky commercial district, there was a tiny little community center with a cracking aging swimming pool and a treated-lumber convenience store, and the surrounding residences gave way to apartment buildings. They sat bleakly in what must have once been corn fields. Now I knew why my attempts at hitch hiking had failed; this was dystopian suburbia, the kind of suburbia that breeds serial killers and their victims. It was like Kafka with a cruel Orwellian twist.
On I walked, and the roads grew still bigger, and I could see big buildings off in the distance. Maybe this was it, maybe the strip mall district was just at the edge of the horizon. But no, I was entering a piece of real estate far more bleak, a place that affords the weary pedestrian no comfort whatever. I was entering a corporate "park."
As I walked past drab rectangular buildings (many of them essentially windowless) through Saturday's empty parking lots, I felt an existential despair creeping over me. I felt capable of any kind of crime to extricate myself from this torture. I would have stolen a car had I found one in a vulnerable position. Hell, I felt capable of car jacking. I felt like the whole world, right down to the scant ant-like people within it (patiently tapping the keys that drive The Machine) owed me.
Another mile, another endless road, and I came to an actual commercial district. But it wasn't satisfactory. It was a glitzy outdoor suburban mall, with brick walkways and over-madeup teenage girls hanging out, shopping for genes for their future fatherless children. The stores were all of the super-clean variety. The black arcs under my fingernails looked completely out of place, and subconsciously I balled up my fists to hide them. There was no car parts store.
At a nearby Exxon Service Center staffed by a black guy and an Asian girl, I explained my rough circumstances. They were very sympathetic (which, after all of my useless phone calls, was almost unexpected) and undertook immediately to track down a new starter for me. They knew the local Kafkaesque geography of course, and knew where the closest car parts store would be. After a few calls, they confirmed a starter at Speed Track Auto in a commercial district within a nearby "community" called Dobbin. Columbia, it turns out, is laid out as clusters of suburban "communities" surrounding small commercial districts. I'd actually penetrated to the commercial core of my particular "community," but I'd had the misfortune of entering the core of a "community" that lacked an auto-parts store.
The black lady driving the cab was another very nice person. I told her my story and she congratulated me on being able to fix my own car. She then told me a long complex story of a repair shop that gave her an estimate of $300 to repair a cracked rear light on her car. She believed that such people think they're getting away with things when they take advantage of ignorant people who don't know any better, "but God knows!" I wondered if maybe this discussion was designed to encourage me not to stiff her at the end of the ride.
Speed Track had told me they'd have the starter all ready for me when I got there (which was important, since the cab would be waiting), but, true to the theme of this horrible ordeal, they'd done nothing of the kind. I found myself waiting in line behind a couple of extremely dense customers as the cab timer ticked away the dollars. I was feeling something akin to road rage at the unresponsiveness of the staff, at the stupidity of the customers, at this latest room of tortures. Finding yourself helplessly waiting behind an idiotic customer while paying 30 cents per minute is a kind of torture I'd never even imagined. Let me tell you, it sucks.
Then, of course, the Speed Track Auto guy fetched me the wrong starter. I could tell just looking at it that it was wrong. When he eventually did get the right one, he wasn't done. He had to write me a fucking warranty, as if I'm ever going to go back in that store to claim even a million dollar prize.
My cab driver had another errand to run, so she came to tell me she could wait no longer. $11 for that, $60 for the starter, I was beginning to feel poor. And I wasn't done yet.
When I finally had the precious starter in my hot little hands, I wandered out into the parking lot to find another pay phone to call another cab. A misting rain fell like insult on my injuries. I won't bother to go into the micro-Kafkaesque details of the bank of phones that didn't work, or the fact that I had to ask a gas station attendant where I was so that I could tell the cab company where to send a cab. Suffice it to say, I was (in time) seated in yet another cab, going towards the Interstate. This time the cabby was a native African who spoke almost no English. He had no idea where the Maryland Welcome Center was, and giving directions to let me off on the interstate were rather difficult to say in body language. And I wasn't entirely sure whether we were north or south of the rest stop either.
$9 later, I climbed out of the cab at the I-95 south bound lanes' rest stop, across the interstate from the rest stop where my Dart hopefully still waited for me (unless, of course, it had been towed). I'd given up on trying to explain to the African cabby that I needed to actually be on the other side of the Interstate. I'd have to cross the Interstate myself on foot.
I-95 is eight lanes wide at this point. Four lanes go south, then there's a strip of grass and four lanes go north. I stood at the edge of the big road, my heavy starter in my arms like a precious baby, and awaited a gap in the south-bound traffic. When it came, it wasn't very big, but I made it through to the grassy strip. A wall of cars immediately sealed the route of retreat behind me. When a reasonable gap appeared in the northbound traffic, I crossed again. I was very pleased to find my Dart waiting for me patiently.
Putting the new starter in my car took almost no time at all. Soon I was zooming northward yet again on I-95, through Baltimore and then further onward.
y car wasn't working nicely anymore. Indeed, it was behaving as if it wanted to completely die on me. When I'd go to accelerate, the car would sputter and complain. I thought I was about to lose power completely at one point. That pit-of-my-stomach indicator was telling me my ordeal was not yet over.
Somehow, though, the car healed itself and began working as it should. As I crossed on patches of asphalt, the tires made funny noises that caused me more concern, but it was something I figured I could safely ignore. I felt taunted, though. The car seemed to be singing to me for one stretch of highway, with each patch of a mosaic of repaired asphalt humming a different note, like a player-piano of terror.
Near Philadelphia, rain began to fall. At times it fell in torrents, obscuring road signs and markings. At times I felt like a complete castaway, unable to navigate through the chaos of blurry visions. I felt fragile, like a bug being steered by cruel children towards a flame.
I didn't really know how to get to Malvern except by US-30, and I feared I might overshoot it completely and end up in New Jersey or some equally-horrendous fate. The sputtering-acceleration problem had returned, and that dread rose again from the pit of my viscera.
Somehow I ended up on the surface streets of downtown Philadelphia. The sputtering acceleration problem had, by this point, become a problem with the idling mechanism. The car stalled at every traffic light. In despair, I drove like a maniac, disregarding traffic lights every chance I could. Frustrated at my continued bad luck, I dove the wrong way down a one-way alley and let the car stall at the other end. The rain poured down, and I wondered what to do next. I considered just abandoning it there. It was a big burden, but it would have been a relief to have washed my hands of it then and there.
But I gave her a chance. I popped the hood and then walked out into the driving rain to play with the spark plug wires. Nearby, a homeless man grumbled belligerent incoherent comments at me from under a piece of plastic.
The car started again, and I drove it a few pointless blocks until the stalling problem resurfaced. I parked it legally this time and then set off on foot in search of a gas station. I was willing to try anything, even things that made no rational sense. It seemed that maybe if I gave it a quart of oil all my problems would go away. But the streets were creepy. Buildings were covered with graffiti and trash blew around on the sidewalks. I decided I should drive to my next destination, no matter where it was.
After a few false leads, I found a gas station. I gave my car some fuel and oil, and I gave myself some caffeine. A little more racing around, an attempt to go the wrong way up a big one way road, stopping to ask directions from a pedestrian, and I was finally on I-76 going west.
The geography still held mysteries for me. The fact that US-30 can't be found in King of Prussia was a bit of a problem. So was the overall lack of signs on US-30 telling me I'd finally made it to Malvern. All the while the problems with the car came and went.
hen I was finally parked on Miner Street near Jessika's house, I saw activity at her house. Sara Poiron was visiting, as was Sara's formerly vegan boyfriend Seph and his occasional sidekick, Acid Adam, the boy who spent his whole life in the King of Prussia Mall and who only found out recently that America wasn't the entire world.
Sara was in usual form, conspiratorial and manic. Suddenly she wanted to move to Charlottesville with Jessika, Deya and me. She had a sponsor all lined up, a 60 year old millionaire who had taken a shine to her at a job-related "bondage ball."
In Jessika's house, Acid Adam was holding court, if you will. His appearance fit his resumé and personality like a glove. His face was long and his features were rude and sharp. His haircut featured a prominent mullet. He spoke loud and almost incessantly. Small things impressed him unduly, and his humour conformed exclusively to the Beavis and Butthead comic genre. For example, he found the idea of giving someone an enormous salami as a sexually suggestive present absolutely hilarious, and his hilarity carried over to Seph. My day had been so completely awful, I wasn't yet in any mood for laughter. I sat there, drained of all musterable energy, appreciating the conversation largely in silence. Periodically Sara would come over and whisper conspiratorial things in my ear. One of these things was the observation that Acid Adam was yet another in the long line of male Jessika worshippers.
Seph and Acid Adam didn't stay long, and most of the time I was there, Acid Adam was either craving a beer or wanting to take one last drive around the block with Jessika. Sara pointed out (in her characteristically quasi-blunt in-joke manner) that it would be bad for Acid Adam to drink a beer, since he had a mullet. "Mullets and beers don't mix," she said, "beers will make your mullet get inflamed, and we don't want to see that!"
After Seph and Acid Adam had gone around the block with Jessika and Sara and driven back to wherever it was they had come from, the girls returned. Jessika and I drank some beers and ate pretzels while Sara told us of her troubles.
Things have not gone well with Sara's job as a dominatrix at Princess Paulina's Royal Castle. Princess Paulina (who is now pregnant) has accused Sara of being a drug addict, fined her, suspended and exploited her, all the while using her pictures (there are actually two) on an internet web page to entice clients for other dominatrices. But Sara is not without recourse. She has, as I mentioned earlier, found an eager slave, a 60 year old millionaire who wants to sponsor her, take her on trips abroad, and rent her an apartment in New York or Philadelphia.
About a week ago, though, Sara was on the mean streets of the wrong part of Philadelphia when a homeless crack addict came up to her and requested money. She took pity on him and gave him two dollars, at which point he put a gun to her forehead and demanded all her money. She had just been to a MAC machine and was on her way to Mardi Gras with $300 in her wallet, and the crack addict got it all. He even planned to rape her, but someone had called the cops and he was forced to flee.
The cops responded rapidly and soon had rounded up a suspect, evidently the first black guy they could find. They demanded that Sara identify him as her attacker, but she couldn't do that, because he wasn't the right guy. So the police became enraged, calling Sara "worthless" and other insults. When she asked for one of the cop's badge numbers, they threatened to arrest her.
This harrowing mugging, combined with the shoddy police treatment, has, Sara claims, left her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Now she is haunted by her mugger in her dreams, and every time she eats she throws up. Tonight, Jessika fixed Sara and me "Chick patties" (a kind of vegetarian chicken substitute), but after Sara had eaten hers she disappeared for a long time into the bathroom. When she emerged she confirmed that she had vomited yet again. She was an emotional wreck the rest of the evening, weeping softly at times and talking in such a hushed voice that no one could tell what she was saying. She curled up into a fetal position in front of the television for awhile.
I'd had a miserable exhausting day, but I had largely bounced back by the time I went to sleep. All three of us slept in Jessika's basement abode beneath her grandmother's place next door.
one year ago
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