February 9, 2023

A Bar, A Cigar, and A ’93 Town Car

6

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“Jim,” I say, taking a seat beside him at the bar. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Jimmy is staring blankly at a small piece of paper in his hand. He’s nursing a beer with the other.

“Jim,” I repeat. “You ok?”

“Huh,” he says, looking over at me. “Ya, ya, I was just…did you ever have one of those, did-ya-voos, or whatchamacallits, or whatever the fuck it’s called?”

“You mean the candy bar,” I say.

“No, no,” he says, waving his hand at me. “I mean the whatchamacallit, the thing where you think you’re doing the same thing twice, only you aren’t, you know, the thing?”

“Jimmy I have no idea what the fuck you’re going on about.”

“The thing,” he says, raising his voice as if being louder will make his point any fucking clearer. “The deja whatchamacallit thing.”

“Deja vu,” I say.

“Ya, ya, exactly, did-ya-voos,” he says, shaking his head. “I was having one of those earlier today.”

“Uh-huh,” I say. “Were ya now.”

I order a drink and wait for him to continue.

“Ya,” he says. “Well, I think so anyways. I haven’t seen a Townie in years. You know they don’t make Townies anymore. They dropped it about 10 years ago. Killed the golden goose as far as I was ever concerned. But we took one in trade a few days ago, and we shined her up real good, got it humming…boy, you should hear her purr now…it’s a bute, you know?”

“A car, you’re saying?”

“Ya, ya, a fucking big ol’ Town Car, what the fuck ya think I’m talkin about here?” he says.

“Sorry,” I say, taking a sip of my beer. “I’m all fucking caught up now. You were saying about this bute?”

“Huh,” he says, shaking his head. “Ya, ya, exactly. So we take this Townie in on trade a few days ago and shine it up real fucking nice and put it out on the lot, you know, right out front, add a little curb appeal, like that…”

Jimmy starts moving his hands as if trying to paint me a fucking picture. I nod at him like I know what we’re talking about and take another sip.

“Anyways,” he says. “So I guess someone must’ve seen her—“

“The car you’re saying, someone saw the car?”

“Ya, what the fuck ya think we’re talkin about here,” he says irritably. “I’m saying someone must’ve seen her — the car — only they don’t want to come to the lot, you understand?”

“So?” I say, trying to get to the end of this fucking story.

“So,” he says. “They call over and ask about her and whether we can drive it over to them, right? They start giving us some song and dance about being old and feeble or whatever.”

“You do that?” I say.

“Drive it over to people?” he says, looking at me.

“Ya,” I say.

“On occasion, sure. Ya. Sometimes. But not frequent. Like, we aren’t a fucking chauffeur service. We sell cars, you know?”

“Ya,” I say. “So you took her off the lot is that it?” I say.

“Huh,” he says while taking a sip of his beer.

“The car,” I say. “You took her out?”

“Ya, ya, exactly. We decide…well, Earl decides, I don’t decide shit…but ya, Earl tells me, go on ahead Jimmy, take her over to these old coots. Maybe it will be a sale. I need a sale, you know?”

“Sure,” I say. Jimmy has been on a dry spell lately. “And how’d she handle?”

“The Townie?” he says, looking at me. I nod.

“Ya, she’s a bute. A real bute. Only, I haven’t been in one in, gawd, twenty years, say. I used to sell them back in the day. When I first started in 93, well, they were a pretty penny, you know?”

“Sure,” I say. “So, they buy it, this customer?”

“Huh?” he says. “Them? No, fuckers are fixed income retirees or some bullshit…they just wanted to see her, you know, remember better times or something. But I don’t mind though, you know? I was glad for the chance to take her out for ride. She’s a bute. A real bute.”

“Well, better luck next time,” I say.

We both swallow some beer, and the conversation lapses into silence. After a second, I shake my head. I’m confused.

“What the fuck” I say, glaring at him.

“What,” he says.

“What the fuck was all that about deja vu,” I say.

“Huh,” he says, looking over at me with that stupid fucking look he gets when he is lost. Fucking guy.

“The deja vu,” I say. “When I got in, you were fucking prattling on like an old maid about it. I thought it had something to do with this car you were selling but fucked if I know what it was all about.”

“Oh,” he says. Looking at the paper in his hand. “Right. Well, see, when I was taking the Townie out, and settling her real nice, I got to thinking, you know, about the first time I ever drove one. Back in 93, like I say, my boss told me to take one over to see a customer…what was his name, Bob or Rob or—“

“Jimmy,” I say, snapping at him. “Do I fucking care what your first boss’ name was? No, no I do not. Get to the fucking point, already.”

He waves his hand at me to apologize. “Alright, fuck, Al. Don’t go all squirly on me. I was just saying—“

“Fuck, Jim. You got a fucking screw loose today. You were saying something about 93 and your first customer or some fucking thing, I dunno.”

He looks at me with hurt eyes. He’s old and doesn’t like to be rushed.

“Right, right,” he says, still thinking. “It was the cigar.”

“Cigar,” I say. “What fucking cigar?”

“Oh,” he says, eyeing me carefully. “Right. Well, see, whenever I’m in a Townie, I have a cigar. It’s a thing I picked up in the old days, you know? Smoke a fatty while rolling in a Townie. You know, like in the mafia. Like sitting in a Town Car, windows down, smoking a cigar and looking like a Don or whatever. You know, a gangster. Like Al Capone, you know?”

“No, no,” I say. “I do not fucking know. And I don’t want to know about your fucking weirdo daydreams, Jimmy. Is this fucking story going somewhere?”

“Ya, ya. I was just trying to say it was the cigar that triggered it.”

“Triggered, what?” I say.

“The did-ya-voo,” he says.

“Deja,” I say. “Deja. Not Did-ya. Deja.”

“Sure,” he says. “Whatever. I’m saying as soon as I cleared the lot today, I rolled down the window and lit my stogie. It was real good. I haven’t had one in years. And so, like, I had this feeling, you know, like I was living it again. Like it was yesterday—“

“So you were reminiscing,” I say.

He looks at me, puzzled.

“You were remembering the good old days, is that it?”

“Ya, exactly, exactly right…the good old days,” he says.

“That ain’t fucking deja vu, Jim. That’s just some old man shit. Reliving old times. Got nothing to do with deja vu,” I say.

He still has that fucking puzzled look on his face. I don’t bother explaining.

“Whatever,” he says. “Whatever it was, I’m saying it got me thinking about the first time I took one out to a customer.”

“A Town Car,” I say.

“Ya,” he says. “A Town Car.”

“Is that it,” I say. “Is that the whole fucking story? Cause that was a lot of work to hear about how you felt good today taking out a fucking 1993 Town Car.”

“Huh,” he says. “No, no, no. As usual, you’re missing the whole fucking point. I’m saying it got me thinking about that first time.”

“Ya,” I say. “I heard ya, Jim. You lit a cigar and thought about your first time. Great fucking story, bud. Thanks for sharing.”

I roll my eyes and order another round. I dunno why I bother.

“It wasn’t just that,” he says. “You gotta understand, Al, that first time, it was a strange one. I hadn’t thought about it at all until today, but, ya, that first time was bizarre.”

“Ya,” I say, taking a sip of beer.

I debate whether to press him to tell me some new story. If it’s a Jimmy story, I’m probably going to wanna fucking kill myself when he’s done, but what the hell else I gotta do tonight. Sure, I’ll bite.

“Bizarre how,” I say, shaking my head in mock regret.

“Huh,” he says between gulps.

“Bizarre, how,” I say. “You said that first time was bizarre? Fuck, Jim, wake up why don’tcha”

“Oh, ya, right,” he says, trying to focus. “Ya, well, like I say, it was the summer of 93. It was hotter than the devil’s ball sac and my boss…Bob or Rob—“

“Jimmy,” I snap. “Do I fucking care?”

“Huh, right, right. Uh, well, anyway, I hadn’t ever been asked to take one out on a ride like that before. I was pretty nervous. I was maybe, what, maybe, twenty one at the time, something like that. But I wasn’t going to say no, see. I mean, back then, I was still learning my chops, and I was the new guy, low man, you know how it is,” he says.

“Uh-huh,” I say.

“Well, anyways,” he says, taking a sip of his beer. “I get the keys and a dealer plate, and I’m making my way out and the top guy, you know, I won’t ever forget his fucking name, he was a real goddamn son of a bitch… Donny Bloski, that guy was a real hard-on, you know what I mean?”

“Ya,” I say. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a Donny I liked.”

“Ya,” he says. “Ya, that’s right. Now you mention it, me neither. Fucking Donny Bloski was a piece of work. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

“Ya,” I say. “So what of it?”

“Huh,” he says, looking at me. “Oh, ya, well, so I’m heading out of the lot, see, and Donny corners me and he says to me, he says, listen kid, this call is real peculiar, like. So you take care. They invite you inside the house, you stay clear And he gives me this look, right, like, man, oh, man, I didn’t know what to think. Donny gave me that look and I didn’t know if I should be scared or what, but I was just like, maybe, you know, maybe he’s just pulling a gag, you know? On the new guy, see? Like a gag on me or whatever. You know like—“

“Ya, ya,” I say. “I fucking get it. What am I, fucking retarded or something. He was hazing you. Get on with the fucking story already.”

“Ya, right,” he says. “Hazing me. Anyways, he hands me a stogie, right? Tells me all the boys light one up when they’re out in a Townie. Says its customary and now that I’m popping my cherry, I should have one too. So he hands me this stogie, and I’m like, okay, you know? I’ve never smoked one before, but I don’t want to look like a chicken shit or something, right? So I take it.”

“Uh-huh,” I say. “And so Donny was acting peculiar is that it?”

“Huh,” he says.

“Donny, the hard-on?” I say. “He was acting peculiar is that it?”

“No, no, I mean, ya, Donny was always acting peculiar. He was a strange fella. Mean too. But—“

“Jimmy,” I say. “Get to the fucking point.”

“Right,” he says. “Well, anyways, I take the Townie out and she rides real nice. Nicer than todays for sure.”

“Ya, and?” I say.

“And?” he says.

“Ya, and,” I say irritably. “What fucking happened? The cigar blow up or something.”

“Cigar,” he says, confused.

“The fucking cigar the hard-on gave you. Fuck, Jimmy. You said he was hazing you, the guy—“

“No, no,” he says. “Nothing like that, Al.”

“Then what,” I say. “What was so fucking bizarre? Are we ever going to get to the fucking point?”

“Oh, right,” he says. “So, like I was saying, I take her over to this house, see. It’s an old couple living there. Old broad comes to the door and wants to have me inside, right? But like Donny said, I don’t go inside see. But she keeps asking me and I keep saying no, and saying the car is right there and stuff. And so finally, the old girl comes out to look at the car.”

He pauses and takes a long sip of his beer.

“Ya,” I say. “So?”

“Well,” he says, looking around as if he’s about to tell me some dark secret he’s been carrying. He drops his voice to a whisper, and I have to lean over to hear him.

“Well, see, I’m not one of them, whatchamacallit, feminists, or nothing, you know? I mean I ain’t got nothing against women, right? If you ask me, I think women should be running things, like, on account of their being level headed and stuff. So I ain’t got nothing against them, like I say, I ain’t no feminist—“

“Misogynist,” I say.

“What’s that now?” he says.

“When you like women, you’re a misogynist,” I say. “Not a feminist.”

“But that’s what I’m saying, I’m not a feminist on account of my liking them, right? On account of my thinking they really should be running things?”

I shake my head.

“Jimmy,” I say. “What the fuck does any of this have to do with anything. For fucks sake, can’t you just get to the fucking point?”

“I’m saying,” he says. “That this old girl comes down the steps to look at the Townie, right? But like, what does she know about Townies, you see what I’m saying?”

“Are you saying that’s what was peculiar,” I say.

“Huh,” he says.

“That was the fucking peculiar part of your fucking story, Jim? That an old broad wanted to look at the fucking Town Car?”

“No, no, no,” he says, waving his hands dismissively. “You’re missing it. See, she isn’t interested in the usual stuff, you know? Like with a guy, right? A guy wants to see the engine and wants to know about horsepower and torque and shit. But this broad, she’s not interested in any of that, see?”

“Your point being, what?”

He shakes his head at me like it is fucking obvious.

“My point being, this broad wants to know about the interior lighting and spends a lot of time looking at the carpeting. Wants to know whether it will stain and shit.”

“Stain,” I say. “Who fucking cares about that shit?”

“Exactly, right,” he says. “Exactly right. Like what the hell is this broad planning a barbecue in the back or something? Whoever heard of such a thing.”

“Exactly right,” I say. “That’s peculiar.”

“I know, right,” he says. “But that wasn’t all. See, after she climbs around the inside asking about carpeting and staining and I dunno what all, she asks me to pop the trunk, right?”

I take a sip of my beer and look over at him.

“Well, Jim, I don’t know that’s all that peculiar. Guy needs to know where the spare is and shit. Needs to know where the jack is and stuff. I’ve looked in the trunk myself a few times. Looking at the electrical and shit.”

He nods in agreement.

“Sure, Al. Sure. I for sure know some fellas who want to know about the spare and stuff. But that’s not what this broad was asking about.”

“No,” I say. “What then?”

“That’s the thing, see. She wasn’t interested in no spare or electrical or none of that shit. She wanted to know how big the trunk was.”

“Ya,” I say. “And?”

He looks at me sideways. Takes a sip of beer.

“And, that shit’s peculiar,” he says.

I shake my head.

“No, no,” I say. “I don’t see that Jim. Trunks are for luggage. Marrieds got lots of luggage. Kids and diapers and what not. That ain’t peculiar. I mean I don’t give a fuck about that kinda thing but I’m not married. If I was, maybe, right?”

“Well, sure,” he says. “Maybe. But this broad and the old guy were not newly weds Al. It’s a Townie, it’s got the biggest trunk in the business, everyone knows that, am I right?”

“Sure,” I say. “But like you said, she’s a girl, what does she know about Town Cars?”

He goes silent for a minute.

“Jimmy,” I say. “What?”

“That’s just it,” he says. “She seemed to be, I dunno, obsessed with the trunk. Like that’s the only reason she wanted to see the car at all, you know?”

“So?” I say. He says nothing. “So, what, Jim?” I say.

“So, it got real strange, see. Awkward.”

“Ya,” I say. “How’s that?”

“Well, it was my first time, you understand, and I was excited, I didn’t think nothing of it back then. I just wanted to sell my first Townie, you know?”

“Ya,” I say. “So she didn’t buy, is that it?”

“Huh,” he says.

“She didn’t buy? After all that fucking work, she didn’t buy?” I say.

“No, no, she bought alright. She was real happy about it too. Paid full price. Didn’t even try and nickel and dime over the sticker. Paid cash. Best commission I ever earned. Well, best in 93 anyways.”

“So,” I say. “What’s the rumpus?”

He looks down at the paper in his hand again. He’s silent.

“Jimmy,” I say irritably. “I don’t get what you’re saying. So you sold a car to a broad who didn’t know fuck all about cars, so what?”

“Huh,” he says. “Oh, ya, right. Sorry. It was just…well…”

“You were saying you sold a car to this broad?”

“Huh. Ya, right. So, well, as I was showing her the trunk, she asks me to climb in, right? I said, well, no, sorry, no way, I wasn’t about to climb into the trunk. It’s a brand new Townie, I didn’t want to make a mess of it. The boss would not have been too happy about it, you know?”

I nod. “Ya,” I say.

“But she’s insistent, you know? Tells me to take off my shoes and just climb in, right? Like people just climb into their trunks every fucking day.”

He shakes his head. Takes a sip of beer. Wipes his mouth with his sleeve.

“Into the trunk,” I say. “Now that’s fucking peculiar.”

“Ya, well, I thought so too, you know? But I mean, ya, sure, it’s peculiar, but what was I more worried about making the sale or making the car dirty, you know?”

“Tough choice, right there,” I say.

“Exactly, right,” he says. “A rock and hard place.”

I nod. “So?” I say.

“So?” he says.

“Did you climb in?”

“Of course, I fucking climbed in. I wanted the sale, didn’t I. And this old girl was harmless. I figure I could take her if she tried to lock me in or some shit. You know, if Donny was right, and she went all squirly and shit. So I took off my shoes and climbed in. As soon as I’m in she’s asking me to lie down, right? See if I am a good fit. She wants to see if the lid will close with me in, right?”

“Fuck,” I say. “You didn’t do it, right?”

“Well, I didn’t know for sure, you know? I mean Donny could’ve been grazing me or whatever?”

“Hazing,” I say.

“Ya, Hazing. Whatever. Or maybe she wanted, you know, some sex thing,” he says.

“Is this some kind of sex story, Jimmy?” I say. “Is this what it’s all about?”

He shakes his head furiously.

“Ain’t no sex story, “ he says. “But I did have some thoughts like that back then, you know? I thought maybe the old girl was going to jump me right there. But she never did.”

“Ya,” I say. “And?”

“And, well, as I was lying in the trunk and her trying to close the lid, like to see if I would fit, the old man comes out of the house shouting at her about, I dunno what. Making a fucking racket. Going on and on and really tearing a strip off the old girl, you know?”

“Sure,” I say. “Same old story.”

“Exactly, right. Same old story,” he says. “Only I’m in the trunk and he don’t see me. He’s yelling at her and he comes around and gives her a smack, you know, right across the face, see?”

“Fuck,” I say. “Right there in front of ya?”

“That’s what I’m saying, Al. A man wants to bust his woman up, ain’t no business of mine. But a fella don’t do that out on the street. I’m a damn stranger. That ain’t right.”

“For sure,” I say. “So what’d you do?”

“What could I do. I was in the trunk and she pulled the lid down as he smacked her. I couldn’t hardly do anything. I could only just barely hear, you know?”

“Ya,” I say.

“Ya, and I swear he smacked her again but she don’t cry out. She don’t say nothing, see?”

“Ya,” I say.

“So then I hear him yell about buying the car, or something, and then that was it. He was gone.”

“That’s bizarre,” I say.

“Exactly right,” he says. “Exactly right.”

“So,” I say. “What then?”

“Well, she opens the trunk, and starts apologizing about her husband and stuff. She got a real red face where he smacked her, but she ain’t crying at all, and I think, this old broad is one tough cookie, you know? Guy like that smacks me, I think I’d be feeling it, right?”

“Ya,” I say. I’d be feeling it, and grabbing my gun.”

I laugh, but he says nothing. He’s looking at his hands.

“For fucks sake, Jimmy,” I say. “You’re acting all fucking squirly tonight.”

“Huh,” he says. “Ya, ya, sorry, Al. It’s just…”

“It’s just,” I say.

“It’s just that I didn’t see it at the time, you know?”

“See what?” I say.

“See it,” he says. “See how it was all going to play out, you know? I only wanted to sell my first Town Car. My first Townie. I didn’t know what was what, right?”

“What the fuck are you on about Jimmy,” I say. “What didn’t you see?”

“About her and the old man and the Town Car,” he says.

“What about them,” I say.

But he’s staring off into space. Silent again.

“Jimmy?” I say.

“Huh,” he says, shaking his head.

“What about them,” I say. “This story better have a fucking point Jimmy or I am going to smack you myself.”

“Right,” he says, still clutching the paper and staring into space. “Well, I climb out of the trunk and the old broad is muttering something about her old man. She was saying something…”

He drifts off, trying to remember.

“What?” I say.

He looks over at me, his eyes are distant. Unfocused.

“What?” I say again, louder this time. Like he’s deaf.

“Well,” he says. “I only wish I could remember what she was saying, you know?”

“Ya, why’s that?” I say.

“Cause it might explain it, right? I might have seen it clear?”

“Seen what?”

“Huh,” he says.

“Fuck Jimmy, focus goddamn it. Seen what?”

“Seen why she wanted that car and why she was going on about the staining and all that bullshit. I would have seen it?”

“Ya, well, so what,” I say. “She bought the car didn’t she? What the fuck you care why she wanted it?”

He looks at me, his eyes coming into focus.

“Cause, Al,” he says. “Cause maybe if I had I could’ve stopped her.”

“Stopped her?” I say. “What the fuck are you talking about, Jim? I thought you said it was the best commission you earned that summer. Sounds like a good sale. Fucking stop her? Why? You made a great sale, Jimmy. Great sale.”

I order another round. He’s still looking off into space. I don’t say anything. Just sit there waiting. When the beers arrive, I pick mine up, look over at him, and hoist it in the air.

“To you, Jim,” I say, nudging him with my arm. “On your first Townie sale. Helluva story,” I say. “Helluva story.”

He looks at me, and his eyes flash with anger.

“What?” I say. “It was a peculiar story, just like you said, but you got the sale and it all ended up happy, am I right?”

“No, Al,” he says. “As always, you’ve missed the fucking point. It wasn’t a good sale, no. It was a lousy sale. Only I didn’t know it then, you know?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head in irritation. “ I don’t know, Jimmy. I don’t know what the fuck it is we’re even talking about. You’re fucking off your tree tonight, bud. I definitely do not know—“

“See, that’s just it, Al. Did-ya-voo.”

“Not with that shit again,” I say. “You were remembering some tale from old days, Jimmy. That ain’t deja vu.”

“Whatever,” he says, shaking his head. “I know what I felt. I know what it was.”

“Ya,” I say. “What do you know?”

He looks at me and takes another sip of his beer.

“You see, after I took the Townie out today, I started thinking about that old girl and that Townie she bought.”

“Ya,” I say. “And?”

“And,” he says. “When I got home, I used the internet, you know? To google her. I figure she’s probably dead by now, but maybe, you know?”

“And?” I say.

“And,” he says. “She’s dead alright.”

“Ya, well, she was old ,what’d ya expect?”

“No, no,” he says. “I mean, ya, I expected her to be dead. But not like how she died, you know?”

“What the fuck are you talking about Jimmy?” I say.

“She died, Al. Only not in, like the real world, you know, she died in prison.”

“Prison,” I say. “How in the fuck —”

“That’s what I’ve been saying. How in the fuck did the old girl end up in prison? Like what happened, right?”

“Well?” I say impatiently. “What the fuck happened?”

“Here,” he says and hands me the paper he’s been holding.

I look at it. It’s a newspaper clipping from July 18, 1993. Says Rose Trulik, 76, died in prison two weeks after being arrested for murder. Says the cops found her husband, Ernst Trulik, stuffed into the trunk of their brand new 1993 Town Car. Says the couple had just bought the Town Car two weeks earlier. Says she was waiting to stand trial for murder. Says her motive for the killing was unclear.

“Fuck,” I say.

“Right?” he says.

I shake my head.

“And you didn’t know it at the time?” I say.

“I was twenty something, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading papers,” he says.

“Fuck,” I say.

“Exactly. My first Townie. My first goddamn Townie.”

I say nothing. Then, I hoist my glass again.

“To you, Jimmy,” I say. “Glad you didn’t end up in the trunk. Glad you didn’t end up in the trunk.”