Leaving time draws near: Part 1, Goodbye, Old Friend

We are leaving soon.
Really.
Soon.
We’ve been leaving soon for months now. Maybe a year.
We have been stuck in leaving-soon mode for months now.
I am in the grip of a paralysis so complete I now refer to it as a walking coma. I have yet to muster the courage to call JP Morgan Chase about our house, which is steaming headlong toward foreclosure. I am too embarrassed, or scared, or worried. Like a patient who suspects he has a serious illness but avoids the doctor like the plague so as not to have his suspicions confirmed.
In any case, this house has become an albatross upon my soul. I am adrift in embarrassment and hopelessness and, more than any emotion, fear. I worry about the endgame, but I cannot force myself to deal with the issue.
I was, on the other hand, able to blow through 46 episodes of “Breaking Bad” in 15 days. After doggedly ignoring suggestions that I should watch the show for the past four years, I flew through four seasons on Netflix in just more than two weeks.
I am mentally ill, there’s little doubt about it.
After months of dithering, we came up with a nominal departure date: Nov. 1.  Washington state on
It is Nov. 1. We are still here.
(Editor’s note; It is now Friday, Nov. 9, Sunday, Nov. 11, election day plus 3 5. We are still here. But we are leaving soon.)
It’s getting close, I think. I sold the car today (Nov. 1). Made a deal with some grifters at the Tacoma Mall, Krispy Kreme parking lot. Only I hadn’t recognized them as grifters, though anyone with a working brain would have noticed this right away.
We signed off on it at the McDonald’s on Pearl. Then I walked to the Murry Morgan YMCA. Got a workout in. Was feeling good.

Goodbye, old pal.

Then, in the shower, the stupidity washed off me for a second, the scaled fell from my eyes and I suffered the instant realization I had done business with shady guys involved in some kind of used-car racket.
How could this have escaped my notice?
It amazes me sometimes just how stupid I am. You’d think I’d get used to it after 50 years. But we tend to live in a world of many delusions. We rely on the comfort of our delusions. How else would we live from day to day? Yet sometimes the undeniable reality of my stupidity is so piercing, so visceral, that it takes my breath away. Yeah, the guys who bought my car are vagabond scammers. I’d call them used-car gypsies, but I don’t want to cast aspersions on the long-suffering Roma people of Eastern Europe.
I nearly sold the car to a guy named Tom Uanno late in the afternoon. Said he was coming from the east side, wanted to know if we could meet at the Krispy Kreme. Said he was buying a car for his wife. Said he had cash. Didn’t care about superficial niceties, just wanted a solid running car. Something his wife would be comfortable in.
We shook hands, and he asked if I’d pop the hood and start the engine. I did.
“Hear that rattle there?” he said.
Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. The power of suggestion is a seductive thing.
“Sounds like the timing chain’s about to go.”
I knew, somewhere deep in my brain, that he didn’t know fuck all about timing chains. I knew he was pulling my chain. I am a pretty credulous guy. I like to think of myself as a sheep in wolf’s clothing. My chain is eminently pullable.
On the surface, I believed he might be right. That’s the way my brain works, or doesn’t. It shuts down at the point of attack.
Maybe it’s some kind of primordial defense mechanism facilitating my need to avoid conflict. Anyway, after some painful discussion and even more painful silence, he told me the best he could do was $600 (I’d put it up on Craigslist for $1,000).
The timing chain and all, he said, could be quite expensive to fix. I did note for the record that his diagnosis was pure speculation, but he said he knew a little bit about engines, and he was 90 percent sure that was a dying timing belt he was hearing.
I stood mute, wondering what to do. It was Nov. 1, our putative leaving date. I had only decided to sell the car at the 11th hour. Earlier in the day I thought maybe I’d take $500 as an acceptable getaway pittance. More than anything, I wanted to be done with it.
We stood there, in mutually antagonistic silence, when some dude appeared out of nowhere. Had seen the hood was up, and wondered if we needed help. A Good Samaritan driving a pickup loaded with a 454 under the hood. A Good Samaritan who likes to burn rubber in the Krispy Kreme parking lot outside the Tacoma Mall.
I said no, and he shrugged his shoulders and said he was a mechanic.
Briefly, my brain heroically fought its way out of its fugue state. I said, hey, you’re a mechanic. This guy here, who’s not a mechanic, thinks the timing chain is bad. Why don’t you give it a listen, if you don’t mind.
And Good Samaritan did. Tom and I held our breath and hoped for the best.
The verdict fell my way. Good Sam said the timing belt sounded fine, it was just the way the valves sound on a Mazda. Nothing to worry about. He launched into a quite mechanical and convincing explanation, something about hydraulic lifters and metal on metal, but it quickly passed beyond my reach. I held onto just the main idea: Timing chain not bad. I’m pretty sure he gave me a wink as he walked away.
Stalemate. Tom said he’d make a phone call (later I realized he was making an imaginary call to his imaginary wife. These people, it turns out, do this a lot when negotiations reach an impasse. They make imaginary phone calls to imaginary human beings).
Imaginary phone call over, he said, while Good Sam sounded like he knew what he was talking about, he still had his doubts. He could do no better than $600.
And so there it was. No deal. We parted ways. I started driving toward the bridge. At the moment, I really wanted to get rid of the car. I had several other email inquiries, so I stopped at the McDonald’s and made a few phone calls.
The second guy sounded promising. He called himself “David Jay,” and said he wanted to buy a car for his sister. He had cash, natch. He didn’t care about superficial niceties. Just wanted a good running car.
Somehow my brain refused to make the connection. He said he was coming from the east side, and would I send a few photos so his sister could see what she was looking at (that was a new wrinkle). I told him about my previous failed sale, said I would’ve taken $800  (steely negotiator, I am), and if he was willing to pay that much tonight, the car was his. I suggested he meet me at the McDonald’s on Pearl. He said OK.
A few minutes later, David called back. Said he didn’t know Tacoma all that well. He did know one location pretty well, though, and asked if I’d agree to meet him there.
Yep, the Tacoma Mall, Krispy Kreme parking lot.
Let’s see.
Man wants to buy car for female family member? Check.
Man says he has cash in hand? Check.
Man wants to meet at the Tacoma Mall, Krispy Kreme parking lot? Check.
Yes, even a person of less than average intelligence would have recognized these two buyers as part of the same or at least a similar racket. He would’ve smelled a rat, in any case.
I am not a man of less than average intelligence. I am a stone-cold retard (now, I know this is an inflammatory word. If I had even a minimal audience, I’d probably get flayed across the Internet an hour after this piece publishes for exhibiting a gross insensitivity toward people with severe cognitive disabilities. But I don’t. Thank goodness. I considered substituting “moron,” but it just lacks the visceral power of “retard.” In any case, I’m talking about myself here. I am the retard in charge of this journal. Sorry).
And so I agree to meet David in the parking lot of the Krispy Kreme donut emporium at the Tacoma Mall, hoping only that I would not fall prey to a scheme wherein someone steals the car out from under me and leaves me unconscious in a pool of my own blood in the parking lot of the Krispy Kreme, Tacoma Mall division.
I park in a nice central location, where maybe the good, salt-of-the-earth, minimum-wage employees at the Krispy Kreme might notice if one stranger takes a tire iron to the head of another stranger. I get out of the car and see two guys leaving a Mustang and heading in my direction. One, the guy with the fictitious sister, is kind of swarthy in complexion. Later it strikes me that he might easily be the son or nephew of Tom Uanno, the Andy Granatelli of the timing belt. The other was a skinny, nervous-looking white dude who lookes like he probably was on too-familiar terms with the ins and outs of methamphetamine abuse.
David takes the car for a spin around the lot while Meth Dude kind of keeps to himself. I figured maybe we’d make small talk, but this fellow seems uninterested. Maybe even scared of me. He keeps himself a safe distance from my unspoken malevolence.
David returns, says it’s OK, though the clutch seems to let out a little too much, and the dickering began. (Caveat emptor: Up front, I told all interested parties that they’d need to install a catalytic converter if they lived in an area that required emissions testing. We were told the car needed a catalytic converter when we bought it five years ago. Since we live(d) in the methamphetamine wilds of the Key Peninsula. there was no rush. We decided to wait on it. For a good five years. The check engine light was on for most of that time, but the lack of a working catalytic converter didn’t seem to impede the car’s running status, and me being thrifty and lazy, I never got around to dealing with it.)
Now, the agreed-upon price was $800 (what kind of self-flagellating man lops $200 off the price without so much as meeting a prospective buyer?). Yet it quickly became apparent that while David loved his “sister,” he didn’t love her $800 worth.
My poor sister, he said, wouldn’t even be able to use the car until it passed emissions. And God only knows what that might run. How about $700? he asked.
While I was far too dumb to recognize what was going on around me, I did know I was quite tired of it. So I quickly replied, $750 and you got a deal.
God, I hate myself.
Well, that didn’t sit well with David. He hemmed and hawed, spoke in halting terms about his sweet, vulnerable sister, shook his head and said that was still a little high.
He asks if I’d be willing to split the difference.
I pointed out that we’d already split the difference once. Remember that, David. At this one point, my ability to pinch a penny held sway. I refused to budge off $750.
He said he’d call his sister and see what she thought. Now, if you’re following along at home, remember that he was buying the car for his sister. That was his story. Now he’d abandoned that narrative completely in an effort to weasel another $25 out of me.
Actually, it was Meth Dude who made the “call” from inside his Mustang.
He quickly materialized (he didn’t sell the imaginary call at all. I was beginning to feel abused. I didn’t mind the chicanery so much, but figured I was worth a little more effort on the salesmanship end), shook his head and said, with ineffable sadness, that the poor girl could go no higher than $700.
How I wish that I’d recalled David’s original story at this point, how he was buying the car for his “sister.” I didn’t. I stood there dumbly, holding onto the last shred of dignity I had, which was the number 750.
And so he caved. He thrust out his hand and said we had a deal. Of course, by now he’s probably washed the car, detailed the car, replaced a couple light covers, glued the rearview mirror onto the windshield, turned the check engine light off and sold it for $1,750. All’s fair, I suppose.
The story doesn’t quite end there. I needed a ride out of south Tacoma and into the environs of the West End Pub & Grill, where’d I’d catch a ride with the ever-reliable Kenny Via much later that night. And I wasn’t particularly keen on doing business in the shadows of twilight in the Krispy Kreme parking lot. So David and Meth Dude agreed to follow me to the McDonald’s at 2203 N. Pearl St.
This is winding 6-mile drive, and I admit there were times early on that I looked for those grifters in the driver’s side mirror and felt kinda bad about making them going out of their way. I really am a piece of work. After a while I began to feel better about it. Perhaps the latent knowledge that they were shameless scammers was making a desperate effort to wrestle free from its chains and work its way into the forefront of my consciousness. Anyway, we got there.
And what do you know, it’s not David but Meth Dude who follows me into the McDonald’s. He lays seven Ben Franklins on the table along with two twenties and one ten. He fills out his portion, claiming for the Washington State DOL to be Wally Paul of Federal Way.
Then he asks me to leave the “amount of sale” line blank so they could save some money on taxes. I do. If he had asked me to suck his dick at this point, maybe I would have.
It was only later, when the scales fell from my eyes, that I began to get annoyed. It bothered me for a good 24 hours. The next day, I sent David the following text:
“David … hope your “sister” is happy with the Mazda. Just so you know, I’m reporting the sale as $750. I think I forgot to fill out the price on the title. Silly me. Thx.”
They don’t call me Rube for nothing.

 

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