Monday, December 27, 2010
The Foothills of Southern California, 1996.
For the last few months, or more specifically, since he started dating The Harpy, every time we'd enter my friend Jeff's vintage Jaguar, he'd always say the same thing: I can't afford this thing anymore. To which I'd respond with something like, Why in Hades did you buy it?
My friend Jeff: A world-class boozer, fluent in Blarney, but a little too worried about how he was perceived. He started leasing the Jaguar to give him a green-colored chariot of respectability as he parked his car on the parking lots of prospective customers. He was a pharmaceutical supply salesman whose career was now on shaky ground; he talked a good game, but lately hasn't been able to seal the deal, and he figured that the car would grease the wheels of wealth. But his car-tactic was a failure— his debts were suddenly starting to grow like hyperactive-mold on rotten fruit, and now his girlfriend, The Harpy, was demanding he buy Christmas gifts for her two kids because their dad was a deadbeat.
Now, this particular night was to be our Pre-Christmas Drinking Night, consisting of Chivas Regal on the rocks, beer chasers, and Elvis Presley Christmas cassette tapes, but now we had to shop for, and then drop off, the oodles and oodles of gifts for The Harpy, her kids, and, to cover all the angles, her mother.
I wasn't particularly fond of his girlfriend before, but now I liked her even less, and even went so far as to tell him that she'd end up killing his soul in the end. These car payments are the ones that are killing me, he responded, staring accusingly at his dashboard.
After a lengthy good-bye to The Harpy (she thought I was an good influence on Jeff, which made me loathe her all the more), we went to the liquor store, picked up our supplies, and started to drive to my house, ready for the King to warble those sweet, Christmas tunes that I needed to hear to make the Holiday come alive. But Jeff had other ideas: he wanted to take a drive through the Foothills first. I didn't know why, and he wouldn't communicate his reasoning to me, but I went along for the ride. He finally stopped at a spot that overlooked the tall, dark hills, and turned off the ignition. Elvis was still singing about a child on a manger on the car's tape deck, and as I rolled down the windows I was immediately hit by the sticky-sweet scent of the virginal trees.
And it was at this moment that my stalwart friend, and fellow booze-hound, broke down into tears. He couldn't take the mounting finances that he felt were crushing him. He turned to me and asked if I'd help him get rid of his car miseries, once and for all: he wanted me to help him push his car over the ridge, so that he could claim the insurance.
I took a breath, and told him that I wouldn't help him: Let's just go back to my place, I told him, and drink on this. We can figure this out — we HAVE to — because if I help you with this right now, both of our souls will go down with this damned vehicle.
The drive back to my house was silent; only Elvis dared break it. As the road changed from hushed fauna, to sporadic streetlights, and then civilization, I remembered when I first met him months ago, and on how I was struck by the look of desperation in his eyes, despite his free-wheeling and fancy-free ways. He bought us all drinks on that first meeting, but I never could reconcile the anguish with the generosity. So you can imagine my horror when years later, after a particular rambunctious evening of revelry, I awoke to look in my spotted bathroom mirror, and see the same look staring right back at me.