Jul 20, 2009

What he'd made of things

The place still smelled like new rubber, even on the last day. The linoleum hallway was still scuffed with black marks from hard-soled shoes, the marks his dad had hated so much. The shop door was open for the breeze of the morning and an impact gun was going off, ratcheting real loud, breaking a lug nut free. Dick came into the dealership the back way. He went through the shop, where mechanics wearing white nodded at him and shouted "morning boss!" through the noise. He went past the air hose, which was looped on the floor and hissing. He went past the shop sink, where top was off of the super soap that would cut through car grease. He smelled the rubber he'd smelled every day since he was a kid, and he went inside and saw the linoleum, and went out front, to the show room, and he smelled the cleaner smell, the squeaky smell of waxed paint and polished wheels, shapooed headliners and car carpets and clean windows and shiny, shiny, chrome. He noticed everything in a way he hadn't noticed everything in long time.

Charlotte, in her inspirational voice, said, "good morning Mr. Wierzynski," said, "good morning and you got a message from the corporation's closers, and from the bank, and one from your brother." "OK," Dick said, "but not right now."

The was a wind over the lot, and all his balloons were pulling at their strings, stretching away. It was a sunny day. It was one of those days when it was spring and the sky was blinding blue and the lot was a lot of glaring glass where you couldn't look. The lot was a field of bright, solid colors. The cars were the colors red and blue, green and yellow, gray and black and white, and in the car manuals the colors had adjectives like liquid, maverick, mystic, metallic, slate, onyx, jet and oasis. All solid colors. His life was solid colors. Dick was a heavyset man, with a thick middle, and he wore bright shirts in solid colors that matched with blocky ties that tried to say "like me." The shirts were bright, simple colors and the ties all pastels with fruit names: Watermelon or lime, blueberry, raspberry, kiwi, or banana. His life was all these solid colors, and it always had been, but from here he could see it, a flock of cut balloon, pulling away.

The first time he'd come to this lot, he was 5. He wore a short-sleeve shirt and a clip-on tie. His granddad had bought this lot when it was gravel, and they were the first Polish people to own their own garage here. Then his dad, in the 70s, had turned this into a big dealership. It was family owned, with American flags and windows painted with holiday displays, but competing with the biggest corporate dealers. And when Dick came in, the first time, in '76, it was just natural. It was expected. It was in his blood. His mom clipped that tie on and sent him off on a Saturday and he went right out on the floor, right out into the lot where there were families looking around the rows of solid-colored cars, and he walked right up to a guy and said "now, what can I do for you today?" That was the way it was supposed to be. And when Dick took over from his dad in the '90s, that's how it was. People would come in to him and say how they remembered coming in with their dads and granddads and looking at the newest models.

"What'cha gonna do now?" his brother would say if he called him, which he didn't want to because he already knew how it would go, and he didn't know the answer. He didn't know. The changes -- he wished he could say what had happened, what changed, but everything had been so imperceptible. People still drove cars. He couldn't say what it was, exactly, what happened. He didn't remember the debt being so debilitating, before, and he didn't know why no one got divorced back then but now it seemed like you had to, like it just happened, naturally and inevitable and shitty. He didn't know. He couldn't say. He wished it would have been something big, something he could point to like a big recession or flying cars or a war, an act of God, but it wasn't like that. The only thing he could say, if he had to say, if he had to put his finger on it, was the that the south side of the city had declined since they put in the freeway, and most of the dealerships were over on the north side now. It was like he got stranded, even if he hadn't noticed right away.

He could see the boy, from where he was standing in front of the show room, his ex-wife's sister's son. He was washing the cars one last time. He was washing them obsessively, even though this would all be over before they were dry. He had a rag out and was rubbing, and the water from the hose was running, pooling under the tires with the oil making rainbow rings, and spilling off the cement, into the street, running down to the gutter. Dick could see the two salesmen he had left, slinking around between the rows. They didn't want to look at him, didn't want to look like they were too eager to sell at the end or not eager enough. They didn't want to look too sad or too happy, and they didn't want to look like they cared or didn't care the car dealership was going to close. There was no training for how to do this, in salesman school, and so they were just trying not to look him in the eye. Jason, the young one, would probably be fine. He could change careers if he needed to. He could get another job, hustle and scrounge or whatever. Glen had been a salesman for too long, though, and he was slouched and schlumpy, and he looked like a car salesman. He lived from commission to commission. He had a big brush of a mustache he must of grown in a much gayer time. Glen watched the entryway and his clock with a sense of escalating panic, and Dick watched him and the young salesman, and his nephew who let the water run and run. Dick put his hands in his pockets and watched the balloons in the wind, jerking graceless against their strings. This was what was left of the Wierzynski legacy. This was what he'd made of things.

Then Charlotte called to him out the door, where she normally would have used the intercom, "Mr. Wierzynski," she said, "you got a phone call on line 2. It's the bankruptcy people again." "OK," Dick said. "OK." And he went inside the show room, and an empty platform circle turned around and around, and the air conditioner and the radio were both on, mumbling low, and the whole place smelled of brand new rubber.