Mary El and I get in the car Saturday to drive down the mountain to our landlord’s bank in order to deposit the rent check. We have to pay by the 15th of each month because our landlord has some direct withdrawal thing. It is exactly the 15th and the bank closes in 15 minutes. We are nothing if not predictable in our ability to wait until the very last millisecond.
Here’s a brief snapshot of the current rusted roller-skate we call a car: the first thing one notices is the tremendous dent on the driver’s side where yours truly went into a ditch—at the end of our own driveway—while trying to back the car in after a snowstorm.
They say most accidents occur within a mile of one’s home. I’ve amended that to about 30 feet.
The second thing one’s eye is drawn to is the fact that there is an awful lot of silver duct-tape across the car’s trunk, which seems to indicate that said trunk is hermetically sealed. However, upon closer inspection, one sees that the tape seal has been broken (during a frantic search for Mychal’s baseball equipment), leaving the trunk door “held down” by a single, too long bungee cord. One cannot see now, but will soon hear, that said contraption results in a sound most resembling “ka-THWUNK, ka-THWUNK” whenever the car rides over anything larger than a pebble.
A third item an astute observer might notice is that it’s recently been raining. One could come to that deduction by benefit of the position of the windshield wipers, which are stuck directly in the middle of the windshield. They were, and I use this term warily, “fixed” two weeks ago to the tune of $240.00 so said car could pass inspection. Obviously there was not much actual inspection in our inspection, since we frequently have five-year-old children in parking lots volunteer, “Is that your car? I wouldn’t ride in that if I were you…”
The fourth item in our “Crude Tools of the Ape-like Moron” safari is hard to gather upon first glance, unless one knows these particular beasts quite well. If one does, one would realize that there is no WAY these two would have laid out another $3-400 they didn’t have to get the brakes repaired while the wipers were being (ahem) “fixed”. If one follows the primitive rolling machine of the Ape-like Moron on its sojourn to the end of the driveway, one would see the slightly obtuse, quizzical look on the bald male Moron’s face when his foot hits the floor, but the rolling machine continues to roll unabated. One is reminded of the seminal cartoon “The Flintstones”, except Fred’s car would beat this one in a race.
Okay, so our car sucks. But it’s never been dangerous before. Well thank God we don’t live at the top of a mountain or anything! And, I mean, it’s not like we HAVE to go someplace important to do something essential to our lives. Oh wait. We DO live at the top of a friggin’ mountain and if we don’t pay our rent our landlord will default on some unnamed thing that will undoubtedly get him arrested and us kicked out in the street. And we have to get there in ten minutes. Thanks for letting me clear that up.
So there’s Moron and wife skidding down the side of Mount Ellenville, pumping the brakes and praying to a merciful God that they see their children again.
And here’s where we get really stupid.
We ‘re pulling up to our landlord’s bank about three minutes after its noon closing time. As I’m guiding the brake-less car into the parking lot, Mary El says, “Oh, maybe they’re open until one on Saturdays.” Information we maybe should have known before we break-necked down the side of a ski-slope, careening brake-less around bald eagles and hand-gliders.
But wait, she’s the smart one.
I go in and pay our rent and leave my checkbook in the lobby. This is just an average Saturday. If I had a dollar for every ATM card I’ve lost, I might have some money left in my account.
We pull up across the street to our bank and slowly grind to a grudging halt. Mary El is talking about her awful respiratory infection and wondering out loud if she will still be alive to see the boys graduate high school. I say, “Don’t worry, you’ll be as healthy as a clam.”
Mary El is smiling her evil elf smile. “That’s HAPPY as a clam. You don’t see too many clams doing cardio work-outs.” My idiom idiocy is a constant source of amusement for her, and is, I suspect, one of the top five reasons she keeps me around. When Jesus dropped the cross, Mary El had to remove herself before someone caught her laughing hysterically.
I have no choice but to laugh as well and point out that she left the house in black pajama pants covered in red lips, so who is she to stand in judgment?
Not that she’s leaving the car. That’s my job, me in my red sweatpants and hoodie sweatshirt. Recently, on a weekend when the boys were still dressed in their mismatched sleeping clothes and Mary El and I were in our usual clown outfits, I hugged Mary Ellen and said very seriously, “You know what I love about our family? Our impeccable sense of fashion .” Our family crest is a picture of a sleeping sloth with the word “comfort” in Latin below it. It’s LEVAMENTUM, I looked it up.
I get into the ATM booth and get in line behind two ladies who are carrying on an ongoing conversation about how one of them almost slapped a woman who was working at Rite Aid. They were both about four feet tall. I should just carry a book wherever I go. I have three checks to cash (one of them a $13 royalty check for one of my plays—I knew it would pay off someday!) and a $50 bill Conor got for his birthday that we’re afraid to try to buy Chinese food with because the woman who runs the place is a lunatic who scares the bejesus out of me.
I was waiting to pick up our food one time and the dragon lady was screaming…screaming… at a middle-aged Chinese man working there in her native language. She had this scary crazy look in her eyes, while the man just nodded and smiled thinly. I was wincing for him. It sounded like a mugging in Tiananmen Square or the drums from the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Suddenly she bursts out laughing. This was just normal conversation! What would she do to me if I offered her a fifty first thing in the morning?
So the crazy pygmies leave and I step up to the ATM while another guy gets in line behind me. I think the pressure involved in this situation is universally apparent. If you don’t share my fear of some judgmental jerk pointing out with outrage that there is a three transaction limit, then you’ve obviously never had a credit card denied at a grocery store in front of a line of customers and we’ll probably never be friends.
I start by inserting my card and typing in my pin number, bip, bip, bip, bip. I use the touch screen to attempt to choose “deposit” but I hit “withdrawal” instead. OK, no problem, I’ll just get out the twenty first. Out pops the twenty, do you want another transaction? Yes please, bip, bip, bip, bip. I sneak up on “deposit” and gingerly choose it. Put your money in the slot.
I take the twenty and put in back in, then look at the fifty in horror. I know the guy behind me saw me do this and thinks I’m one of those people who likes to take out and put money into ATMs for funzies.
OK, don’t panic. Just put the checks in. Another transaction? Bip, bip, bip, bip. Checks are in. This has taken about five minutes, but I feel like I’ve been standing here for about seven hours. Still have to put the fifty in. Bip, bip, bip, bip. That’s the fourth time I “bipped”. Did I hear an almost imperceptible sigh from the man behind me, or did I just imagine it? Maybe I should have just handed him the fifty and ran.
Now for the twenty to avoid Chinese New Year. Bip, bip, bip, bip. At this point I’m visibly disgusted and sigh myself as a prophylactic measure. Damn ATM machine, making me all slow! Can you believe it? Modern technology, huh. Are you buying any of this, patient stranger?
I take my twenty and wait those interminable moments until the ATM decides to release me from my private hell. Then I turn around and look at the guy right in the eyes. I’m quite ready for him to just punch me in the face and be done with it. I say, “I’m sorry.” Like a possum playing dead, absolute honesty has always been my go-to confrontation antidote.
“It’s all right,” he says, and he seems to mean it. He’s one of us, the credit-card-denied-at-the-grocery-store-in-front-of-an-angry-line-of-customers gang. Thank goodness, and thank you patient stranger. I almost hug him.
In a few moments I won’t have to hit my brakes on the way back up the mountain and my lovely wife will be laughing so hard at this bald, Ape-like Moron that she nearly pees her red-lip pajamas.