Sunday, November 19, 2017

Chapter Six: The Adventures of an American Misanthrope

The sun was just rising above the horizon when I stepped out onto the screen-in porch overlooking the ocean. With a fresh cup of hot coffee in my hand I carefully took a seat in one of the patio chairs to watch the day begin. There is something magical about waking up next the ocean, even with several dozen disgruntled seagulls ominously circling low in the sky seemingly practicing for the remake of the Alfred Hitchcock movie that turned them into horror movie characters. I tried not to look down upon the winged beasts bitching amongst themselves as they nipped each other while looking for a seafood breakfast. They were just answering the call to the instinctive behavior programmed in their genes. Humans exhibit quiet similar actions on a regular basis and we're supposed to be intelligent creatures.

Nothing shows how little humans have advanced beyond their feathered counterparts than watching people inside a modern grocery store. Step into one during the early evening when all the good folks are desperate to get their way before anyone else and you can't help but wonder why our species hasn't nuked itself into oblivion. Sitting in my comfortable chair, sipping some seriously high class coffee while enjoying the view, I forced myself to think of something else.

The first thing I could concentrate on was my temporarily sidelined journey of self discovery. A little over a month has passed since my trusty and faithful companion for years had suddenly died on the side of Highway 17 heading towards Myrtle Beach. Naturally I'm speaking of the truck I had owned since the late-1990's. After finishing my dinner and leaving Georgetown, I was ten miles south of Pawleys Island when the engine suddenly seized up. Momentum allowed me to pull over to the side of the road and get clear of traffic but the grinding noise I was hearing suggested she wouldn't easily move again after stopping. After lifting the hood, the light of my flashlight revealed a bloody mess with oil covering almost every possible surface. Given my truck's age and current condition, it didn't take a certified mechanic to realize my old friend was a total loss.

One of the things my attorney, the mysterious but highly capable Jim Lund, insisted upon when he learned of my desire to go on an open ended road trip after winning forty-two million in the lottery was that I join some sort of auto club. Luckily, I didn't disagree and after calling customer support about thirty minutes later I was rewarded with the flashing amber lights of a wrecker pulling in front of my now deceased truck.

This lead to me meeting a guy by the name of Woodson Reed Pickles who drove the wrecker that towed my truck to the dealership where I was planning to buy another vehicle first thing in the morning. Right from the start, Woodson seemed the stereotypical southern redneck with a heavy drawl which previous experience always suggested someone who might be unsure whether the Earth revolved around the sun. This being the American South where suspicion of science and intellectuals is so ingrained into the regional DNA, it is depressingly easy to find people who take a particular pride in their ignorance of the world. His appearance only reinforced my bias, dressed in cutoff jeans and a work shirt stained with enough grease and oil for it to be classified as hazardous waste, I expected the man's greatest accomplishment to be his collection of NASCAR champion autographs.

As Woodson pulled his wrecker into traffic heading towards the dealership, I learned two vital lessons. The first being I am still an assuming self-righteous prick and that the saying “you can't judge a book by its cover” is a tired cliche because it is often true.

Turns out Woodson was once a high rolling investment analysis for one of the banks that went extinct around 2008. Caught up in the irrational enthusiasm of the fatally flawed American housing market like most others in his profession, Woodson only saw the handwriting on the wall at the last minute. Financially, he didn't quite lose everything but his personal causalities did include his self respect and a wife who remarried one of the wealthy survivors of the Great Recession. After spending a couple of years on the road like I was planning to do, Woodson eventually returned home to South Carolina and took over his father's businesses, which included the wrecker service, after the man passed away. After telling Woodson the nature of my similar marital woes and how I was getting the hell out of town, we were instant best friends and spent the better part of that night drinking beers at a local bar. Although, I didn't feel the need to tell him about winning the lottery. I just said I had inherited a chunk of money and was using it to finance my travels.

After the bar closed I was dropped off at a motel to get some sleep. When what passes for me as consciousness returned, I phoned and had a rental car delivered so I could head down to the Ford dealership. It was early afternoon when I stumbled into the ultra clean and bright showroom lobby to deal with my dead truck and to begin the process of buying another.
The first stumbling block was that I found myself suffering from the same type of assumptions that I had cast upon Woodson. For a couple of minutes I was alone until the salesman on duty walked back into the showroom. Just by chance, I caught sight of him before he could sneak back to wherever he'd been hiding. A dapper looking individual dressed in a pastel colored suit and sporting abnormally large cuff links, he gave me one of those looks of disgust people express when their cat brings home a dead mouse.

I wasn't immune to the irony that Mr. Fashion Conscious Salesman was probably basing his assumption on the fact that I was now wearing wrinkly cargo shorts, an old surfer t-shirt, and my comfy Jesus sandals. Minus the grease and oil stains Woodson had on his work shirt, our dress code was remarkably similar. With some coaxing though, I got the man to check my account balance so he could be assured helping me was not going to be a waste of his time. About ten minutes later the salesman returned to the waiting area, his change in attitude was so extreme my neck and back hurt from the metaphorical whiplash.

With all the assumptions taken care of the problem became all the tricked out four-wheel trucks he was trying to get me to buy. Models with near monster-sized tires and raised three and four feet off the ground loaded with survivalist accessories that suggest someone is expecting a zombie apocalypse. As Mr. Fashion Conscious Salesman walked me down the line of new vehicles, I realized that over the last couple of decades there is truth in the idea the average American male has come to believe his masculinity was in question. Throw in the obsession with military grade weapons and it proves the old joke about certain males having to make up for some sort of deficiency. Whether it's physical with them unsure about the sizes of their penises, compared to other groups. Or a simple lack of imagination and competence on how they can compete in world that has changed beyond their ability to easily control.

Mr. Fashion Conscious Salesman was greatly disappointed when I went for a less than exciting F-150 model with a simple extended cab and camper shell over the bed, but nothing in the way of accessories to prepare for the end of the world. At least my choice in the color of the truck, a subdued blue seemed to placate the guy.

The next problem was something I would have never foreseen. With Mr. Fashion Conscious Salesman happy with an easy sale his mood changed abruptly when we started the paperwork. Turns out that vehicles aren't like other products that you can casually buy then leave with them. Naturally cars and trucks have to be registered, which I found out requires a permanent address, something I was currently without.

I immediately pulled out my cell phone and called my lawyer, Jim Lund to find a way out of this mess. After explaining the situation, with Jim apparently taking notes on his end, he told me to give him about two hours and everything would be fine.

Almost to the minute two hours later a lady dressed in what I would have to call coastal business casual and wearing a light blazer with the insignia of a local real estate agency walks into the lobby of the dealership. “Mr. Lance,” she said walking towards me. “I have the paperwork for your rental here to sign.”

“Rental?” I responded with puzzlement. Somehow when I called Jim I was expecting a solution that allowed me to continue one with my journey. But then again, considering the nature of the situation and my lack of destination spending some time at the beach wouldn't kill me.

“Yes,” she replied, “I'm Sally Yates from Fun Beach Property Rentals and your attorney has arranged a three month rental of one of our finest houses on Pawleys Island.” Sally then plopped down beside me on the sofa I was sitting and began laying out forms on the coffee table in front of us. “You'll need to sign a few of these papers and then I can show you the house.” She said in a business like manner.

Just as I was signing the last form, Mr. Fashion Conscious Salesman comes into view carrying a stack of papers, the keys to my new truck, and a much improved mood. “Mr. Lance everything has been taken care of and your new truck is being fueled up.” He then digressed into the usual banter about if I ever needed anything and how the warranty on the truck would take care of just about every issue.

After throwing my duffel bag and storage box into the new truck and calling the rental agency to come pick up the car, I began following Sally to the beach house I would be living in for the next few months.

The house was awesome, built purely as a rental it had an ungodly amount of bedrooms and large living areas. What I liked about it was the huge porch facing the ocean, which was mostly screened-in but had a smaller section outside the enclosed area but covered by the roof. That was where the builder had installed the most elaborate gas grill I had ever seen.

Sally showed me all through the house but quickly left afterwards allowing me to bring in my meager possessions and get comfortable. After the busy day, I just left the duffel and storage box in the living room and walked out onto he beach. With most schools still out for the summer, the beach still had a lot of people laying out on the sand or playing in the water. The smell of meat cooking on grills at other houses made my stomach rumble and me begin planning how I would use the one at my place.

Lost in thought and immersed in the sensations of the ocean, I walked into the water to the point it was covering my ankles. I was so detached from my surroundings, I didn't notice the huge German Shepard that slammed into me throwing my balance off just enough to fall face first into the retreating water and wet sand. It wasn't my worst fall, but it took me several seconds to gather my wits.

“Are you okay?” was the first thing I heard.

I turned my head to see this beautiful woman with brunette hair dressed in a one piece swimsuit offering her right hand to help me up. In her other hand was a coiled up dog leash with a collar dangling at the end.

Years living as a monk in a pissant town hadn't totally ruined me, I gave her my best smile and took her hand. “Oh I'm fine, I've fallen in worse places.” I said hoping to start a conversation.

“Great,” she replied, “I'm sorry about Max, he likes to slip his collar and run off. Nice meeting you, but I've got to chase him down.” With that she turned and began running down the beach to catch her dog.

For several seconds, I just stood there watching the unknown woman disappear into the distance. It wasn't the most stylish way to meet a woman, or impress her for that matter. But everything eventually fell into place.

Something I was reminded of as the sounds of Robyn in the kitchen making her own cup of coffee brought me back to the present. She came out on the porch still in her night shirt and took the seat next mine. “What are our plans today?” She asked in a disinterested manner that I took to mean there better me nothing on the schedule.

“Just enjoying the day,” I replied enjoying the peace and perfection of the moment.

As if on cue her dog, Max then ran out onto the porch and looked at us silently asking why he had not been consulted on any plans. Yeah, he and I are still working our relationship out but that is a story for another time.


Jimmy said...

Jason is developing into a very interesting character, each chapter is getting better and better as you build the story. Another well written chapter that leads me into anticipation for the next one. Well done I like this book.

Harry Hamid said...

I wrote a check to pay the entire cost of a car last year (I'm a single guy with no kids and it was a Civic - I'm not a guy with money), and found it more difficult than I'd expected.

You'd think that 20 years after the dot com billionnaires, people would be able to stop making assumptions about others based on things like their footwear, but... maybe the next generation.

The Bug said...

Excellent chapter! I, of course, am now entirely suspicious of Robyn. But she has a dog, and what bad guy has a dog? Ha!

Pixel Peeper said...

Great reading! I like that your story is realistic enough to show how time-consuming buying a car is. It literally takes over half a day!

Now I'm curious if Robyn will turn out to be a temporary relationship (you know, just to get him off the monk-like living from before) or something more permanent.