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Something Stupid

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You think about emergencies at a time like this. When some lowdown scum-sucking dirt-ball proto-hominid parks a rusty pus green Dodge Coronet sedan in front of your driveway. You think to yourself: what a remarkably stupid and selfish thing to do. Then you start to think about the dark and terrible potentialities: What if my wife and child had to get the family car out to go to the hospital? Suppose our car might be needed for transit to a place of employment? In the event of an imminent nuclear--?

What if a work crew had to drive their truck into the driveway?

But it was obvious from the look and the haphazard placement of the offending vehicle that no such telescopic process of thought had ever once stirred the OATmeal inside the BRAINpan of the so-called PERSON who was driving it. Driving it up to the mouth of the driveway, hanging a wheel up on the curbstone, lurching back over the parkway, stopping the engine, rolling the windows up, locking the doors.

"There," this amoeba thought, "I've done it. I'm parked."

When this particular crime against decency and reason was first detected--a crew was at the front door telling me they couldn't get their truck in the driveway to do their work--my first response was an attempt at controlled civility.

"I'll get dressed," I said through the screen door.

"Whatever," said the crew chief, Bill.

"Then I'll go find out who owns the car," I explained.

Ha-ha on me, of course. The neighborhood couldn't have been emptier of neighbors if I was Kevin McCarthy running around the block trying to warn my fellow humans about an invasion of pod people. Every doorbell I rang went hollow, gray, unanswered. A light wind rustled dry leaves over the abandoned stoops, walks, and front porches. Tragic, foreboding cello and violin music welled up on my sound track.

"No luck, huh?" Bill said as I returned, hands in pockets, to my useless strip of concrete. We both looked at the Dodge. I flipped open the car's gas cap and looked at the tip of the burning cigarette I was holding in my mouth. I decided to try to continue with civility. I called the cops.

"Call 911," said the cop at the local district.

"Call this number," said the cop at 911. "Call 744-4000. Seven four four, four thousand. That's the number for nonemergencies."

"You should call 911," said the cop at 744-4000.

"I called them," I said. "They told me to call you."

"Hey, I didn't get to see that Favorite Son thing," the cop said to somebody about that week's TV-movie sensation. "I heard it was pretty good, though."

"Hello?" I said.

"Yeah, well," the nonemergency cop said, and took down my name and address. He said he'd have a car out "real soon."

Bill said, "If the cops come, they'll probably give my truck a ticket for double-parking on the street."

"If," I said.

"I've got a friend," Bill said. (What is it about construction guys that they always have these friends?) "We can call him and get the name from the plates. And then we call a garage and get the tow truck out and bill it to the name."

"Bill," I said, "I've got a hammer and a pickax."

The adaptability of humans to emergency situations, real and potential, is the front-page stuff of newspapers everywhere. Snowstorms. Tornadoes. Conflagrations. Power failures. Lost kittens. People relearn the spirit of cooperation and figure out how to make do and get the job done.

Bill and his crew hauled their supplies in from their double-parked truck and started working. Occasional passing cars, annoyed that the truck was impeding traffic, almost broke the mood by honking. But even the slowing of traffic seemed to engender a special feeling of fellowship, a potential oneness.

"Whoa!" Bill hollered at some of the cars his truck waylaid. "Come on back here, baby. I think I'm in love!"

I was out in the street studying the contents of the car that was blocking my driveway: A slender tissue box printed with pale blue irises on the dashboard; a small pink boom box lying on its back on the front seat, loaded with a tape cassette titled in Spanish; a beige plastic shopping bag on the floor of the backseat, stuffed with chocolate brown and cream white knitting yarn, half-knit, that spilled out onto the floor.

A woman, I deduced. I wanted to know something about her--to grant her some margin of humanity and personhood. To try to keep myself from ramming her windshield with one of Bill's two-by-fours.

"Whoa!" Bill yelled. But when I turned around to scout the traffic, I didn't see any cars. Just this pretty, shapely, Latin-looking woman walking up to the door of the Dodge.

"Oh, baby!" I heard Bill yelling in the distance.

"I'm sorry," the young woman said, standing beside her ugly green car. "Was my car blocking your driveway?"

"It is," I said, anger spilling out of me like a puddle of antifreeze, pooling up along the curbstone, starting to run down the gutter toward the sewer drain. Until all of that viscous greenish yellow anger was gone. Just a slight sense of dampness on the pavement. Washed out by beauty.

"I'm sorry," she said again. "I was just in such a hurry to get to work. My first day. I just didn't notice where was parking it."

Stupidest thing I could have expected to hear,

"I understand," I said, enveloped in stupidity.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Please," I said, "be more careful next time. There could have been an emergency."

"I know," she said. "I'm sorry."

The cops drove by a few hours later, just as Bill and his crew were loading up their truck to go. Actually only one cop, a woman, cruising in search of an accomplished crime.

"Whoa!" Bill said. "Ticket me, honey. I'm double-parked for love."

The cop drove down to the end of the block and, seeing no obstructed driveways, turned around and headed back our way.

"Mighty pretty woman." Bill said, folding his ladder and sliding it into the back of the truck. "You ever been out with a cop?"

I confessed that I had not.

As the squad car passed us, she suddenly turned on her flashers, hit the gas, and sped away. Adventures elsewhere.

"Might be interesting," Bill said.

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