Tuesday, May 5, 2009

College Point

I once had my car repaired by the people who stole it.

I was living with my girlfriend and her family in Jamaica Estates, Queens, at the convenient confluence of the Grand Central Parkway and the Long Island Expressway. I naively thought nothing of packing my car the night before my trip home and leaving it parked on the street, mere blocks from two major escape routes.

She and I slept together in the furnished attic. I woke to find her stooped at one of the tiny windows, hands cupped parenthetically around her eyes. "Um." 

"Um what?"

"Um, wasn't your car parked on the street last night?"

My throat thickened and my breath became short. All my work-clothes. All my regular clothes. My books. My stuff. My car. 

The police have a knack for making these freak incidents seem quotidian: "Fifth one today. Oh a Nissan? It's probably on a boat already—I wouldn't hold out any hope." By the time I'd itemized my losses, I was resigned to never seeing the car again. My girlfriend's father kept pressing his hands into his thighs and saying, "If I'd just let you park it in the garage! Damnit! They just come with the flatbed and poof! It's gone!" 

But the very next day we got a call. Who exactly discovered the car (and under what circumstances) was never disclosed, but somehow it was waiting for me in College Point, Queens.

College Point is one vast chop shop, composed entirely of wrought-iron and concertina wire, boasting improbable towers of junked cars, and perfumed with the strangely sweet aroma of exhaust and petroleum distillates. My destination was identical to both adjacent lots and the place across the street. I waited there in a light, toxic mist until I was ushered into a low sedan by a well-greased boy wearing numerous earrings. 

He said, "We just gotta go a few blocks to the junkyard," and we did.

The junkyard was dominated by an enormous McMansion—a sea of cars and car parts surrounding a beige island of post-ironic neoclassical stucco and Tyvek. It looked like a wormhole had opened in South Florida and spat its passenger here.

My driver noted my wonderment: "The boss' house."


"Nice, right?"

We pulled up to my car—there were dents and dimples everywhere. A jagged key-streak ran the length of the right side. The headlights were smashed. The windows were gone and sheets of tattered plastic billowed in their stead. The cover was missing from the steering column, and where the stereo had been an ugly hole gagged forth a few derelict wires. In the passenger's seat there was an unopened box of Virginia Slims 120's mentholated cigarettes and a screwdriver. He sat behind the wheel and I got in the passenger side, out of the rain.

"Is there any serious damage?"

"Not really."

"Can it be driven?"

"Sure!" His reply was unreasonably chipper."You just gotta jam this in here like this," the engine roared to life, "but you gotta hold it in there the whole time while you drive." He withdrew the screwdriver with a grin and the car went still.

I hope my expression did not betray my instantaneous total realization that this was the guy who stole my car. I consciously waited a beat and asked him how they found it.

"We get a lot of cars in here."

*    *    *

I got a call at work a few weeks later saying it was going to cost my insurance company $6,000 to make the necessary repairs. Of course there was the matter of replacing the stereo. I said, "I had a Sony CD player, a 250 watt Alpine..." the voice on the other end of the line cut me off:

"Yeah, we already got one in there. An Aiwa."

"Aiwa? No way!"

No answer.

"Is it new?"

There was a long pause, then an unconvincing "Yyyyyyeah... yeah. Sure—it's new."

The next Saturday I took the 7 train out to College Point and was retrieved at the subway station in a souped-up Honda Accord with jet-black windows and a stereo blaring incessant, thumping techno. This new driver had a strong affection for the gas and wore lots of product in his hair. We squealed into the lot and I saw my car—it looked okay from the outside. When I tried the ignition the stereo made me jump; it was evident to everyone within earshot the speakers were ruined. 

"Yeah, I guess they blew 'em out."

Back at the office it was lunchtime. Four immense young men were methodically unfolding the utile origami surrounding their meatball subs. The largest of them gestured without speaking at the pen and triplicate forms I was to sign. The hypnotic regularity of their protosimian chewing was interrupted when he remarked, "I hear you're in the market for a car stereo."

1 comment:

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