It’s all downhill from here: Even shorter stories for the attention deficient

By SCOTT ROBERTS,

 As recently as a few months ago, I never thought I would have uttered the phrase, “I love this car!”

To me a vehicle is somewhat like an old horse. Feed it, ride it, it dies. You get another one. 

But after a test drive, reading reviews, and being manipulated by a billion Subaru commercials tugging at the heart strings of middle-class Americana, I became the proud, yes proud, owner of a Subaru wagon.

It fit all of my tools for electrical work, had a rack on the roof for a ladder, and my kids were no longer embarrassed to be seen in the car line. 

My co-workers congratulated me on a fine purchase. 

My father spoke to me with a sense of pride in the way I kept it clean. 

I washed it every Friday after work and kept it freshly scented with cherry carcinogens while my old Sonoma pickup seethed with a dying battery on the moldy concrete by the garbage cans in our driveway. 

Now, some three months later, there it sits in my yard awaiting a Craigslist sale. 

I could, and might, tell the story of how my wife and I took it up to North Alabama for our anniversary to Muscle Shoals. 

I could talk about a check engine light and leaking oil and how I had to load it on a trailer in the pouring cold rain outside of the “Shalom Salon” beauty shop that also happened to be a U-Haul dealership and how I drove it home only to find out it needs a new engine. 

But it has heated seats, power windows, wafting cherry cancer.

It also has a broken cam shaft or a broken crank shaft or some other thing I am powerless to fix.

Where are my commercials now? 

Where is my glossy Americana? 

I could talk about all of that but I won’t. 

I only want to relay what I will call a series of thoughts – some real, some  imaginary – about owning another hipster car. 

What I want to talk about is what happened when I tried to return the key I bought for the now dead gray thing because it might be relevant for some other bi-peds.

I feel at age 39 that I have now arrived at being an adult. 

I have fathered and cared for two kids, been happily and haphazardly married to the same woman for 18 years, held a steady job for the most part since I was 15, and completed a succession of sad and unpublished novels. 

What I cannot understand or fully grasp, and what I believe most people have not fully grasped, is how irrevocably and tragically we are all – not just me, not just the Subaru – screwed.

And being the adult I am, I must therefore find someone else to blame. 

For me, it is Arthur. 

It is Arthur’s fault. 

Arthur is at Bloto Zone Auto Parts. And as it turns out, he is a liar. 

Most people don’t have $75 to throw away. I am among them. But when it comes to peace of mind and safety, one can’t put a price on anything, including an extra key for my defunked Hipster Wagon. 

So I bought one. 

I was mesmerized when the tech took my key and dropped it the pocket of a magic machine and told me that my key and this new key would be the same forever. 

There was no humming or grinding or brass filings littering the floor. Only the smooth conversation and the jingle of this new micro chip key, the Eve – so to speak – of my Adam. 

But after exactly six days and the death of my car, I had no need of Eve. 

But I did have need of $75. 

Since I am an adult and all, I kept my receipt. 

Since I am an adult and all, I called ahead to see if I could return the key. This was how I met Arthur, wnich is not his real name.

Arthur told me that I could return the key with my receipt. But when I mentioned I didn’t have the packaging, I could hear his voice change. 

It might depend on the manager. 

It might depend on the manager’s mood as to whether or not I could get a refund. 

So after getting off the phone with Arthur, I did what anyone would have done who needed $75. 

I went to the garbage and dug through it like a racoon until I found that pretty red and black package still so pristine and shiny that no one, including Arthur, would ever know from whence it came. 

I drove the now bloviating and cocky Sonoma to the Bloto Zone. 

It spoke to me as I drove, telling me it would never leave or die and that it loved the smell of Cherry cancer. 

I stood in line and talked to an aged lawyer about how he was buying fuel treatment for a Cummins Engine that had gone 500,000 miles without a hiccup. 

The man ahead of me scratched up change to buy a fuse for an old Caddy. 

The mother behind me carried three quarts of oil while her two toddlers argued over a YouTube video. 

All around me was a cross section of humanity, and I could see that we were all screwed.

All around me, humanity awaited its judgment, and I was no different. 

Finally I came to the front of the line and eagerly presented my key in original packaging, my receipt, my exhaust smell from the Sonoma. 

“Ok, fine,” the old clerk said. “I’ll get you over here.” 

But as I followed, he turned.

“It hasn’t been programmed has it?” he asked. 

I could have lied and in retrospect I should have lied. 

Why not?

They lied to me.

Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

Instead I answered.  

“It has,” I said. 

“Then you cannot return it. It can’t be programmed again,” he said.

“There is nothing you can do?” I said, as if looking over a dying relative. 

“No, I cannot do anything.” 

“Ok,” I said, and then quetly added, “It’s the last time I’ll ever be in here,” as the out door swung open. 

But as it turned out, I was back in there five seconds later. 

I had realized something wonderful.

There was still Arthur!

I could talk to him. Arthur would make this problem go away.

As I walked back in, another clerk immediately saw something in my demeanor, maybe because I fit the exact demographic of practically every mass shooter since the 1970’s: overweight, angry, and white. 

He asked if he could help me. 

“I need to speak with Arthur.” 

“Who?” the man asked.

“Arthur, I spoke to him on the phone.” 

“Oh, he’s at the call center.” 

And in that moment, I realized that this was likely the way it’s going to end for all of us.

We all will ultimately be looking for an Arthur – who, if he does indeed exist (and he probably doesn’t) will certainly not be able to help us with our dying car.

To be continued…..

 

Scott Roberts is a husband, father, teacher, writer, and electrician, who lives in Hattiesburg via Sandy Hook, Miss.