Delaysby Mark Hummel
My girlfriend, Nadine, had insisted we stop at the dealership, convinced she heard a strange noise emanating from the passenger front tire. “Who on earth stops at a dealership for tire repair?” I asked. I received no response. They had found nothing wrong. “It’s a haunted tire,” I teased.
While we should have been on our merry way, instead we were delayed at the dealership parts counter, waiting not on a critical repair but on an attempt to purchase a miniaturized, remote-control Hummer, a child’s toy, one of those collector items dealers use to get you in the door and entice you to drive the real thing, the dream car—their dream that is, not yours. Apparently this was the last remote-control Hummer they had—a sort of floor model if you will—and it was slightly damaged, as if it had a mishap out in the world of traffic, and there we were, surrounded by those who repaired real cars for a living. Ever since I inquired about buying the Hummer, it was as if it had become a challenge for the mechanics, a reason to drop their wrenches and come out of the garage. They seemed driven. While they worked, we’d nearly worn a path from the parts counter where the men labored, through a queue of hovering salespeople, around three display models in the showroom—which included a mini-van, a SUV, and a red convertible sports car rotating in circles on a mechanized pedestal—and back again. On each pass a salesperson had offered another engineering fact about the convertible.
We were late for a promised visit with my nephew at his hospital room. My sister had harangued me numerous times about my conspicuous absence. My nephew, sixteen, was dying. Bone cancer. I never did well in the face of death. I disliked the awkwardness it brought out in me. My girlfriend says I avoid tragedy. She says I avoid all things about being grown up. If you ask me, it’s an immature thing for a forty-two year old man to be asked to call a woman his girlfriend, but then I have refused to ask her to be anything else.
My nephew was dying and my live-in girlfriend of ten years was threatening marriage and the hospital was located in a state I avoided, a state I typically drove around rather than through, and I had skipped breakfast. My girlfriend said not eating made me cranky. But she also liked to pinch my fat roll. I had always found the state where my sister lived sad and cluttered. It is difficult, I must say, to avoid a whole state.
It was near lunchtime, so most of the dealership employees, aside from the crack team of Hummer repair people, were on a break. There was a coverall-clad huddle behind the parts desk at the remote-control car. The dealership had put out an array of strange-smelling, cheese-riddled food, the sort of frozen food aisle kaleidoscope from Costco or Sam’s Club, and the employees seemed a bit put off that we had declined their offerings. I suppose the marketing ploy was an attempt to keep you at the dealership for as long as possible, to make you believe you were comfortable while they added more options and contract complications and more digits to whatever deal they were writing. They even had this absurd set of booths in the waiting area, booths made to look like a sanitized version of a deli.
Nearly the whole time we waited, workers socializing over the food invited us to partake. They were getting annoying, as were the salespeople on the showroom floor, and at some point I was handed a phone and told to speak with a customer service representative located on the other side of the country or the other side of the world, someone staring at a computer monitor, insisting that this particular remote-control Hummer didn’t actually exist. Apparently the Hummer toys were meant as promotional items to accompany the purchase of a real car. Moreover, no more existed, so perhaps this was the last known model on the planet, if I could trust my eyes, as it existed not at all in the vast tangle of corporate semi-conductors and memory chips to which this poor sap at his computer terminal was permanently attached. My phone had this ridiculously long cord, so long that the parts counter attendant could reach any of the shelves within his purveyance, and there I was, a shiftless wanderer within the waiting area apologizing as people made a game of jumping the cord or removing themselves from its spider hold.
“Can we please just drop this and go already?” Nadine asked for the ninth or tenth time.
“Try the croquettes,” one of the service counter attendants said, pointing with her pinkie finger at a cheese-oozing, deep-fried mass that appeared to have a shrimp tail emerging from its top. “They’re delicious,” she said, showing me more than I cared to see of her mouthful of the stuff. The workers pushed the food so hard I’d begun to feel guilty, although the smell was getting to me.
“Just hang up the phone, eat some food, and let’s go,” Nadine said.
The representative on the line might have been telling me a joke while he waited on his computer, but I couldn’t tell because I struggled with the rhythms of his accent. I could hear his coworkers in the background, I could hear his keystrokes, and I heard a peal of laughter on my end from within the deli. A television mounted on an iron arm above the waiting area seats was tuned to a channel broadcasting a stumbling speech by Bush, who urged the public to spend freely and do their part to help the economy. The red sports car turned ceaselessly on a raised pedestal at the center of the showroom, some mechanism within the pedestal emitting a squeak.
“For Christ’s sake, we should have been there an hour ago,” Nadine said.
“I’m sure they’ve almost got it. They’re near geniuses.”
“We need to go.”
“But what about Benjamin?” I pleaded.
“Sixteen is not too old to enjoy a remote-control Hummer. He’ll attach fireworks to it or a movie camera. Sixteen year old boys aren’t as mature as you think.”
“All the more reason.”
“He can’t get out of bed.”
“You’re making my case for me,” I said.
My man in Sri Lanka or Singapore or Cincinnati came back on the line, and I stopped Nadine with a raised finger. “I am sorry, sir,” my rep said. “I can’t get approval. The toy is strictly a promotional item. Even though it is a demonstration model, it cannot be purchased.”
“But it’s damaged,” I said. “It’s like a used car vs. a new car.”
“I am sorry, sir. My superiors are very rigid.”
I was about to request one of his superiors when I saw Nadine’s eyes drilling into me. They said “Marry me,” or perhaps they said, “You are a child.” I don’t know for sure what her eyes said.
I hung up the phone.
A cheer went up from the mechanics, and the Hummer skirted across the floor.
Two hours later Nadine smiled at me as we raced towards the hospital in a sleek red convertible sports car—our first joint purchase in ten years. The car gleamed in the sun as if oblivious to the sad and cluttered state though which we passed. We’d belted the Hummer into the rear seat, like a child.