“You two boys come back now, you hear,” the Waffle House waitress said with a smile, putting one check in front of me and one in front of Rodney. “Especially you, hon,” she stage-whispered in my colleague’s direction. As she walked away, I gave the lady a critical look-over. At least 45 — a solid decade and a half older than Rodney, 20 years older than I was — and something told me if she and I both sat on a teeter-totter, I’d be keeping my head to the sky like Maurice White. One of the moles on her linebacker’s neck had sprouted a neat trifecta of thick, dark hairs. I turned back and put my head in my hands.
“When?” I asked.
“Three nights ago,” Rodney replied, “during her break, in the men’s room. And don’t give me your bullshit,” he preemptively snapped, “that woman is a treasure. Some day you’ll appreciate a little meat on the bone, once you get over being an adolescent who is just older. Or maybe you don’t have the requisite equipment to visit all of the territory, and I truly think that I don’t have to be any more explicit than that in a family restaurant.”
“Close your eyes,” I slowly exhaled, “and tell me her first name.” After affecting a chin-on-knuckles pose oddly and perhaps deliberately reminiscent of an African take on Rodin’s infamous sculpture, Rodney threw up his hands.
“Quiet is kept,” he admitted, “it’s temporarily escaped me for now. But you have bigger problems than whether I can or cannot remember the exact details of my many conquests. Don’t you have that idiot kid coming back in with his father on the XLT regular cab? Uh-huh. I thought so. We need to head back. And since I reminded you of your job, of which no grown man should have to be reminded,” Rodney declaimed, his midnight-blue Ralph Lauren overcoat already in his hand as he headed towards the door, “you can pick up this breakfast for me.”
This deal on the metallic-green-and-light-gray XLT regular cab was, in the words of Rodney’s role model Lando Calrissian, getting worse all the time. Start with the truck itself; it was lot poison. The order for it had been born out of some Byzantine negotiation between Droopy, the son of the dealership owner, and the model-slash-barracuda deployed by Ford as our dealer rep du jour. We didn’t sell regular cabs out of our quiet university-suburb dealership, and when we did sell ’em, they were work trucks for the local tradesmen who in turn expected us to call them when something sprang a leak or needed re-glazing.
Fully loaded in all the wrong ways, this two-tone, 5.8-liter, 2WD, luxury-cloth-seat-trim ’96 had sat all the way through the winter. And with the all-change ’97 truck already in production, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how we’d move it before the turn of the century.
Imagine my relief when a teenager in a construction-worker’s worn canvas-duck onesie strutted through the door and asked — no, demanded — to take it for a test drive. He was pleased to see that it only had eleven miles on it; I didn’t bother to tell him that the F-150 had never left the lot and that all five of the extra miles on the clock were from being driven between parking spaces in our ever-changing inventory schemes. He had a trade, but it was the best kind of trade possible: a late-Eighties F-150 XL with no frame damage and no lien on the title, a gift from his father on his sixteenth birthday that no longer suited what he felt to be his station in life.
Out of pity and a determination not to push my luck, I offered him the XLT at $500 over invoice, a deal he happily accepted without so much as a counter-offer. Could he afford it? Why yes he could; he was earning $600 or more a week on various construction job sites. He had a year’s worth of pay stubs on his person. Truth be told, he seemed oddly prepared, at least by the standards of nineteen-year-old manual laborers.
The mystery was revealed when we pulled his TRW bureau. Oof. He didn’t have much credit, but the credit that he did have was all bad. “Do you have a co-signer?” I asked. “If so, we can make this happen.”
“I could ask Dad,” he said, considerably subdued by the bad news.
“You do that,” I suggested, and forgot about him the moment he left the lot. But three days later, he called me and said that he, and his father, would be in on Saturday morning. By the time Rodney and I got back from our impromptu breakfast, they were sitting in our “customer lounge”, which was basically two old airport couches and a 13″ color television that got two and a half of our city’s three channels.
“Fred Jones,” the father said, squeezing my hand with manly authority. He was a thick-set, imposing-looking man in denim overalls and work boots. Next to him, the son looked like thin squeezings. I’ve always felt sorry for men who don’t cast as much shadow as their fathers do, and perhaps that explains why I found myself apologizing on behalf of the dealership, Ford Credit, and the TRW Corporation before we had so much as arrived at my desk.
“Not to worry, son,” the old farmer boomed, settling into a chair with all the arrogance of the Sun King on his throne. “Billy here is a good kid. Working hard, finally. Took him a while to settle down and forget some stupid shit he was trying to do.” Billy looked down at his hands and I tried to think of what the “stupid shit” might have been. College? A woman? The armed forces? The wrong construction firm?
“Well, Mr. Jones,” I replied, “he’s lucky to have you.”
“You’re right about that,” he allowed in response. “Now, you and I both know that the crooked Jews who run these banks —” I coughed involuntarily and he looked at me like he’d caught me putting on a yarmulke “— they’ll sell any stupid kid the truck of his wet dreams. But when he can’t pay, well…” and here he gave me a little conspiratorial nod, “you know who they’ll be coming after. Mister Deep Pockets, right here.” Next to him, his son appeared humiliated and terrified all at once. “Show me the paper, son. I’ll sign it.”
“Mister Deep Pockets? Mister Deep Pockets?” In the finance office, Rodney was holding both hands over his mouth in an effort not to laugh as our F&I guy went through the formality of checking out Fred’s TRW. “That hillbilly out there in the shit-stained coveralls? That’s Mister Deep Pockets? I swear to God, you people can just do and say whatever the hell you want.”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘you people’. I’m not some Ohio hick. My grandfather,” I snarled, “was on the Social Register.” Then Dale, the F&I mastermind, coughed delicately to catch our attention.
“Papa,” he said, holding a ripped-off sheet of thermal printer paper that looked like the roll of casualties from the Somme, “is a rollin’ stone.” I surveyed the damage. It was double bad news. The father’s beacon was low. Not credit-criminal low, but not easy-peasy for a co-signer on a $26,000-plus regular-cab truck. And his verified income? Forty-five grand a year. Barely enough to pay the notes he already had out there.
“Five grand,” Dale said, to my unspoken question. “Five grand down, plus the trade. I’ll roll him today and we’ll plead our case on Monday.” As a former Ford Credit employee, I knew that this sort of thing was often done. You’d “spot” questionable deals on a Saturday, sending them home in the truck without any actual credit approval. Then you’d plead and beg your Ford Credit rep on Monday: “He’s already put four hundred miles on the truck! We can’t take it back now! You gotta do something!” And the next time a doctor or lawyer with a 775 beacon wanted to lease an Explorer Limited, we’d make sure they went through Ford Credit even though the rate was high compared to our partner banks.
I walked out to my desk determined to make this truck go away. “Mr. Jones, may I borrow you for a moment?”
“Anything for my boy,” the man replied, before standing and following me to the JBL “Science Of Sound” display that Rodney had recently used to deflower the right-side mirror of the only ’96 Taurus LX we had in stock during an absent-minded showroom-parking maneuver.
“Listen, Mr. Jones, the bankers want to give us some hassle on this.” I tried desperately to remember if my wedding photo, which included a rabbi, was visible from where he’d been sitting. “They want cold, hard cash to make this happen. You know how they are.”
“Sons of bitches,” he spat. “How much?”
“Five thousand dollars. I’ll take a check.”
“When,” Mr. Jones asked, cocking his head at me in the universal body language of men who are conspiring to conspire, “will that check be deposited?”
That evening, long after my boss had congratulated me for getting rid of “that cowboy Cadillac,” I nonchalantly wandered into the F&I office and tore a fingernail’s width of paper off the check where the MICR account number was located.
Nine days later, Mr. Jones managed to take some time off from his busy schedule to bring us a replacement check. “You did me right, boy,” he laughed as we stood in the rain-slick parking lot. “You’d make a hell of a farmer. Get some dirt under those fingernails. Some shit, too. Show you how the world operates. You call me if you ever need work.”
“Actually,” I responded, jerking a thumb over my shoulder, “there’s a fellow in there you might want to talk to. From what I’ve seen, he can work with just about any kind of stock you can imagine.”
[Image: By IFCAR (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]