A WRITER'S WIT
To err is human, but the contrition felt for the crime distinguishes the virtuous from the wicked.
Born January 16, 1749
Untitled: Part 2
It wasn’t your idea to work here, but since you were dismissed from a job you’d held for twenty years, you took what you could find. Yes, Ms. Markham took pity on your soulful female face, as you poured out your heart to her. Though you didn’t cry, she handed you a tissue as you told her how the school district let you go because you dared to teach a certain book—not because you were a poor teacher, not because you approached one of your more approachable male students or even slapped someone silly for talking during your lecture. No, it was because you chose to teach a book about a young girl who gets pregnant and has it terminated. On your last day, you saw a total of nine mothers-to-be among your one hundred and fifty pupils—squirming in their seats, wondering why no one had told them their rights about participating in such a process. By sixth period, when you got to the part of the book where the young heroine is lying spread eagle in the stirrups and her parents barge into the procedure room (it’s not an operation), the principal dismissed your last class and ordered you to his office. For an hour you screamed at him. From your cell phone, you called a union representative, who dispatched posthaste an attorney before the last bell. All to no avail. You were canned. Over and out. With all those years under your belt, you’re only now eligible for a pension. But you will have to wait another twenty years to actually draw the funds, because you know no other school district will ever hire you. Should you withdraw the retirement money, or start over in a different career? It’s a conundrum; you’ve never known anything but teaching.
Markham Finer Toyotas is located at the edge of the city on one of those monster lots. A luxurious, low-slung showroom of four thousand square feet is attached to a larger warehousey building where mechanics keep Markham Finer Toyotas in shape and meet all the finer Toyota requirements for routine service. It’s not like any dealership you’ve ever seen before. To begin with, the people in sales must meet challenging quotas, or it’s buh-bye, take the highway. Eddie Klaas has been at it the longest, so he’s sort of assigned the silver-haired set, although he could sell a Toyota to just about anyone. The walls of Eddie’s little glass cubicle are lined with Plexiglas Salesman of the Year awards, going all the way back to the eighties. Yesterday you listened in on his pitches, which are very warm and genuine. No high pressure. He offers some kind of discount right off the bat, to let the customer know he’s not trying to take them for everything they’ve got. Very disarming.
After savvy customers realize they’re getting all the options for free, they also realize Eddie’s got them where he wants them. If they’re really savvy, they’ll deal for a Toyota on the last day of the quarter, when sales personnel have to file quota reports. They can take Eddie down to where he makes five hundred dollars a car, and if he feels like it, he’ll let them have it for that. Sweet. Eddie’s sixty-eight, with long silver hair he keeps slicked back. He has a bit of a paunch, too, but he enters the dealership each morning with great purpose, as if he were going to teach War and Peace (your all-time favorite novel), when at most, all he’ll be doing is selling one of those huge Sequoias.
In a free moment, you think ahead to what a dealership might look like in a hundred years. Little women in individualized hovercraft will be offering you hits of cinnamon coffee that you snort instead of drink, because by then the species will have evolved to plump little piggies with tiny mouths and big limp ears from all the iPod listening, all that truncated cell phone banter (yo, dude, sup)––not to mention enlarged thumbs from, well, you know. It’s frightening to think about, so you move on to your next chore. You recall the brief encounter with Mrs. Markham the day before.
“Ariella,” Markham said. “I want you to check on the rest rooms.”
This set-up seems very un-Toyota. You crawl back to the men’s rest room and grope your way down the ladder. You replace the ceiling tile, just as you begin to hear rustling of skirts and the click of heels against the floor in the hall (and those are just the men, har har). Yes, very un-Toyota. Why, you just have to look at the finished product. Such honest and clean lines. Such fine workmanship.
FRIDAY: NEW YORKER FICTION 2014
NEXT THURSDAY: READ PART 3 OF MY UNTITLED STORY