For the last two years I had been driving a small, ten-year-old, pumpkin-yellow Datsun King Cab pickup truck, which I called Fido because it was such a doggy-looking thing. About a year earlier, Fido had been rear-ended by another pickup truck when fast-moving traffic had suddenly come to a stop in front of me.
The impact threw my body backwards, belted into the bucket seat; and the weight and perpetual motion ripped out the front bolts holding the seat to the floor. My head flew back and broke through the rear window, my skull denting the bottom edge of the steel window frame. The impact also pushed my truck into the back of the car in front of me.
My neck and back were injured moderately, but the major damage was to my truck. The hood was bent in and wouldn't close, one headlight was crushed and turned out to the side, and the tailgate was creased down the middle, folded like a partially-open book.
I eventually did all I could afford to make old Fido driveable again, but very little was done to it cosmetically. It was still the color of baby shit, but now it was also generally very tweaked; the hood was held shut with twine and there was still no back window. I laughed at myself for having thought, before the accident, that Fido couldn't be any uglier.
Every day I parked it in front of Grama's house, and there it sat alone in the sun, on a tidy cul-de-sac with neat rectangular lawns. Most other cars in the neighborhood were tucked away inside their respective garages, in a civilized fashion. Poor Fido looked like it dropped there from outer space, or at the very least as if it was constantly visiting from some deeply unpalatable neighborhood.
I was over at my friend Amber's house one evening, when her poet-musician boyfriend Kevin got the idea that we should cover Fido with art and graffiti, turning it from a tweaked pile of bent sheet metal into an artpiece. I thought that sounded grand.
We pulled it up onto Amber's mother's lawn and proceeded to paint it. Kevin used blue paint to write his favorite song lyrics up one side and down the other: "If only blue could comfort you." Seemed obscure enough, kind of mysterious and literary. At least nobody will know what it means, and that's a good thing; I certainly didn't. I just liked the sound of it.
On each door I painted a big Love & Rockets logo, my favorite band at the time. Amber used silver and white to make stars and moons on the roof, hood, and tailgate. It was kind of a mess, but it did seem like art now, or a pretty good facsimile thereof. Certainly now it had character.
The next morning, Grama went out to the driveway to get the newspaper. I was eating cereal at the kitchen table.
"What did you do to your car?" she screeched as she charged back through the front door.
"Painted it," I replied casually.
"Why on earth would you do such a thing?" she gasped, fists on hips, leaning forward. I stopped eating and looked up from the paper.
"Amber and her boyfriend did it with me. It's cool! You just don't like it because it's not all white-bread and..." -- I searched for the right word -- "acceptable."
"Susan, for crying out loud. You can't park that outside this house! You park that down the hill on Del Manzano."
"I am not going to park two blocks away and walk in the dark late at night when I get home from work. Someone could attack me or something. Do you want that?"
She was seething, but silent.
I went back to reading. "She's so pathetically bourgeois", I thought. "She cares much more for looks than for substance. Like it really matters so much what my car looks like. 'Oh! What will the neighbors think?' As if she even likes them anyway!"
I had become a regular at Xenon West, the local alternative nightclub which played the music I liked on Wednesday nights: Love & Rockets, The Cure, Ministry, Specimen, Skinny Puppy, Bauhaus. There, I made friends with numerous other freaks, who were mostly younger than my 19 years.
One such friend was called Deaf Jeff, who was, it turns out, deaf. We were just friends, but I found him very sweet and kind of intriguing. He carried around a little pad of paper and a pencil which he used to communicate. He told me he could feel the music's rhythm, and regardless of the fact that Death Rock's rhythm wasn't all that different from that of other types of music, he loved the scene, loved to dance, and dressed the part.
Tony and I weren't hanging out anymore. He had announced that he was in love with me, and issued me an ultimatum to be his girlfriend or never see him again. After a couple of attempts at romance with him, I had to admit I wasn't attracted to him that way, and chose the latter. So Jeff became my new playmate, and we started going down to Melrose together shopping for clothes and music.
We got stopped together once by a professional photographer looking for weirdos to shoot. Embarrassed, I said "no way" -- but Jeff made me agree to do it, so I sighed and paced impatiently in an alley behind our favorite shop while the guy dragged his 8x10 camera out of his car. He mailed me one of the resulting photos of myself, hand-printed beautifully on 11x14 fiber-based paper and included with an invitation to his art opening, which I did not attend. It's still one of my favorite photos of myself.
I may have been in my first year of college, but Jeff was just a senior in high school. I burst out laughing when he invited me to his high school prom, but composed myself and said yes after Jeff scribbled how we'd go all decked out in our finest freaky fashion; and anyway, he didn't have a girlfriend to go with him.
I needed a prom dress, but I hadn't the money to buy one. Grama was charmed by the handsome (and quiet) Jeff, and gave me $100 to buy a dress and boots. Knowing my choices were limited with that kind of money, I headed to Hollywood.
I found an excellent pair of black pointy ankle boots with silver buckles up the sides for $50, and a pair of fishnets and black gloves for another $10. After searching store after store, I finally found the perfect dress.
It was black crushed velvet with a strapless fitted bodice and a a short skirt, with several layers of different lengths of black netting falling from the hip. It was $40 exactly. I planned to rip up the netted skirt and add more pieces, but with the black gloves, boots, and fishnets, I thought I had the perfect outfit.
I carried my treasures about a mile back to where I'd parked my truck, almost amazed to even find it again as I'd walked so far that afternoon searching the shops. I opened the door, threw my purchases behind the passenger seat, and jumped in. As I fastened my seat belt, I glanced over at the bags I had just thrown onto the floor. There seemed to be fewer than there should be. I moved the one on top, which had the boots in it. Underneath were two smaller bags, one with the fishnets I'd bought, and one with the gloves. I did not see the bag with the dress in it.
I frantically undid my seat belt and felt under the passenger seat. I looked behind my own seat, between the seats. It had to be there! But the dress was gone. I had no more money and no dress, and worse, my Grama had given me this money. I had to find the dress. Had it fallen from my hands as I carried my purchases back to the car? Did I stop anyplace and put it down? My mind was crawling with every image, every action since buying the dress. I couldn't think of anyplace it could be.
I grabbed the other bags from the truck, which still had no back window, and retraced my steps back to the store where I bought the dress. I asked the salesladies if I'd left it there, but they said no. They looked very sorry for me, as my anxiety was clearly growing, but there was nothing they could do. They did tell me there was one more dress there like the one I bought, in the same size; but I dreaded the idea of telling my Grama I had lost the first dress, and I was sure she would never give me money for another one. "This is just like you," I knew she'd say. "You'd lose your head if it weren't attached."
Depressed and brimming with tears, I walked back to the truck with my remaining purchases and drove home. I tried to think of what I would say to her.
I walked in the front door and shut it behind me.
"Did you get it?"
"Well..." I said.
She came over to the tiled entry where I was standing. I showed her the boots.
"Where's the dress?"
I sighed, furrowed my brow, and began telling her the story. I told her I bought the dress, and it was only $40. I told her I walked back to the truck, and discovered the dress had vanished. I told her of searching for it in the truck and retracing my steps, and returning to the shop. I told her I had no idea what happened to it, and now I had neither a dress, nor her $40.
She started yelling at me. "How can you just not know what happened to it? You may have some strange ideas, and do weird things, but this takes the cake! How can it just disappear? This could only happen to you! I've never left a store and then just lost the thing I bought. My god, Susan!"
Filled to overflowing with guilt, indignation and disappointment, I lunged at her. I towered over her as I began screaming into her face that I had searched for it, I looked and looked! Spit flew from between my teeth, and she backed into the corner. I raised my arms and screamed louder that I felt bad enough without her accusations, and above all, I spent the $40 she gave me, and then lost the dress, and I felt so terrible, and here she yelled at me and made me feel worse. Finally I burst into tears and ran into my room, leaving her recoiling, horrified.
After five or ten minutes, my bedroom door opened and Grama Geri crept in. I was face down on my bed sobbing. She sat on the edge of the bed.
"Sweetie," she said.
I didn't move.
"I'm sorry about the dress."
I sniffed and turned over. "I'm sorry I lost it too... but I'm mostly sorry I lost your $40, Grama." I started crying again. "I feel like I want to die." I was genuinely depressed over the screaming argument, and the careless loss of her gift.
She gave me a hug, and then set $40 down on my nightstand.
She left for a second, and came back with a glass of water. She held out her hand and gave me a little white capsule.
"I've never seen you so upset! This is just a sleeping pill. You'll feel a lot better after you've had some rest."
Wow, she gave me money and then medicated me. What a woman! I wasn't one to take any sort of drugs normally, but this was an exception. I thanked her, genuinely, for everything. I took the sleeping pill and went to bed.
The other dress was still at the shop the next day, and I got a parking place right out front.