Archive for July, 2008

July 2, 2008

 (To see Part One, scroll down to the previous post)

The Halpern family as a whole has really bad car karma.

My mother just got jacked into paying $600 a month for her 2004 Lexus after her lease ran out and she decided to buy it. She got an extended warranty for a car she drives maybe every two weeks to go to the supermarket. I really want to help her, but she keeps insisting this is a fair deal. “I get my oil changed for free,” she says.

My brother Michael’s picture is on a most wanted list at the DMV. If you want him to leave your house, all you have to do is say the word “boot,” and he’s out the door.

When my brother David was seventeen years old, he begged my parents to buy him a Fiat Spider. Since he could never get it to run, it became a lawn ornament for five long years. Weeds started to sprout from the dashboard. Neighborhood cats and squirrels took refuge in it. It was the kind of thing that just blurred into the scenery, you never noticed it until my mother and brother would be in a fight and she’d shriek, “And another thing, you get that goddamned car off the lawn already! It looks like a goddamned junkyard out there!” 

I thought the Halpern curse was about to be broken. 

“It’s 6’6, right?” I asked my landlady as she suspiciously watched me from her balcony. My landlady took her job very seriously. She was always standing on her balcony watching any movement in front of our chipped paint thinly walled apartment complex. Sometimes this was a good thing. She saved us a couple of times from unsuspecting characters. Most of the time though, she stood there with piercing eyes as I threw my trash out (“did you clean your empty containers? I don’t want mice,”) or when I put my stuff in the apartment washing machine (“don’t use too much soap, the machine could overflow.”)

“It’s 6’6, right?” I repeated again. 

“What does the sign say?” She accused. I still don’t know what that woman was so paranoid about.

“6’6.” I said reading the clearance sign on top of the garage.

“So then it’s 6’6.”

That was all I needed to hear. The height of the Land Rover I wanted was 6’4. Sure, it was only a two-inch difference between the roof of my apartment garage, but two inches was enough. The car would fit. The dream of the girl in The Black Land Rover would soon be me.

Now, I couldn’t afford a brand new Black Land Rover, but that was okay. I believed in the phrase “certified pre-owned” that was sweeping the nation. Truth is advertising was key. If I bought the car from an actual car dealer, that was even better than buying it from just any Joe off the street. “Certified pre-owned” had been checked top to bottom, right to left. “All vehicles must pass a “160 point” inspection first,” the ad said. Any derelict could have driven a “used” car. A certified pre-owned vehicle could be a near mint Jaguar driven lovingly by a cautious dowager in the month prior to her death. 

With my boyfriend Jonathan in tow, we drove up to a dealership some 20 miles from Los Angeles. Pulling in, I saw the lustrous Grey Land Rover towering over the other cars in the lot. Gleaming back at me, not a speck of dirt on it. It was sold before we even got out of our car. (oh yeah, I gave up on the color of the car in lieu of the certified pre-owned thing.)

“Now let me do the talking,” Jonathan instructed. I was fine with that. Jon had gone to Harvard law school. I once watched Jon replace a faulty showerhead so I knew he was good with mechanics. I excused the time Jon insisted on going home after dinner because “his toe hurt.” I was thrilled to throw him the reigns. 

As we stood with the salesman, Jon crouched down in front of the car and peered underneath it, then stood up and nodded to us. When I asked him later why he did that, he said, “that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re looking at a car.” When we went for a test drive, Jon cranked up the radio as high as it would go. “It’s got good speakers,” he shouted. A few months later when it was Jon’s turn to get a new car, he said, “I’m going to hire a car broker. I’ve never been good at buying cars.”

After haggling over the price of the car for five hours (I think I got maybe $1000 off) I was driving out of the dealership. There I was on the 405 freeway in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Did it bother me? Heck no! Perched like a princess on her throne, I could see over all the other cars that the traffic was due to an accident about a mile ahead. It was 90 degrees in the shade, but inside my Grey Land Rover with the air conditioning blowing my hair like a model in a perfume ad, it was a cool 75. I sat back, relaxing upon the headrest as I glanced at my reflection from my rear view mirror. My hair, which only this morning had splitest of ends looked golden blond and smooth like silk. I was ten pounds thinner. Hey, that zit from this morning on the tip of my nose was gone! Before I knew it, I was home. As I pressed the button inside my car to open the gate to my garage, I noticed as I slowly pulled in, the gate was frighteningly low. Wait, why was my car looking too high to fit? 

“What the…!” I shouted as I looked at the clearly posted 6’6 clearance sign on top of the garage. 

“Mother fu…!” I cried as I threw my car into reverse and pulled to the side of the line of parked cars that forever made it impossible to park in front of the building.

“YOU SAID IT WAS 6’6!” I shouted to my landlady who was inevitably standing on her balcony watching me get off my high horse.

“It is!” She exclaimed, “it… oh, I forgot… with the gate we installed three years ago, the clearance is now 6’2.”