“You gonna be out at your girlfriend’s this weekend?”
“Yeah, we’re having a huge party. You should stop by, it’s going to be rad.”
The Raver and I were in the break room at Dishonest Used Car Dealership eating lunch one scorching hot Friday. His girlfriend lived on an island west of the city, far enough from civilization that they regularly had parties enormous enough to be sort of “generally known” among the weird, misfit kids who hung out at the sketchy dive bars up on the hill with all the gay bars and strip clubs like I did. After a couple incidents with people being creepy at their events, including a young lady who pulled a knife and started waving it in peoples’ faces, they had instituted a “friends and family” only policy to limit the number of randoms showing up. Of course, this had managed only to increase the mystique of these giant events among the freaks in the city, and in all likelihood there were even more sketchy people than ever invading the island on these occasional Friday nights in the summer. As for me, I’m pretty solidly an introvert – parties are not really my thing – but having made it out to one or two, I did have to admit they knew how to have a good time.
TR: “How about you, you seeing that photographer girl this weekend?”
The Photographer Girl was a young lady I had gone on a couple dates with. As you might guess from the name, she was a professional photographer, and quite a good one at that. Better yet, she was a redhead who liked whiskey a bit too much and had a hot temper, which is a pretty killer combination.
Me: “Yeah, I got conned into going with her, her friend, and her friend’s boyfriend to some movie tonight.”
TR: “Double dates. Yuck. Unless it’s going to turn into, like, something kinky, count me out.”
The image of a sweaty, crystal-hanging-from-his-neck post-coital The Raver in my head, I decided I wasn’t particularly hungry anymore and excused myself from the table.
Me: “Well, I probably need to go back and clean up whatever horrible attempts at English Colossal Redneck has vomited onto today’s invoices.”
TR: “Let me know if you’re coming. Last ferry is at midnight. Just remember, this is a friends and family thing, you know?”
Me: “Got it.”
“Uh, your temperature gauge.”
“Yeah, it does that.”
I was sitting in the back seat of an old forest green Grand Cherokee, eyeing the gauge cluster nervously. As we drove across the bridge from my weird neighborhood on east side of the lake to the core of the city where our evening’s movie was playing, the gradually-climbing temperature gauge on the Jeep kept catching my eye.
Me: “That’s not normal. You might keep an eye on that; these four-liters don’t like to be overheated. I tell you what, if you like I can have one of my techs look at it and I’ll throw you the friends and family discount.”
This was surely going to win some bonus points with my date, offering a discount to her friend’s boyfriend.
The Boyfriend: “Yeah, well, it’s fine. It’s just ‘cause it’s hot outside. I’ll just add some water if I have to.”
Me: “Yeah, but even with it 100º out, it shouldn’t be getting that warm. I’ll bet you have a coolant leak somewhere. It’s probably an easy fix – there’s a valve for the heater that cracks on these that will slowly leak coolant, and it’s an easy job. I had to do it on my own Cherokee not that long ago.”
The Boyfriend: “I know cars. It’s fine.”
Me: “Alright. Not to belabor the point, but these four-liters like to blow head gaskets if they get too hot. I just don’t want to see an easy fix turn into a big repair, you know?”
The Boyfriend: “I’ve dealt with mechanics before. All you’re going to do is charge me to fix a bunch of things that aren’t broken and rip me off.”
Okay then. My date gave me a look and rolled her eyes. She leaned over and whispered in my ear.
Photographer Girl: “He’s a dipsh!t, just let it go.”
I nodded. Photographer Girl had a theory that conversation between guys is less about exchanging information and more about establishing a domain of knowledge and skill where you can be the dominant party in the room. The older I’ve gotten, the more I think she might have been right.
By the time we got to the movie theater on the other side of town, the temp gauge was pegged at the maximum of its travel. As I bailed out, the miserable stench of an overheated car wafted over my nose. It’s a combination of a greasy gross smell from all the hot oil and a sickeningly sweet pancake syrup smell from hot ethylene glycol. Usually there’s some melted rubber smell in there too. It’s the smell of death.
We watched the movie, and the movie was bad and I hate movie theaters and jesus christ popcorn is expensive, but it was two hours of not having to talk to Mr. Bad Attitude, so maybe in the long run, it was worth it. Afterwards, we all conspired and decided we wanted to spend the night out on the island at The Raver’s party, so I got in touch with him to confirm our appearance. We drove toward the ferry terminal, but on the way, someone in a Lexus was apparently too busy chatting on the phone and managed to tag a semi, bringing the whole freeway to a screeching halt. We sat in the Jeep, air conditioning barely able to keep out the sweltering heat. By the time we got moving again, the temperature gauge was back at the top of its travel.
We managed to screech onto the 10:00 ferry. The Boyfriend pulled onto the boat and we piled out. By now the death stench was different – hot grease, but no sweet glycol smell. In all likelihood, The Boyfriend had run his Jeep completely out of coolant. I thought about saying something, but I suspected that my commentary would receive a similar response to earlier, so I kept my trap shut.
30 minutes later and the ferry pulled up to the dock on the other side of the water. The Boyfriend put the key into the ignition of the Jeep, turned it, and the poor Jeep hesitantly started up. It was making a sad noise. To my highly-calibrated ear, it was clearly running on five cylinders, and the new vibrations coursing through the vehicle suggested the same. This was an unhappy engine. The only solace was that I was sure soon its suffering would be over.
We lurched off the ferry, making it about five miles outside of town on some long-forgotten side road before we encountered a steep hill and the poor old 4-liter decided it just had had enough. It conked out and we stalled and rolled back down to the bottom. The Boyfriend tried repeatedly to get the engine to start again, but to no avail. I went around to the front of the Jeep and he popped the hood. I was immediately struck with a wave of heat rolling out of the engine bay. At the back of the engine bay I spied a small black valve with a conspicuous crack seeping green fluid. As I suspected, the heater control valve had indeed cracked, slowly vacating all the engine’s coolant onto the ground. I grabbed a rag and popped open the radiator cap to be greeted by only smoke and steam (Note, don’t do this unless you’re one million percent sure there’s no coolant or water in there. You will burn yourself and die). This engine was, in the words of my colleague Colossal Redneck, “f*ckin’ dead.”
The Boyfriend tried filling the radiator from a gallon jug he had in the back, but the sad old 4-liter was having none of it. I contemplated making the hike all the way back to the ferry terminal, but it was already 10:45. The last ship of the night back to the mainland left port at 11:30, and there was no way we were going to cover five miles of hilly territory with two ladies in heels in 45 minutes. It looked like we were stranded until morning.
Immediately the histrionics started.
The Boyfriend: “I thought you were some kind of ‘car guy!’ How come all of the sudden you can’t get a f*cking car running?”
Before I had a chance to interject, Photographer Girl jumped to my defense.
PG: “Look, dipsh!t, he told you this was going to be a problem four hours ago, and lo and behold, the heater thing has failed, just like he said it would. And when he spoke up about your sh!t-ass car overheating, you opened your dumbf#ck mouth and told him to shut up. So you killed your car, you idiot child, and now we’re stuck out in the middle of f#cking nowhere on some sh!tty island! Good work, Einstein!”
I made a mental note not to ever try and argue with Photographer Girl, because it was clear she would demolish me.
While the three of my companions were arguing, I ducked to the side, pulled out my giant old brick of a smartphone and surreptitiously sent a text.
Me: “Hey, dude. You know that big-ass hill about five miles out of town on the way to your girl’s place? We’re broken down at the bottom of it. Can you come rescue us?”
The Raver: “Yeah, man, I know right where that’s at. Let me get things square here and I’ll be on my way. I’ll text when I’m close.”
It was now time to do the Star Trek II thing: sitting on my ass trying not to grin while everyone else stuck on the side of the road bitched at each other. Maybe some attractive lieutenant would ask me how I beat the Kobayashi Maru test, a.k.a. how in the hell did I ever manage in one sitting to eat two entire plates of the Colossal Nachos at the Korean karaoke bar behind the Ford dealership. “I changed the conditions of the test,” I’d say. “I ate one plate, and when no one was looking, I got so blasted drunk that I threw up in the bushes outside, and then I ate another one.” Captain material, right here.
The following half hour can best be described as a crescendo of anger and shouting as my three compatriots tried to yell themselves into some kind of solution to our situation. Photographer Girl suggested we call a tow truck, but The Boyfriend didn’t want to pay the many hundreds of dollars it would cost to bring his dead Jeep back to the city. My date’s friend wanted to call a taxi, of which there were precisely zero on the island. The Boyfriend waffled between making everyone walk back to town without him to summon help and just making camp for the night on the side of the road. In either case, he categorically refused to depart from his Jeep. After a few rounds of heated debate, the three realized that I hadn’t said much and that I was just leaning against the dead Jeep, playing with my phone. The Boyfriend sauntered over and got in my face.
The Boyfriend: “What the f*ck are you grinning at, asshole?”
Photographer Girl: “Maybe he’s looking at your stupid f*cking face.”
Me: “It is pretty f*cking stupid.”
I couldn’t resist. But, before I had a chance to let everyone in on the plot and spoil the surprise, my phone lit up with a text. The Raver was just around the corner.
The Boyfriend: “What the f*ck? Is this asshole for real? You’re just sitting here texting while we’re all trying to figure out what to do?”
Me: “Yeah, pretty much.”
What else was I going to say?
Rage lit in The Boyfriend’s eyes and he pulled a fist back, but before his badly-telegraphed assault could completely miss, his girlfriend grabbed his arm and restrained him. In a split second, he shook her off and wound up another punch, but this time he was distracted by the clatter of an ancient diesel Volkswagen coming up from behind. It was The Raver. I walked over to the approaching car.
The Raver: “‘Sup, f*ckwad.”
Me: “Hey, sh!thead. Thanks again, man, I owe you big time.”
The Boyfriend’s face was incredulous and he gestured toward The Raver as his voice raised to an entirely new octave.
The Boyfriend: “Now who the f*ck is this f@ggot?”
At this point, The Boyfriend had burnt every last bit of sympathy from any of us. Even his own girlfriend was shaking her head at him. The Raver hollered over his direction.
TR: “C’mon now, man, you need to, like, chill.”
The Boyfriend: “F*CK. YOU.”
The Raver turned back to me and gave me a look.
Me: “Yeah. We’ve been listening to this sh!t all night. I’m gettin’ real f*cking sick of it.”
I hopped in the back seat and hollered over to my companions.
Me: “This is our ride, folks. Get in or be Donner Party 2.0.”
The ladies hopped over to the decrepit Jetta, and after a moment of consideration, The Boyfriend shuffled over behind them. The Raver strolled around to the passenger side of his car and opened the doors for the ladies, but before The Boyfriend could pile in as well, The Raver held up his hand to stop him. He looked over at me for confirmation. All I could do was shake my head. The Raver turned back to The Boyfriend.
TR: “Naw, man. This thing is, like, a friends and family deal.”
And just like that, The Raver slammed the doors shut, hopped into the driver’s seat, and we took off. The last I saw of The Boyfriend was him standing in the middle of the road, arms raised to heaven, shouting “what the f*ck” over and over.
Three hours and an unbelievable amount of whiskey later, Photographer Girl’s friend got a text that The Boyfriend had been rescued by a county sheriff and was on his way back to civilization. He was furious with her that she had abandoned him on the side of the road and left a many-texts-long tirade exactly to that effect. The words were hideous, accusatory, monstrous, hateful.
The friend was obviously distraught and went and showed Photographer Girl and me the spew of vitriol that was flooding her cell phone’s screen. She asked what she should say in response. Photographer Girl put her hand on her friend’s shoulder.
PG: “Text him back whatever you think he deserves.”
The friend nodded and smiled and sent him back but a single letter:
She turned off her phone and together we all laughed and drank cheap whiskey and listened to loud music until the moon itself was tired and slipped down to bed below the sea.