This is it, folks, the last part of the last story from my days at Dishonest Used Car Dealership. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I want to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my cold, black heart for coming along with me, laughing at my dumb jokes and commiserating about the dark times. When I started posting back in February, I thought it would just be a fun thing to write up a story or two while I was sitting on my tail waiting for a job interview, and never expected anything approaching the kind of response I have received. And here we are, at the beginning of October, 26 stories across 27 posts, more than 64,000 words later. It has been a profound honor to get to share these little snippets of my life with you all. But, rest assured, the DUCD saga may be at an end, but after much cajoling, I’ve decided to drop at least a story or two from the places I worked after. I can’t promise quite as much drama, but we did get up to some nonsense. And thank you all so very much for all the kind words as I have shared these stories with you. I appreciate it more than you know.
I do have one brief bit of business, if you will permit. After many extremely kind requests to put my stories from DUCD into a more permanent form, I am actually getting off my lazy backside and doing something about it. I have gone and edited these stories into something a little more “book-like,” and as soon as I am happy with the manuscript, I will be self-publishing them in paperback and e-Book formats. I’ll have more news about that very soon.
Anyway, I now present the conclusion of the Dishonest Used Car Dealership saga.
In the fray at Dishonest Used Car Dealership surrounding the departure of The Diplomat and the necessity of the owners filling in for our now-missing sales staff, the one critical thing we absolutely required to do business had not gotten paid: our insurance. I can get cars fixed without running water or electricity. God knows I can do it without garbage pickup, since we hadn’t seen a garbage truck in weeks. But insurance we had to have.
We also now had a major cash-flow situation as well. With Lady Applebee’s having cost the company a good $10,000 on her car switcharoo, my former romantic prospect’s medical bills to pay (not to mention replacement shoes to buy), and a once-show-quality Mercedes that we were going to have to buy out-of-pocket, we had a lot of money about to head out the door. We also had no sales staff other than Rom and The Amazon filling in and were short two technicians. Felonious Monk should have been out of police custody already, but he wasn’t. The police wouldn’t tell us much, but the rumor around the shop was that he had failed a drug test while in custody and we would not be seeing him for some time. As with all rumors, it was impossible to know whether it was true or not, especially considering Felonious Monk always seemed pretty skittish when drugs would be found in customers’ cars. At the same time, he was also impulsive and didn’t think very far ahead, so who knows? In any case, we were going to be very far into the red with no real way to make it up any time soon.
That Monday morning, Rom and The Amazon called an emergency all-hands meeting. We piled into the conference room, not really sure what to expect. It certainly wasn’t going to be anything pleasant, that’s for sure. We all sat down and The Amazon broke the silence.
TA: “Good morning everyone. I think we all are well aware of the events that have transpired recently, and so I don’t think we need to rehash the unpleasantness of the last few weeks. But, as you are undoubtedly aware, whether by accident or malice or incompetence, the last few weeks have been extremely costly. However, what most of you are unaware of is that our insurance company has terminated our policy, which means the costs of these incidents will likely have to come out of our budget.”
There was a murmur among the technicians and Miami Vice.
TA: “We are currently in talks with our attorney as to whether something can be done about this situation, but in the meantime, we are going to have to tighten the belt considerably to survive.”
Lord Salisbury spoke up.
LS: “What, precisely, does that entail?”
TA: “I’m glad you asked. Colossal Redneck, Rom, and I have been discussing this situation over the weekend, and we all agree that sacrifices will have to be made in order to keep this ship afloat. Most of these sacrifices will be minimal. To save some electricity, we’re going to unplug the refrigerator in the shop and we’re going to ask that the technicians refrain from using the welders, the tube bender, or anything that runs off the phase converter. We’re also going to take a brief hiatus from restocking things like office supplies – we’ll just have to use what we’ve got until we run out. We’re also going to clear out our used car inventory and not purchase any more cars at auction for a while. So, most of the changes are going to be minimal and shouldn’t significantly affect the course of business.”
LS: “That all sounds very good, except… Except there’s a word in there you keep using that makes me nervous.”
TA: “And what’s that?”
LS: ““Most.” You keep saying most of the sacrifices will be minimal. It’s that “most” that’s bothering me.”
TA: “Yes, well, as I said, we are all going to have to make sacrifices if we want to stay afloat.”
Lord Salisbury was beginning to look irritated. Mr. Sarcastic spoke up in his place.
MS: “Are you going to continue farting around and avoiding whatever it is you’re trying to say, or are you going to get to the point?”
TA: “Fine. In order to ensure the company’s solvency, commissioned employees are going to have their commissions suspended until this crisis is over. You will still receive your base pay. Hourly employees – I guess that’s just Miami Vice – will receive minimum wage.”
The technicians leaned back in their chairs and shook their heads. I was completely taken aback – the entire pay cut plan had certainly not crossed my desk – and in my surprise I spoke up.
Me: “You’ve got to be f#cking kidding me. This is the plan you came up with? That is not a small pay cut you’re talking about here – it would be one thing to have some furlough days or for us not to work overtime, but that’s half my paycheck, and it’s more like 75% of the techs’ pay you’re taking away. Not one of us had a damn thing to do with everything that’s gone down in the last weeks, and it is ridiculous and entirely unfair to dock our pay to cover other peoples’ f#ck-ups.”
TA: “Well, you were driving the 240 when it burned that girl.”
Me: “Yeah, and when you can articulate how her getting hurt was my doing, let me know.”
TA: “36055512, I think you are failing to comprehend the magnitude of this situation.”
Me: “Okay, then. If the cash flow issue is that big, tell me, are you pursuing a business loan to hold us over? Or perhaps you could sell or mortgage or rent out one of the three houses you two own. Or perhaps Rom could sell that tacky gold Rolex on his wrist. Or maybe you could flip some of our inventory at cost just to get some cash in hand. There are a thousand ways to solve this problem, but what you’ve done is push the responsibility and the pain onto everyone but yourselves.”
TA: “Now that is completely unfair! All of us are having to make sacrifices.”
Me: “Really? So what kind of pay cut will the two of you be taking?”
TA: “I can assure you, Rom and I will be taking significant pay cuts as well.”
Me: “Yeah. I’m sure you will.”
Lord Salisbury chimed in once again.
LS: “Well, I’ve heard about enough of this, what about you, Mr. Sarcastic?”
MS: “Yeah, I’m with you. This is bullsh!t.”
Lord Salisbury reached into his pocket and fished out his keychain. He unthreaded the shop key from the ring and thunked it on the table. Mr. Sarcastic followed suit. Lord Salisbury turned to Colossal Redneck.
LS: “Post me my check.”
Colossal Redneck stood from the table.
CR: “Now, wait jes’ a minute, fellas…”
Lord Salisbury stood from the table and faced down Colossal Redneck.
LS: “Post me my check.”
Rom, seeing this, jumped from the table and blocked the door with his body.
Rom: “None of you are going anywhere.”
Lord Salisbury whipped around to face him.
LS: “Move. Now.”
Rom braced his hands against the door frame.
Rom: “No one is leaving without my approval.”
In all the time I had worked with Lord Salisbury, I had never once seen him angry, never once heard him raise his voice. He was the textbook definition of the charming English gentleman. All of the sudden the Lord Salisbury I knew vanished from the room, replaced by some sort of lesser demon. Absolute fury washed over his face and his body tensed. In a flash, he reached out with his hand and grabbed Rom by the neck and squeezed. Rom’s eyes betrayed his terror and he tried to scream, but Lord Salisbury’s hand crushed in around his neck. Rom released his grip on the door frame and Lord Salisbury tossed him aside into a heap on the floor.
The Amazon shot up from the table, but Lord Salisbury stopped her cold with a glare. His voice dropped into a deep, hissing snarl.
LS: “SIT. THE F#CK. DOWN!”
She immediately retreated to her chair and Lord Salisbury stared her down for a moment. He turned and disappeared out toward the shop, Mr. Sarcastic in tow.
The room was in stunned silence. Rom gradually crawled back onto his feet and we sat for a moment. I finally threw my hands up in disgust at the whole thing and went back to my office.
It was two hours later, and I was in my office polishing off a letter of resignation. I had already packed my things into a box, taken down the paintings off the wall, and deleted anything good off my computer. I heard a knock on the door and Miami Vice slipped into my office.
MV: “Look, uh… I don’t know how to say this…”
Me: “I think I know what you’ve got on your mind, but shoot.”
MV: “Well, I’ve been thinking about it, and… it’s the pay thing… I can’t live on minimum wage.”
Me: “I understand. Do you have something else lined up?”
MV: “I just called a friend of mine, he works at a bar up at the top of the lake. I guess they’re looking for someone to help in the kitchen.”
I stood up and reached out a hand.
Me: “You’ve been a terrific employee. I’m sorry it came to this. Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do for you.”
He shook my hand.
MV: “It’s been wild, it really has.”
I walked with him out through the bay and he disappeared beyond the sandwich shop toward the bus stop.
A minute later, two flatbed tow trucks rolled into the parking lot and idled up next to the shop’s bay door. Mr. Sarcastic and Lord Salisbury slowly rolled their enormous tool chests out toward the trucks. The tow truck drivers grabbed their winch cables and pulled the tool chests onto the trucks. The drivers strapped down their loads and the trucks pulled out of the parking lot toward their respective destinations. I ran into the shop, grabbed three beers, and intercepted the technicians. We cracked our beers and shared a toast.
Me: “Gentlemen, it’s been an honor working with you. I just want you to know, if you ever need a reference, if you ever need someone to vouch for your skills, you have my number.”
We chugged our beers and threw the cans into the back of Colossal Redneck’s pickup, and the two of them got in their cars and drove out of the parking lot for the last time.
I went back inside and printed my letter of resignation. I folded it in thirds and walked over to Colossal Redneck’s office.
CR: “This here has been quite a day, hasn’t it?”
Me: “It has. This is for you.”
I handed him the letter. He read it over.
CR: “You too, huh?”
CR: “I would’a thought of everyone on the staff, you would’a been the loyal one.”
Me: “Well, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m never going to see a paycheck from here again, so…”
CR: “What if I went an’ got you yer paycheck right now, whatever’s outstanding, would that up an’ change yer mind any?”
Me: “I gotta be honest, you and I know that it’s just going to bounce. Plus, I ain’t gonna try and live off just my base pay from here on out.”
CR: “You and me, we kin sort out yer pay rate. As fer now, I’ll betcha there’s enough money in one’a the accounts ta cover what yer owed. Gimme a minute.”
Colossal Redneck disappeared down the street to the bank and came back a few minutes later with an envelope full of cash. He handed it to me.
CR: “That ought’a cover ya up to Friday. How’s that sound?”
I fanned out the cash on the table and counted it. It was all there, more or less.
Colossal Redneck handed me back my letter of resignation.
CR: “I don’t suppose I’ll be needin’ this, then.”
I flicked it back on his desk.
Me: “No, I’m afraid you still do.”
CR: “What? C’mon, man, ya’ can’t quit, ya’ got yer money!”
Me: “Look around you, man. We’ve got no technicians. We’ve got no sales people. It’s just you and me. Now, I don’t know what things look like from your vantage point, but this sure looks like a sinking ship from where I’m standing. You and I are clinging onto the top of the f#cking mast and you’re trying to tell me that because our feet aren’t wet yet, that there’s nothing to worry about. Well, I’m sorry, but that’s bullsh!t. There was a time when I worked here because I thought we were doing something special, that we were selling really cool cars that were going to help save the environment, that this was an up-and-coming business where I could build a career, but those days are so far behind me they’re on the other side of the horizon. If I can’t even rely on my paychecks coming in, then I’m not real sure what point there is to being here. How much more money is there to just up and hand out come payday? Enough for a month? Two weeks?”
CR: “Sometimes we all gotta make some sacrifices, though. I mean, y’all haven’t been the easiest employee, and it seems like ya ought’a show some loyalty, ya know?”
Me: “If you think you’ve got to do the “honorable thing” and ride this ship all the way to the bottom, you go and do that, but I’m not about to sacrifice even one second of my life on some made-up principle for two people who don’t have the slightest inkling of what the words “honor” or “loyalty” mean. Every f#cking day here has been a fight, you and I have never received the slightest bit of respect, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and have you try and tell me that I owe you or them or this f#cking company a god-damned thing.”
Colossal Redneck looked down at my letter of resignation. He paused, and then stood from his desk.
He held out his hand.
CR: “It’s been terrible havin’ y’all as an employee.”
I shook his hand.
Me: “You’ve been a horrible boss.”
He saluted me and I grabbed my box of things and walked out the big bay door for the last time.
It was a month after I left DUCD, a drizzly cold Friday afternoon, and I was loading the last of my possessions into a big box truck. On a lark, I had applied at a job in a city about three hours away, and strangely enough, they had offered me a position. The pay wasn’t quite as good, but it was a chance for something new, somewhere new, where I could clear my head and just start over. I had given notice to my landlord that I was leaving, given away the things I didn’t need, said goodbye to the few friends I had left, and sold the Jeep. As a final “f#ck you” to the dealership, I had also dropped a dime to the county about the illegal dumping going on behind the shop. The pile had gotten bad enough that we had started calling it “The Trasherhorn,” and between that and the dozens of gallons of old coolant and used motor oil the technicians had dumped on the ground back there, the county had told me that they were very interested in conducting an investigation.
On the way out of town I made one last swing past the dealership just to see what had become of the place. I pulled off to the far side of the road and idled for a moment. The lot was very empty. Rom and The Amazon’s car was there, but no others I recognized, not even Colossal Redneck’s. They had little inventory on display and even fewer cars that appeared to belong to customers. The service bay was shut tight and the lights were off inside the service office. As I idled, Rom and The Amazon appeared from the sales office, shouting at each other. The Amazon got in Rom’s face and screamed something, then turned and marched back inside. Rom stood for a moment and then started kicking a Honda over and over again until there was a big dent in the back door. He stopped and stood there alone, shoulders drooped in the rain.
I put the box truck into gear and pulled away. I turned onto the highway, pointing the truck toward the edge of town. I switched on the radio and turned it to max, slid the transmission into overdrive, and put the pedal to the floor. I drove south, far beyond the horizon, away from it all.
Many months later I came back north with a girl I was dating to show her the city that had defined so much of my adulthood, a city that has so indelibly dyed the very fabric of who I am that all these many years later I still dream of warm summer nights, windows down, driving on the bridge across the lake; that the smell of food still transports me back to the little ramen bar just south of downtown, the one I never knew the name of because the sign was in Japanese, windows fogged from the warm soup and the cold rain. And to this day when I drive through the big city to the north I choke up and my voice catches, because when I came the city broke me and molded me and made me new, and when I left I left so much of me there. Most of me still stands there on the pale sands on the shore, feeling the wind just this side of cold, looking out across the water to the islands beyond and watching the boats come in for the night as the sky turns orange, then red, then blue, then black, standing there waiting for the rest of me to come home.
I turned off the highway in the big Dodge I now drove and pulled into the dealership’s parking lot. It was empty save for an abandoned Oldsmobile decaying silently in a corner. The windows to the offices were hastily boarded up and graffiti covered the bay doors. The sign for the dealership was dingy from the rain and moss was beginning to grow over the letters.
I drove around back and we hopped out of the truck. The empty lot behind the service bay had been mostly cleaned up. The girl looked around and turned to me.
”What is this place?”
”It was a car dealership. I used to work here.”
”It looks awful.”
I gave the place one last look as I climbed back into the truck.
”It was. It really was.”