24 Mar 2008

How surprising that the New York Times court sketch artist should capture an unreported moment at the Mahon Tribunal last week when Celia apparently poured a jug of water over the Teesh’s former secretary for the crime of alerting the rest of us to what a dodgy partnership she and Bertie really were. Bertie, to the right, looks on in make up.

Dreams of owning this car kept me awake at night twenty years ago.

Names changed to conceal identities, details left out because they’re too embarrassing to repeat, serious situations lightened up for comic effect, etc. this is how the whole Car Boss thing started.

Back in the early 90s when I was knocking around New York and long before I’d ever heard of Mike and Tadhg, there was Emilio and Jose. In character and appearance, Emilio was sort of like an earlier version of Mike if you can imagine Mike being from Ecuador and having a Spanish accent.
 
I never noticed a certain imbalance in Emilio and my friendship until the day I happened to mention I was going to buy the then car of my dreams: the new model Honda Civic. 

‘No,’ said Emilio, ‘this is not the car for you. For you, you need instead a Nissan Sentra. Because you see the Sentra is a car for a man! This is true, believe me. As a matter of fact I’m going to buy one for myself this weekend. You know what? Why don’t you come with me and when you will see it you will want to buy one too, believe me. You see, my friend,’ he said ‘I am the Car Boss of You.’

First thing the following Saturday morning on one of those ferocious mid January New York days when the drool freezes at the corners of our mouth, there was a knock on the door and there was Emilio.

 ‘Quick. We must go to World of Nissan on Queens Boulevard. I arranged a test drive for you. But hurry. Jose is waiting.’

What real men drove in the 90s
 
Down on the street, behind the wheel of his own two week old Nissan Sentra was Emilio’s friend, Jose, whom I had heard of but never before met.

‘Mr. Miley is from Ireland,’ said Emilio, ‘but don’t worry about it.’

‘Emilio tells me you’re thinking of joining my Nissan Sentra club. Good move.’

We made some small talk about cars, Ireland and women, etc.

'Except,’ said Emilio when things had settled down, ‘it’s not your Nissan Sentra club. It’s all of ours.’

Jose thought about not rising to the bait but, then, did: ‘I know it’s all our club, man, but I’m the one who officially started it – I already got a Sentra and you got to respect that.’

‘Yes, but it was me who said to buy the Sentra,’ Emilio responded, ‘You just bought one because you didn’t want me to get it first...’

‘… my old car died – what was I supposed to do…’

‘… so you just happened to buy without telling me the one I told you I was already going to buy…’

After that, things went downhill big time in Spanish. Emilio and Jose (with the strained smiles blokes always have when they’re trying to pretend they’re not bothered by what the other is saying but, in reality, they could rip each other’s heads off) spatted without let up for at least ten minutes.

Eventually, I’d had enough.

‘Guys,’ I interjected, ‘if we’re all going to get our own Sentras, who cares who got theirs first?’

There was nodding. The sniping stopped.

But only for a second. Jose couldn’t resist one last barb:

‘You see, Garry? Our friend here can’t stand it that I am the Car Boss of Him.’

‘No you must be confused,’ snapped Emilio, ‘It is me who is the Car Boss of You.’

‘No. You got it all wrong, guy. I’m the Car Boss of You.’

‘No. I am the Car Boss of you, man. And you know it.’

They did the Car Boss thing for at least another five minutes until Emilio decided to ramp things up.

‘You know what?’ he said all flustered, ‘You have insulted me in front of my friend which you know I would never do to you. And you know what else? I don’t even like your car. This car sucks, man. Believe me. Forget about the stupid club. Me and Garry, we’ve changed our minds, right, Mr. Miley? We can do better than this.’

‘I have no problem with that,’ said Jose.

All of us now pee-ed off, we rode around a while before Jose announced ‘You know what? I just remembered – I got some friends I got to hook up with,’ and, if we didn’t mind, he’d drop us off at the nearest subway station.

’You don’t even have to drive us to the subway,’ said Emilio. ‘Leave us here. We’ll take a cab.’

‘You know what?’ said Jose, ‘that’s exactly what I’m going to do.’

*

At which point… something cool happened. You see, just as we pulled up to a set of red lights on Northern Boulevard we found ourselves sitting in the shadow of a breakdown recovery truck. And strapped onto the back of its platform? A very new looking silver Honda Civic! The car I had really wanted to buy all along. And viewed from the angle to which we were privy, looking like it was in too good nick to be sitting on the back of a tow truck.

Emilio and I rolled down the car window and hollered to get the truck driver’s attention.

‘What’s wrong with that car?’ yelled Emilio.

‘Not much,’ said the tow truck driver. ‘Nothing that can’t be fixed.’

'Where are you taking it?’

‘To the scrap yard,’ said the driver, explaining that it was an insurance write off which he was half thinking of holding onto for himself.

‘Will you sell it to us?’

‘Sure,’ said the driver. ‘How much you got?’

We settled on an unbelievably small sum (!) and the driver suggested he pull over to a less busy spot where he could slide the car off the truck and we could conduct our business.

We jumped out of Jose’s Sentra without thanks or goodbyes. He bid us good riddance and vanished off into traffic.

Five minutes later the Civic was on the road. The tow truck guy mentioned something about the suspension needing work, the wheels needing four wheel alignment and some other stuff about pinions which we should have listened to. We paid him cash and he passed over the keys as well as the various forms we were supposed to fill out and exchange on the spot but, prepared to say anything to get out of the cold, we promised we’d fill out later and send to the Department of Motor Vehicles. He wasn’t bothered. He got behind the wheel of his truck and took off leaving Emilio and I behind, shivering.

I took the driver’s seat and put the keys in the ignition. It started first time. Indicators? They worked too. Gear box? Smooth. Radio? Yep. Heater? Warm! Man it felt good. When we were both beginning to less like CSI stiffs, I eased my foot off the clutch and the car moved gently forward. Soon we trundling along toward the 59th street bridge.

For the first few hundred yards everything was going so well I had forgotten we had no insurance and was already suggesting a trip to Manhattan for a spot of cruising in the Village when disaster, naturally, struck.

The car was incapable of turning to the left.

Suddenly, chaos. I tried to negotiate my way out of the traffic flow but the car was increasingly less responsive to my instruction. Emilio, in the huge flap he always got into, leaned across and tried, unhelpfully really, to drive the car from the passenger seat, but – mindful of the thousands of dollars of uninsured damage which could result if we didn’t keep our heads - I clocked him. After that, I remember nothing of the notorious half minute which followed except to say that the car somehow managed to take a right turn off Northern Boulevard and down a dodgy side street. This radical manoeuvre must have caused a catastrophic deterioration in the car’s remaining steering functionality because, as we headed down the street, the Civic began driving with a mind all its own. So, I stood on the brakes. Which must have been the reason why the car jumped a kerb and somehow directed itself between two parked cars (missing both) and into the itty-bitty driveway of a small Queens row house, taking gates, posts and garden fences with it. It looked like we were about to run into the house altogether and demolish the front wall, when the car juddered to stop.

In its final position the Civic was sitting half way across a tiny patch of astroturf completely blocking the path to the front door. If I’d wanted to park the car in such a tight spot and in a more inconvenient way, I never could have. If you hadn’t seen what had happened you would have said that the only way the car could have ended up fitting so snugly into such a tiny front yard is if it had dropped out of the sky. 

Emilio and I climbed out of the car and tried regaining our composure. As is the way when things like this happen in New York, if anyone on the street actually saw what had happened, they were pretending they didn’t. So we buried our heads under the bonnet and discussed making our getaway.

But then Emilio said: ‘I think the people who live inside the house are watching us through the window.’

He was right – we were being watched. Getaway, unlikely – doom, likely. The front door to the house slowly opened and an elderly couple stepped out onto to the porch. Which way was this going to go?

*

‘It’s bitterly cold out here,’ the female half began in a strong and cheerful Scottish accent, ‘we were just wondering if, after all your troubles, you’d care for a cup of fresh coffee?’

Phew!

A few short minutes later, having apologised profusely for the awful mess we had made of their front yard and having further convinced them that we really weren’t typical New Yorkers but genuine folk and having been assured by the couple that the only thing they were concerned about was that neither of us ‘nice boys’ were hurt, we were cosily settled into their living room sofa, sipping fresh coffee and eating warm home-made muffins. 

Soon, we were the best of friends and we moved onto the part where we began telling each other things about our past. Its turns out, the couple left Glasgow in the 1950s when neither of their families approved of their mixed religion relationship and arrived in New York full of hope for the future. Things, however, didn’t match expectations – he didn’t fully recover from the building site accident he’d suffered shortly after he’d arrived and which had left him with a bad limp – and they never did manage to get enough money together to move out of what was only intended to be a starter home (in the panel-beater-shop part of town) but which they found themselves still living in forty years later.

But at least they had been blessed with a lovely daughter. A little girl who had changed their lives and to whom they were devoted. Despite money being tight at times, they said, they managed to cobble together a comfortable little life, all three of them isolated from the hostility of the outside world.

That was until the day their daughter hooked up with some New Jersey biker and fled with him to Florida. They hadn’t heard from her in ten years and didn’t know whether she was alive or dead. After five years during which they lived in total despair, they resolved that the daughter on whom they’d heaped so much love and affection would no longer be part of their lives. So they considered a return to Glasgow and, to that end, made a recce trip – their first visit home in more than three decades.

Sadly, the trip hadn’t been a success. Both their parents had died in the intervening years (no one had told either of them) and their siblings had scattered to various parts of the UK and New Zealand. The area where they grew up had been modernised and gentrified and the community they remembered so fondly was now no more. Worse, they said, than the disappearance of the home town they had loved so much was the fact that it’s vanishing and taken with it all their childhood memories. Glasgow was no longer home.

They returned to their little house in Queens. Where they knew nobody and no one ever came to visit them.

Emilio and I were moved. Emilio, a big huge softie who blubbed at anything starting with stray dogs and working up from there, was almost in tears. The opportunity for a gushy display of effusiveness couldn’t be passed up. Why, he wondered, didn’t the Scottish couple come over to visit his (Emilio’s) parents every once in a while? They would have so much in common and could go to bingo together. Better still, now that Emilio and his wife had just had their second child they were always looking for a babysitter… if the Scottish couple would be willing to oblige..? The elderly lady said she loved babies and would only be too delighted to help out. Well, why not strike while the iron’s hot? Couldn’t the Scottish couple come over to Emilio’s parent’s house that very evening and sample some traditional Ecuadorean hospitality? What a great idea!

‘Aren’t we all so lucky,’ said Emilio, ‘that we crashed into your house today? Otherwise, we would never have become friends.’

Emilio and I rose to go. The Scottish couple were teary with joy and appreciation. We exchanged hugs and arranged to be back at the house in two hours. Emilio and I wrapped up against the cold, intending to take a cab to Jose’s (whom Emilio assured me would be over the events of earlier that day and, besides, had great respect for old people) who’d help us tow the Honda somewhere suitable.

Out on the street, Emilio asked where I’d put the various ownership forms the tow truck guy had given me to sign.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I left them in the car.’

‘Did you fill in your name and address?’

‘No,’ I said.

‘So nobody knows who we are,’ said Emilio.

‘No.’

And so, we never did go back. 

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