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Archive | 12:02 am

Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food

22 Jun

June 22, 2011

“Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food.” -Austin O’Malley

Austin O’Malley was an American physicist who died in 1932, but if you ask me, Austin’s real talent was philosophy.

During the creation of last Saturday’s post about Howard the Duck I had occasion to reflect a bit on an experience that happened some years back and involved nothing at all related to the blog I eventually wrote. Oh, there is indeed a logical connection but as “memory is a crazy woman” I see no reason to upset her more by explaining the process by which Howard the Duck led to my memory of my car being towed. I do however freely admit that much of this blog will be totally familiar to exactly one person who heard it all when I last related this story in October of 2009, and it was already a few years old then.

———

This happened some years ago. I’m not sure how many, but I was working someplace that doesn’t exist anymore.

I got up in the morning to go to work and went to the car. It wasn’t there. I wasn’t too upset because I simply assumed that I must have parked it someplace else.

I never pay much attention to where I park. I usually park on the same couple of blocks, and if it wasn’t on my block it would be on the next. I walked around the corner, not there. Walked over to the next block, not there. Hmm.

That has happened to me before. Once or twice I’ve had to walk around the block, or the next block, to find the car. Sometimes before I leave the house I have to sit and think where I parked. Other times I can’t recall no matter how long I try and I simply guess. Sounds pathetic, I know, but I never seem to pay much attention where I park at home. Other places I always remember. On Staten Island I used to have to park up a hill, around the park, five blocks over so I paid attention. Home, not so much.

Well, this particular day I didn’t have time to walk around and around and around. The car wasn’t in any of the usual places but I had to go to work so I hoped on the bus. Luckily I worked only a few minutes away. The car had never been towed before and I started to think the car had been stolen but what could I do? I figured I’d go to the police after work. They never find stolen cars anyway so a few hours wouldn’t make a difference. It was probably already chopped up into little pieces. Gone is gone no matter when I make the report.

But as the day wore on, I somehow became more and more sure that it wasn’t stolen. Funny how the mind can trick you. I must have missed it. I had to have missed it. Sure, that was it. I’d go home and yes! The car would be right where I parked it the night before. I was sure, positive, that I had parked it around the corner. It had to be there. I just missed it. Somehow.

So I walked home, went to the spot where I knew the car was parked, and believe it or not, my car was not there.

I was left feeling pretty stupid but I walked up to the police station and told the desk officer I wanted to report a stolen car. Before he’d take the report, he told me, he’d check to see if it was towed because the Marshall was in the area that morning and sure enough, it was towed. Turned out that those parking tickets I’d gotten? I should have paid them. It wasn’t enough to stick them in my glove compartment and forget about them.

That was actually a relief because I was sure that the car had been stolen and I’d never see it again. I was already figuring out what I had in the trunk and how I could inflate the value for the insurance company. (I had a very expensive set of tools, two Picassos, etc.)

I got all the information about where to go to pay the Marshall and took the next day off. At first I thought I had hit a bit of luck. There are a couple of Marshall’s offices on Atlantic Avenue and one that I know of on Flatlands but this one was close by.

The office only took payments between noon and two. I had all of the necessary paperwork (license, registration, payment- and of course a few hundred dollars) and got there by 11:30. The office was on the second floor and up a narrow flight of stairs. By the time I got there the line was already down the stairs and almost onto the street. In all honesty, I waited on that line until almost 2 o’clock. Around 1:30 someone from the office went downstairs and turned a lot of people away.

Finally, and I mean finally, I got to the office. Actually I got the door, which had a little window and a slot in it. No one got in the office. Through the little slot I was passed a form which I filled out and passed back along with my paperwork and the exact amount I needed to pay the tickets, penalties, tow fees, impound fees, taxes, and whatever else they felt they needed to make their quota and buy a nice dinner. After what seemed like an hour I was passed back my license, registration, a receipt, and directions on where and how to pick up my car.

The car, which was towed in Bensonhurst, by a Marshall in Bay Ridge, was impounded in a lot in Williamsburg. Way, way out in Williamsburg. Getting there by car was easy but I had, obviously, no car. I was on my own and had no one to drive me out there. According to the directions, to get to the lot I had to take a bus, a train, transfer to another train, another bus, and then walk. It was just about 2, and the place closed at 5:45. I had to move.

I got the bus and took it to the R train. There was a ton of road work on and it took far longer than usual. I then had to wait forever for the R train and had to wait even longer for the F train. The whole time I was looking at my watch. I didn’t have my iPod or a book and I was miserable. The trip was taking forever, especially since both trains were local. If I didn’t get the car out that day I’d have to take another day off of work and pay more fees at the yard, not to mention wait forever at the Marshall’s office yet again.

I ended up getting off the train in Williamsburg where I had to get a bus. This was past the not-so-bad part of Williamsburg where Peter Luger’s is, and in the pretty bad part of Williamsburg where Peter Luger’s customers get shot. It was getting close to 5 by now and since it was early winter it was also starting to get dark.

At this point I must warn you that if you ever find yourself in that part of Williamsburg, all alone, and it is getting dark, turn right around and get back on the train and go home, fast as you can.

I stood on the corner and waited for the bus. The area was kind of like 86th street under the train, but instead of fruit stands and discount stores there were abandoned stores and drunks. And I’m sure worse things were standing right behind me. I wasn’t too worried about my safety (yet) but I was very worried about my car. It was getting late.

I looked at the bus map and if my stop looked close I was ready to walk it but it looked like I had to go almost to the end of the line (and I later found out that was both literal and figurative.) I had to wait and I waited and waited, looking at my watch every thirty seconds and at the dregs of humanity all around me when I wasn’t looking at my watch.

Eventually the bus arrived and it was crowded. It crawled. It made every stop and no matter how many people got off, twice as many got on. It made its way past the lousy commercial neighborhood and into an even worse residential neighborhood. It looked like the suburb from hell. All the houses were low, cheap tract houses. Each one had bars on every window. Most had no lights on. There was garbage everywhere. It was dark, dangerous looking, it was the next to last stop on the route, and it was where I had to get off. It was just after 5:30 and according to the directions I had to walk eight blocks.

I had to walk eight blocks in the worst neighborhood I was ever in, alone, in the dark, to an impound lot that was about to close.

After about two blocks I started to worry. The houses were thinning out and I could see the BQE in the distance but nothing else. I checked the directions again, sure (actually I was hoping) that I was going the wrong way but I wasn’t. I kept walking. I didn’t want to jog, didn’t want to run, didn’t want to draw any attention to myself.

Half a block ahead of me and across the street, a police car (no lights, no siren) zoomed onto the sidewalk in front of two very shady looking guys I had been watching (and were probably watching me) and the police jumped out and threw one to the ground while the other guy ran about thirty feet before another officer took him down.

I wanted to ask the police for a lift to the yard but they were a little busy.

I kept walking, a little faster now, and after five blocks the houses ended completely and on both sides of the empty street were dark junkyards. I heard dogs barking (and I could only worry about who or what they were barking at) but was more worried about the lack of street lights. They had ended where the houses ended.

The sidewalk turned into dirt and mud and I now started running because it was about 5:40. After a block or two even the junkyards ended and I was now running past dark empty lots, but thank God I saw the impound lot, with its one little light
still shining just ahead. This is where I was most worried. What if they closed just before I got there? What if they shut the light? I dreaded the thought, was terrified of the thought, of going back the way I came, in the (now) total darkness, to the bus, through the deadly zone of drunks and muggers, back to the train. I had my cell phone but no one to call and come get me. I was on my own. That light had better stay on.

Don’t ever put yourself in that position.

I made it to the lot, according to my watch, at 5:45 on the nose.

I still had no idea if they were open. The way the lot was set up, you stood outside a big wall of corrugated metal and looked up at a window just over your head. I had no idea if anyone was in there because the window was one way- they could see out but all I saw was my own reflection. I knocked on the window and, after a couple of seconds that seemed like all night, a voice asked my for my paper work and I pushed it through the slot.

I was totally relieved. I felt all the worry drain away. I had made it just in time. I was going to get my car and get the hell out of there. I didn’t have to walk through the dangerous insanity of Williamsburg anymore and I didn’t have to worry about someone killing me on the way back. I was finally able to breathe again.

After a couple more minutes while they checked the paper work and I figured out just how fast I could speed out of there, the voice asked me for my keys.

“Sure,” I said, and reached into my pocket.

My keys were not there.

In that millisecond every fear I had came rushing back. I saw myself, felt myself, walking back in the dark, falling in the mud, getting mugged, getting shot, trying to find some way to get back in one piece. My heart stopped. Literally stopped for a beat. It may have been the lowest and most afraid I ever felt.

And then I found my keys in the other pocket.

I don’t know what god or entity or being runs this universe, but he/she/it was playing with me that day. I have no idea what possessed me to put my keys in the wrong pocket that day but I did. When I reached for my keys and they weren’t there I nearly had a heart attack. When I reached in my other pocket, in a barely controlled panic, and found my keys, I experienced the kind of relief I think only people who narrowly avoid certain death must face. The figurative weight lifted off your shoulders? It was real that day. Am I exaggerating? Not really.

I got in the car and got home in record time.

What is the moral of this story? Pay your tickets and never let them tow your car.

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