The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Used cars for sale here; will accept any offer!

There are many rules associated with poker, some of them official and others not so much, and one of the oldest and most important of the not so much official rules is this: first, in every game there is a sucker, a not very good player with a lot of money and an undeservedly high opinion of his skill as a poker player. The point of this clod’s participation in the game, a participation that the other players encourage enthusiastically, is to lose and lose badly, thereby enriching all the other players.  Second, if you have been playing for more than fifteen minutes and you can’t figure out which of the other players is the sucker, then you’re it. This is a very simple rule, very simple indeed, and yet it is truly amazing just how often it is broken. You would think that people would catch on; after all, everyone knows the old saw about a fool and his money; but some people cannot admit, not even for a moment, that they are the fool in this situation.  We’ve all seen or heard of such people-the blustering bully who finally gets his comeuppance, the miser whose greed finally gets the better of his better judgement and invests in a scheme to factory farm the goose that laid the golden egg, and my favorite, the guy who never got over being the smartest kid in class who does something incredibly stupid and then can’t bring himself to admit that he just did something incredibly stupid.  Like a pretty girl caught in flagrante delicto with only a small towel to cover her delicto, the smartest kid in class has to keep changing his story to cover the glaring evidence of his dumbness.

Take, for example, a couple named Harry and Mickey, who are new arrivals here in our happy little burg.  They’re a nice couple—I see them every so often at work—he has some kind of government job and she is a nutritionist down at the middle school. Well, they moved up here to our happy little burg from the great metropolis to the south and if you know anything about the metropolis then you know that the one thing you really don’t need down there is an automobile. Why would you need one? There are buses and subways and taxis, and now there is the Uber car service for those people who don’t like any of their other transportation options.  And all of these options would be more than enough, if they still lived in the metropolis, but they don’t; they live here now, and I believe that I have mentioned here that in this neck of the woods mass transit is the car that brings a Roman Catholic family to St. Thomas the Apostle’s Church on Sunday. There are no other transportation options in this area.  Given the circumstances, therefore, Barry and Mickey needed a car. They wanted a new car, but due to the poor economy these days, they had to settle for a used one instead.  So, Harry went down to Ali Hakim’s Hook’em & Rook’em Used Car and Auto Carpet Shop down at the junction of County Road 93 and the interstate to get himself a brand new used car.  And here Harry ran into some trouble.

It’s not as if a lot of people didn’t try to warn him about Ali Hakim. The last man to get the better of Ali Hakim in a business deal was Mr. Cummings, who suspected that Ali was trifling with his daughter Gertie and so suggested that Ali could enhance his chances of living a long and productive life by marrying Gertie. People have told me that Ali was not entirely enthusiastic about the idea of matrimony, but that Mr. Cummings’ good friend, the Reverend Oscar F. Mossberg, a most learned and pious man of God much given to ending his sermons with the exhortation, Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition[i], convinced Ali that he had nothing to lose by marrying Gertie and maybe there’d be something in it for him. I suspect that Ali Hakim got over his initial reluctance to the idea of matrimony, if his six kids are anything to go by, but no one’s gotten the better of him since then and so most people don’t even try.  Most people, however, didn’t include Harry, which is something he liked to tell people every time the opportunity arose. 

Harry was not the smartest kid in his class—he just looked like he was—and for most of his life that was enough.  He was a tall, good-looking fellow who smiled easily and had a good line of gab, and I’ve heard more than one person say that Harry should try being a salesman or go into politics, that he’d be great at it.  I suspect that they’re right; Harry would be great at both jobs. Talking came naturally to him and he could talk people into seeing things his way by convincing them that what he was saying made a great deal of sense, even if, after you’d thought about what he’d said for a little while, it didn’t.  I suspect that’s why I never really got used to Harry—there was just something a little bit slippery about him that I never liked. Harry was one of those guys who had glided through life on luck and charm for so long that he couldn’t imagine a situation where he wouldn’t be successful, and to me, there’s something more than a little off-putting about a man who thinks he can walk in front of a fan just as the cow flop hits the blades and come out of the encounter with clean, freshly creased trousers.  Maybe it’s just me.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I did not witness the following myself. I was not there and therefore I must rely on the testimony of Ali Hakim’s secretary, Rachel Jackson, whom, in the further interests of full disclosure, I have known since we were both kids in St. Thomas the Apostle School, and yes, that was quite a while ago, and no, the further interests of full disclosure do not require me to tell you how long quite a while ago was.  I trust Rachel and I hope you will trust her as well. The day at Ali’s Used Cars started quietly enough: Rachel answered the phone, the mechanics in the service department prepared to separate the arms and legs of customers unwary enough to come in without a valid warranty, and Mr. Hakim read the newspaper and drank a cup of an incredibly thick black sludge that he called coffee and his staff suspected was motor oil.  Harry came in at around ten o’clock in the morning and asked to see Mr. Hakim right away.  He was busy, he explained to Rachel, and he knew what he wanted and he wanted to get on with it right away.  With that, Harry did his best impression of a busy man of affairs who has better things to do with his time than stand around all day dickering with some greasy foreigner over the price of a used car. So, Rachel Jackson called Mr. Ali Hakim out of his office and away from his cup of ungodly thick coffee to meet with Harry, the cleverest fellow in all the world.

The meeting did not go well. Long story short, Harry went into his smartest in the class aren’t I the cleverest fellow you’ve ever met mode that had served him so well his entire life, and Mr. Ali Hakim went into his Persian bazaari mode, which really isn’t a mode at all—it’s who he is.  Ali Hakim would sell ice cream makers to Eskimos if he thought he could turn a profit at it. He asked Harry to come into his office so they could discuss what Harry wanted in a fine pre-owned automobile. Harry tried to beg off, citing time concerns and that he already knew what he wanted, he just wanted to know if Mr. Hakim could give him a good deal on the car he had in mind, but Mr. Hakim would not dream of doing business without offering his customers a nice cup of coffee, a few minutes of polite conversation, and a hot cinnamon roll—Mr. Hakim is partial to hot cinnamon rolls in particular and carbohydrates in general, especially carbohydrates topped with sugar.  So, Harry went into Mr. Hakim’s office, still convinced of his innate superiority to this immigrant carmonger, if that’s even a word, and ninety minutes later, still convinced of his innate superiority to this immigrant carmonger, which I suspect isn’t really a word at all, Harry left Mr. Hakim’s office, the proud owner of a yellow 1972 Plymouth Barracuda with black stripes.  I damn near busted a gut when I heard about it.

I am deeply acquainted with this particular yellow 1972 Plymouth Barracuda with black racing stripes; my brother owned it thirty years ago. Before he enlisted in the Navy, my brother sold it to Tommy Zaleski, who sold it to someone else a few years after that. That car has bounced from one end of our happy little burg to the other and the idea that anyone in their right mind would actually want to buy that pile of movable junk is too fantastic to believe, or it would be, if Harry hadn’t actually bought the thing.  In his defense, I should point out that the car looks pretty good for a 1972 Plymouth Barracuda sold in the second decade of the 21st century—Mr. Hakim clearly put some money into bodywork.  Whether he put even more money into fixing the engine, I don’t know. I do know that when my brother owned the car, the engine had a nice coating of rust in a couple of spots.  I am sure that Mr. Hakim has addressed the matter. 
In any case, no sooner had Harry bought the car than people began telling him that he had made a mistake.  Everyone who’d ever dealt with Ali Hakim told Harry that the man could not be trusted at all; my brother and Tommy Zaleski told him that the car was old as the beard of Moses and not worth the two thousand dollars Harry had paid for it. Given the number of people who tried to help him, you might think that Harry would check with the Better Business Bureau to see if Mr. Hakim had any complaints (he does, veritable squadrons of complaints) or that he might have another mechanic check the car to make sure someone—I’m not going to name any names here—hadn’t been fooling around with the odometer.  You might think that, but you would be wrong.  The Barracuda was a great car and he had gotten a great deal on it. I know that, because Harry told me so himself.

I have to admit that it took a great deal of strength not to laugh in the man’s face. I really didn’t want to hurt his feelings; Harry is a nice guy, all in all, but for the smartest guy in the room, he’s remarkably thin-skinned.  He doesn’t like people contradicting him and when someone does, he tries to talk over them. It must work for him, I suppose—he’s gotten this far in life without anyone punching him in the nose—but it’s left him sort of brittle, if you know what I mean.  He’s talked such a good game all his life that he can’t process the idea that someone could get the better of him and when someone does, he just denies it.  Professional poker players love guys like Harry: a not very experienced player whose ego won’t let them admit that they are playing at a level way over their head.  Guys like Harry will stay in the game until they’ve lost every penny in their stake. It’s horribly unfair to take advantage of the suckers like that, but I guess professional poker players have to eat too, you know.

[i] The Reverend Mossberg was a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, and therefore convinced that church services were something he had to get through as quickly as possible in order to avoid incoming enemy mortar fire. Some experiences are more profound than others, as I am sure you will agree, and so Reverend Mossberg was still praising the Lord and passing the ammunition long after the congregation’s need for ammunition had passed. 

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  • At 5:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Change!(of topic, of pace, of object of ridicule...ah no, not of the object. Oh, woe is ours, inhabitants of that city on the river to the you hate us!)

    I laughed the bitter laugh.


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