The parking garage today on 24th St. looked exactly like the garage I crashed in in Los Angeles, the summer of '79, the same downward slope and sharp turn to the left, just like that time when the gas pedal of the Mercedes jammed and the car wouldn't stop – instead picking up speed as it sailed down the ramp -- and I let it crash into a wall, thinking I was driving into concrete and not caring. The car broke right through. It was a plaster wall and didn't even make a dent, though the new paint job was scuffed up, the ugly army green paint job that Jeffrey had found on a late-night local TV ad – they'd paint your car for $50. He asked for chocolate brown and didn't say anything, standing in a car lot in East Los Angeles by himself when they handed it back, now dull army green, like a tank.
It was an old Mercedes Benz with four doors. I don't know how many miles per gallon it got. I was 18 and didn't ask that question. A car either went or it didn't. My orange and white, hand-me-down Pinto went fine as long as you poured oil into it every fifty miles or so. Jeffrey's Mercedes was a hand-me-down from his uncle Elliott. That was the kind of hand-me-downs Jeffrey got. I always felt like a poor relative, no way able to keep up. In the beginning, when I'd only see him on weekends, I pretended to be as rich as he was. I got paid on Fridays so I could show up Friday evening with a lot of money -- $40 – and I learned quickly to just stuff it in the front pockets of my jeans like he did – no wallet – just crumpled up bills and if you spilled one or two it didn't matter.
The day I crashed the Benz in L.A. was the day my mother and twelve-year-old sister were coming to visit. I hadn't seen them for a couple of years, since me and Jeffrey drove out to California from New York. I wasn't supposed to come out with him. California was Jeffrey's plan. He had always said it with offhand confidence, like it had already happened: he'd go to L.A. and write screenplays and become a director. People liked him for having such a good answer when they asked him what he was doing. When they turned to me and asked, my answer didn't seem to hold any water at all. "I want to be a writer." Even I didn’t believe me.
Then when Jeffrey was actually leaving for L.A. he said I could come too, which felt good after our last few horrible months in New York when mostly we fought, or I felt so depressed I wanted to jump off the 13th floor balcony but all I could do was think about it.
Jeffrey said I must be allergic to sugar to be so depressed. After all, he loved me. It shouldn't matter – why should it matter – that he has become friends with Harriet, a woman in the screenwriting class he signed up for at the New School, a woman – not a girl – a woman who's in her thirties, who has a little daughter called Jessie and who is writing the paperback for Saturday Night Fever. It's not supposed to matter that he sleeps with Harriet -- who has a daughter and her name on book covers -- on the designated nights when we're supposed to be having our own lives and I go up to my tiny room on Amsterdam Avenue in the apartment where I don't know anybody. I look at the artsy postcard Harriet sends Jeffrey. It’s romantic to send your lover a postcard when you live in the same city and see each other every few days. Jeffrey leaves the postcard out on the dresser. It has a cryptic message only he and she understand and she uses just her initials to sign it.
On the afternoon of the car crash and my mother-and-sister visit, I have also just been fired. That day. From Fotonovel where I've been answering the phones up front. A Hollywood job. At Fotonovel they make paperback books out of movies. They take the still photographs from the movie and add in white cartoon bubbles of dialog above the faces of the actors. The boss is named Herb – handsome, young and rich. He's treated a little like a god. "Herb said this." Herb doesn't want that." Herb hardly notices me, the girl up front who cut her hair last night in her living room, stabbing at herself without a mirror.
I get fired that afternoon. I don't know why. I've hated the job, but I didn't expect to get fired. I always hate my jobs – hate the desk I sit behind until 5 o'clock, hate the phone and the typewriter that keep me pinned. At Fotonovel I look up to the "artists," the people who disappear into tiny cubicle-offices to paste up the pages of the next book. I'm just the receptionist, wondering how anyone gets out of this, makes the jump to "artist."
Jeffrey's done it. Was never a problem for him. The first day in class he told me he'd finished a novel. He showed it to me – a beautiful stack of white, crinkly typed pages. I read them, alone in my little dorm room, alone in New York City, read my boyfriend's novel and didn't like it, not really, but at least he could do it, could sit down at a typewriter and write.
I wrote at my office desk sometimes, wrote stories about strange, unhappy, crazy people. It was easy to imagine being crazy. It seemed much more true than writing about regular people. Jeffrey wrote about regular people all the time – good-looking white people who were witty and fucked each other easily. My people had problems, were stuck way out on the outside, but I tore them up, tore up the yellow pages from the legal pad, cried in the stairwell when Herb fired me, drove downtown to pick up my mother and little sister and crashed into a cement wall that snapped like a paper plate.