I had to get some new tires put on the car today, because three of the four were so badly worn that every time a mechanic would put it on the lift for an oil change he’d inevitably spit in disgust and tell me “You’re going to have a blowout and kill some innocent person.” I understand the sentiment, but we don’t drive very often, and I’ve been waiting for the most favorable moment to do some stimulus spending. We have to attend a holiday business luncheon far, far away on Friday, and I figured it would be a good time to prep the vehicle for a hundred mile drive. If there’s one place you really don’t want to flip a car, it’s on I-40 between RTP and Cary, NC, because the cars will just keep slamming into the wreckage until they figure out it’s easier to drive through the softer dislocated body parts surrounding it.
I’ve learned that you never truly have an appointment to get new tires, even if you schedule it in advance, so I wasn’t too worried when the clerk told me over the phone: “Just show up early in the morning. We can usually work you in in about fifteen minutes”.
I knew I’d need a book to entertain myself, and there’s usually a pad of sketch paper and pencils in the car already. Lately I’ve been rereading John McGahern’s “The Pornographer”, but I hesitated to bring it because of the squicky conversational doors it might open in the waiting room at the tire store.
I’d pretty much forgotten the gist of the other McGahern novel I decided to bring along, even though I had a vague memory of it being not very cheery.
I have now been reminded its title “The Dark” is an excellent summation of the novel, aptly chosen, though I can hardly recommend it for reading while standing in a large tire display hangar in preference to the room where various elderly and obese people sit indifferently and absorb Fox News like a Demerol drip.
The novel begins on a comparatively upbeat note:
“Say what you said because I know.”
“I didn’t say anything”
“Out with it I tell you”
“I don’t know I said anything”
“F-U-C-K is what you said, isn’t it? That profane and ugly word. Now do you think you can bluff your way out of it?”
“I didn’t mean it, it just came out.”
“The filth that’s in your head came out, you mean. And I’m going to teach you a lesson for once. You’d think there’d be some respect left for your dead mother left in the house. And try to sing dumb-as if butter wouldn’t melt. But I’ll teach you.”
He took the heavy leather strap he used for sharpening his razor from its nail on the side of the press…..”

I began reading this by the plate glass window at the front of the shop where the customers filed in to request replacement tires or to stand and gawk at the giant chrome rims on display in the lobby. Several people started a discussion of the technical merits and shortcomings of a particularly large set of decorative wheels. They looked sound enough, but you didn’t want them on your car if you were carrying a shooting victim to the emergency room:
“You just can’t corner with those if you’re doing fifty miles an hour. I don’t care how sober you are! I goddamn near run up on them rocks near Union Street, and off the motherfucking bridge!”
About this time the piano entry for Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” began tumbling over the speakers to frame the guy’s story. He had a brown suit with a matching scarf, a black shirt, and the kind of small black hat my grandfather used to wear when he’d walk to one of the liquor houses that catered to the older drunks in Hillsboro.
Another older man moved somewhat close to me, looking as though he was about to try and start a conversation; I lifted the book again and thumbed forward several pages:
“You don’t mind, do you-it’s easier to talk this way,and even in the summer the night gets cold.”
“No father.I don’t mind,” what else was there to say, and move far out to the outer edge of the bed, even then his feet touching you as they went down. The bodies lay side by side in the single bed.
“You find it hard to sleep? I often do. It’s the worst of all, I often think, to be sleepless at night,” he said, and you stiffened when his arm went about your shoulder,was this to be another of the midnight horrors with your father. His hand closed on your arm. You wanted to curse or wrench yourself free but you had to lie stiff as a board, stare straight ahead at the wall, afraid before anything of meeting the eyes you knew were searching your face.”

I looked up from the book just as the guy was trying to corner someone else into a chat, and made another brief survey of the room. A guy with a shaved head and a tattoo reaching up the back of his neck was fogging the window with his breath, like a child sitting on a schoolbus. A young black man was on the cell phone with one of his friends, telling him that “If Tony told you he’s gonna be there at noon, you may as well just eat a sandwich and catch a couple hours sleep. He ‘s going to be there around five.”
I’d been standing in the shop much longer than I thought I’d have to when they called my name. as I was approaching the desk, the mechanic said “You got no brakes. We can do them. Eighty.”
“Yeah” I said. I’d heard them squealing any time I had to drive in town, so I figured they weren’t just robbing me while they had me trapped . It bothered me more that I’d be stuck there.
I’d had a dream the night before where my wife and I had a very difficult time finding a room on a visit to Manhattan, and when we were about to give up, a guy at a fairly expensive hotel said he had a cancellation, and offered us a room at not too bad a rate. This part actually happened. We speculated that he might have the room equipped with two way mirrors, and he was going to make up his shortfall selling sad porn to a small but lucrative market. In the dream, I woke up for a piss, and staggered out on the carpeted floor in the dark, when the television set began to roll toward me. Then it was accompanied by other television shaped things plowing through the floor like submarine conning towers breaking the surface of the ocean. They turned out to be newish tombstones, the mirror polished variety from late last century. Aileanthus trees had sprouted from the carpet, about an arm’s thickness, and twisted about my legs and held them while the stones moved in surely and swiftly to crush them to a pulp.
And here I was, standing at the tire store with a downer book, trying to figure out if the dream, while disturbing, hadn’t at least offered some faint glimmer of entertainment.