By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Sometimes they get mad at you because you don’t love them back. Sometimes you love them but you’ve got too many hang-ups, stupid things, baggage that ties itself to you and you’re still dragging around. Once in a while you fall for something that hurts you, leads you around like you’re a street dog and they really have something. Sometimes neither of you loves the other but you both look good without a shirt on. There are a lot of ways romance can go.
I was running through it in my head while I got out of bed and pulled on some sweatpants. I usually woke up with something upsetting me, that day like many others it was the heart. I grabbed a banana and chewed on it while I crossed the street. I was walking over to the garage where Dave lived so we could lift weights. It was a good thing to eat up time with, to distract myself, and he had this big mirror behind the weight rack I liked flexing in front of.
The lot in front of his place was filled with old beaters, cars that Dave, Jay and Big Dirty worked on for people, or that were left there and given up on. Jack was there standing next to his truck. Jay was bent over looking under the hood, and there was another guy I didn’t recognize over there too. A woman sat in her car nearby looking bored. While I was walking by Big Dirty he leaned in to me.
“Some guy is going to buy Jack’s truck,” he said.
“You guys must be so happy.”
Jack was a friend of ours. He bought a truck, a clunker with a lot of problems, with the intention of fixing it up. He didn’t know a thing about cars, though. He wanted to learn about car repair by doing it. It amounted to beating a dead horse, Big Dirty, Jay, Jack, they all dumped hours into it. They got it to run periodically, but I think they were all glad to see it go.
I went inside. Dave and I worked out, made jokes, talked about the truck. When we were done I went back out front. Jay was there working on something else. He told me Jack and the buyer had left together 45 minutes before and he had no idea where they went. Later on, I got the whole story from Jack.
Jack tried to sell it, put an ad up. No one bought it. He put another ad up. No one bought it. He tried again to sell it. Finally he got a bite from Craigslist. The guy got ahold of him via text from his girlfriend’s phone. He said he didn’t have a phone of his own so he had to set up times in advance to call Jack. He wanted to buy it to collect scrap metal with. After a few calls the guy came to check out the truck.
Jack arranged it so he had four hours before he had to be at class. He figured that would be plenty of time to get done with the truck. The buyer and his girlfriend showed up. He was in the passenger seat. They were wearing old pajamas. He got out.
Jack greeted him. The guy had a thick Pittsburgh accent. The guy looked at the truck: the rusted out floors, the dents, the seats with their tears and yellow creases. He wanted it. They agreed on a price.
“Well, let’s head over to the notary,” Jack said.
“Okay, I know a notary close by. We can go there.”
“Where is that?”
“Close by. I’ll give you directions. You can drive us there.”
“Okay,” Jack said. “I don’t have too much time but that’s fine, we can just get this thing done.”
“It’s just a couple miles.”
They got into Jack’s car and headed out of Braddock. They crossed the bridge towards Homestead. There was some getting lost, some miles then some more miles. It was over a half hour when they finally got there.
They got out and went in. Jack explained why they were there and pulled out the papers, pulled out his drivers license. The buyer pulled his out. It didn’t take long for the notary to tell them the sale couldn’t happen because the buyers license wasn’t valid. But after enough arguing and sweet-talking by the buyer to cave the resolve of the notary, and eventually it was done. Jack checked his watch as they got back into his car and headed back to where the truck was.
“Is that your girlfriend? She seems nice,” Jack was making conversation as they went along.
“Man you got a girl?” The buyer asked him.
“Yeah, well, shit. She’s a bitch, man.”
“Man, fuck. She is annoying as hell. A real bitch. She’s always complaining n’at.”
“But it does seem like she helps you out, right? She drove you over here and lets you use her phone.”
“Yeah. We were homeless back in Ohio, she got a place here and I moved in. But fuck dude. The truth of it is I can’t stand her.”
Jack got back to the lot. They went to his truck. The buyer’s girlfriend was still there waiting for him. Jack handed him the keys and he got in and went to start it and it was dead. Flat dead. They opened the hood and propped it up. That was about the time I came by to lift weights with Dave.
“Can you drive me over to get a new battery?” the buyer said.
“We have to go quick, I am running very behind on my day.”
“Let’s go then.”
“I’ll bring you over to the AutoZone it isn’t too far,” Jack said.
“No, I know a guy. He has a junkyard it will be way cheaper. AutoZone, that shit’ll be like hundred dollars, my buddy’ll do it for like twenty or thirty. I don’t have a job, I don’t have much money to spend on this stuff. It’s close by.”
“Okay. Let’s go. Come on.”
They got into Jack’s car again. They crossed the bridge again. They got lost again. It was almost 40 minutes this time before they pulled into a spot in front of the junkyard.
“Come oooooon in,” the buyer said.
They walked over. A little bell made a sound when they opened the door. The buyer and the guy working said their hellos. The worker was rubbing his hands with a rag. He nodded at Jack and said something under his breath.
“Whatchu need?” He said turning to the buyer. Then before he answered he turned back toward Jack and said, “you stay here.”
He opened a door and the two of them disappeared through it. The clock on the wall ticked away. Jack leaned on the counter. The hands moved across the clock face. Jack rubbed his chin, slapped his hands on his thighs, sighed. He went and sat in a chair in the corner. Time kept going, he could see it move around on that clock. He looked at his watch as if it would have better news for him. He waited, waited. He just wanted to be done with the whole thing, he wanted to be back at school. His afternoon had been swallowed by inactivity. He thought about just leaving, he had the guys money, he could just go. The clock kept on. He thought more about leaving.
Finally the door opened. They came back in. The buyer was carrying the battery. The worker scratched his balls.
“Okay, twenty-eight dollars.”
The buyer handed his card over. It was swiped. It was declined. It was tried again. It was declined. Jack looked over at the clock. The buyer pulled out another one. Swiped, declined. Another. Declined. It was like those handkerchiefs clowns pulled out of their pockets, the cards just kept coming and kept being declined. Jack gave up, reached into his pocket, pulled out the bills the buyer had given him for the truck and took thirty from it.
On the drive back to Braddock the buyer complained more about his girlfriend. He talked about being homeless in Ohio. He complained about his girl some more, and some more after that.
They got back to the lot. Jay and Big Dirty did what they needed to do to the truck and the guy left in it. The truck jolted and bucked along. It was someone else’s issue now.
A few days later Jack got a text message from the buyer’s girlfriend’s phone. He started sending Jack pictures of the truck with its back filled up with scrap metal. He got another a few days later telling him the buyer’s neighbor smashed one of the windows out, but not to worry it was running great. Each time Jack gave very short responses. The guy kept texting, saying he wanted to call Jack, sending more pictures of it hauling scrap. Jack sort of felt bad for him, it seemed like he was just looking for a friend.
Around Thanksgiving he got a text from the same number. This time it was the buyer’s girlfriend. She explained that they had been in a high-speed chase running from the police and the truck had flipped over. They both ended up in the hospital and the buyer had gone to jail. Jack said he hoped everyone was okay. She then said that, by the way, this was the girlfriend of the guy who bought the truck from him. Why she told him the story — if she thought they were friends, if she was looking for money — he didn’t know. He never heard from either one of them again.
She was out there loving him and he was out there crashing scrap metal trucks. When women and men get together they are either boring as hell or make a mess of things. At least these two weren’t boring. Who knows.