By Matthew Wallenstein
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
Maybe ten years ago I published a fictionalized version of something real. I often vacillate when it comes to storytelling, deciding if it should be done through fiction, nonfiction, poetry. With this story, I originally settled on fiction. I would like to tell it here as it happened.
It was the beginning of summer in the city. I lived with a bunch of people. Most of us played in a band together. In two days we were going to leave for a tour around the US that would last most of the summer.
I was in a relationship I should not have been in. It wasn’t the sort of heaven to hell to heaven climb and plummet relationship that warrants telling about. It was just a case of neither of us getting or doing or being what we wanted. In some ways it was comfortable, so neither of us had put the thing out of its misery. It dragged. We argued. We wasted each other’s time. She had a decent heart and was very attractive, which made the ending seem less urgent somehow.
We had stayed up most of the night squabbling. I managed a very poor and interrupted 2 hours of sleep before the door to the apartment opened. C from down the hall started calling to me.
“Heyyyyyy. Your van is destroyed. Wake up,” He was saying this in a loud but very calm voice.
I was tired and not very eager to deal with yet another thing. I got out of bed, put my pants on, walked out of my room.
C saw me and started talking, started telling me what had happened as we walked down the hall towards the stairs.
He had been asleep. There was a sound like a bomb going off and he jumped out of bed and grabbed his gun. He was half asleep and confused. When he got ahold of himself he realized the sound had come from outside the building. He thought it had most likely been a car accident. His apartment was on the opposite side of the building from mine and faced the street. He went outside to look into what had happened.
We had parked our tour van in front of our building. When C came down he saw that the bumper was hanging off, the back window was smashed out. The rear of the vehicle had been hit hard. It was a mess of metal caved-in forming sharp peaks around the dents. We had parked it with all four tires on the street but it had been hit so hard that the whole thing had moved, it sat with three of its tires up on the sidewalk.
Directly across the street there was a car. It was bent all into itself. It was on the sidewalk against a brick building. The driver-side door was open. Its trunk popped up like a mouth about to bite. The trunk was filled to capacity with boxes of Nike shoes. No one was in the car, no one was near the car, no one was around.
C looked up and down the street. Way off, way down at the end of the street near the Chinese lumber place, there was someone stumbling. C started to run and caught up to him. The man was zig-zagging down the sidewalk leaving a trail of blood behind him. It was coming from a nasty cut on his face.
Not even looking up at C he said, “Hey, you hit me man.”
“You hit me man, I was just driving man.”
“You mean my friend’s van? The one that was parked while everyone was asleep? You didn’t hit it? It hit you?”
“Yeah, man. You hit me, man. Hey, you hit me, man.”
Blood kept rolling out of him. C told me he wasn’t sure what he should do. He wanted to beat the guy up but didn’t want that to complicate things if we were going to deal with his insurance. He didn’t want to call the cops, he hated the cops. There was a moment where he stood there thinking of what to do watching the man teeter. It was as if the world was paused. Then the bleeder collapsed. Great, thought C, what do I do with this, I guess at least he can’t run away now.
Then he heard sirens. He looked back over his shoulder towards the wreck. An ambulance was pulling up to it. He turned and ran in its direction.
The two paramedics were out of the ambulance and had the back of it open.
“Hey, the guy is down there. I don’t know if you want to go get him or whatever,” C said.
It was then that he noticed they were loading all those boxes of Nike shoes into the back of the ambulance.
“What are you doing?” asked C.
One of them turned to him and said, “Welcome to Bushwick.”
The other tossed the last box in, shut the back, and the two of them got back in. It started and they drove off.
C was left standing in the middle of the street, a ruined van on one side of him, a ruined car on the other. The only other person in sight was in an unconscious pile a few blocks away. That’s when he came upstairs and got me.
By the time he finished telling me his story we had made it out to the street and I saw it for myself. The police were already there. I talked to one of the cops. He told me they were taking care of it. I was a little concerned, as the van was in my name and was not insured or inspected, facts I did not mention to him.
After an hour or so the same cop came back and filled me in. The driver of the car had gotten out of prison the day before. He immediately went to it. He filled his system with as much meth and booze as he could, robbed a shoe store, continued his spree into the early morning until he hit our van. The cop said he would take care of the paperwork and make sure we got paid out by the guy’s insurance. It felt very strange to have a cop talking to me without being in trouble. Maybe the most surprising thing in the whole story was that this guy had insurance.
Meanwhile, the van was wrecked to all hell. It was undrivable. We were supposed to leave for tour at the end of the week. The drummer of my band was a mechanic though, and managed to jerry-rig the thing into reasonable functionality. It lasted us until Fargo before it stopped working again.
At the end of the tour when we got back to Brooklyn, nearly 3 months after we had left, we contacted the insurance people. They came and deemed it totaled and we collected enough to pay for our next run of shirts and enough pizza to share with everyone in our apartment, C’s apartment, and another apartment we were friends with in the building, which added up to well over 30 people.