Because We’re Human

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The kid was punctual. John was not.

“Knock, knock, knock,” the kid said when he realized the doorbell did not work and the front door was wide open behind the screen. It was a warm Humboldt afternoon and you could smell the salt air even from this far inland, about half a mile.

John finally poked his head around the corner of the house after the kid banged the loose fitting screen loud enough to be heard in the yard.

“Can I hep ya?” John asked while wiping a screw driver with an oily rag.

“Come about the Seville.”

A look of questioning wonder washed over John’s face until he smiled and said, “Right. I forgot. You called about buying the Caddy. Well, c’mon over here. I got it in back. My name’s John.”

“Mortimer,” the kid said shaking John’s hands despite the obvious probability of getting grease on his own. “Mort for short.”

“Funny that. Mort for short. Rhymes. Ok. There she is. Ain’t she a beaut?”

The 1980 Cadillac Seville was gold and shone like a polished stone. It was obvious the owner was proud of the pristine automobile even if it only got fifteen miles to the gallon on the highway, ten in the city.

“Six liter V-8 in that baby. Lots of power.”

Mort walked around the nearly 4,000 pounds of steel and glass admiring the paint job, peering in through the windows, touching both side mirrors as he walked to the front where he reverently held his hand aloft above the hood insignia.

John pulled a set of keys out of his pocket, got into the driver seat and started the engine. He turned down the radio as it came on and listened to the vehicle purr. He gave it a couple throttle pumps and the engine roared like a giant dynamo waiting to be let loose on the highway. “Wouldn’t part with her ’cept the wife, you know?”

“I’m not married.”

“Well, then, you don’t know. She’s a good woman, but says I got too many cars, they’re clogging up the yard.” He waved in an unspecified, all encompassing gesture that took in the back yard, a tool shed, picnic table and four other vehicles in various stages of repair. “Those two run fine. And this.” He slapped a rag covered hand on the roof of the Seville. “This one runs great, looks great. Know what I mean?”

“That I do know,” Mort said as he took out his wallet and began counting hundred dollar bills. “Seven, eight, nine, ten. One thousand. You said you wanted two grand? Eleven, twelve . . .”

John said, “You ain’t even going to haggle?”

“Fourteen, fifteen. Nope. Seems like a fair price to me.”

“Blue Book. It’s high Blue Book, but it’s still Blue Book.”

“Nineteen, twenty. Two thousand dollars. Worth it for something so pretty. I think it’ll do the trick.”

As he took the money and began counting the bills himself, John said, “Trick? What trick is that? Runs great. She’ll get you around town all right.”

“Impress a girl. Isabella, the love of my life. I want her to ride in style.”

John pulled out the pink slip, signed and dated it. He filled out several official pieces of paper including a bill of sale which he handed to Mort. He leaned inside, read the mileage, wrote the number on a piece of paper then got out and gestured Mortimer to sit. “Full tank of gas. Holds 23 gallons. Make it to San Francisco on that.”

“I’ll be taking it south to L. A. to meet her parents.”

“Two tanks then.”

Mort put both hands on the wheel and sat there revving the engine slightly. He adjusted the rear view mirror on the windshield, reached over as if to change the passenger side mirror when John said, “They’re electric.”

“Oh.” The mirrors came into align with a whirring sound.

Then Mort put his hand on the column gear shift lever, put the Caddy in reverse and waved goodbye.

“Happy trails,” John said as the car and driver disappeared into the Arcata evening.

* * *

“I can’t believe you fell for my facking brother,” Gloria said with indignation rattling in her tone. “He’s such a goddam nerd. He’s always been a nerd. He eats, drinks, thinks nerdy. He was celibate until he met you and you, you’re what, two years older? I mean, you’re a junior for chrissakes, you graduate next year. He’s a nerdy freshman.”

“But he’s soooooo cute,” Isabella replied hugging the couch pillow close to her chest.

“Yah, and he’s also very Jewish. Have you thought of that? He’s going to want you to raise your kids Jewish and send any boys to a Yeshiva. Know what that is? Ya don’t, do you? It’s where they teach the Torah. In Hebrew no less. My folks will insist on it. And meanwhile, your folks will have a shit fit because they’re Christian Chicanos who lost their daughter to a Slavic heretic. I’m telling this to you as your best friend, not just your roommate, you don’t want to hang with my brother Mortimer.”

As if satisfied with her argument, Gloria rose from her chair and reached into the hall closet where she pulled out a coat and began pulling it on. Then, with a quizzical expression on her face, she produced a second garment, an expensive full length rain coat.

“Jesus. You know who left this? I bet it was Virginia and Dan. She had a raincoat when they drove up from San Francisco. Aw hell. I’ll mail it to them.” At that moment the doorbell rang. “I hope it’s not Mort. He takes too much out of me.”

Isabella flung the front door open, spread her arms wide and embraced Mortimer in a big hug. “Morteeeee,” she said with exaggerated glee.

“Hey guys,” Mort said when she finally set him free. “C’mon outside, I got something to show ya.”

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