Fat Women in Uniform
By Jan-Erik Asplund '14
All of us, we’re always moving at cross-purposes, as unaware of the futility of movement as we are of the intentions and desires of those we surround ourselves with. A slip of the tongue, a hiccup, a moment of weakness; small mistakes come alive like a herd of animals frightened by noise and stampede uninhibited, trampling everything in their path. When you’re alone you can dream this to yourself, but the thought vanishes the moment you spot your lover leaning on a parking meter, waiting for you to take her somewhere.
Friday: He had jumped out of the car and circled around the tree to read the sign, which said (he said) No Parking Sunday. This seemed reasonable to me and so I agreed. We left the car outside Forest Avenue Wine and Spirits. Later, I returned to the car to retrieve my phone and there it was, stable, intact, alone. 11 PM.
Saturday, 11 AM: I am reading Céline at a Chinese restaurant two blocks from the apartment, nursing a box of General Tso’s Chicken and its accompanying egg roll, opening packets of duck sauce with my teeth. “I was being hornswoggled by everything and everybody, women, money, and ideas. I was a sucker, and didn’t like it.”
Satiated, I pack up my chicken and step out onto the street. I feel fresh, light, limbs exposed to a breezy spring day, not hot, not cold. My heart a rabbit, warm in its cage. Cars fly by, blasting, variously: Nelly, Metallica, dance hits from the 90s without names. Probably a parking spot would be open in front of the apartment now, with all these people driving around forgetting the vital task (nay, duty) of finding a good parking spot and sticking to it.
I do not remember where the car is. I remember I saw a sign for Gates Avenue, and possibly Grandview, while I was walking from the car to the apartment. But it is a beautiful day and I have time to spare: those I came with and those I’m visiting are all out, seeing relatives, working jobs not up to their standards, sleeping. I am alone and I have an entire afternoon to myself and now I will find my car and move it, maybe somewhere where I can sit by the window in the apartment and keep a watchful eye on it, make sure no neighborhood children lean on it (a sin).
I walk around. I greet the man hawking shrubbery outside the garden supply store, I stop into the bodega on the corner and catch up with a man I haven’t seen in a few months, I smile at unsuspecting passersby. I decide to walk to Fresh Pond because I remember that there was a liquor store on Fresh Pond, and I remember I left the car in front of a liquor store. I realize I don’t have my keys, but no matter, I keep a spare in the wheel well. Which somewhat defeats the purpose, having a street full of people watch me extricate my spare key, but never mind that either, I am moving the car and anyways what is there of worth in my junker – shop towels, window cleaner, a jean jacket. Not a bad jacket, by any means.
But the car is not in front of the liquor store. I smile at the shop on the corner where a woman makes crepes in the window, pouring out the dough, raking it to the sides like a Zen gardener, cutting up slices of banana. I walk back towards Forest.
Streets are confusing but I make my way with confidence, I make the entire block stand in awe, jealous of my certainty. Anticipating of a day spent reading, basking, napping. It is hot but they keep the windows open in this apartment, to let in the noises of the streets, which I am still walking.
I return to the man selling plant matter and ask, offhand, where I might find a certain Polish liquor store. “Polish?” he says, “Right down the block, I’m pointing right at it.”
He points. The man standing beside him looks uncertain, does not speak, not even to affirm his friend’s directions or add encouragement.
I make my way down the block and soon see what he was pointing to. Forest Avenue Wine and Spirits, adjacent to a barbershop and a Polish specialty market. It wasn’t a Polish liquor store after all, I think, but a liquor store next to Polish store. My car isn’t there. I quickly walk away, down a side street. Gates and Grandview, two names to follow.
I consider asking a passerby for help locating a liquor store not on Forest Avenue or Fresh Pond, but people might make certain assumptions about the kind of man I am, and I do not need things like that floating around at the moment, impeding my successful progression through the world. At least I am getting a fair amount of sun (it is Sunfest after all) but I wonder if sunscreen would have been wise, so I stay in the shade.
I have lost my car like this before, in parking garages, at the Albany airport, it is only a matter of time before I come across it. In all likelihood I have walked right by it several times, so I retrace some of my steps while paying extra close attention to the cars parked by the curb.
I return to Forest Avenue Wine and Spirits. Whether he is Polish or not I think perhaps the owner of this establishment would be helpful. “You are probably thinking of store off Woodbine,” he would tell me, “walk down that block and turn the corner, it is right there.” I would get in my car and glide off down the street, park in front of the house, return to Céline, finish off my leftovers.
The door is locked. The schedule on said door indicates that the door should not be locked, but that is the beauty of locks. They lock regardless of time. I ring the bell a few times, and then a few more times, with some urgency. I go next door, to the Polish store. The man there seems confused, Polish enough, but ultimately unhelpful. He advises me to check the barbershop.
Men are on the street now, young Arabic-speaking men with heavy accents and gold jewelry, tracksuits. I ask them, vocalizing a fear I could not earlier put into words: “Did any of you see a car towed from here, earlier today?” Immediately, the men decide to go back into the barbershop, shouting as they re-enter. Yeah, I hear, yeah. Didn’t see it. Yeah. One of them clicks with his tongue, loud, a noise like a universal signifier of a mix of pity and awe. Numbers I don’t fully hear or understand, forty-four or forty-fifth, eight-six. Two-eighty. The men are gone.
“What exactly happens when your car gets towed?” I ask the man back at the garden supply store. “Your car got towed?” he asks, actually incredulous. “I think so.”
“You got a day ahead of you, boy. You’re gonna need to get someone to drive your ass back and forth.” His friend from earlier is gone, it is just me and a man who sells plants for a living.
“Hey, where you goin’, you can do it on your phone! You gotta call 933, or whatever the number is.”
I extricate the leftover Chinese from the fridge and plug in a laptop, plugging my phone into said laptop. This will be a delicate procedure. Crisis-type situations lend themselves best to fully-charged peripherals. I reduce the garden store man’s fraction and call 311. Then I decide to use NYC’s 311 website instead. Something about talking information-bots affects my sense of personal agency and I need as much agency as I can get.
“Please enter the plate number of the towed vehicle.” I pause. Firstly, I am not so sure it is fair of the NYPD to assume that it is common knowledge that one’s vehicle has been towed, given the possibility of it having met some more nefarious fate. I saw my car at 11 PM on Friday night and then did not, around noon on Saturday. But I assent.
And then I realize I have no working memory of my license plate number, which feels at first like it must be a trick of the circumstances. I think “harder”. I think about what it says about me that I do not know my own license plate number. It is not a difficult thing to rationalize, it turns out.
I call up my father, and when she doesn’t pick up, my mother. I’m sure this terrified them, later. I call the number on the back of my State Farm card, and after delivering a few mouthfuls of personal information to the man at the other end I am informed that my license plate number is not on file. I call AAA. After informing me that my number was not on file there either, the man at the other end continues to speak: “Well, ya see, the thing is, at AAA you’re covered whether you’re drivin’ or you’re just a passenger, ya see?”
“Yes, I see.”
“So it don’t matter the license plate of the car, ‘cause you’re a member with us, and you’re protected.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“You are welcome.”
Now I am now gulping down, with rage, the rest of the chicken I thought I would save for later. I think of something ridiculous. I load up bennington.edu, which characteristically takes about five minutes and a few different browser windows. I find the phone number and make the call. Within minutes I have a license plate number – Campus Safety being apparently the only open place on earth with it on record. And yet the line is garbled, phone service less than ideal, I am left with no certainties.
I enter the number into NYC’s online database.
“As of Saturday, May 7, 2013, 01:57 PM we have no record of your vehicle with plate AHV7681 NC being towed by the NYC Sheriff, Marshal or NYPD Violation tow program. Please contact your local NYPD precinct to assist you in determining if your vehicle has been relocated due to a parade, demonstration or street fair. If your vehicle was not towed or relocated, it may have been stolen. The local precinct can assist you in preparing the necessary reports.”
I think about the spare key in the wheel well, the odds that someone is using my car to sell drugs out of at that very moment, the odds that it’s been stripped already, that parts to a thirteen-year old American-made truck have somehow skyrocketed in value in the last few years, turning my car into a precious street commodity. I think about the odds that I left the door unlocked after fumbling around in the dark for my possessions the night before, about the amount of foot traffic on Forest Avenue. I think about how psychically relaxing it would be if my car was, in fact, stolen, how much less money I would spend on gasoline and how much less time I would spend going over potholes, driving people around, trying to get a good parking spot. Megabus is not so bad, I think, and the shocks on that car were basically ready to snap anyways. I think about the woman at Campus Safety and the uneasy assonances of certain letters, the difference between V and Z, V like Virgo or violin, Z like zebra.
I put in the number again but as of 1:59 PM there is still no record of my car.
Around 2:36 I finally confirm via telephone that my truck had been interred at the Queens NYPD impound lot. The man over the phone informs me with no shortage of pleasantry that a private contractor would be shutting the gate at exactly 3 PM. “What’s the address?”: a question I didn’t think to ask. I check the city’s valuable internet resources and draw up directions on a pad of paper. Forty minutes, walking. There wouldn’t be time to stretch.
Review of NYPD Queens Impound Lot (42-02 56th Rd., Maspeth, NY 11378)
The Ambience: Located underneath a bridge and across from a graveyard, the NYPD Queens Impound Lot may not make the perfect destination for a first date, wedding or funeral. But if its complete removal from any form of public transportation doesn't get your blood flowing, a nice hike along Rust Street (a pleasant stretch of warehouses and scrap metal) will. Pack a nice lunch for the trip!
The Amenities: The NYPD conveniently accepts every major form of payment for the at-least $185 it will take to win your car back from its captors. Debit, credit, AMEX, cash, money order, wampum, ceremonial beads, gold bricks, you name it. As long as it will fit through the little slot. There doesn't really seem to be air conditioning in the little booth, and if you ask to stand outside the booth while you wait, the guard will gleefully inform you that that would indeed be amenable to him seeing as how it would enable him to shut the door behind you.
The Crowd: Hand-picked from the most glamorous and interesting members of society, there's no doubt that you'll be rubbing elbows with some of Queens' brightest while you wait for your paperwork to be processed. Queens is getting gentrified quickly, as exemplified by the leather jacket-sporting, Etnies-wearing dude with -- is that an earring? So scandalous -- inexplicably hitting on the cashier. Who looked, no shit, like D'Angelo from The Wire (but a woman). A group of five or six men speaking Arabic lingered in the back as if they had been there for days, at this point settling in for the long haul and trying to recruit newcomers to their little salon. Is the hipster really trying to use his mom's credit card to pay for his van?
The Service: Make no sudden moves and do not upset the hostage takers. They are sensitive to confusion and may become confused themselves. But seriously, how are you gonna ask me "You been here before?" in that tone? When I tried to protest, D'Angelo shifted in her seat and shut me up -- with her eyes. Gradually the kidnappers became more amenable. With her chipper tone, D'Angelo told a man who spoke only Spanish that he would have to come back on Monday when the Spanish interpreter was in. When I was finally called she even told me I was "last but not least". Such joy!
The Ride: This is a sensitive situation, and it stands to reason that you are not allowed to personally retrieve your vehicle. Instead you make your way to a Police Escort vehicle, operated by a large woman grooving along -- in her head, I suppose -- to one of those channels that only plays morally-relaxed R&B tracks. What she is dreaming of doing on her Saturday night I have to wonder.
The Parking: The street outside is a No Parking Zone. Please don't do it. Can't say much more for the way these Officers of the Law park the vehicles they capture. My truck was parked so close to a dilapidated cab that I sideswiped it on the way out, which, what exactly am I going to do about that. It's like if you skinned your knee on a poorly placed table as you were walking out of a five-year prison stint. Not exactly going to go back and lodge a complaint. WOOPS
Poem for NYPD Queens Impound Lot (42-02 56th Rd., Maspeth, NY 11378)
We say that the map is different from the territory. A sandy-gray Chevy, AHV7861. A for apple, H for helmet, V for Virgo. Or was it Z, like zebra. I would like to report my car, he said to the man on the phone.
Later he says, what is the license plate number, and he answers: A, black velvety jacket of ﬂies, H, sandpaper on skin, V, bristle of a blade entering soft ground.The year of Newton’s Principia, backwards. I could sing you a song or paint you a picture.
He runs to a stinking bridge where cars go when they’re tired, or get lost. Someone has to run there and rescue them because otherwise, they close the gate. Then they sit there in the dark, under the stinking bridge, wondering what went wrong, why they were stolen away from the street in the middle of the night, why no one has come.
The man shakes his head and curses. Women, fat women in uniform laugh and sing and cry because it is summertime. A piece of rebar falls from the bridge and lands by itself. The fat women laugh louder, they keep getting bigger, some of them start dancing and some of them ﬂoat up, up to the bridge, hoping to be the next.