Aug/Sep 1998 Spotlight

Chevy Nova

by Kevin McGowin

Times were tough and I found it hard to stay sober after Roosevelt Green stole my Nova. (I didn't know who did it, of course, and didn't until they found it later, but it was the sheer inconvenience of it, y'know. And I didn't even know the guy, but I sure do now, in a way). I mean, I didn't have a fucking car and had to rely on my friends for rides to work and the store and all and so they were pissed, because I was such a burden, and of course I was pissed, too, because of the situation and the lack of mobility and freedom. I felt like a piece of shit, especially when I was honest with myself and yeah, I'd practically invited somebody to steal it because I was in a cheap hotel room on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of Crackville getting drunk by myself and watching the Auburn game with the door open 'cause it smelled so bad in there and was hot, and the door was still open when I finally passed out and rolled off the side of the bed with the keys right there on the fucking night stand. I couldn't go on my little binges at home 'cause my wife would have none of it, understandably, and hell, I was so stupid it was probably more my fault than his the damn thing was gone and I was lucky he didn't slit my throat while he was at it! You know it, brother.

So I told the cops I was more or less new to the area and had been out apartment hunting and had been taking a shower when it happened, and of course they knew that was bullshit and never even looked for it. I could have told the truth but they still wouldn't have looked for it. I know they didn't bother 'cause when I got it back last week it had these two wadded up yellow tickets still in it, where Roosevelt Green had gotten pulled over for driving with expired out-of-state plates and an expired licence, and then another time for driving at night with a busted headlight. Seems he had a working knowledge of the methodology of the Tampa cops and that they didn't give a shit. He'd got me. I mean, I was a sitting duck on this one.

So after all this went down I got a ride back home embarrassed as hell and pretty humiliated, as you can imagine, and thought twice and three times over about going on a bender after that. And even if I'd wanted to, I had no fucking car. Oh well—probably saved my life a second time, Roosevelt Green. And for whatever reason, I suppose this was what they call your "bottom"—hell, I'd had enough of times like this. I'd lost watches and wallets and jackets and shoes before, y'know, lots of stuff, but this was really my ass. So I called it a night and quit drinking and getting high. It wasn't easy.

I called the detectives about my car from time to time, until they more or less told me to stop calling, that they'd let me know, all that, and a friend of mine even took me out to look for it one day, and I had my spare key ready but of course we didn't find it. So before long, I just gave up on it. It was my fault, after all. Another friend of mine was nice enough to sell me an old clunker of his real cheap to get me by, but after about a day the fucking engine blew up while I was driving to a fucking AA meeting. So I just started saving my money and not spending it on cheap hotel rooms and booze and shit. Things started looking up, a bit, and for Christmas my wife and I went out of town. It'd been over two months since I'd lost the Nova.

It was our last day on vacation when I called the machine to get our messages and had two on there from the guy I'd bought the car from, saying the Tampa cops had sent him a letter at his brother's place in Huntsville saying that his car was impounded following the arrest of the fellow driving it. Man, this letter's dated two weeks ago, he said, and they don't even seem to know it was stolen, or that it's even your car. Some fucker might have gotten a DUI or something and then got out and maybe even have the car back.

But I was real suprised, of course, and called the cops when I hit town, and sure enough, they had it. I had to show them all the paperwork over again and pay an assload in storage to get the damn release form. They told me it'd been impounded after the cops pulled over Roosevelt Green, black male, 150 lbs., 5'8, 46 years of age, driving around in Crackville in the middle of the night with two white hookers while high on rock and carrying around six crack pipes, pot, cocaine, and a syringe full of heroin lying right on the dashboard. And his headlight was still busted and he still had fucking expired Alabama plates on the thing. He was still in jail.

So my wife took me down to the towing company to get it, paperwork and money and keys in hand, and they made me pay before they took me to it. I walked by it twice. I didn't even recognize it.

It's not that the body was all that more fucked up than when it was stolen—just that headlight out and some scratches and a back window out. But where it had been dark blue before, now it looked somehow dim, like the eyes of a person who's real poor and strung out and doesn't have a hope in hell. I'm not just projecting this—I mean, this car was blurry. But the interior, which had been nice before—now that, that was another fucking story.

Roosevelt Green had apparently been evicted from wherever he was living 'cause he'd been living in the goddamn car, and Novas, as you know, aren't all that big. The entire trunk was full of his clothes and women's clothes and children's clothes and the backseat had cat litter and cat shit on it, and everything was damp because of the broken window. There were bars of soap from cheap hotels and scraps of paper with people's beeper numbers on them everywhere, and jars of hair gel and Vasoline and a glove box full of funky condoms, and he'd just put cigarette butts out everywhere (Newport) and still had crack pipes under the seat the TPD hadn't found. It was just the way he'd left it, and it was like it was no longer my car at all, y'know. All that and then some, but what I'll never forget is that smell.

It was the most rancid ineffible funk of which none greater can be conceived, the ontological funk, it was noxious, and it went down so deep it was like you were whiffing the very Devil's soul, atomised and let loose once and fucking for all on the inside of my 1987 dark blue Chevy Nova. I could really barely get to the gas station. There was a dumpster there and I pitched out the contents of the trunk, but the smell of course remained. Roosevelt had marked his territory. There was nothing left to remind me this had ever been my car, ever.

Nor was there the next day after I took it to the car wash and vacuumed it out and hosed it down and sprayed Lysol in there tried to air it out. The car itself was in almost obscenely good shape—it seems he'd only driven around his own neighborhood and kept it oiled up and running nice, 'cause it was his home. But even running and comparitively clean, the car was fucked. I mean it, man, and literally. Roosevelt Green had pulled up the entire back seat, presumably to stash his dope, but I took care of that—it was what was on the seats I couldn't abide. Petroleum jelly and come stains, lots of them. Maybe one for every day he'd had the car. Roosevelt Green, addict though he might have been, could still eject a hefty load, and where the rubbers came in, I don't know. Actually I think I do, but I don't even want to go there, chief. And it was my car. Again.

I could get the stains up one at a time, now, with this foam cleaning shit I bought at Wal-Mart, but it took me scrubbing 'till I was covered in sweat and my shoulder was sore and I was almost crying from the fumes and the smells. I was fucking pissed off, and tired, and I thought, I could use a fucking drink. Right now.

But I thought that first drink through, for maybe really the first time in my life. It's the first drink that gets you drunk, just like it's the first shot of Roosevelt Green's drug-spiked come that ruins your upholstery, and I knew that if I took it I'd be right there where Roosevelt had been in no time flat and doing it all in the same goddamn car. And I realized that if you really want to get metaphysical about it, Roosevelt Green and I were one, we were the same man, except he'd taken over and gone and lived my hell for me so's I wouldn't have to, like Jesus died on the cross for your sins. And it was over. And I didn't have to drink or do what Roosevelt'd done. And I didn't.

And now the smell's lifted just enough for me to be able to drive the old thing, and I keep a rag and a can of that foam cleaner shit I bought at Wal-Mart in the glove box. And every time I feel like getting mowed ('cause it's never halfway with me), I'll just turn on the hazards and pull into a parking lot or over to the side of the road and lift up the green cover that now graces the back seat, pick a spot, and start scrubbing. I'll scrub 'till the stain's gone or I pass out out hyperventilate, whichever comes first, and I'll be on my fucking sober way, and dirtier and a wiser man. And when I finally clean the whole car, then I'll drink. Then I'll start popping dope, man, but I'll do it in a different car, in a different place, and in a different world where I'm high on crack and getting sucked at a seedy hotel, looking out the window to another room, where there's a door wide open and a drunk guy sleeping.


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