I was thinking about Yolanda when the smartass with the giant teardrop shaped clown face painted on the back windshield merged into my lane. The yellow face was composed of enough negative space to adequately see the road behind. The smile, accounting for two thirds of the face’s mass, bled out in pink striations tapering down to points, fighting the urge for symmetry, curled upward and indecisively outward like daggers. The eyes veered from the center toward the ears, sprouting into facial abstractions that again gave the impression of daggers. The teardrop face stabbed at the highway miles in its wake, a caricature large enough to fill the entire windshield. A nonverbal dare.
Dare me and you get congratulated with flashing lights. I’ll find a reason. I’m fair, but I’ve been patrolling the interstates for enough years to know that this job is more about instinct than deduction. No sane person produces artwork on glass, especially not the windshield of a 1990 Ford Escort. Not to mention I don’t trust anybody who shops at the Town Center and then gets on the highway heading north. The smartass will soon be read his rights. And if he’s not breaking any laws, he owes me fifteen minutes of his time just for that clown face. You could also call it an artistic curiosity to see the blending of colors when flashing lights invade that yellow distorted booger of self expression.
I’ll take care of this dick-wad then I’ll go back to thinking about Yolanda, the brunette with the teenaged son who was cheering for the UFC match we were watching at the Belmont Inn last night over pints of Ninkasi. I’ll rid the image of the teardrop rear from my mind and fill it with the moment her hair swept the rim of my glass on the counter and made a little spark of blue light.
I pass the two cars between me and the dick-wad and get on his ass, hoping for a busted taillight, defective turn signal, an expired registration sticker, anything. My hand closes around the button, and my hand is not completely still. I would not trust a gun in this hand in its immediate state. A sour taste ignites my throat. For a moment I think I’ve caught a cold in one gulp and will be sick with sniffles all week. It tickles just below where my tongue terminates. It only tickles, and then it’s gone.
That fucking clown.
Donald Anderson Von Crowley, his driver’s license reads. I don’t need to use my flashlight, but I pull it out and read by it anyway. The skinny twerp in the driver’s seat can’t be more than twenty years old (according to his in-state Class A license, Mr. Von Crowley is old enough to drink, and has been for about the amount of time it took me to grow this mustache) and he looks like he’s constipated all the way up to his shoulders and it’s all he can do to clench his back against the seat so hard his nuts will explode before he can get a word out of his mouth. I wonder with a momentary twinge of sympathy if this is the first time Donald has been pulled over. The sympathy, like the mistaken sickness, fades to a tickle and is gone.
I know his type right away, and it’s not the type that paints images on windshields. He’s probably a college student, and an exceptionally good one—math, computer science, chemistry, something like that. Grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons in secluded attics and basements, and then progressed to online fantasy role-playing games of the highest tier, games so complex in their world construction—requiring more calculus to play than most engineers use at their jobs—that most gamers have never heard of them. I can read people. I can read people very accurately and very quickly, and I could complete my mental file on this kid in a heartbeat if not for one thing. The goddamned clown.
He’s wearing a black button-down shirt that’s at least one size too small for him—and not intended to be sexy—both breast pockets stuffed so full of scraps of paper and plastic trinkets at least two items must fall out every time he stands up. It is evident that this dork spends the majority of his time sitting down. I wonder if he’s had any social interactions this week that have not included the phrase mwa-ha-ha. He’s probably never been to a bar, and I’d hate to imagine running into him at the Belmont Inn.
“I pulled you over because-”
I was largely grateful for being interrupted, as I did not have any clue what my next word would be. When he cut me off, the words he spoke threw me. For a second I was certain I was having an out-of-body experience, which, again, terminated in a dying tickle. I had pulled over one car, was speaking to one driver, and at the same time I was dealing with three separate and dramatically disparate people.
One was the yellow clown face that now sparkled like tiny white stars in the lights from my cruiser (it reminded me of the blue static electricity in Yolanda’s glass when her hair brushed the counter of the bar). That one was a hell-raising, loud-music-blasting, cocaine-snorting suburban runaway who was really a lonely, pampered, attention-craving pussy hiding behind any symbols of nonconformity his hand dredged up when it pawed through the sand of reality television shows looking for an identity.
Two was the skinny kid in the driver’s seat with the short-cropped black hair that managed to be strikingly messy despite its sheen of excessive amounts of hair gel, sweating and looking at his pants, his jaw held so stiff his tongue should in actuality be numb from lack of circulation.
Three was the owner of the voice that came out of his mouth when he interrupted me to say, “I’m quite sure I was driving at the posted speed limit and making appropriate use of my turn signals, and I’m not aware of any defect or malfunction in the machinery of this, my humble yet reliable vessel.”
Donald Crowley spoke with an aristocratic English accent, the kind rarely heard on television. I look at him, inspecting his face like looking for a crack in a balloon. This was not his voice. I knew it was not. This was not the first time somebody I pulled over has faked a dialect—it’s a common response to the anxiety of the situation. Although most of those cases are women (I’m not sure why that is—I’ve never thought about it much). All the other times people have addressed me with phony accents, I knew they were going to do so as soon as I looked at their faces. This I did not expect.
I shine my flashlight in Donald’s face, even though it’s daylight. “You’re a smart kid. Why do you think I pulled you over?”
He inhales and says, this time in a thick Boston accent, “My caaahh, it would staaht so I brought it into the shop and Louie said my fahkin radiatah was shot, so I borrowed my brothah Micky’s trashheap to get to work. Mickey’s a fahkin dumbass-”
“Shut up.” I take a step back. Looking at Donald, who’s still looking at his pants, I try to predict what outlandish caricature of speech he will impersonate next.
Without lifting his eyes, Donald says in a generic northwest United States speaking voice—one that could easily belong to a skinny, frazzled computer nerd who’s been permitted to purchase alcohol for a length of time equivalent to one mustache—“I don’t know why you pulled me over, and I don’t know why I’m talking to you like this, I guess I’m…I’m nervous, and I, well I used to…” His sentences run together like an oil spill. Somewhere between those basements of adolescent fantasy role-playing games and high level physics classes, his mouth had been indoctrinated to think that the world simply did not have time for punctuation. His gaze burrows deeper into his lap and his head does not change position. “My dad, he used to do this thing—not, that, you’d um, be interested, but when we had serious talks, like the dog being put down, or Grandma getting Alzhiemers, we had this rule that we could only talk in goofy accents. So that way it never felt serious, you know? He did it with my mom too, before I was—I’m rambling, but that’s just how they talked about stuff. I remember when she signed the divorce papers, she was doing an Austrian accent, and her impersonation was terrible. Before they made it official, I heard her alone in the bathroom practicing the accent, spent four months preparing the accent—I got scared when I heard that because the longer it went on, I knew something serious was going down I I I don’t know why I’m telling you this, officer, I I…”
I walk away. I toss his license back at him and let Donald Anderson Von Crowley continue his day wherever it will take him, wishing he had not begun it driving north from the Town Center.
As I get back in the cruiser, the teardrop clown had a different coloration. It’s greenish it spots. I turn off my flashing lights. The hair growing rapidly on the inside of my skin, climbing from my wrists up my elbows so fast the shivers could not keep up, it does not choke off in a tickle because I’ve witnessed something obscene, like pornography I know I’m too young to be looking at. Yolanda.
I had told myself I would return to Yolanda when I finished dealing with the clown twerp. I shall.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED