Sunday Stories: "The Teal One" By Bark M.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
sunday stories the teal one by bark m

“I don’t think that I have to tell you that speeding is f**king stupid, do I?” The old man had never been one to mince words, and certainly not when he spoke to me.

“No, sir.” From my front passenger seat in his meticulously clean Mercedes E klasse, I could see the needle of his speedometer ticking past seventy. The speed limit on this particularly serpentine road near the river was fifty. It didn’t come as any surprise at all to me that the old man was failing to heed his own advice on a subject. He was often a walking contradiction. He spoke of the importance of honesty, yet he lied every night to us regarding his whereabouts. He spoke of discipline, yet couldn’t discipline himself enough to avoid the temptation of women other than my mother.

And as such, it was during one of the court-mandated, twice weekly, two-hour visitations that never started a minute early or ended a minute late that my father laid out his conditions for buying me a car. No speeding. No girls in the car. No driving after dark. No listening to loud music that could distract me from the road. Keep your fucking hands at ten and two.

It was the summer of 1994, and I was three months shy of my sixteenth birthday. I spent the majority of my free time trying to decide what car I wanted. Since my birthday fell relatively early in the school year, I would be one of the first of my peers to get my license. I clung desperately to the very outer circle of popularity at my school, and was well aware that the right (or wrong) car would do a lot for my image with the in crowd.

That fucking school. My mom had thought that she was doing the right thing by moving into a townhouse on the edge of the wealthiest school district in the state, but all she had really done was give me an early lesson on Social Darwinism. Her secretary’s salary qualified me for free lunch, for Christ’s sake, and here I was trying to be friends with the kids of Fortune 50 executives. Thank God that I had a modicum of athletic ability and a not entirely unattractive look about me, or else I would have been relegated to social irrelevance.

So, yeah, the car mattered. My dad had made it plain that he didn’t have the time or inclination to waste time on a used car that might not work absolutely perfectly, so for once, his total lack of desire to be involved in my life was going to work in my favor.

“We are going to go look at cars this weekend, Wes,” he said to me as we sped toward my mom’s townhouse, nearing the end of his required Wednesday night time with me. “I assume you have an idea of what you want?”

“Yes, sir. I was thinking of a Jeep or maybe a Geo Tracker…”

“So you can fuck around with your friends hanging out of the back?” His steely glare fixed me directly in his sights. “I don’t think so.”

Deep breath. Okay. Try again.

“Well,” I said, looking directly at my hands folded in my lap. “I looked at a Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX a couple of weeks ago. That was pretty cool.”

“Jesus Christ All Fucking Mighty. Do you think I’m buying you a race car? That’s exactly what I need. A phone call from some doctor telling me you’ve driven yourself into a goddamned wall.” I owed whatever masculinity I possessed to him. He had made a life out of intimidating lesser men in sales situations. He was still so physically handsome at the age of 47 that my female classmates joked around about wanting to be my stepmom. And I was terrified of him. His temper. His predictable unpredictability. Just tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say that, okay, Dad?

“Um…how about a Volkswagen Golf? It’s a brand new model, and I saw a good lease deal on one. Only $189 a month and, like, a thousand down.”

“Of course you think it’s only $189 a month,” he snarled. “You’re not fucking paying for it.”

But somehow, that Saturday, we ended up going to a VW dealer to look at the Golf. I dared not get my hopes up that I would actually leave with one. I had nearly sixteen years of experience that supported my hypothesis that Dad was just as likely to buy me a Golf as he was to curse out the salesman and make a scene.

Car and Driver had a review of the Golf III that month that featured the headline, “The Lights Are Back On at Volkswagen Dealerships.” Unfortunately, nobody had told the sales staff at this particular store, which was buried in the back of an Auto Mall near one of the more industrial parts of town—in fact, half of the lights were literally out. The spacious sales floor had exactly two cars in it; a white Golf III and a white Jetta III. The salesmen looked like they were one Sylvia Plath reading away from sticking their heads in an oven.

My father stood there like an unpleasant scent was trying to invade his nose, and I felt the sense of inevitable failure come upon me.

“Let’s just go, Dad.” I shuffled my feet and stared at the dusty, linoleum showroom floor.

“Are you kidding? I didn’t drive all the way to this part of town just to waste my time. Do you want this car or not?”

“Yeah, but…”

“Then come on.” He walked with great purpose to the sales tower, where a mealy looking man in khakis and a disheveled mustache sat with his feet up on the desk. His name tag said “Sales Manager,” but he could just as easily been there to clean the bathrooms..

“Excuse me?” Dad was clearly disgusted with the state of the man’s attire, his posture…everything. “We want to lease one of those Golfs.”

The man looked up at my father, smartly attired in a leather Ralph Lauren jacket and Ray Bans, and must have suspected an easy mark. “Yeah, it’s $189 a month, no money down. That deal is for TODAY ONLY.” No Money Down! My heart leapt into my throat. Surely this was going to go well—all we’d have to do was…

“Well then, let’s get the fuck out of here.” The old man might as well have hissed the words like a python. He quickly spun on his heels and took a tactical path to the exit, delivering a well placed shoulder to an innocent salesman along the way. I stood, paralyzed in shock. There it was again. The anger.

“I…I’m sorry,” was all I could summon from my lips as I chased him out of the showroom back to the Mercedes, where he was already behind the wheel, the engine already running. I cautiously opened the passenger door and silently took my seat. The black leather of the interior had never seemed so dreadfully hot as it did at that moment.

“I’ll buy you that fucking car,” he said quietly. “But not here. I refuse to deal with salesmen like that piece of shit. Today only.” He smirked. “Iron your fucking pants, asshole.”

Rather than risk any more rage, I sat quietly, staring out the window as he drove me to another VW dealership on the opposite end of town. The sounds of talk radio were barely audible—my father didn’t care much for music, and his ears were incredibly sensitive. He had said he would buy me the car, right? I thought to myself. That had to be good.

We arrived at the next dealership, this one in a much more suburban area. As we exited the E class, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a older salesman approach us in a gray flannel suit and tie.

“We’d like to look at a Golf, sir,” I said, hoping to cut my father off before he could speak.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “We don’t have any in stock.” My stomach sank again. “However, we do have two Jettas. Would you be interested in those?”

“YES!” I nearly screamed, surprising everyone, including myself. “I mean, yeah, we would.”

The dealership’s two Jettas were both GL trim, one white with a sunroof, and one teal with air conditioning.

“So which one do you like?” asked our salesman after we looked at both.

“The white one,” I answered, while my dad simultaneously answered, “The teal one.”

Although he was just an inch taller than I was, he glared forcefully down at me and said, “Don’t be stupid. You need air conditioning.”

And so it was that they delivered a teal Jetta to my mom’s rental townhouse the next day—I didn’t have my license yet so I couldn’t drive it. It sat there for three months, only driven when I could beg my mom to let me drive it with my learner’s permit in the rare hour or so between the time she got off work and the time the sun went down. But when I got my license, I drove it everywhere. And even though it wasn’t the BMW or Lexus that some of my friends had been presented with, it was cool enough for the rich kids to accept it. It was European (despite the Hecho en Mexico stickers that I quickly removed), it had enough seats to take my friends to the arcade, and it was a brand new car. I broke virtually every rule my father set for me in it. I loved it.

Only as I grew older, and as I began to become an adult, did I realize some other things about that day. My father, ever the social climber, was trying just as hard to impress his friends as I was mine. He knew I’d be parking that car in the same parking lot as his neighbors’ kids. That $189 a month payment, considering the significant amount of child support and alimony he was already paying my mother, was a stretch for him to be able to afford. Having worked his way up the sales ladder his entire life, he was deeply offended by the lack of professionalism shown by the first dealer.

Most importantly, I learned that this son of the son of an immigrant, this man who grew up as the oldest of four brothers in a two-bedroom house on Long Island, this man who had volunteered to fight overseas for his country in an unpopular war…the only way he knew how to show me love was to give me something he never had growing up.

So…thanks, Dad. I promise to be nothing like you with my son, and to be just like you with my son.

(A note: as with all but one of the “Sunday Stories” so far, this is a work of fiction — JB)

Join the conversation
2 of 54 comments
  • Vtnoah Vtnoah on Jan 27, 2014

    Great story Bark. Definitely brings back a lot of memories of my Dad. The rage that was constantly bubbling under the surface and could erupt at any moment is a familiar trait that I had to deal with at all times. Our first car purchase however was a bit more stress free. I went with my mom to a local auto auction and picked up a worn out Saab 900 for $1200 and I cut my teeth driving it around the back roads of Vermont. Eventually getting t-boned by another teenager and selling it off for not much less than what I purchased it for.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Jan 28, 2014

    Good story. I noticed a bit of similarity to my cousin's first car that brought back a few memories. He got a brand new teal Civic CX hatchback when he turned 16, despite originally wanting a Jeep YJ. He was only a year younger than me so I was impressed with his situation. Not jealous at all, as his relative wealth and freedom provided benefits for me when I was in town. His father was absolutely nothing like this one though. A geological engineer, he was the type of guy that would invite in Jehovah's Witnesses to politely explain to them why he believes agnosticism is the more logical choice. It's as hard to imagine him being angry or unreasonable as it is to imagine my own father not being angry or unreasonable. I didn't need to own a car back then as I had almost absolute freedom to use the various beaters we had at any time. I eventually claimed the nicest one as my own when I had to leave the province for an engineering internship. It was an Iron Duke-equipped '87 Grand Am with a few rust holes where cladding used to live. I almost died in the thing when I was hit head-on at highway speed a few years later and I had to give my father the $900 insurance payout I received for it. Technically, it was still his, after all.