Do you ever get shop-vacced into an abyss where anything is possible, nothing ever happens, and time has no meaning? I do. It started twelve minutes after I got my first computer.
I am a woman of indefatigable online searches. In the throes of an episode, I drop out of society, disappearing for days on end. I forget to eat, pay bills, go to work. Eyes fixed on the computer screen, I click and scroll madly, a sheen of sweat above my lip. I’m in a universe apart.
I’m like the Unabomber, only cuter.
I’ve spent untold hours researching actors who hated working with William Shatner; streamlined more of my life energy into Ebay than there will ever be call to admit. But nothing can parallel my frenzied searches for Greg Smithson.
My senior year of college, God slated Greg to be mine. We were to join souls, have earth-moving sex, and be engaged within six months. But God failed to notify Greg of the fact. Despite accompanying me to my sorority formal, he fell prey to the devices of one Cheryl Kraninsky, who, recognizing his drunkenness, nabbed him alighting from the bathroom at our local pub one Saturday night.
Cheryl Kraninsky had a pale, freckled face, a piercing voice, and a compulsion to demonstrate her geniality through frequent, extreme winks of the eye. “Hi, Greggie!” she’d yell to Greg across the quad, smiling hugely. Then, inevitably, she’d raise an eyebrow, open her mouth, and squeeze her right eyelids together for three to five seconds.
Bile rose in my throat every time.
There were so many reasons to dislike Cheryl. She claimed too much space on the dance floor. She cracked her gum constantly, and her ass had a funny shape. Most egregious, she managed to secure Greg Smithson’s affections. Horrified, I looked on as they kissed before parting ways between classes, visions of Greg’s and my future fading to a dismal, featureless gray.
Promptly after graduation, Greg and Cheryl got married.
I don’t believe that someone can “steal” a person from someone else. Except in this case. Cheryl hoodwinked Greg into taking up the wrong life. Despite my bitter loss, I’ve pressed on. All I’ve asked is the chance to stalk the happy Smithsons. But even in this age of Facebook, my prayers have gone unanswered.
I’ve Googled Greg Smithson countless times, explored every nook and cranny on Facebook, and strong-armed my boyfriend, an ex-reporter, to employ his top-secret means of violating people’s privacy. To no avail. Greg Smithsons, grains of sand forming an endless beach, are hidden in plain sight. Searches for Cheryl Kraninsky and Cheryl Smithson have yielded nothing, as have those for her sister, whose name I managed to procure.
Here are the Facebook pictures of Cheryl and Greg that I long to see: Cheryl, winking into the camera, Greg cringing with distaste. Greg posed next to his daughter, who’s the spitting image of me. The family dog lunging, teeth bared, at Cheryl, Greg doing nothing to intervene. Greg gazing wistfully into the distance, reliving our romantic moments at my sorority formal. (These are captured in pictures lovingly arranged in my college photo album, which I mooned over just last night. That Greg’s blood alcohol level was approaching 3.4, I find irrelevant.)
I’ll probably still be falling into the Greg Smithson black hole when I’m eighty.
In my fantasies, he’ll still be falling into his own, in desperate pursuit of me.The Beet Green Incident | The Little Yellow Bus →
For the first time in twenty-three years, my father was sans a cheap mechanic. He’d barely digested this when, a couple of months later, his “check engine” light came on. An hour-and-a-half from home, he could have crumbled. Instead, with some investigation, he located a Volkswagen dealership just around the corner. It was a Saturday, but by a streak of good fortune, the mechanic, Bill Simon, had come in to pick up some parts. Bill, naturally, offered to work on my father’s car.
In the process, the inevitable deal was struck.
If my father was willing to make the hour trip, from then on, Bill would do his repairs on the side.
If the partnership between my parents was fraught with tension, the union of my father and Bill Simon was the living, breathing picture of harmony, good will, and sound financial sense. Bill fulfilled my father in ways that my mother never could. An excellent mechanic, he charged just a fraction of dealership prices. And, as my sister also drove a Volkswagen, the savings were doubly impressive. Even she had to admit, it was worth the trip.
My father, in what can only be described as a state of grace, basked in his good fortune. As the years of brake jobs and tune-ups rolled along, he came to consider Bill a close personal friend. Eventually Bill’s role was elevated to that of a long lost relative, and he became shrouded in an air of sainthood.
My father often said that if Bill ever went back to work for BMW, he’d buy a BMW.
Fast forward: 1983, the evening before April Fool’s Day. A ray of inspiration shone down upon my sister. It would take scheming and collaboration, but with a little shrewd sadism, Laura knew she could pull it off. She started making calls. First to Bill Simon – and to his son, Mark, who sometimes answered Bill’s phone. Then to family and friends, should they be called upon to participate. Laura went over the logistics, answered questions, took suggestions. Then she retired, to be well-rested for the Big Day.
9:01 am, April Fool’s: “Dad,” Laura said urgently into the phone, “my car’s making noises.” In a rush, she continued, “I called Bill Simon, but Mark said he’s not working there anymore.”
“What?” my father exclaimed, his voice raising an octave. “What do you mean, not working there?”
“I mean not there. Anymore. At all.”
“What the hell happened?” my father cried with ungovernable panic. “What could have. . . Jesus Christ! Where is Bill now?”
“Mark said he went back to work for BMW.”
“What? He did what?” my father bellowed. “Listen, I’ve got to go.”
The line went dead.
Laura dialed Bill to give him the heads up. Busy. Then she dialed my father. Busy, too. “Shit!” she cried. “He must have Bill on speed dial!” Then, breaking out in a smile, she sat back to wait.
Twenty-one seconds later, Laura’s phone shrilled.
“Hello?” she answered mildly.
“My God!” my father cried, his breathing labored. “It’s true. Bill’s gone to work for BMW!”
Laura envisioned my father pacing in circles, hand to his forehead. “It’s a shock. I know,” she said soothingly. “But things will work out.” She paused, stifling a giggle. “You know what you always say.”
“Say?” my father shot back. “What are are you talking about?”
“Well, you’ve always said that if Bill went to BMW, you’d get a BMW.”
“LAURA!” (pronounced in three syllables: LAU–AU—RA!!) “I never said that!”
“But you did. You said. . .”
“I AM NOT BUYING A BMW!”
“But. . .”
My father muttered something unintelligible, then fell into silence.
“You there, Dad?”
“I’m here.” He heaved a disgusted sigh.
“BMW’s have really good engines,” Laura said. “They’re top notch.”
Again, Laura asked, “Dad, you there?”
“Yes!” my father barked. “I’m here! Now leave me alone, alright? Goodbye!”
Again, the line went dead.
King Of the Bills, Part One | King Of the Bills, Epilogue →
In my youth, my father spent Saturday mornings poring over newspaper circulars, scissors in hand, alert to bargains near and far. The fruit of his labors was a dense, omnipresent stack of coupon clippings stacked neatly together, held firmly in place by a rigorous and complex system involving large numbers of rubber bands. This bundle was my father’s steadfast companion. Home, he nested it in the nook above the junk drawer in the kitchen. On the road (he was a salesman), he lodged it in the compartment next to his car radio.
Twice, in New York City, my father’s car was broken into. Twice, both his car radio and coupons were robbed.
My father grieved. The crooks saved $300 at A&P.
Saturdays found my father driving from store to store questing for deals. In his element, he bantered with stock boys, cashiers, the guy behind the deli counter. This distracted him from the reality: What he saved at the store, he’d spend refilling his gas tank.
Paying more than $.99 for a two-liter bottle of soda cut sharply against my father’s core values. When it went on sale for $.98 or less, he stocked up. At a given time, our basement closet was stuffed full with 2 winter coats, 1 bag of kitty litter and 205 bottles of sale-priced Coke.
My father once became smitten with a pair of shoes in a store window. 50% off, they were. Thing was, one had passed its life in a patch of sunshine; the other, in the shade. You didn’t need a close look at the color wheel to notice the disparity in their hues — a fact immediately noted by my mother.
Being that my mother was home during the day, my father viewed this as easily surmounted.
“Suzanne,” he said. “It’s no problem. Tomorrow, just put the darker shoe in the sun in the back yard. Then rotate it across the lawn with the light until it matches the other.”
My mother looked at him.
“Go fuck yourself,”she replied.
The nexus of my father’s economy and friendliness culminated in the constant presence of a mechanic friend who was willing to do his auto repairs dirt cheap. Oddly, these men were always named Bill. First there was Bill Terrenzoni. He came on board before I was born, and lasted almost twenty years. That arrangement ceased when my father bought a Volkswagen diesel. The first time the Volkswagen had a problem, my father took it to the dealership and chatted up the mechanic. By the time he left, Bill Mayer — Bill #2 — had agreed to do all of his car repairs on the side.
Bill #2 was around for a couple of years, until my father discovered that he was selling my sister weed. That put a fatal strain on their relationship.
At this juncture, Bill Simon, the King Of The Bills, entered our lives.
Tune in next time for King Of the Bills, Part II, when Bill Simon colludes with my sister in a nefarious scheme.Tribal Blogs Slumber Party 7pm EST TONIGHT! | King Of the Bills, Part 2 →