In the car, I was obsessing over how much cash I needed to get the job done and Reed released. Was three hundred dollars enough? Would it come to four? Or more? Dear Reader, I was not at all sure I had the money in my account. We were at the end of our summer vacation, my resources were depleted.
Why, oh why, did she charge such exorbitant fees? And, how could she refuse plastic? The Lady Bug was without mercy. Who were these people in the car with me?
The bearded young man was driving. The older guy in a baseball cap sat in the passenger seat in front of me. I had not had the benefit of an introduction; there hadn't been any shaking of hands or an exchange of names. They spoke only to one another and in a language I did not know.
Here were mysteries. Unhappy though I was, the situation activated and excited the semiotician in me.
The young man drove slowly along the empty streets, bringing to mind random statements I'd collected over the years pertaining to driving.
The test of a good driver is the smoothness of the ride he gives his passengers.
A skillful driver drives as if there was a pot of soup without a lid in the back seat.
The vehicle was gigantic and immaculate -- its intention was to impress. Perhaps the young man was a professional driver and this Mercedes S-Class sedan was his livelihood? Maybe he was the proprietor of a neighborhood car service and had an idle hour?
The two men knew each other well that I could tell. The fact that the younger was in the driver's seat suggested a natural, healthy transfer of power from old to young. They spoke with quiet voices and complementary modulations. They were not getting to know one another or making points. Their exchange was a series of murmurs going again over known things.
Father and son..? I had not had the chance to look into the eyes or face of the older man. Now I could only see the back of his neck. I studied its texture. It was rough-hewn and cross-hatched with hair. I guessed he was older than The Lady Bug. In the basement, I'd not witnessed a kiss or any revealing intimacy between them. And while she dressed in gaberdine and pumps, he wore shorts and the cap.
Still, by the time we pulled up in front of the ATM, a glassed-in banking box, I surmised that these were the relations of The Lady Bug. This was her husband, this was one of her sons and the black Mercedes Benz was the Licemobile.
I stepped out of it. I stepped over a glut of curbside litter -- squashed MacDonald's containers, a tin can, wads of eroding newspapers -- and onto the cracked sidewalk. I feigned ease although I did not feel easy.
In Los Angeles we don't have enclosed ATMS. We bank in the open air while perfect strangers gather, waiting with their dogs, unabashedly sharing their half of cell phone conversations. This weather-proof, bullet-proof, people-proof, Lucite-like booth is alien to an Angeleno. I didn't even know how to enter it. Once I figured that out, I was outraged by what was asked of me. I was expected to extract hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I was frightened I didn't have it. (What would happen if I didn't have it?) As the men surely went on with their monotonous murmuring in the Licemobile idling by the curb, I was freaking out in the money booth. This was a Zoom Moment for sure: a moment that makes no sense unless the lens trained on my life is pulled back. Way back. I needed an answer to my existential shout out: How the hell did I get here?
My own stubborn nature got me where I was, my determination to handle lice alone and in my own fashion, my refusal to do the right and necessary thing from day one, the day Liberty called from the school with the news and suggested a visit to The Hair Angels. I would pay far more than hundreds and hundreds of dollars. Reed and I had paid with resources of every variety; sleep, sanity, time, energy, missed school days, cancelled plans, jeopardized relationships, disappointments and heartache. I had to admit we had both been held hostage by my colossal stubbornness, as well as the pests.
I hung my head. What a mess. I took a deep breath. I withdrew all the cash I had in my account. I needed more. Then it dawned on me that maybe I had a cache of funds in my old New York account. I picked through my wallet and found the NY ATM card. I inserted it, wracked my brains for a PIN and punched it in. I waited, watching intently. The machine spit out my card just as if it were a mean, mocking tongue. I rummaged in my pocketbook for my red Smythson. I flipped through and found a page of smudged pencil notations. I punched in another PIN and waited.
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