The detail man was confused. “You want what on this car?”
“I told you already.”
“Tell me again.”
“I want this picture on the back window.”
“This picture of the car… on the car.”
“Look, you said you’d paint any car for $149.95…”
“Ok, fine. Just don’t tell anybody you came here.”
Frank was used to this- the looks, the exasperation, the sheer confusion. The dentist always asked “why do you need a picture of your teeth on your toothbrush?” Same for the tennis pro at his club: “a tennis racket on your tennis racket? Seriously?” The condo association blocked Frank from putting a painting of the condo on its south wall – “it would not conform with our bylaws,” the board president told him. And this was true: Frank didn’t conform – couldn’t, really.
And it had always been this way. Frank’s teachers had sent notes home to his parents – not just for throwing paper airplanes in class, but for throwing paper airplanes in class decorated with little drawings of paper airplanes. Frank’s grandparents wondered why he only asked for Russian matryoshka dolls each Christmas. Frank’s parents were mystified, but what can you do? It wasn’t as if it hurt anybody.
Though it did hurt Frank once – at his wedding rehearsal dinner, he gave his bride-to-be an iron-on photo of themselves, which he asked her to add to her wedding dress. She ran out of the room crying; the next day she returned her engagement ring, on which Frank had engraved their names. Painful, yes, but life went on – Frank returned to his job driving a car carrier, kept up with his volunteer work at Toastmasters (Frank’s speech on how to give a speech was a knockout) and plugged away at his book project, A History of Books, a few pages a day.
Frank sent query letters to publishers on Wednesdays. He was on his way back from the post office when it happened. Blue police lights in the rear view mirror, sirens and a voice shouting over a megaphone. “Turn the engine off.” “Keep your hands on the wheel at all times.” A man in town had reported his car stolen and gave the police the make and model of Frank’s car. The fact that Frank had bought the car from Phil Petersen Buick GMC not a year before didn’t sway the officers at the station. For ten full hours they kept the questions coming – about where he was Monday afternoon when the car went missing, about the drugs that they were going to find once they got through searching the car, about what else they would turn up on him before this was all said and done. Frank was more than a little freaked out – at least until he saw the officer’s badge.
“Officer, there’s a badge on here.”
“I’m a cop. Cops wear badges. Are you trying to piss me off?”
“No, I mean the design of this badge has a badge in it. How about that, right?”
“You are trying to piss me off. If I were you, I’d shut up right about now.”
The police let Frank go late that night, while simultaneously referring the man who’s reported the “crime” to county mental health services; he’d made the whole thing up. Frank’s lawyer friend, Mark Lawyer, suggested a suit against the police, but Frank simply wanted to make sure he’d never be accused of stealing his own car again.
And that’s why he was in the auto detailer’s office, getting funny looks as he pulled out his customized Visa card featuring a photo of Frank holding a Visa card. A week later he picked up the car, and it was just as magnificent as he’d hoped.
“You did good here, man. Thanks.”
“I need a new job. Don’t come back here, ok?”
Frank felt like celebrating. He drove home in the car that had a picture of itself on the rear window, singing Gary Numan’s “Cars” as he drove. After pulling into the driveway, he made his way inside and went straight for the pantry, where he found one of his favorite snacks – a popcorn ball in the shape of a popcorn kernel. Frank spent the night on the couch, eating popcorn and watching a documentary on YouTube about internet video. Life was good.