An odd thing happened, the other day. This last Saturday, in fact. I went down to the frame shop to do a delivery, a set of mirrors. I loaded the van, and then when I started it up, it sounded like a demolition derby underneath. I climbed out, and got down, and there was four feet of pipe missing, between the manifold and the muffler. I’m like, Who drove this vehicle last, and why didn’t they say something about the exhaust? But on closer inspection, I see the pipe wasn’t rusty or corroded; it’s been cut with a hacksaw. Somebody’s ripped off the catalytic converter.
The odd thing isn’t that it happened. It’s a common enough crime of opportunity. The odd thing is that I didn’t snap to it right away. My first thought was that a section of pipe had just fallen off. I was even ready, for about two seconds, to go on with the delivery. But then I thought, A, what if some other loose part falls off while I’m driving, and B, what about the cab filling with carbon monoxide? The realization that it was a crime took me more than those two seconds.
where I’m coming from. We, collectively, spend our time
imagining mayhem, or at the least mischief.
I even began a story with the hook of fencing stolen catalytic
converters (“The Devil and the
You see what I’m driving at. You do a story that starts with burner phones, and it turns out to be about human trafficking. You begin with counterfeit stamps, or rare butterflies, and it develops into personal betrayals, screwing your best friend’s wife, being the father of his child. (I did this once, but Ross Macdonald did it dozens of times, and made it fresh every time.)
The mystery isn’t so much what you come up with. The burner phone story, for example, was almost twenty years ago. An editor turned it down because she didn’t think her readers would get it. The phones were beside the point. It could have been drugs, or guns. I used phones because I thought they were hip. Now, they’re a commonplace.
not the gimmick.
The thing is that we miss the clues. Not you, maybe, but me. I can do pretend, and at the same time turn a blind eye to my own personal history. At the least, I treat it as a glancing blow. I suppose, without getting to the thicker part. The interior, the unknown. The catalytic converter got stolen. It’s a market-driven theft. What am I missing?
I think this is more than a metaphor. We’ve had a lot stolen from us, this past year, but I don’t want to hit it too hard. The thing is that a physical and literal loss is so felt. We’ve been cheated of so much. Fuck that.