The Parking Victim by Robert Kaye
Dave thumbtacked the hand-lettered sign clad in its sheet protector to the phone pole. A Cadillac convertible from the 1960s parked two feet from the edge of his driveway. The candy apple red behemoth bore an eagle airbrushed onto a hood the size of a ping-pong table, an M-16 clutched in one set of talons and a turbaned skull in the other.
A sign seemed reasonable. The street barely allowed two cars to pass, and vehicles parked on both sides transformed driving into a game of strategy. Anything parked close to Dave’s driveway forced him to twist in the seat, locking up his bad hip. He tended to avoid going anywhere. The sign looked simple and artless tacked to the pole:
PLEASE DON’T PARK HERE,
or I can’t back out of my driveway.
(Bad hip – trouble turning)
He’d agonized over the parenthetical phrase, fearing it bespoke age and helplessness. Maybe he lived like an old man, but he’d done the miles, not the years. People had a right to park on the street, though the law specified a minimum clearance of five feet from a driveway. A year ago, he might have left a note on the windshield or called Parking Enforcement.
Music blared from the workshop at the back of the house opposite his, cut by the intermittent hiss of a welding torch or the peal of hammer on metal. No breeze disturbed the blackened steel wind sculptures hung from the trees toward the back of the property, dragons with feathers sharp as steak knives, arms, legs and tails gimbaling prehistorically. Tacky, but interesting. Dave had not seen the actual neighbor in the six months since he moved in. Some nights, loud music and argument erupted from the house. Vehicles came and went, some of them motorcycles with inadequate mufflers, leaving Dave glad he owned earplugs. The new neighbor would have driven Christina crazy if she still lived here. For that reason alone, Dave resolved to tolerate what he could.
He hated the sign, but left it up.
* * *
Half an hour after the carrier’s jeep passed, Dave limped across the yard to retrieve the mail, as he did every day, except Sunday. The distance felt longer than some marathons he’d run, a consequence of spending the morning reading the paper front to back while allowing his joints to stiffen. When he’d practiced law and run everyday, he hadn’t had time to read more than the front page. Or notice the frequency of Christina’s extra lessons with one of her “gifted” art students.
Catalogs, a bill, and various pleas from charities did not begin to fill the mailbox. For three days, nobody had parked in front of the house.
He looked at the phone pole where he’d posted the sign. In its place appeared an assemblage of riveted steel hung by a cable between the pole and a tree. It took a minute of study to decipher the message cut in jagged letters.
No Parking!! Bad Hip
Move it down the road, Buckaroo
It had horns like a mutant metal steer, positioned such that anyone parking there risked scraped paint or personal injury. The sign jittered on its wire as the breeze bent the tree.
Dave hobbled across the road and onto the brick walkway, moving carefully to avoid tripping on lose brick. He knocked on the scarred door. No answer. He hammered again, louder than intended. Maybe he should head around back to the workshop.
“Hang onto your shorts.”
The door swung open, banging against the inside wall. A man in a compact wheelchair emerged from the dark space, his face mirroring the angles of a crumpled tin can, fringed by a ragged goatee. Clockwork shoulder muscles rippled under a ratty tank top undershirt. Gold cross earrings dangled from both ears.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Ah—Dave Bozio. Your neighbor from across the way. I put up the sign?”
“Oh. Yeah. It said you got a hip problem. I expected a gimp like me. I also thought you’d be a lot older.”
The chair changed everything, made Dave feel dishonest and a little ashamed. “Ah, no. The hip locks up, but not—.”
“No biggy. Main thing is you said your piece. So I made you a sign to last. I’m Threerick, by the way.” The man extended his hand and jousted forward across the threshold, exercising deft control of the chair.
“Three Rick?” The man gripped like a king crab.
“Yeah, but smashed together— 3-R-I-C. Eric originally, but I flipped the E as an arty-farty thing. Kids do it all the time now—I 8 your lunch, that sort of shit. Putting up that sign of yours was ballsy. Plus I’m sure my turd friends have blocked you in more than once, and I don’t even want to know about the noise.”
“It’s okay. Just when someone parks too close—"
“Yeah, I know, it’s a bitch. That sign is an apology. Now I’m making one of my own. You like the sign?” Sallies in the chair accompanied the machine gun delivery, rocking wheelies caroming foot supports off the door jam.
Dave became unwilling to say he’d prefer not to have the sign. “It’s an impressive piece of work. Must have taken a lot of effort.” He couldn’t help looking at the chair, each frame member in the shape of a bone, socketed into its companion, each ball joint a miniature skull.
“Pieceacake. Put together with scraps. Course if I made it on commission I’d charge a couple grand. Protect the brand, my dickwad agent says. But he isn’t here in his big ugly ass car. Do me a favor and don’t tell anyone I didn’t charge you, okay?”
Dave couldn’t think who he might tell. “Sure. I wanted to thank you though. For the sign. It’s splendid.”
“Splendid. Yeah, good. Splendid. Hey, since you’re here, mind if I ask you something?”
“Sure.” Dave was cognizant this could be interpreted as sure, he minded.
“My real estate agent said you were the husband of that teacher chick. The one with the twelve year old.”
“Fourteen. The kid was fourteen.”
“Crap. That sucks, man. Okay. Well, I should get back to my sign. Seeya round, okay?” He withdrew into the house like a trapdoor spider.
* * *
Four days later, Dave saw 3rick’s new sign from the mailbox—metal plates jointed like a crazy suit of armor laid flat, run over, incinerated, then hung by a cable between two trees. Some panels had metal appliquéd letters; some formed letters themselves. The chaotic mess owed more to graffiti than signmaking. It required a serious commitment to decipher the message:
3rick Mar5in, Artist in a RUT
Krashed Kripple. Anarchist Sell OUT
NFV (Nobody’s Fucking Victim)
First good windstorm and the thing could fly off the tree and decapitate whoever happened to be around. A public hazard. Clearly an offense to good taste and sure to drive property values south. Probably bad art. Dave recognized the voice in his head as Christina’s.
Screw it. He liked the Mad Max stainless and rust, the scorch marks of post re-entry space trash.
Nobody’s Fucking Victim. NFV. He liked that.
* * *
Dave hadn’t spent time in his workshop for a while, losing interest in maintaining the place since the legal, media and emotional circus with Christina. He’d stopped running—not that he’d had a choice with the arthritic hip. Taken a break, given it a rest. A rest that bled into the life equivalent of an afternoon nap stretching into the evening hours where it wasn’t worth rising for dinner, especially when dinner implied the same Costco frozen food as yesterday. He’d given up on restaurants, sick of people talking in hushed voices. There’s that guy who married the teacher doing the thirteen year old. He stifled the desire to state for the record that the kid was fourteen and big for his age, shaving already, and, by the way, no virgin. The state’s case imploded due to prosecutor error and non-cooperation from the boy and his family—the dad couldn’t stop bragging how his little brat nailed the art teacher. Christina took her five years probation and moved back to Oklahoma, reverting to her maiden name. As if their marriage never existed.
Somehow, everything remained his fault. Emotional neglect, she’d said. In love with career, running and routine more than her. A stunning lack of spontaneity and self-expression.
A layer of dust felted the wood and tools in his workshop, cobwebs fit for a tomb. He picked up the shop brush. A box held pieces of scrap left over from various projects. A small router lay buried somewhere.
* * *
He mounted the sign out front, visible from the street. It said:
Lawyer. Veteran. Eagle Scout
Yes, she was that art teacher. The kid was 14.
Get over it.
The sign looked awful. Too small. Too big. Gaps at the edges where the pieces puckered away from flush. Irregular letters. So what. He was through making things fit. He’d looted Christina’s boxes of art supplies for brightly colored tiles, gold paint and beads, but used none of these, favoring wood scraps and freehand work, garbage bags of abandoned art supplies destined for the dump.
The sign dangled gently in the breeze from picture wire. Wind and weather would warp, split and bang it to bits against the tree. Sort of the point.
Christina would have hated it. He loved it.
* * *
A week later, another sign appeared down the street made of fabric scraps in chartreuse, fuchsia, red, orange and plaid. Ballooning between trees like a trapped parachute dragging a three-bedroom rambler, it said:
Andrea Harris. Single.
Mother of 2 teenage boys who love me, but won’t admit it.
Doing the best I can.
I miss my life. Sorry about the noise.
Signs sprouted like spring crocuses up and down the street. A message laid out in flowers blossomed on a banked yard front. SHUT-IN AND HATE IT. Dave had never seen anyone in the house or garden.
A half block away, a mural spread from a garage door onto the front of a house. Jerry Butler, an ex-Marine with a flattop, wielded a three inch house painting brush. A series of crude cartoon panels depicted a flat-headed man and a bushy-haired boy. In one panel, the boy injected himself with a hypodermic needle. In another they fought. A woman screamed and disappeared—Jerry’s wife? The scenes marched around windows and over flowerbeds, captioned by words like “POW!” and “GET THE F&#K OUT!!!!” It appeared he had no intention of stopping until he ran out of house.
As Dave stood regarding the work, 3rick rolled up in his wheelchair.
“Hey,” Dave said.
They watched Jerry bend to his work, can of paint cradled in the crook of his arm like a newborn, oblivious to the audience.
“Our property values are headed straight down the toilet, you know,” 3rick said. “Because of you.”
“Yeah,” Dave said, laughing. “That’s true.” And he did not give a rat’s ass.
© 2005-2010 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas