Used Car Exile — Inspired by Shannon Caroland

Make sure you vote for the Week 2 stories here.  

Week 3 of  the September Challenge Contest begins with a story idea from Shannon Caroland.

Shannon was one of my very first friends at Great Lakes Christian College. He is also one of the funniest people I’ve ever know. But, more importantly, he’s been a good friend and has done so much to encourage many people. He is smart, creative, quick on his feet and altogether genuine.  (Happy Late Birthday, Shannon)

This is Shannon’s idea…

“Character: Larry is a brilliant, fast-talking former attorney in his forties. raised a Jew, he claims to be a Christian, but his lifestyle would make an the most irreligious blush. Brash and hilarious.
Setting: used car lot he now works at due to some very bad decisions. He is a selling rock-star, an achievement that is far beneath his talents and pedigree
Conflict: overcoming his own self-destructive impulses to regain his license and life a big-shot attorney, his father’s approval and a place in his grown children’s life.”

Used Car Exile

Last night was a very bad idea. I mean, it was fun and all, but still a bad idea. It’s the end of the month. Crunch time to sell, sell, sell those cars. I’m well above the sales goal. Of course. But I’ve gotta beat the new kid.

And I bet he isn’t coming off a killer hangover.

Better get my head off this desk and pound the black coffee.

“Hey, Larry!” my boss calls into my office. “Ready to sell yourself silly?”

“Yeah, sure,” I answer, lifting my head. “Just got a migraine.”

So, I lied. You would, too. My boss, Gene, is a Bible thumping, pray-at-the-meetings, Jesus-freak, conservative fanatic. This guy claims (and I don’t believe him) that his “first time” was on his wedding night. Yeah right. As if that’s even possible. Unless he got married at 14.

Anyway, I have to act like a Christian around him. You know, grease the wheels a little bit.

“You’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately.” Gene walks in. “You been to the doctor? You’ve got the insurance. Might as well use it.”

“Nah. I’ll be fine. I probably need a little coffee to get things going.” I look up. “But I’m praying that the good Lord will heal me. Just gotta have a little, faith, right?”

I have the “Christian-shop-talk” down. Sells a lot of cars, let me tell you.

“We’ve got the weekly prayer meeting tonight at the church. You should come. I’ll drive. We could go out for burgers afterward.”

“What’s today?” I ask, knowing very well that I have no intentions of going with him. “Is it it 29th? Oh, golly, it’s my night to see my father at the nursing home. Bummer.”

Well, that’s another lie. The only thing I plan to do after work is go to the strip club and get drunk. It’s all I have. And it’s the only thing that helps me forget my failures.

“Well, I’m going to be completely honest with you,” I say. “This isn’t the best car we have on the lot.”

The customer stands next to a green sedan. “But, I thought it had a good rating.”

“Which report did you read? Because I’ve read all them reports, Bud. And not a one of ’em was trustworthy.”

“Really?” he asks. He steps away from the sedan.

“Listen, friend,” I look around, pretending that I’m letting him in on some trade secret. “I like you. And I’d hate to send a youth pastor like you on the streets in a car like this. Especially with that new baby. Now, come on over here. I’ve got something better that I think you’d be interested in.”

And I sell the poor guy a car $5,000 over his budget. And all in the name of better protection for his one week old daughter.

Well, and for a bigger bonus for me.

All the booze and strippers in the world can’t keep my brain from spinning tonight. I hate getting letters from my father. It’s not like an email I can delete and pretend never existed.

A handwritten letter is more permanent. There’s more thought in it. When I see my father’s penmanship I know without a doubt that he was the one who wrote it.

And all I can read through the drunken eyes are words of a disappointed man.

My father was so proud of me once. Top of my class at Yale.  I was a great lawyer. Following in his footsteps as District Attorney. On the path to becoming a judge. I sweat potential out of my veins.

But then I screwed up. Had “inappropriate relations” with a witness. Or two. Well, those were the ones they found out about.

Disbarred. Fired. Evicted.

Exiled to the only job I could find. Used Car Salesman. For five years I’ve dickered. I figured out a way of selling a Hummer to a grandma (who, by the way, couldn’t manage to climb up into it). Mini vans to single guys (great place to “neck” with the ladies). A Mustang to a mother of 5 (“Pretty lady like you? 5 kids? Well, shoot, gravity has been kind to you.”). If it’s on the lot, I can sell it.

I’ve gotta tip back this bottle again. Drink a little forgetfulness into my soul.

I’m sitting in my office at the dealership. I’ve got vodka in my travel mug. Typical, I know.

“Hey, Larry,” Gene says. “What’s going on?”

He’s wearing a suit. He looks clean shaven.

“Well, Gene, I’m about to sell my big ol’ butt off.” I can’t seem to get the words to sound clear.

“But, it’s Sunday. We’re not open on Sunday.”

“That’s right!” I stand, shaky. “The Lord’s day.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“Yes, I have. I’m drunk. Drunk on the spirits…and I’m not talking about the Holy one.”

“You need to sit down, Larry, before you fall.”

“Are you gonna fire me?”

“No, Larry. Right now I’m going to make a pot of coffee. And tell my wife to take the kids to church without me.”

Suddenly, everything is dark.

I wake up in a bedroom that smells like clean laundry. My father is sitting in a chair in the corner. He’s snoozing and snoring.

“Hey, Dad!” I whisper. “Wake up.”

He looks at me. “Lawrence, are you alright, son?”

“My head is killing me.”

“You’ve been asleep for awhile.”

“Yeah. I was pretty drunk.”

“Your boss called me. He found my number in your cell phone.” My father smooths his hair. “Son, you’ve made a mess of your life.”

“Okay. We’re done with small talk, huh?” I sit up, not without throbbing head and spinning stomach. “I’m head of sales at the dealership.”

“It’s not law.”

“Pretty close. I mess with people’s heads to get them to do what I want.”

“You drink every night, don’t you?”

“And sometimes in the morning, apparently.”

“It’s no way to live.” He stands. “As of tomorrow, you’re out of the will. I won’t have you shaming me anymore. You have no future. I should have seen that in you long before.”

He leaves. And that’s it. Maybe it’s the massive hangover, but I just don’t care.

On wobbly legs, I get myself to the kitchen. Gene’s standing by the counter, reading his Bible.

“Hey, you mind if I have a little water?” I ask.

“Sure. You feeling better?” He grabs a glass from the strainer.

“Worse.” I take the glass from Gene and run tap water into it. “You know, I was a lawyer.”

“Yeah. You put that on the resume.”

“I screwed it up. So bad I can’t fix it.”

“Yeah, been there.”

“Seriously?”

“I was a pastor. The stress got to me. So, I took pain pills. It got out of hand. My doctor cut me off, won’t prescribe any more to me. So, I’d visit the old people at church and steal pills from their medicine cabinets.”

Yeah, that’s bad. I didn’t see that coming.

“Well, I’m sure you were a good pastor,” I say.

“I got some help.”

“I need a whole lot of help.”

“There’s a difference between needing something and wanting it.”

“Yeah. Sometimes I don’t want to fix it. But today, I really do. I’m afraid that if I don’t do something quick, I’ll end up dying a drunk.”

“It’s a scary thought, right?”

All the sudden, I realize something. I don’t want to live this exile anymore. Gene is free. He is happy. He has people around him that love him. I’m alone. I’m trapped. But I need to let go of my anger so that I can be released.

So I can get back up to where I came from.

“Hey, Gene. I want to get help.”

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