Who Do You Think I Think You Are?
Max Felker, keeping a steady 70 mph in the middle lane, saw he was gaining on the truck ahead of him, so he got ready to pass. According to his side-view mirror, there was a red BMW convertible in the left lane, a good two car lengths back.
He flicked his directional on and waited a beat. Then he began to pull out. Something made him glance at the side-view mirror again, and, to his shock, the BMW had picked up speed and was nearly alongside, trying to pass him. He yanked the steering wheel hard and swerved back into the middle lane, skidding before he regained control. The BMW whipped by, its young, male driver seemingly oblivious, as it passed him and the truck. Its license plate said “BEEMER2.”
“Did you see that?” Max said to Ginny, his wife of over forty years. “That jerk almost killed himself and us with him.”
“What happened?” she asked, blinking, lost in a reverie that was interrupted by the sudden swerve and correction.
“What happened,” said Max angrily, “was another schmuck being the opposite of who he thinks he is. That idiot thinks he’s a hotshot driver. What he is, really, is someone who puts his life in the hands of strangers, over and over. He should be saying to himself right now, ‘Thank God for that guy checking his side mirror. He just saved my stupid life.’”
Ginny grunted in agreement. She’d heard complaints like this many times from Max, about what a good driver he was and how crazy everyone else is.
She shifted her position in the Hummer’s passenger seat, which was supposed to provide luxurious comfort, but not to her, no matter how many times she adjusted it. She hated this monstrosity of a vehicle and was certain her friends made jokes about her husband’s decision to buy one.
Talk about being the opposite of who you think you are, she mused, it’s ridiculous for a man who’s five-foot-five to think a car like this makes him look bigger. It makes him smaller. When he’s driving this thing, he looks like a midget.
They took the next exit and, soon after, they pulled into their daughter’s driveway. It felt strange, since the breakup, to think of it as Beth’s driveway, and not Beth and Bob’s driveway, but that’s how things were.
Ginny reached up and touched her hair as Max rang the doorbell. Along with the usual fastidious detail she applied to her makeup, she’d had her hair restyled this morning, adding silver highlights. She hoped the hairspray was keeping everything in place and was very pleased with the overall effect.
Beth had a big smile on her face as she opened the door and hugged her parents. “Your new hairdo looks great,” she told Ginny, although, at first, she’d thought it was a wig. It was sad to see her mother spend so much time on herself and still end up like a mannequin.
There were empty places in the house where furniture was still missing, but Beth explained she was taking her time before buying anything new. “It’s just Felicity and me now, and I want her to have as much input as possible.”
“Where is Felicity?” Ginny inquired.
“Up in her room, but she should be down any minute. I’m sure she heard you ring the bell.” Actually, she was sure Felicity had iPod buds jammed into her ears and had heard nothing. “Felicity!” she called up the stairs. “Grandma and Grandpa are here!”
There was no reply.
“Felicity!” Beth called again, louder.
“Okay, okay,” said a petulant voice, followed by the sound of a door opening.
Felicity, iPod buds in place, appeared at the top of the stairs. She was wearing tight jeans and a T-shirt that was at least a size too small. It rode up above her bare midriff, revealing a bejeweled navel, as she flounced down the steps. In her arms were several textbooks.
“Hi, Nana, hi, Grandpa,” she said, sweeping past them with a perfunctory peck on each cheek as she headed toward the front door.
“Where are you going?” said Beth. “Your grandparents are here to see you.”
“I told you, Mom,” said Felicity with barely tolerant impatience, “I’m supposed to go over to Brittany’s house today. We’re studying for the history midterm.”
“When did you tell me this?”
“I don’t know. But I definitely told you.”
“It’s okay, let her go,” Max put in. “It’s nice that she and her friend are studying together.”
“Fine,” said Beth, “but be back in time for dinner.”
“I will, Mom.” And Felicity was out the door.
“She’s really growing,” Ginny observed as they moved to the living room and sat down on the couch. “How is she handling the breakup? Is she doing okay?”
“She’s doing great,” said Beth. “In fact, the two of us have gotten so much closer since Bob left. It’s almost like I’m her big sister. The other day we decided to go shopping together and wound up buying matching jeans. We’re really having fun.”
As Felicity walked down the block, she was annoyed at herself for grabbing such heavy textbooks to lug over there. The books were only props, to be left at Brittany’s while they secretly went to the mall, but they had to be history books in case her mother checked, which Felicity knew she wouldn’t, and she was right. Her mother paid little attention to her these days. She was too busy coming on to men and trying to make herself look younger. It was disgusting. The other day, when Beth insisted they go shopping together and then bought the exact same jeans, she could’ve puked.
She hated everything in her life. She hated the softness around her midsection that she couldn’t seem to get rid of, no matter how much she avoided eating. Her hair looked ugly, no matter how she arranged it, and she was seriously considering shaving it off completely. Her eyes were small and piggy, and her face was a zit farm.
The only thing she hoped as she approached Brittany’s house was that Brittany’s older brother Ralph wouldn’t be there. He was the star running back on the football team and he was gorgeous. Felicity felt like a warthog with leprosy in his presence.
As she walked up the steps to the front porch, the door opened and, oh, shit, there was Ralph, coming out. It was too late to turn away. She just stood there, her eyes averted.
“Hi, Felicity,” he said, clattering down the steps past her.
“H’lo,” she mumbled, so softly he couldn’t hear it.
He continued on to the driveway, where his beat-up ’95 Celica sat, glancing back once, to see her running up the steps like her butt was on fire.
It made him sigh as he started the engine. Why were the really hot ones so stuck up?
Several hours later, he was at a place called the Chaos Club, dancing to “Power” by Kanye West with a girl named Edie or Evie. She was not as awesome as Felicity, but she was fine-looking enough. It was a club that was notoriously lax in checking ID’s, which was how he got in. He knew if he got busted for being underage it would jeopardize his football scholarship to Oklahoma, but, deep down, he knew they’d make it go away. That’s how hard they’d recruited him, how badly they wanted him.
He leaned in closer to Edie or Evie (Maybe she’d said her name was “Easy.” That would be good.) and whispered/shouted into her ear, “Hey, you wanna go outside and do some X?”
Her eyes lit up and she nodded.
They made their way out to the parking lot and his Celica, a car he was deeply ashamed of. He hated his parents for not having enough money to get him a decent set of wheels.
And to rub it in, just as he and the girl were getting into his car, a red BMW convertible saying “BEEMER2” on the license plate pulled into the spot next to him. The driver was a guy in his thirties, wearing a Rolex and several layers of bling. He closed up the top and got out, giving Ralph a cursory glance as he pressed the button on the remote locking device.
You just wait, asshole, Ralph thought, watching the man walk away. In a couple more years I’ll be driving five cars that are more expensive than that.
Tad Wooten’s fleeting impression of Ralph, as he put the key in his pocket and started toward the club, was career burger flipper. Tad intended to totally obliterate this miserable day of trading, and he fervently hoped he wouldn’t come out later to find his car towed. The finance company had already repossessed BEEMER1, and they were all but crawling up his ass. If that weren’t enough, the bank was about to foreclose on his house, which would come as a big surprise to his wife.
Inside the club, he stepped into the men’s room for a quick piss and a check of himself in the mirror. Tad gazed deeply into his own eyes and concluded that he still looked like a Master of the Universe. So why was he not? He remembered the old Canon camera commercial, where Andre Agassi said, “Image is everything.”
It is everything, he thought, but everything else keeps getting in the way and screwing it up.
He squared his shoulders, stepped out of the men’s room, and was swallowed up in the pounding turmoil.