chapter 42

How I Came to Own a 1971 Cadillac

    As a young man I had this problem with women. Now that I am no

longer young, I still have it.

    I could never figure out what to say to a woman. At least, I could never

figure out what to say to a woman that I was romantically interested in.

    Although I had an exceedingly well developed compulsion to look at

women, and be around them, and touch them, I just didn't have any

desire to talk to one of them.  Talking to women always led to problems.

That's when everything went all wrong.

    This is known as "Having a way with women."

    The whole problem occurred when I started talking. Consequently, I

figured that the only chance I had to lure a woman into my life was to

encounter one in a situation where I could make her acquaintance without

having to do any more than the bare minimum of talking.

    Now, this business of talking to women was no problem for a guy who

lived his life around women. A guy who spent every day of his life around

women, perhaps even in the same room, got used to them. For men who

encountered women every day, talking to a woman was no big deal.

    But I didn't lead such a life. The way I led my life, I would go weeks,

sometimes months, without saying a single word to a woman. This left me

totally unprepared to speak with any degree of effectiveness when I might

suddenly encounter one of them along the way.

    And, of course, I did encounter women. I would find them working in

convenience stores, and restaurants, and beer joints. But I seldom found

one in any of these places that I particularly wanted to make acquaintance

with, and when I did, I could never figure out how to go about doing it. In

my lifetime, I never had a date with a woman I met at a convenience

store, a beer joint, a "club," a restaurant, a hardware store, a feed store,

or any other kind of retail outlet. It just never happened.

    So when from time to time, I was overcome by the need to at least be

in the general proximity of attractive women, I would take a little time off

and head for the big city. That usually meant San Antonio.

    It's hard to make anyone understand how far it was between South

Texas and the north side of San Antonio in the 1970s.  In distance, it was

little more than 60 miles.  In time, it was about 100 years.  On those

weekends when a tattered crop-duster pilot ventured out of the brush

country and slipped into the bright lights of civilized society on the north

side of San Antonio, he transitioned a void of celestial proportions.

    Even if I were to meet a nice young lady, I knew that it would be next

to impossible to explain to her the strange land from which I had come.  I

was like a space traveler, voyaging light-years across the cosmos to find a

temporary haven in a distant galaxy.  I knew that I could never explain 

the strange way I lived my life, or the strange dreams that had drawn me

to the bright lights and soft music of a world I knew I could never make

my own.

    But I came there, just the same.  For I had looked at myself in a mirror,

and I had seen conclusively that there was nothing at all about my

countenance that betrayed my true origins.  I had a face, just as other

men had a face, and there was nothing at all about me that might

distinguish me from one of those men who lived within the big city.  There

was simply nothing about my appearance that might alert a normal person

of my true identity.  I was convinced that I could slip into the lives of

these glittering people and no one would ever be the wiser as to my right

to be there.

    Now, San Antonio was chock-full of good-looking women. You could see

them everywhere. They were walking around all over the place. The

question was, how was I to flag down one of those lovely creatures long

enough to talk to her? And what was I to say? And what if she called the

cops? And what if she were to turn and give me one of those looks that

can cripple a man for life?

    Over the years, I made many a trip to San Antonio, as well as other big

cities, and tried to figure out how to meet women. I made some

discoveries. Have you ever noticed where most of the smart young women

are? They all live in big apartment complexes. They all work in big

buildings. For very brief moments during the day, they emerge from one

of those buildings, travel to another building, and disappear inside. If a

man did not also spend at least some of his life in those big buildings, the

only chance he had to encounter one of these women was during those

brief moments when they were transient between big buildings.

    Of course, on weekends these women often gathered at specified

locations for the sole purpose of meeting men. These places were called

"clubs." Sometimes they were called "singles bars." They were nice places.

I've been in a million of them. They were always full of good-looking

women wanting to meet men.

    I was told that young women who live their lives in big buildings in big

cities went to these clubs for the express purpose of meeting men who did

not spend their lives in big buildings in big cities.

    Or maybe I read that somewhere. Or maybe I dreamed it. Anyway,

somewhere or other I got the idea that I could get along just fine with

some of these women if I could just figure out how to meet them without

having to actually talk to them. Or at least not having to talk to them very

much. At least not at first. Say, for instance, if I could meet one of these

women and not be required to say more than four or five, or maybe ten

words, for the first quarter hour, I was convinced that we would get along

just fine.

    But that was the problem. These women would only consent to make

the acquaintance of men who knew how to talk to them. They expected

the man to talk right off the bat. Just like that! They expected him to say

clever things first crack out of the box. They expected the man to be witty,

and relaxed, and charming. These women only felt comfortable meeting

men who were comfortable meeting women.

    I wasted many a day of my life trying to talk to these glittering women

in these glittering places. Just to approach one close enough to engage in

conversation introduced the risk of suddenly encountering the faintest

smell of perfume, an event that rattled me right down to the ground. And

I could be completely unnerved by the sudden awareness of the way a

particular ladies' ankle curved into her foot, or the way the slightest trace

of powder brushed across a cheek.

    And then, of course, a man had to actually say something. But what to

say? I spent endless hours inventing what must have been ten million

different things to say when meeting a woman. All of them were wrong. At

least the ones I tried.

    There was no denying it. A man did not learn how to talk to women by

every six months screwing up his courage and trying to talk to one. A man

learned to talk to women by living and working in big buildings, and

talking to the women who also lived and worked in big building. On the

weekends, all these men and women went to clubs, where the men talked

to women who lived in big buildings other than their own, and the women

talked to men who lived in big buildings other than their own. It all worked

out just fine.

    But the purpose of this story is not to complain about the way the world

works. This story is about the time that I actually did meet a wonderful

young woman in one of those fancy clubs. It was just one of those things

that happened in my life. One of those startling events that happen

without any warning at all, like a tornado, or a car wreck. One moment

your life is normal, and the next moment the whole world is completely

jumbled up.

    It was in San Antonio. Out on the north side. It was a very nice place

where there was a fancy bar, and a fancy dance floor, and tables where

you could sit down and order lots of fancy things to eat.

    And the place was full of the fanciest bunch of women a man could ever

hope to see, and I was sitting at the bar sorting through the ten million

things I could say if I ever got a chance to talk to one of them. And then

an amazing thing happened. A young lady sat down by me.

    She sat down by me and actually glanced my way with a little smile. I

was thunder-struck. I didn't know who she was. I didn't know where she

came from. I didn't know why she sat down by me. I didn't know what to

say and I didn't know what to do.

    I was saved by the bar-man, who engaged the young lady in the

commercial transaction of serving her a rum-and-coke.

    The young lady took a sip on her rum-and-coke, turned to me with her

little smile, and said, "Hi."

    And that's the way it really happened. Just like that! One moment I was

sitting there thinking to myself, and the next moment the most beautiful

girl in the world was sitting there talking to me. I was never so astonished

in my life. My mind went into a mad panic. I was overwhelmed by the

certain knowledge that she would stop talking at any moment, and I would

be required to say something in reply. My thoughts were racing at full tilt

trying to figure out what I was actually going to say back to her. The little

que-cards in my brain started flipping at super-sonic speed through all the

ten million things that I might say.

    Of course, I had no idea what she was talking about. I hadn't heard a

single word she said. All I could hear was her sweet voice. All I could see

were her bright eyes. And then she leaned her soft face a bare one fourth

of an inch closer to mine, and the scant scent of her perfume fell over me

like a breeze from heaven.

    I broke into a cold sweat. My mind was consumed by a tumbling array

of incoherent words and phrases. I was terrified that some of these words

would suddenly come falling out of my mouth.

    But it didn't happen that way. I don't know just exactly how it did

happen, but it didn't happen that way. It happened in a strange way in

which I suddenly realized that she was no longer saying anything. She

was just sitting there quietly looking at me with a sweet smile on her face.

And what was even stranger, I wasn't saying anything either. I wasn't

saying anything, and I wasn't trying to say anything. I was just sitting

there quietly, and I wasn't feeling all panicky anymore. As a matter of

fact, I was starting to feel just fine.

    And the amazing thing about all this was that we actually sat there and

talked for an hour and a half. And this woman was just as lovely as you

ever saw. She was one of those women that I had only on rare occasions

seen emerge from one big building and quickly disappear into another.

    Later, thinking back on this event, I could never remember anything

that we talked about. But I could remember that I had felt wonderfully at

ease, and that I had said many clever and witty things.

    But that night did not go on forever, although I wished that it had, and

just as suddenly as she had appeared in my life, she went away. Just like

that. She said that she had to go, and she did. But not before we agreed

that we would talk to one another at that exact same place exactly one

week from that night.

    I had already made up my mind that I wanted to spend the balance of

my life talking to that woman. In order to do that I knew that it was

absolutely necessary that on the following weekend I ask her to agree to

have dinner with me on the very next weekend. That was my plan. All my

efforts went into making sure that the plan came off without a hitch.

    But there was a hitch.

    When I dreamed about picking her up at her big building two weeks

hence, the whole vision was jarred by the sight of me loading her up into

my nine-year-old, 3/4 ton pick-up truck, with the heavy-duty mud-grip

tires and the cow-catcher front bumper. It just didn't fit into the plan of

how I should be picking up the young lady I wanted to spend the rest of

my life with.

    So I knew I had to buy a car, quick.

    For some crazy reason I had some spare money laying about. I decided

to budget two thousand dollars for the purchase of a nice used car.

    Monday morning found me back in San Antonio looking at used cars. I

knew I wanted either a Ford or a Chevrolet. I looked at about half the

used cars in San Antonio. That was about ten million cars. I didn't buy

even one. That night I got a cheap motel room and read the used car ads

in the San Antonio Light. That's where I spotted the 1971 Cadillac. It

didn't list a price.

    The next morning I started out bright and early. I looked at about ten

million more used cars. By the end of that day I was ready to give it all up

and head back to the brush country. Then I happened to remember the ad

for the 1971 Cadillac, and decided to go look at it out of curiosity.

    It was owned by a man who lived in a nice house, in the nice part of

town. He was an elderly gentleman. He showed me his car. I sat in it. I

drove it around the neighborhood. It was a two-door Cadillac Calais, which

is a city in France, on the English Channel, that I've never been to.

    "Calais" is hard to pronounce. You have to know how. So I learned how.

When I was in the big city I pronounced "Calais" the way the French did.

When I was in South Texas I pronounced it the way it was pronounced by

everybody who walked past it and read the little chrome emblem on the

trunk lid. I never corrected anybody's pronunciation.

    The inside of that Calais was designed to remind one of the inside of the

palace at Versailles. Which is also in France. And also hard to pronounce.

I've never been there, either. But anyway, that's what it was like inside.

    I asked the old gentleman how much money he wanted for it and he

said seventeen hundred and fifty dollars, and I bought it. Just like that.

    The next Saturday night she was there. Me too. Now, it should be

understood that I had no intention of her actually getting inside my new

Calais that weekend. That weekend was the weekend I was going to ask

her to go out with me the following weekend. It was all according to plan.

    Nonetheless, I was glad to have my brand new second hand Calais

parked outside that fancy club on the north side of San Antonio.

    We talked for nearly two hours, and I asked her if I could take her out

the following weekend. She said no.

 

    But she was very nice about it. She smiled at me and even patted my

hand, which nearly drove me nuts. And this girl smelled so good! She

explained that she was "kinda engaged" to a guy. I think he was one of

those fellows who lived in one of those big buildings. But I'm not sure.

    And that's how I came to own a 1971 Cadillac.

 

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