Left to my own devices, as my girlfriend Liz was out of town visiting her parents,
I decided, egged on by a text message from Newbury Comics, to go to Staten Island
to buy some vinyl for 20% off (and since I usually just hit up the clearance bins,
even greater savings would await me). Or so I thought.
I wasn't moving particularly fast after waking up at noon, and it was well after 3pm
by the time I had finished my lunch and got my ass in gear.
The Staten Island Mall, where the nearest Newbury Comics is located,
is about a 30 minute drive from the apartment, and includes a toll bridge.
And of course, it being Sunday, the mall closes early at 6pm,
so I was running against a clock to start with.
Not my easiest struggle.
So, I pull into the parking lot and just found a space, having never been to this mall before.
And as soon as I'm getting out of my car, some dude in a golf shirt and flip flops
has pulled up in a Toyota minivan and has seen my big-ass dent in the driver's side rear door,
from when I got t-boned making a left turn form the straight lane en route to get my second
Pfizer COVID vaccine shot.
So immediately, he starts saying how he could fix it right there for me on the spot,
and I'll admit that I'm curious to hear his sales pitch and see how much he expects
for this unexpected proposition. He starts off big, promising to pull out the dents,
buff it up and give it a small paint-job to cover up the rust, all for only $800!
In a mall parking lot, point blank, on Staten Island on a Sunday afternoon.
Now, I don't know about other people and how they conduct their finances, but I'm really
wondering how many people they come across driving a 1999 Honda Accord
with two different colored doors and a giant dent in one of them, that they bought from a friend
for $500 five years ago when they were super desperate for a set of wheels while
living in an exurb with really terrible public transit who just happen to have $800 in their pocket.
So I start talking to Barry, because that's his name, and I talk him down to $200 to just
pop out the dent, touch up the paint a little, and get the door to open from the outside, as
before this encounter, I realized that it did open from the inside, and for two years I didn't even
know. Or I forgot immediately after discovering the fact.
Either way, I literally just cleaned out my car the previous week and tried to open it on a lark.
I also thought I could fix the door a little bit myself and managed to shatter the tiny window,
cracking all of the safety glass in the tiny triangle, which I then repaired with black duct tape and some cardboard.
I agree to the vague terms and of course, I have no idea what kind of process is actually involved,
but I like the randomness and the happenstance of the situation, so I embrace it.
Barry gets out his tools (and his 3 year old son, who seems to like playing with Barry's tools)
and starts to work. At first, he asks if I'm going in to shop and he says he can work on it while I go inside and that he'll be done when I get back. I don't know how stupid I look, but there is no way in hell I'd leave my car with a stranger, even without the keys. A guy who knows how to fix cars most assuredly knows how to start a car without a key.
After several minutes of banging and whinging with a long crowbar and a rubber mallet, he asks
if it's possible to move the car to a more open space and to follow him. This I do and we move to a shady spot not too far away, and then he calls another guy and we're waiting for him because he has more tools. I mean, obviously, I'm in too deep to leave now, but more time is elapsing and 4:30 has become 5pm, and the stores close at 6pm, so I'm starting to panic.
And while we wait for his friend (who turns out to be his father-in-law), that's when he asks me if I've accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. Seriously. I couldn't make this up.
I politely tell him that I'm Jewish and that I think Jesus was a good dude, but I was brought up in a religion that does not view him as the Messiah, and frankly, I feel like a lot of people who call themselves Christians don't follow their namesake's teaching, and I find that troubling.
He keeps proselytizing and I keep respectfully rebuffing, and he explains that he means no disrespect to Jewish people, but that Jesus is lord and he must spread the good word, that the scriptures insist that Christians spread the gospel and talk about it and I explain that I'm not a joiner and that one of the few things I like about the Jewish faith is that proselytizing is frowned upon. I tell him about my born-again Christian grandma and how she tried converting me ever since I was a child, and how I get where she was coming from, but if someone doesn't share your beliefs, they don't view it as "I'm going to hell because I don't believe in Jesus as lord," they view it as someone not accepting no as an answer. I forget to use the actual words that Christianity is the religion of colonizers and that this lack of boundaries is exactly why this country is garbage right now. Perhaps that is just as well.
I tell him the story about the man in the van in Buffalo, whose Walkman fell off his roof as he drove away, and I picked it up and flagged him down to give it to him, and said to me "You must be a true Christian" and how I smiled and nodded because I knew the intent was pure. I tell him this to prove that I'm not offended, and I know it's coming from a good place, but that I really don't do organized religion because it's about control, and I am spiritual and have my own beliefs, and I also quote that chestnut from Groucho Marx that I would never join a club that would have me as a member.
In fact, I was thinking about telling him that I even have a problem with the Satanic Temple being too "organized religiony" because when I watched the "Hail Satan?" documentary, once they became officially recognized as a non-profit religion they started cracking down on some of their more outré members, like the head of the Detroit chapter who they cut loose because she was acting too independent (to say there was a male hegemony present might be oversimplifying, but it's obvious if you watch it - they wanted to make sure this woman knew her place), but I digress.
Anyway, that's when he introduces me to his wife, who has been in the minivan THE WHOLE TIME with their younger child, while the 3 year old has been playing with a hammer (at one point, hitting my driver's side window with it) and yelling "BARRY, BARRY, BARRY!"
I meet Barry's wife Corey, and she starts telling her own Jesus stories. She says that a year ago, the three-year old was non-verbal and that he was "diagnosed with stage three autism" (this is what she said, and since my car is not fixed, I have to smile and nod and say "oh wow") and so they turned to the power of prayer and now he's talking all the time and is "no longer autistic" and I don't know how to tell her that that's not how autism works and that there's nothing wrong with her son, but he's definitely still autistic (a fact I picked up on like immediately) and there isn't anything Jesus can do about it until he shows up in person. And then she tells me about their younger child having a 5 minute seizure last year that scared them so much and so they prayed and now she's ok (also not how seizures work - these people really need to listen to medical professionals).
Thankfully, Corey's father (Cory, I swear to their lord and savior) arrives with the much-needed tools to get this party moving forward (and to get us off the subject of Christ). Cory has a really cool tool that is like a drill-bit/screw attached to a pump that he uses to pull the dents out after making a slight hole in parts of the door. He then explains how in the 70s they would use the tip of this tool to pop off the ignition cover to hotwire cars. That makes me feel more comfortable about being alone with a bunch of Jesusy strangers in the middle of an empty section of parking lot. I just have to have faith that they're true Christians and aren't out to steal my chariot and strand me on Staten Island.
The good news is that Barry and Cory have pulled out most of the shock factor of the door's dents, dulling it down so it's not so dramatic when people see it, and they've sprayed some paint over some of the chips and rust. The bad news is that the clock is ticking and I still have to pay them. And of course, they don't have Venmo, and the wife says their Zelle isn't working, so then I ask where the nearest ATM is, and Cory tells me it's in the next shopping center over and to follow him, so I do - we weave in and out of traffic and I'm low-key panicking the entire time, hoping we get there already.
And we get there, and I hit up the drive-through ATM and Cory is patiently waiting for me in the parking lot and I give him $200 (Barry tried to get $300 at one point and I reiterated my original mission and how time was of the essence) and took his phone number and hustled back to the mall to try and get my record shopping on.
By the time I found Newbury Comics, it was like 5:50. I have never been inside this mall before, and there are no digital directories and the cardboard maps don't have Newbury listed on them. I managed to find it, and I was flipping through the clearance section super fast when then they announced 5 minutes to closing and last call for registers and I got flustered and brought my two records to the counter and paid, and realized later that I forgot about the 20% off because I had to use a coupon code. I paid $15 to cross a bridge to buy two records. And apparently "fix" my car door for $200 cash.
Is Staten Island always like this?
Fun post-script: when I was at work two days later, I was talking to a co-worker about what had happened, and the first thing he asks me is "Was it a white mini-van? Was his family with him? Did he have a bunch of tools in the back of the van?" and I say yes to all these things and then he tells me that he gave this guy $200 one time at the Menlo Park Mall for something similar, only he was a little less skeptical than I was (I've been mugged in early 1990s mid-town Manhattan, so I always listen to my Spidey-sense if something feels off) and never actually negotiated with him before the work started. But it was good to know that I'm not the only person this has happened to, although my co-worker didn't seem to get the Jesus treatment.