So, I did once, briefly, work for Apple. I’m not sure I’m allowed to show any of the work that I did, or say what it was on (I think I signed something to that effect, but who, really reads Apple’s Ts&Cs?), but I can tell you that spent a weird month living in a hotel in Cupertino, eating in Caffe Mac and generally having a strange old time. One useful product of that time was this short story which was a runner-up in the Standard Hotel’s short story competition.
Red Vines in the Glove Compartment
On the last warm night of the summer Jake and I troll the hotel parking lot looking for something to borrow. And when I say borrow, it’s not because I want to convince you, or anyone, that what we’re doing is not a crime. There just isn’t a better word for what happens while you’re passed out drunk or, whacked out on ambien, or sublinox, or good old Oxycontin, or whatever it is you do to feel ok at night these days. We borrow your car. Like, did you ever get in your automobile and begin to drive and immediately find yourself imagining all the things that you might have been? The kind of life you might have lived if only things had worked out differently? Maybe you wanted to be a movie star or a musician. Or maybe your new album just dropped and you’re realizing you’d rather be an IP lawyer, or an award-winning botanist, or a veterinarian. You start imagining this other life, where you’re looking over papers, leaning back in your office chair and cracking your knuckles, or adjusting your rimless glasses over some truly fascinating bookplates of orchids or something, and as soon as you’ve imagined it, you envy it. And then you resurface, and you’re waiting at the stoplight by the turn for your work, and you realize you must have made a hundred decisions, life-or-death decisions, with less attention than you would apply to a video game. That, in all the ways that matter, you just weren’t there. Has it occurred to you that you were only thinking like this because while you were asleep we got hold of your car and drove it the wrong way down the freeway at 107 miles per hour? That what you’re picking up on, at some deep and primal level, is the lingering tang of adrenaline which we, Jake and I, left there in your vehicle. Think about it: does your car ever smell vaguely of weed? Even though you yourself no longer smoke weed? Well, let me take this opportunity to apologize. We always put it back. However fucked up your car is when we’re done, it’s always there where you parked it, ragged but definitely there, like a man waking from an awful dream.
Sometimes boys come up to me in the school canteen and they say stupid things, or dirty things to try to show they’re not nervous. I ignore them. They’re not interested in me, they just want to impress their friends. But Jake wasn’t like that—he just showed up at my house with this heavy-looking sports bag and said he had something to show me. I barely knew him, he was good at math and electronics, but he only joined this year, and he had a shady, school-shooter type vibe that meant near everyone left him alone. He wouldn’t say what he had until we got into the shadow of the trees, on the corner. He asked me if I knew that California was once Mexican. And that the state was named after a fairy queen, Calithea. Maybe you already knew that, but I didn’t. He told me that that you can’t eat the oranges from the trees that grow on the verges because the lead will kill you. His eyes look urgent, like he’s full of information, and he can’t wait to give it all to me. Then he explains about General Motors—he explains the corporate structure, and the culture of the company, which is risk-averse and tends to technical standardization across the many sub-brands. Chevrolet. Jeep. Dodge. He explains that this has also caused some inadvertent foibles (I think he means ‘loopholes’) in their cars’ security. For instance, the passkey system, where there’s a chip in the key, plus a matching one in the ignition tumbler. (If you want to know what he looks like when he’s saying this, Jake is wearing a green shirt that’s too big for him, buttoned right up, and a weird spherical jade pendant over the top of it. Chinos. High-top Vans in white canvas.) The passkey system is designed to make it hard for ghetto kids to steal GM cars but, paradoxically, it makes it very easy for rich kids with access to their father’s credit cards, plus a laptop, plus a shittonne of locksmith’s hardware bought online from, of all places, Lebanon. Then Jake shows me what’s in the bag. It was a simple as that.
All summer long we get high and borrow cars. We rustle Camarrros, Challengers, the Galaxys and Jeeps. We boost a plasticky black 2015 Mustang with tinted windows and Decepticon bumper stickers. I drive it into a ditch and the airbag breaks Jake’s nose and has to tell his father that we were jumped by a gang of Chinese kids. ‘Why do you wanna be hanging around with Chinese kids?’ is all his Dad says. It sounds unlikely, but not impossible, which is what makes it a good lie. This is one of the things that he teaches me.
Of course, being able to take anything we want, our tastes get kinky. Have you ever driven a 2006 Chevrolet Impala? It’s a sedan. Driving it is like riding a cow. We like them in that hearing-aid/champagne color, and Jake takes obscene pleasure heading fast into a bend, gunning the throttle and yanking it into low gear so the transmission shrieks and causes this blameless, invisible car to lose traction and can-you-believe-it? actually drift a corner. He stops the engine and we both begin to laugh, because it is hilarious in the way that only cruel things are hilarious, like forcing a fat kid to dance extra fast.
Jake moves into the pool house so I can come over at night. It also contains the home cinema system and together we watch an HD torrent of Furious 7.
“Nothing anyone does in this movie matters. So why does Vin Diesel always look worried?’”
“Maybe he doesn’t know why he’s worried,” I say, “And that’s why he’s worried.”
“He is an enigma.”
“That’s racist,” I say. “You’re a fucking racist.”
Jake laughs a dumb, stoned laugh, but I can see in his eyes that he’s terrified. All summer long we got high and borrowed cars. Last night we took your car from the hotel parking lot and drove it two miles down a railway track. Where were the police? The police don’t give a shit about your 2006 Impala.
We drive around, but we never drive away.