unagidon July 6, 2012 - 8:49am
Amerimex Auto (Se Habla Espanol) had a strict rule against drugs or alcohol on the premises. It was probably a sound enough policy because it helped increase productivity two or three percent. Cocaine addiction was so prevalent on the lot that it was viewed by most of the staff as an occupational hazard. With cocaine, of course, came the sister addictions; alcohol, because coke addicts generally had to drink themselves stupid to get to sleep; codeine, because people who drink themselves stupid to get to sleep generally wake up with massive hangovers; and amyl nitrate to clear away the codeine haze and jump start the party after work. ("After work" was a flexible concept at the used car lot. We would often stay open very late if we had a lot of customers or none at all. On the other hand, if we sold a Night of the Living Dead special with about five active miles left in it for a high price, we would close the lot and run away as soon as the car was physically out of sight, even if it was only noon.)But the main reason that there was a strict rule against drug use on the premises had nothing to do with productivity or even fear of the cops. It was that the owner was a reformed addict himself in a 12 Step Program. And if he couldn't abuse drugs and alcohol he was damned is he was going to let anyone else do it on company time.These addicts were hard, unsentimental men constantly feeding or at least stroking the giant monkeys they carried. But despite all of this there was a strange little spot of sentimentality buried in our double-wide trailer that seemed very out of place.Walk into the front door of the double-wide trailer that served as the corporate headquarters and you entered a large room with a big desk and several mismatched armchairs. This room was where we entertained the customers and it was called "The Butcher Shop". Take a left on the way to the former bedroom of the trailer (which was now my office as "credit manager" or "pencil man") and you passed two smaller rooms across the hall from each other. On the right was the bathroom, which actually worked and even included a stand up shower littered with cigarette butts. On the left was the store room where we kept the boxes of St. Christopher statues we put on the dashboards of every car to imply that their last owner had been a white suburban family, and boxes full of the large NO WARRANTY - AS IS signs that the State required us to put on one of the rear passenger windows. But we also had boxes of something else.
The boxes (and maybe there were about half a dozen going back years) contained photographs we took out of repossessed vehicles. We used to repo about 15 cars every week or two. The repo men would go through them with a fine tooth comb looking for drugs, money, guns, or anything else of value. But the poor people who bought our cars often kept all of their most personal stuff there. It was all junk to us and we would toss it, but for some reason we always kept the photographs. The most poignant of these were pictures of the dead.There were what I would call death memorials, which consisted of a brochure with a photograph on it that had been passed out at a wake. The people in these photos generally seemed to be in their late thirties to early fifties. Life is hard on the poor. Once I got a fix on a face, I could go through the box and reconstruct the life. The deceased was beloved Aunt Sally. Here was Sally at her wedding. Here was Sally with a baby, and then another. Flipping through the snapshots, I would see the babies grow up and Aunt Sally age until she "was suddenly taken from us." I could understand why the owners of these photos didn't come back for them. They owed us money. But what I couldn't understand is why the jaded junkies at the lot didn't just pitch them along with everything else. It wasn't that these photos were filed in any way. They were always just tossed in a box.The other kind of photo was the saddest of all and these were the photos of actual dead people. The dead people were always young men in their twenties. These were morgue photos - intake photos perhaps with a serial number on the chest of the corpse who still had that drowsy half opened eyed look on his face. Aside from these men being so young, they always seemed well groomed and had on their best suits. The photo would say that the young man had gotten dressed up to go out, and at the party that night had either been shot to death or had overdosed. The morbid curiosity that I had in reconstructing the lives of people like Aunt Sally left me with these boys. They were practically still children and I couldn't bear to find their younger faces awake in the dusty boxes, misplaced souls like everyone else about the place.