Way too much excitement in the old parking spot today. I arrived to find Washington D.C. gone, a white Jetta with New York plates in her place, and behind me the black SUV of the guy who lives in K.’s building. (He’d been off the block for a while.) Also, I’d left my driver’s-side door unlocked. Fortunately, no one had slept in the car or stolen my tapes of “Robinson Crusoe.”
My hands were cold, sitting in the car. Briefly I let myself hope that the street sweeper wouldn’t come. But then the SUV started up, and I saw the sweeper in the side-view mirror. The SUV backed into the hydrant space, pulled over to the other side of the street, and then backed way up. I backed up, too, but on the other side of the street, as I was jockeying to get in position, my right headlight caught on the construction barricades, and I heard a groaning sound that I knew I would have to investigate.
“I think I’m sticking out too much,” I said to the SUV owner. When we were all back in our places, I was a foot away from the curb.
“I lost a foot,” he said. “I’m in the yellow zone.” That’s where the curb is painted yellow for fifteen feet on either side of the hydrant.
He backed up to let me get closer to the curb, then went ahead on foot and asked the Jetta to pull up, and I pulled up, too, a little. I’m in there real tight now, with only six inches to spare. I hope I can get out tomorrow.
Suddenly there’s a police car and a tow truck. The cop double-parks ahead of me and walks back toward the tow truck, near the fire hydrant. I hear him say a single word into his walkie-talkie: “Violation.” Uh-oh. I feel illegal. Is it against the law to have a broken headlight? Surely not when you’re parked. But it’s the red car on the other side of the hydrant that’s in trouble, the one that has had the ticket displayed on its windshield since last week. No one is in the car. The cops gather round it, as if they’d cornered a perpetrator. They check out the ticket: a decoy. I’m not sure why the driver left it there; could have been to fool a cop into not giving her a ticket because she already had one, or could have been because she was in denial and just didn’t want to deal with it.
One of the cops comes and stands by my car, writing a ticket. Again, I feel illegal. I’ve gotten out of the car to check out the self-inflicted damage to my front end. I had to go around the car in front of me to get to it. Should I climb back in real quick? But no, he’s just filling in the information from the sign, the beautiful sign: “No Parking Mon. & Thurs. 7:30-8 AM.”
My right headlight, the smaller yellow one, on the side—what I’ve always called the parking light—has been wrenched out of its socket and is dangling by a rubber cord, like an eyeball in a horror movie. Ouch. I fool around trying to plug the light bulb back into its little rubber cup, bundling the cord inside, and trying to snap the lens back into place, but it’s not snapping. Fortunately, I have a roll of clear plastic tape in the trunk for just this purpose. But I’ve got no knife or scissors, and the tape won’t tear. Then I remember a trick I learned by watching a clerk in the post office: I grab the ballpoint pen off my passenger seat and stab the tape with it. It makes a nice clean cut. I go around all four sides of the lens, slapping the tape down the best I can. It’s not a neat job and will rip off when I have to open the hood, but it will have to do. I test the light, and it still works.
Now I refocus on the tow truck. It occurs to me, heartlessly, that although one player is leaving the game, a spot has been freed up for another. In the time it takes me to swivel my head from the passing tow truck—the car on it, I now see, is another Jetta—to the spot that was just vacated, the spot has been taken.
The guy in the SUV, who has dark hair and a pointy beard, gets out and sets his Dunkin’ Donuts bag on the car roof. He says he heard the cops saying that they’re going to be policing this block more regularly. “Some of the cars don’t move for the street sweeper,” he says. “We moved, but they didn’t move back there”—on the other side of the hydrant. “This is such a great block,” he says. “Only a half hour. It’s the only place in the city. Used to be an hour and a half.” He rolls his eyes. “I know. I’ve lived in this building for seventeen years.”
“Yeah, I’ve got to give it up this weekend,” I say. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“We’ll find a spot for you,” he says.
I go to the grocery store to stock up on cat food for the weekend. My favorite cashier, the one who is retiring, is not there. I may never see her again. I hope she enjoys her retirement, that she likes staying home in the morning, or that she has a little dog to walk, and that the dog has a little red sweater.