One day, a young man was in a Safeway bagging a customer's groceries. He never saw this customer before in his life. The customer was in bright spirits when he told the cashier, “you ever hear how this man set his car on fire?” He was motioning to the clerk who was disturbed by this line of discussion and he could not help responding, “That never happened.”
The customer assured them the story had happened, and cited the bagger's mother as the source for the story. He claimed he heard the tale told on a commuter light rail in the early 1990's. The only question haunting our clerk then was: who is this man, and why is he haunting me? He looked closer at his antagonist. He looked at the man's eyes, past his glasses, and stared long at this man whose smirk seemed to widen with this surprise disclosure. Then, his face began to look more familiar.
He recalled a girl he visited in 1986, a very beautiful girl, who was very gracious to him. It was the day before his sixteenth birthday, and she was sure to do her best to offer him a birthday present worth remembering. She looked into his eyes, and smiled. “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed?” She smiled, and he felt led. Indeed, what could this memory have to do with the story I started to tell?
Looking at the disturbing man forking over money for his groceries, the recognition took place. This man looked older, but his identity was indeed clear. That girl that enchanted him fifteen years before has a father, and on this day her father was right there buying groceries, causing trouble.
As for the flaming car:
One day, back in 1989, a young man was driving a 1980 Oldsmobile in San Jose when he looked down to his side he saw a paper bag catch fire on the seat. This was a shock to him, and with little thought, he took his jacket and smothered out the developing flames. He then plowed his car, a Delta 88 diesel into the back of a Jeep, coming to a sudden stop. He looked through the windshield, and saw the torn up fiberglass and started to freak out. This was his parent's car after all, and he knew the discussion at home would be challenging. He did something then that my friend Doug can appreciate. He stepped out of his car to talk to the driver he hit.
Closing the door, he sealed his fate. The keys were in the ignition, the car was on, and the doors were locked. This is a bad day. Right? What did he do when he walked to the window, saw his car was the only one damaged, and realized he was locked out of his car? He freaked out! His panic level elevated when looked in to see smoke rising up from the seat. He did not notice the crowd developing. He did not see the Cadillac parked across the street, a woman vaguely resembling his mother walking across the street to investigate this car with smoke coming out of it.
With much hesitation, an older couple from a nearby apartment complex surrendered to him their fire extinguisher. With a two inch gap in the window, the nozzle barely fit. Depressing the handle, he released a powder into the cab of the car, finally extinguishing the fire, a fire which had already burnt the roof of the car, and melted much of the dash. He then drove the car home to face his parents.
My friend Doug was quite placid after I told him this story. He decided that locking his keys in the car is not so bad after all. To my satisfaction, he never asked me how I could relate this story with so much intimate detail. He never asked who the eighteen year old was, or how I knew him.
Thank you for reading.