stash, but I saw the problem at once. My time had no purpose and I had
no money; I was on the edge of a void deeper and wider than I was ready
By dinner I had what could pass for a theory. Didn’t a town like New
Brunswick need cab drivers? I loved cars; I knew more about them than
most people. The next day I was told you had to be twenty-one to get a
hack license in the state. Couldn’t I lie? I tried, with another company. “I
could have you fucking arrested, bud,” the fleet owner said. One thing I
didn’t want was my parents getting any phone calls.
I gave Dale twenty handwritten cardboard signs to put up around
campus: cheap rides offered, no distance too short or too far. I had to
clean up Lizzie’s car, and I had to stay home by the phone, and the name
on the ads was Bud the World’s Best Chauffeur (to throw my parents
off the track, not that they were on any track). For days the phone never
rang. The first call was a weeping sophomore who’d cut her hand with
a cheese knife and wanted a trip to the emergency room. I got her there
fast, and I waited and drove her back to her dorm.
This was the beginning of my great rep as a driver. I could be called
at any time of night, I would go anywhere, and I watched out for the
safety of female passengers (it was not a safe era). Lizzie had not meant
to surrender her car, and she was also concerned, not wrongly, about all
those lively young women getting into it.
I was proud of this job I’d invented, the little bits of cash that kept
coming in. I was doing well, for me. Every few weeks I called my parents
and left a fast message. Once I heard my mother say, “Oh, Billy,” and I
asked how she was. “What do you care?” she said. It was a real question, under the biting sarcasm. I’d forgotten she once liked me. And I’d
thought it was so nice of me to call.
“You always take the best view of yourself,” Lizzie said.
Maybe so. I had my arrogance. And I had missed my parents, but not
in the way other kids might; I knew I lived without the same habits of
feeling most people had. What could I ever say? Yes, she’s my mother, but.
Who’d want to be me?
Lizzie trotted out my history when people visited. My parents believed
the civil rights movement was all about setting up a Negro-Soviet republic. They thought that public water fluoridation was part of a conspiracy
to poison the nation. I was used to all of it, but our friends shrieked. And
it made me sound special and interesting, which we both thought I was.
She had taken me on, dear Lizzie. I never wanted to thank her out loud,