This article was originally published on July 3, 2010. Of the 133 comments attached to it, about 60 had something to do with a word used by the father in the story. I’d like to try defusing that kind of conversation in advance by noting that it was a direct quote and that I do not share those sentiments regarding the Aspire. Thanks! — jb
As a Ford salesman during the Year Of Our Lord 1995, I had very few scruples and fewer dreams. I did, however, have a few personal goals. One of them was to sell as many pink cars as possible. I convinced a woman shopping without her husband to order a pink Windstar. I checked “Rose Mist” by default on every 1996 Taurus order form that passed through my hands, relying on the customer to see the “mistake” and correct it. I even convinced a color-blind man to order the pinkish interior on a black 1996 Taurus station wagon, describing it to him as “a very vintage red, luxurious in tone and strongly reminiscent of a Sixties Rolls-Royce.” When his son came to pick up the car with him, he looked at me in a fashion I can only describe as “murderous”.
Another goal, known only to me: to never sell a Ford Aspire. At the time, I believed that Ford made a few good cars and a very good truck. I also believed that Kia had made a good car, and it was called the Ford Festiva. The Aspire, which succeeded the Festiva, was no successor at all, and certainly no success. Built on the bones of the perfectly-packaged little Korean “Ford” Festiva, it was heavier, slower, no more spacious, and strongly resembled a suppository when viewed in profile. It was also expensive when equipped with air conditioning and an automatic transmission. The dealer margin on the Aspire was about five hundred bucks between sticker and invoice, meaning that I could usually get customers into a far superior Escort LX, priced at invoice, for less than an additional grand.
After driving both cars, and seeing the vast difference between the competence of the Mazda-based ’95 Scort and the Kia-built ’95 Aspire, customers always chose the Escort. When I gave my two weeks’ notice at the dealership, I knew that I would leave the business with my Aspirations cheerfully unfulfilled. Less than ten days later, my dream crashed into the ground… with a tinny “clink”.
Anyone who has grown up in a wealthy suburb is familiar with the phenomenon of the “man-child at home.” These are young men who return home from college, often at the insistent request of the Dean of Students, and never again leave the nest. Faced with the prospect of living on their own means in some eight-hundred-square-foot apartment, eating Ramen noodles and sleeping restlessly on a bare mattress, they make the sane choice to stay at home, borrow money from their millionaire mommy or daddy, and spend the evenings drinking.
Sometimes they spend the nights driving after they drink in those evenings, and they crash their cars.
When that happens, they require new cars to crash. And so it was that a friend of the dealership principal arrived at 9:01 AM on my third-to-last day at the shop. He was a grizzled, sixtysh, vital-looking man, football-framed and solidly fat beneath his Scioto Country Club golf shirt. His son was thin, wispy, downcast, early thirties, standing apart and obviously displeased to be up this early.
“Pops” shook my hand in a manner designed to ensure I couldn’t play “Eruption” on the electric guitar for at least a week. “Brian here, (jerks thumb over shoulder) is a fuckup. Crashed his car. Drunk. Lives with me and his mother. Needs a car. For a job. Like that will happen. Don’t suppose you’d hire him here.” Hearty laugh, shared with me as a man in the world of men who work at nine in the morning. “Get him a car. Cheapest you got. Color? Don’t care. Cheap is the word, young man.”
“Sir, you are in luck. I have an Escort LX for $10,995, well-equipped with cassette player and comfort-tinted glass.” Pops squinted at me.
“Don’t you fuck with me, young man. Paper says you got one for $8995. You won’t get rich off me. I know your boss. But,” and he thumped my back with sufficient force to rattle my lungs around in their frequently-cracked ribcage, “I like your spirit!” Damn. He’d seen our Sunday ad, which featured the lone Korean suppository on the lot.
“Well, Sir, that’s an Aspire, but the Escort…” Thump on the back again.
“Don’t fuck with me, kid. Told you already. Show me the cheapie.” I went to the board, grabbed a key, and jogged out to the lot. Oh, dear God. My conflicting emotions fought tooth and nail in my heaving chest. Our sole Aspire in stock… was pink. I didn’t know what to do. On one hand, I had sworn to no one in particular to sell every pink car I could. On the other, it was an Aspire. I considered simply running to my demo and driving away, and then I realized I needed the $50 commission we received for selling cars at the newspaper-advertised price.
I pulled up to Pops and son in the pink Aspire. The son looked as if he would vomit at any moment. Pops grinned. “OH HO! I see why you have to give this one away! But beggars can’t be choosers, eh, Brian! Don’t suppose you’ll bring any tail home in this faggot-wagon!” I ushered Pops in to sign the papers before sneaking back out to meet Brian, who was standing mute before the pink Aspire.
“He’s right,” Brian told me, before I could say anything. “Beggars can’t be choosers. I made some mistakes. I still live at home. I don’t know what to do.” He was older than I was, had partied his entire worthless life, and would, most likely, be a millionaire through inheritance. Standing in my worn-out shoes, thinking about how I desperately needed to find enough money to pay my dentist for a cavity I was nursing, I put my arm around him.
“It’s a good car. They don’t break, really. Won’t spend much for gas. The color looks different when the sun’s not so bright.” He said nothing. I went inside and earned my fifty dollars.