Under the category, “Hackie Unplugged,” I will be chatting about the Hackie column, which appears fortnightly in Seven Days and also (well, at least the three most recent columns) on the 7D website, from the perspective of the back-story or sometimes the after-story, if that’s a word. From emails I’ve received through the years, it seems folks find this stuff interesting.
The column of 4/18/07, entitled, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” was the type of story I love to write: nothing overtly dramatic; just a regular person trying to find love in this cruel world.
Generally speaking, the Hackie stories describe people and incidents that occurred in my taxi over the near past, maybe within the last month or two. But this is not always the case. There are truly an infinite number of ways to write a particular story and sometimes I jot down notes for a column that I don’t yet “get” how to write. So, I let it marinate in my subconscious until the answer comes.
The record is 20 years. In the first Hackie book, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, is a story entitled, “Stewed Prune.” The incident took place in the mid ‘80s. It took a couple of decades until one day – Eureka! – I figured out how to write the darn thing.
“Diamonds in the Soles of Her Shoes” was not quite so bad, but the fare actually occurred last summer. Although all the Hackie stories are true, I will take the liberty to bring the timeframe forward when there’s been this delay I’ve been talking about. Does this make me a bad person? I hope not.
Anyway, here’s that classic Hackie story, “Stewed Prunes.” Enjoy.
Mr. Townsend met me at the door, shirttail hanging out, toothbrush tucked in his cheek. “Jernigan, hang out in the living room,” he said, already turning his back on me to go up the stairs. “I’ll be ready in a bit.”
I shook my head, took a deep breath and strode into the big house. This was Warren, up near the Sugarbush ski slopes and the property could only be described as a small forest palace. Everything about the place screamed money, from the one-of-a-kind hand-carved dinner table to the four-car garage. I appreciate artful design in a home, but Mr. Townsend’s Vermont get-a-way was neither graceful nor elegant. It struck me as ostentatious - wealth on display.
This customer always kept me waiting, and it drove me nuts. He was fanatical, even paranoid, about my getting there on time - sometimes calling two or even three times to confirm the pick-up. But when I arrived, he was never ready to leave. If he wasn’t dressing, he was yelling into his cell phone at someone in a New Yorkffice. Most of the time he traveled by private jet, so departure times weren’t set in stone; whenever we arrived at Burlington Airport, the pilots and plane would be waiting.
Worse than that, half the time he wouldn’t have money on him, like he was the Queen of England or something. “I’ll get you next time” was the refrain. He always made good, but sometimes it would be weeks.
So I sat stewing in the living room, ensconced in a big, plump, purple chair. I think the interior decorator might have intended a post-modern nod to the classic La-Z-Boy, but to actually sit in the thing was like being embraced by a giant prune.
After the better part of a half-hour, Mr. Townsend popped into view, smiling vividly if not manically. The guy is so tightly wired, I’ve actually wondered if he’s a cokehead. I know he’s a partner in a Wall Street law firm specializing in corporate takeovers, so cocaine would not be out of the question. Pirates guzzled rum, after all, to fuel their dirty deeds.
“Let’s do it,” he said. “Let’s go, go, go.” In his left hand he held the omni-present laptop, in the right a small gym bag. I think he maintains a complete set of clothes up here, one in his New York City apartment and another at the law office. It’s really a snap: every time you purchase an article of clothing, you simply say to the clerk, “Make it three.”
We cruised along Route 100, passing Harwood Union High Schooland Lots o’ Balls mini-golf. It took lots o’ balls to come up with that name, I thought to myself. As we drove along, Mr. Townsend received and initiated a series of cell calls, and with each successive call he grew more agitated. His half of the last conversation was straight out of the Sopranos.
“We’ll bury him. Ya understand? He’s dead. Dead man walking. This deal is happening; end of story. He thinks - what? - he’s gonna screw us in the eleventh hour? He won’t know what hit him, like an alligator on a fucking poodle. That goes for the whole board, if they stick with this moron. The blood will flow like blood. You saw the first 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan? That’s what I’m talking about.”
I glanced up at the rearview to see Mr. Townsend shaking a Lucky Strike out of the pack. Yes, I let him smoke in the cab, just one of many compromises I’ve made to maintain this steady, lucrative fare.
“Ya know what?” he said, apropos of nothing. “It’s not about ‘greed is good.’ That misstates it.” He inhaled with a vengeance, drawing the essence of Lucky Strike deep into his lungs. “It’s inserting a moral judgment where none is called for. Greed is reality. It isn’t ‘good’; it isn’t ‘bad’. It’s air.”
Mr. Townsend, I knew from experience, was not remotely interested in my reaction to this thesis; in his world, I’m wallpaper on wheels. But I was glad he said what he said, because in that moment I made my decision.
We reached the private plane terminal, and Mr. Townsend snapped the computer back into its case. He said, “Good news - I have some money on me. I owe you for last trip too, correct?”
“Yup, you sure do.”
He handed me the money and said, “I probably won’t be back up until after the holidays. I’ll call you then.”
“Don’t,” I said.
“Whaddaya mean, ‘don’t’?” He looked both puzzled and irked.
“Sorry, but I’m not driving you anymore, Mr. Townsend, so you’ll have to call some other company.”
“Are you kidding me?! What’s this about?”
“Oh, it’s hard to say, really. Let’s just say I’m moving on.”
“I don’t know what the fuck your problem is.” He was glaring at me with such venom, for a moment I felt like dead man driving.
“I don’t know what my problem is either, man.” Just before he slammed the door, I added, “The thing is, it might not even be a problem.”