Fred used to sell Jewelry before gold went crazy.
He travelled all over America and never thought much of anywhere but Brooklyn.
"Cleveland is shit," he said, from behind the wheel of his Lincoln Town car. "Chicago is Shit! Everywhere is boring, boring."
"New York," he continued. "Is a powerful city. You feel alive here."
Fred stopped drinking recently and lived alone. He had a five year old daughter, whom he wanted to spend more time with. Sometimes, he went to the saunas. His favorite was the old one. He didn't quite know why. It was reasonably priced and old. He liked the fact that it was old.
To pass the rest of his time, he went to the Safeway Car Company's dispatch center and worked the board. When he was really lonely or bored, he would drive the car.
A night before, I had met Fred over the phone when I called for a car to pick me up at a Haitian restaurant in Canarsie.
When the driver showed up, I couldn't believe my eyes.
It seemed as though Danny Devito's Penguin had died and come back as some sort of a woman. She Wore a New York city shirt and a schlubby jacket. She had dandruff and a bald spot. The fat of her face and body seemed to be launching a full retreat from the rest of her.
She led me to the car and then excused herself. "I gotta use the toilet."
She ducked inside the Haitian restaurant and left me sitting in the back of the car for a good twenty minutes with a broken window cracked open on Avenue L.
"You're still here," she said as she slouched back into the driver's seat. "My stomach ain't so good. That's why I only drive a couple nights a week."
She was quick to anger --particularly when you mis-named the neighborhood you happened to be passing through or put on aires regarding the most appropriate way to get from A to B.
She had been born in Marine Park and now lived alone in a place in Kensington. She pointed out every KFC we passed. "There's a Kentucky Fried Chicken outfit right there," she said, as though noting glorious city landmarks..
The initial ugliness that she projected as a human specimen only swelled as she spoke. Everyone black (the Haitian restaurant, the man who stole her car, the types you hadda pick up when you drove a yellow) struck her as predictably malignant and bad for her. She couldn't stand spicy food or driving for more than two days a week.
During her off time, she slept and watched Direct TV. She watched the movies, only. Her favorite was "An Affair to Remember." Her other favorites all belonged to the same ilk--breathless romance of a bygone era. It was her only humanizing quality, you could say. Or her only pretty one.
When pressed for a hobby, she said that she read sexy novels, when she was in the mood. Her favorites were written by Joan Rivers' sister --she was so hot, she hadda write her a letter. She hadn't ever done anything else with her life --cept drive a yellow. That was terrible because she had to pick anyone up who hailed her, by law.
"With a car service I don't have to pick you up if I don't want to," she said. "Fuck that. I can tell just by looking' at you if you're gonna be ok. I use my women's intuition."
SHe projected an Aristotelean ugliness. Or maybe it was Dickensian --the spirit of South Brooklyn Present. Whatever it was, it wasn't exactly human. In this way, the ride felt like a dream and every dark and depressing detail of her life only fed my desire for more. What was the weirdest thing that had ever happened to her while driving a car? A guy ("a black guy, of course") had punched her in the face, stolen her car and smashed it into seven vehicles before abandoning it in Queens.
Fred knew her well. He hated her in fact. Every night he offered the rest of the drivers a thousand dollars, cash, if anyone would fuck her. Every night, they offered him $2,000 back.
"She is shit," Fred said. "Disgusting."
THey had fired her a couple of times. "She fucked up a car though," Fred said. "So they took her back. She owes them money."
As we neared the end of the ride, I asked Fred what he weirdest thing that had ever happened to him was.
"Three people fucking in my cab," he said. "Some people need to fuck while you drive fast. It's a sickness."
Fred told them to just keep on fucking. It had happened a few times, he said. On the weirdest occasion, they had asked him to join in.
Fred said no. But he didn't tell them to stop. If you tell them to stop they complain. If you let them keep going you get tipped, big.