I’m seated in my car. There is another vehicle in front of mine, a Toyota Corolla with a small dent just below the left tail light. The word Corolla on the back of the other car reminds me of corona, which is the fuzzy glow around the edge of the sun. I’m pretty sure it’s also a brand of beer. There’s a Corona Park in Queens, New York, not to be confused with Crotona Park, which is in the Bronx. From there, I think of cruller, a word I learned when I worked as a baker at a doughnut shop immediately after high school graduation. I was seventeen. If I owned a doughnut franchise, would I ever hire a seventeen-year-old and place my entire business into his clumsy hands? Also, did I really go to work at five in the morning for a dollar-sixty an hour? Cruller doesn’t sound like a kind of cake. It sounds like something you dig up out of the ground, and then go around showing it to people and asking them what they think it is. The dent is high and circular, about the size of a golf ball. It doesn’t appear to be the result of a minor accident or a bump in a parking lot. Based on its shape and location, I’d guess that a short knight riding a pony in a jousting match may have rammed the Corolla with his lance. Or maybe the driver lives near a golf course. A bumper sticker just below the dent says Vote No on Plan B. If I’d had a Plan B, I’d have made a right turn out of the post office and gone around the block the other way, and I’d be home by now.
I have time to think about these things, because I’m waiting to make a left turn. The light is green, but there’s traffic coming from the opposite direction. Rather than proceed into the intersection, the driver in front of me holds back and maintains his red light position. He doesn’t budge an inch, and so neither can anyone else. I believe I was behind this same man at the bank last Tuesday afternoon. That day there were thirteen people ahead of me, and once I joined the group, no one else did, so I was always at the end of the line. For a long time I made no progress, and had resorted to shifting my weight from one foot to the other and counting the letters on the mortgage rate poster, even though three or four customers finished what they were doing and departed. The man didn’t move up when he was supposed to. He let an unnatural gap form between him and the next person in line, so that there was no intermittent release of the tension that builds when you’re trapped, motionless, and watching the clock on the wall as it ticks away at your mortality. I was going to tap him on the shoulder and ask him if he was all right. Maybe he’d slipped into a shopping mall trance, a syndrome I was familiar with. The symptoms consist of an irresistible urge to flee the premises, accompanied by a curious inability to move a muscle. I had plenty of opportunity to inquire about his condition. The elderly lady now at the front of the line was paying her electric bill with a bagful of unrolled dimes. But I was sure he’d step forward at any moment, and I didn’t want to risk getting into a conversation with him. The last time I did that, at the veterinarian’s office, I was sucked into a half-hour lecture on both the advantages and the hardships of living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. After the clock had swept away another slice of our existence, the man approached the teller window, completed his transaction, and left. And so did I.
The incident at the bank was almost forgotten, but now the memory of it has returned as I sit behind the Toyota Corolla and wonder if this is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life. There is no wall and no clock, but clouds have arrived from the distant horizon, and the blue sky everyone at the post office had marveled about has transformed into a dull gray. Off to the left, a young woman in a bright yellow vest stands in the road clutching a sign that says Slow. Obedient drivers file past her at a quarter of the speed limit, and I find myself wishing to be moving that slowly. I imagine her still standing there in the winter, her sign shaking in her frozen hand, my car and the Corolla covered with a thin layer of fresh snow. Across the street in the other direction, construction workers are busy erecting a single-family residence. Eventually, I’ll watch the new owners as they unload their rental truck, plant trees in the front yard, maybe get a dog, and raise their children. The traffic light will change – green, yellow, red, and back again – through thousands of cycles. The Corolla’s left turn signal will burn out and stop blinking, its driver considering the possibility of removing his foot from the brake pedal, but always regaining his senses at the last moment. Meanwhile in the car behind him, long out of gas and needing to trim my beard, I’ll begin contriving some sort of weapon out of plastic fast-food cutlery and twisted road maps. My plan will include hijacking his car, running the red light, and parking in the driveway of the now abandoned house across the street. I’ll leave my own rusted vehicle at the old post office building, which has been converted into a doughnut shop. I may go in and see if they need a baker, one who is mature and patient and knows how to make a left turn at a traffic light. But first, I have to get to the bank. My electric bill is way overdue.