Sayed Kashua suffers a breakdown (of his car)
As his car stalls, he reflects on why all the places he worked projected a sense of looming catastrophe.
A knocking sound assaulted my ears as I was driving the kids to school that morning after the holidays. At first I hoped the noise was coming from other cars and had nothing to do with the car I was in. When that hope faded, and I discovered beyond a reasonable doubt that the noise, which grew more persistent when I pressed the gas pedal, belonged to me. I closed the windows and hoped it was due to bits of gravel that had been caught in the treads of one of the tires and would certainly fall out during the trip. When I dropped the kids off, I checked the air in the tires, even kicking them lightly to ensure that all was well. I gave the tires a quick look and didn’t see anything unusual. But as soon as I pulled out into traffic, the knocking noise came back and stayed with me all the way to work. I turned on the radio to solve the problem, but the reports about the state of the economy only heightened the sense of danger. I thought about the newspaper, the production company and the publishing house, and suddenly it hit me that I had never worked in a profit-making place. Everywhere I’d worked there had been cuts, losses and huge debts.
All the places I’d worked had always projected a sense of looming catastrophe. I began to wonder how people who worked in profitable places felt, how people felt whose bosses convene the employees and instead of telling them about the collapsing business compliment them on their work, their great investment and their tremendous talent. Bosses who say things like, “Thanks to you, my dear friends, thanks to your hard work we are a successful, profitable company.”
“It’s really unpleasant,” I once told a close friend from the media world, “I feel guilty.”
“Do yourself a favor,” she replied. “The next time, after one of those meetings, take a look at what kind of cars the managers drive and try to imagine what kinds of homes they live in.”
This is my first trip in the replacement car I received when the holiday started. My company car started to act up a week ago. First a warning light flashed on the picture of an engine but went out by itself. The representative who answered the phone at the leasing company assured me that if the light went out there was no problem. Two days later, on the way to work, the car started to rattle and almost threatened to die. “Pull over to the side and stop,” another agent from the leasing company instructed me after I had pulled over to the side and stopped. A tow truck will be there within three hours.”
The tow truck duly arrived three hours after whatever time it was and a colleague from work drove me to the rental company, where I was given a beat-up replacement car.
“It’s the same category,” I was told by the company when I complained about the car’s condition. I consoled myself that it was only a matter of a few days before I would get my car back. Indeed, the very next day the leasing company called to say that the car was fixed. Someone brought the year-old executive car to my house and took away the jalopy. However, on my very first outing − to go shopping before the holiday started − the car started to wheeze again. The engine emitted ghastly noises and the transmission worked only between first and second, without taking other gears into consideration.
“Pull over to the side and stop,” I was told by the leasing company. “A tow truck will be there within three hours with a replacement car.”
“But,” I tried to shout politely at the agent on the phone, “I am wasting more time on a car whose concept is that I won’t have to waste time worrying about a car.”
“Sir,” the agent replied that day, “even if this happened to my manager I would tell him the same thing: a tow truck will be there within three hours from now.”
The tow truck duly arrived within three hours and took my car. In its place I received another car, which I knew immediately, from the very first trip, had something wrong with the steering wheel, not to mention the knocking from the tires. When I got to the parking lot of the production company I checked the tires again and there it was: a screw was stuck in the left front tire.
“Sir,” the agent from the leasing company replied, “it will be hard to prove that you received the car with the screw. Very possibly it got stuck in the tire during the trip, even though you say it was your first trip this morning.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, trying to inflect my voice with the tones of a VIP − after all, the vehicle was classified as an executive car − “what do you want me to do?”
“I’ll ask the technical manager,” the agent said, left me on the line for 10 minutes and then said, “The technical manager says there is actually a way to prove that the screw was there when you got the car. You need to examine the head of the screw to see whether it is worn down, in which case maybe you really did get the replacement car like that, so it is really our responsibility; but if it’s still new, then it must have got stuck in the tire when you started to drive. What do you say?”
“I say that I apparently have not understood anything about company leasing,” I replied impatiently.
“So should I send someone to check the head of the screw?”
“No,” I replied and slammed down the receiver. “What happened?” the producer asked as he came into the room and saw how agitated I was.
“The leasing company,” I told him. “All the money they take, and for what?”
“Ah,” he replied, and made dismissive gesture with his hand. “As a matter of fact, the leasing companies are in financial difficulties.”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe it. “Even them?” I felt compassion for the clerk I had shouted at, who works for an unprofitable company.
“Irrespective of the screw,” the owner of the tire-repair place said, “this tire is finished. It’s unsafe.”
“Just fix the flat,” I told him, and I don’t know where I got the courage to ask, “Tell me, is this business profitable?”
“Profitable? After taxes and rent I can barely make it through the month,” he said. “It’s impossible to live here anymore.”
“Is that your Mercedes?” I asked, pointing to a big black car that was parked in the shade.
“Yes,” the owner replied, a smile of pride spreading across his lips. “She’s a beauty, eh?”