“Car-isma” by Melanie Chartoff

Nov 25th, 2015 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

In 2003, I accidentally dated an alcoholic. He came as an accessory on my Prius. I got to know handsome Johnny O. (not his whole name) while I awaited the delivery he promised in four days. And during the four weeks I was dropping in on the dealership to check on my anticipated Prius, he began courting me in a car man kind of way, demonstrating how his smart key could open my vehicle without even touching it, showing me how to change the oil, change a tire, hot wire a car, skills I’d never use, but I liked the way he was teaching me. He would worry, he said, if I were abandoned along a roadside somewhere: fearful, cheerless, Johnny O.-less. This man rolled the odometer back on my feminism thirty years. Single and celibate, I suddenly got hormonal, helpless and girly.

He’d recently moved here from Modesto, best known for murderer Scott Peterson. Promoted to manager of a Toyota Prius dealership, the car du jour, he was at the top of his game. He wanted to celebrate—anything and everything. “You did a radio commercial for Lipitor? Baby, let’s party.” We had little in common. He knew nothing about acting, except what he read in People, I knew nothing of engines, except what he highlighted in Road and Track. Talking to him was like traveling to exotic lands without shots, bags, or passports.

He was saving me so much on future gas, I owed it to him to go dancing with him, he persuaded. Besides, my hair matched his upholstery, and as a lapsed celebrity, then best known as the voice of a cable cartoon character, I’d legitimize him in the show biz world. When he spun me some salsa moves in the showroom, dipping me breathless in his enormous arms to gaze into his bottomless Portuguese eyes, I wanted him under my hood. I wanted his dipstick in my oil. I wanted him to close the deal. For an artist in search of a subject, dating him would be research.

I wore really old underwear and brought three galpals along to the club to slow things down. They were no help.

“I’d have sex with that guy for a Prius.” said one.

“I’d have sex with him for a Civic,” said another.

“I want a floor model like him,” said the third.

I soon became a pimp for Priuses provided by Johnny O. clones, fully loaded, ethnic, dancing pretty boys who offered clean machines, fast delivery, and free floor mats to my girlfriends. Johnny was very happy with me: “Baby, you are so good for my business, let me be good for you. Let me scotch guard your seats. Let me give you rear air bags. Let me put a nice finish on your body.” And so he did.

Forget heroic New York City firemen. Those East Coast calendar boys’ appeal was fading as the post 9/11world did not come to its anticipated end. California was car country and my personal Prius dealer my pin up boy. My shiny new hunchback hybrid and my shiny new boyfriend were my new statement. I felt cool and pragmatic. For me this was an ecological, liberated, “end of petrol ” relationship. For him it was a marriage made in some nutty narcissistic heaven of social climbing. He loved greeting my famous neighbors on the streets each morning. He planned his smokes to catch their dog walking, giving my conversation piece of a car a rubdown, showing it and his conversation piece of a rear end off every day at seven a.m. He sold two on my block.

He was spending more and more time at my house, in my bed, in my head and moving down the drive train to my heart. Silly me, I never did learn how to have sex out of gear, without engaging “the clutch.” Infatuated, lapsed Jewess, child of tee totalers that I was, I thought he was just a social drinker, like the Brits or the French. I didn’t recognize the signs—his magnetic personality that could pull women out of the plumbing—he’d go to the men’s room and come back with groupies; his Marlboro Man appeal to guys. He could shape himself to the needs of any looky loo on the lot with such sincerity. He could sell people car packages they never even knew they wanted: leather seats to animal rights activists, hybrids to Hummer lovers, navigational systems to agoraphobics. He had “Car-isma!” Yet as a visitor to my world, he was raw and awkward. I had a Pygmalion complex and he became my perfect pig, enjoying the ballet by my side, sipping from his silver flask.

“Nice rack on the fairy princess, eh? Whoah. Get a load of the package on that swanboy!”

Such a fresh perspective.

At Christmas he told me he was going caroling with his dealers—I thought he meant car. He staggered into my bed at dawn smelling like the puke he’d parked on my front stoop, snow falling from his nose hairs. He slept seventeen hours, looking delicious even drooling. I woke him Christmas night to tell him it wasn’t going to work out. I was scared of the addiction thing. I was scared of the improvisational vomiting thing.

“Baby, I can’t make it here without you!”

He begged my forgiveness. He pledged on bended knee that he’d give up booze and cigarettes for me forever. Oh, how I wanted to believe him. He was so beautiful—with his hearty laugh, his golden skin, his smart key to my ignition. I mistook his hungry kisses for commitments, his bended knee as a practice posture for married life. I mistook his need for me for love of me. I gave him another chance and dove deeper.

Two weeks later, he developed tics and twitches; animated an entire new personality out of them—a frenetic, unglued, uncool new self. Sobriety was hurting his sales and his social networking. His shaky hand was spilling his constant cup of coffee. His gum chewing, toothpick bearing, over active mouth made him seem low class. He had flop sweat. He was anxious, putting on weight. He overslept and got docked commissions. It seemed when he squashed an addiction down in one place, it would just pop out another. He soon stunk of breath mints, cheap colognes, chewing tobacco. I learned that for him forever meant till his remaining brain cells forgot, and sober meant no alcohol. I was enmeshed in a fantasy of fixing him. For me, an unemployed actress starved for purpose, the role of appetite suppressant, pacifier, nag, room deodorizer was the only identity I had.

Then, I caught him smoking crack with his friendly local prostitute one night, and freaked.

“Right, baby. You’re too good for me,” he whined.

“What?! No, no, I’m not, I’m not!” I cried, fighting for the man’s SOUL, but really for my now desperate attachment, while my inner voice was shouting “GET THE HELL OUT!”

He leapt off the wagon, and went on a career ending bender. Even though I’d banned him from my bed till he cleaned up his act, my mind was still drowning in my fantasy dreamboat’s undertow, cramming the CliffsNotes on addictions into my head, surfing the Net all night to understand the quagmire the 12 steps stepped one out of. I couldn’t let go! I searched for a meeting to which to drive Johnny O., hoping I could heal him and maybe heal me.

There were many different meetings for substance abusers of all kinds happening every hour everywhere in Los Angeles! Those hoards of people chain smoking and chugging coffee outside churches were attending all kinds of meetings. There were programs for food, drink, drug and gambling addicts, for the people who loved the addicts, programs for the children and parents of the addicts, and prenatal programs for the fetuses of the addicts. I was a Psycho hypochondriac identifying with every one of them. I had never realized there existed all these islands of choice and all this vocabulary for being damaged. If I joined this world, I would have so much more in common with Johnny O. I began seeking a meeting for a woman addicted to an addict growing hooked on a hooker who was hooking him on crystal meth.

She found my number in his cell phone and called her fellow Johnny O’aholic to gloat late one night.

“Honey. Johnny O. liked you a lot, but he’s marrying me this summer,” she slurred. And he’s getting me a Prius that gets over 52 miles per gallon in city driving!”

“Hah,” I retorted cleverly as I hung up, finally free. I knew she’d never get that kind of mileage. I knew every girl gets to get over a bad boy named Johnny once in her life.

Defenestration-Melanie ChartoffMelanie Chartoff is columnist for the Huffington Post, Jewlarious, and the Jewish Journal. She is known for series roles on Fridays, Seinfeld, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, The Newhart Show, and Ally McBeal, and as the voices of Didi and Minka on Rugrats. She is Billary’s “handler” on the web series “Transpresident.” In L.A., she writes and performs at Comedy Central’s Sit n’Spin, Tasty Words, and Jewish Women’s Theater stage shows, but began in off- and on-Broadway and East Coast theaters. She’s terribly YouTubular, and a late blooming newlywed. She makes the shy stellar with her classes, or with private coaching via SKYPE. Visit: Charismatizing.com, email: Playdate444@gmail.com

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