Johnny asked me for another memory, maybe about the car. So there was this time, OK, when I was in Bloomington for a conference and noticed a shudder in the steering wheel. Ay, que ahora, I say to myself. It was a back tire, from smokin’ them the night before trying to burn carbon from my valves.
So I find this place, “Tires For Less - and More,” and go in. A chime sounds and a blue-blazered salesman at the register squares his shoulders, straightens his polyester tie, and swaggers around the counter. I smell trouble.
“Helloooo, little lady,” he croons.
I nearly spin on my high heels. Should have waited and gone to Performance Plus as usual back home, I think. But maybe I could get a good deal here. I stay.
The man stops short and shades his eyes with his hand. “Oh, wait, I see better now,” he says, angling his head. I’m guessing the sharp light from the display windows behind me put me in silhouette. “Es-pahn-yohl, huh? Uno moh-men-toh, ok? We got a guy in the bays who-”
“I speak English just fine,” I tell him.
He shrugs in mock contrition. “All right, great. So what can I do for you?”
“I need two tires, for a-”
“Minivan?” he says.
“We can do that,” he says with a smile two octaves wide. “Right this way.”
He saunters behind the counter, leaving a cloud of Brut in his wake. I wave it away from my face. The man touches the screen of his computer. “I have some questions for you first, OK? Do you have an account with us?”
“No. I’m from out of town.”
“We can set one up now.” His fingers work the keyboard.
“Hold on,” I say. “Let me see what you’ve got, first.”
The tap-tapping halts. “Fair enough. Next question: How fast do you drive?”
I grin. “Pretty fast.”
“I’ll bet you do,” he replies with a wink. “Come over this way.”
He takes me over the wall where various tires are displayed. He raps his hairy knuckles on the first one and launches into a honeyed spiel: “Now this, little lady, is a passenger touring series tire rated at ninety miles an hour with innovative roundness and a molecular engineered carbon black-and-silica formula for safe handling in wet conditions like we get here in Illinois.” He pulls a shiny penny from his shirt pocket and sticks it in the threads. “And do you see these circumferential grooves? They channel water away for added safety.”
I’ve had enough. “I need performance radials optimized for rolling resistance and high speed handling.”
His eyebrows arch. “Heavy foot, huh?”
“Like 120 miles per hour.”
He points at my lime Mui Mui heels. “In those?”
“Barefoot, actually.” I lean forward to check his name tag. “Vinny, is it? Look, Vinny, I need two 75 series 225-75-15’s to fit American Racing Torq Thrust rims, type M.”
His mouth drops open. “Geezuz, lady, you drive a dragster or something?”
I plant my hand on my hip. I like talking about my car. “69 Dodge Charger R/T with a 528 Hemi, a 3000 r.p.m. Hughes Torque Converter, a Gear Vendors Overdrive Unit and a Dana 60 Rear End.”
He squints, and then laughs. Laughs harder. Slaps his knee. Wipes his eyes. “Hoo-boy! This is a joke, right? Did Joey hire you to do this? Who the devil are you?”
“My name is Selena, gringo tonto,” I inform him, foot tapping. “Do you have the tires or not?”
I drove 60 miles an hour all the way home to avoid the shuddering. When I got home, my face still hot, I told my brother Lorenzo about the store. He pinched his eyes, dropped the videogame control and doubled over with laughter. “So did you get the tires or what?” he asked.
“Are you kidding?” I said with a flick of my hand. “From that mono estúpido?”
“Ay, why did you say that, mi’ja?” my mother called from the kitchen. “Do you want to give Mexican women a reputation?”
“Yes, for being strong.”
“Mexican men do not like their women strong.”
“He wasn’t Mexican, Mami.”
My Mami stood in the doorway, strangling a dish towel. “Listen to me, Selena: you must be like the Virgin of Guadalupe – quiet. Eyes lowered in respeto. How else will you ever find a husband?”
“What’s worse,” Lorenzo chuckled, “is that this guy Vinny is gonna talk all day about a foxy Mexican chica named Selena Gringo Tonto.”