The call came right after what would have been lunch, if I had been eating, which I wasn't, it being Yom Kippur. It was my new friend Jonathan, who calls almost every day. As usual, the words "hurt" and "betrayal" were interspersed with "keyless entry" and "three-point harness." Jonathan has a calm, therapeutic manner, qualities not typically associated with car salesmen. For a couple of weeks now, ever since I wrote to Gerd Klauss, the president of Volkswagen America, detailing some very expensive "issues" I was having with the dealership where Jonathan works, and the letter ended up instead in the office of Volkswagen's public relations firm, my newest friend has been trying to "regain [my] trust" with cash incentives and promises of a closer relationship with the service department.
Today I let him advance the conversation a little further and tell me about the safety features of the new Jetta turbo-diesel wagon—the rear and front crush zones, for instance, the side-curtain air bags, the break-away engine mount, the steel cross-bars.
"How do you feel about this car?" he asked.
"I don't know, pretty good," I said. "It sounds pretty safe, as these things go."
"I can tell that safety means a lot to you," Jonathan said empathetically. "I really understand that. I mean, who doesn't want to feel safe? How do you feel about the leather option?"
"I'm not really into that stuff," I told him.
"I can understand that, really," he said. "Remember, if you buy a car from us, I'll be there with you every step of the way."
While we were talking, I was cleaning my daughter's bathroom. Then I straightened up the mudroom, made my bed, and dusted the guest room.
"My mother-in-law is coming," I told Jonathan as I began to tackle the kitchen counters.
"I can understand that," Jonathan said. "I really can. I'll call you back later."
My mother-in-law, Peggy McKibben, is the nicest woman in the world. I'm fairly sure she couldn't care less about the kitchen counters, but she was coming with friends from California, strangers to me, who had flown across the country in order to see the fall leaves. "Leaf-peepers," we call them. Drive almost any road in Vermont this time of year and there they are, inching along and pointing; or on bicycles; or standing at the shoulder, taking pictures; or sitting on tour buses, staring out of the windows.
"Vermont is amazing," Peggy's friend Betty said when they arrived. I was out in the garden, pulling limp vegetables. We'd had a killing frost over the weekend, and all my tomatoes were toast. To prove it to myself, I popped a little cherry tomato into my mouth, took a bite, and swallowed just as I remembered I was supposed to be fasting. This was not good. The word "smite" came to mind.
"Can you believe that a sandwich here only costs $3.25!?" Betty exclaimed a little while later, when we were sitting in my living room. She is from Los Angeles, so, to her lunch in Vermont seemed free. It was a perfect segue, I thought, to a discussion about politics.
"How are you people feeling about Howard Dean?" I asked Betty and her husband, Hal. Two months ago, at the September Dean Meet-Up, I pledged with all the others to engage in "The National Conversation" about our former governor. So, here I was, doing just that. And even if they weren't "into" Howard yet, at least they would know that those of us who support Dean have clean counters. Symbolically, it could be important.
"What I really want to know about is Wesley Clark," Hal said. "What does he stand for? First he says he's against the war in Iraq, then he says he'd have voted for it. He wants to have it both ways."
"What I want to know about Clark," I said, "is if he's so smart, why did he vote for Nixon and Reagan?"
But then, before I could turn the conversation around to Howard Dean, the phone rang. It was my friend Jonathan. "I hope I'm not interrupting," he apologized.
"It's all right," I said. I stepped onto the deck. The leaves really were magnificent, especially the maples, which blazed red.
"I hope this is not premature," he began, "but I was wondering if we could talk about color."
"We don't have to, if you think it's too early," he said, backing off. "But I was thinking, 'what if I found you a red car and you really hate red?' Not that you do hate red. Maybe you really like red, if you see what I mean."
"I like red," I said. "And I especially like the Red Sox."
"Ha, ha. Actually, I don't think red is one of the options," Jonathan said. "Let's see. There is blue, black, green, and silver. Which of these do you like best, in order of preference? If you want to think about it for a while and call me back, that would be fine."
"Blue, silver, green, black," I said quickly. "But it's not really about color, you know."
"I know, I know, I know," Jonathan said soothingly. "I really understand that. If it's OK with you, let's talk tomorrow."