Flat Black

My car is 12 years old. That’s old for a car that’s lived its entire life in Upstate New York. In the salt belt, car years are like dog years.

Everything works, except the CD player and three of the four speakers and the odometer and the gas gauge. The windshield wipers wipe, except sometimes when it rains. And the clutch is going, but not gone. These are minor things. It still goes fast if I give it enough road. And it corners at .8 Gs, which is enough to push my face gratifyingly out of shape.

My friends say, get a new car. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the mildew smell. Maybe they’re just jealous. But I wouldn’t replace it even if I could afford to.

That’s not to say I don’t like a change now and then. My car rolled out of the factory a happy, cheerful red. A few years ago, when the rust got bad and it needed paint, I wanted something totally different. Flat black.

The primer look. Edgy, intimidating. As though the entire car was machined from a billet of solid unobtainium.

I made my plans. The following Saturday, I woke up early and headed South. I gunned it through Victor and Holcomb, envisioning my new stealth-mobile, until I reached my destination at the corner of routes 5 and 20: Floyd Bixby Collision.

There was no mistaking the man behind the counter. “Floyd” was boldly embroidered across the front of his overalls. I’d been told he was a genius with a spray gun.

“Floyd,” I said, “I want a mean, threatening look. Can you do it?”

He made a scary face.

“No Floyd, my car. Can you paint it FLAT BLACK?”

He looked it over and scratched his head.

“It won’t be easy,” he said. “I’ll have to mix flattening agent with the regular paint – just the right amount. It’s an art.”

“Have you done it before?”

“A friend of mine asked me to paint his aluminum skiff flat black so he could sneak up on ducks,” he said.

“How’d it turn out?”

“He shot a lot of ducks”

I was sold.

A week later, I got a lift back to Floyd’s to pick up my new mean machine. It was in the gravel lot out front when I arrived, freshly washed, beaded water glinting in the morning sun. I took a closer look.

Floyd came out of the office.

“Floyd,” I said, perplexed, “it’s not flat!”

“Yeah,” he said, “couldn’t get the mix right. No one could make the finish you want. It’s impossible.”

“Then what’s this?” I asked, examining the car. It hovered in a sheen of dithered luminescence, fuzzy at the edges, defying description with a Heisenberg uncertainty.

“Ford Bronco bumper paint,” he said, “the closest I could get to flat off the shelf.”

I ran my fingers across the hood. The satin finish floated like a veil over the jet black base. I raised my fingers to my lips and tasted… Turtle Wax.

It wasn’t what I asked for, but it was close enough. “It’ll do,” I said. I wrote him a check and hit the road, slinging gravel.

Like I said, that was a few years ago. Time is taking its toll. Floyd’s paint job is getting a little weathered. The beauty of it is, the older it gets, the flatter it gets. If I can keep my car running a few more years, it’ll be just about perfect.

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