It’s a classic stereotype, that of the sleazy used car salesman, one comprised of men in ill-fitting suits and women in low-cut blouses — a cloud of cheap fragrances enveloping both. Craigslist has all but decimated the demand for Pre-Owned lots, yet still they seem to be everywhere you look in the less desirable parts of any city. “More for Less Motors”, this establishment was called; it was snugly located between two bail bond agencies, directly across the street from a gentlemen’s club dubiously called The Pink Monkey Cabaret.
Hard times had fallen on Henry, though, and he trusted the stereotype more than the internet. Having recently picked up a second job, he had no time to use public transport as a means of getting to work (the system in his hometown hadn’t quite become efficient enough yet). So he looked up the closest second hand lot in his neighborhood — decidedly Hispanic — and walked to it with high hopes and an empty savings account.
A woman met him at the front and introduced herself as Charlotte. She wore a suggestion of fabric that some might call a dress, along with a smile as visibly fake as her spray tan. The good part about pre-owned dealerships is that the employees don’t beat around the bush, because they have no shame or desire to. Charlotte got straight into it, employing strong sales tactics — solid eye contact, cursory respect for Henry’s budget, and feigned interest in his automotive needs — eventually directing Henry towards the vehicle of his dreams, a shoddy Dodge Neon manufactured in 2003.
The car had 110k miles showing on the odometer, listed at a “firm” $699. Henry didn’t think much of the color (an off-white coat of paint chipped in all the wrong places), but he was encouraged by the relatively low mileage, as well as the fuel economy assured to him by Charlotte’s cheap, toothy grin. Within an hour he was driving off the lot, feeling slightly more optimistic about what the future held.
You’d be surprised how rarely people check used cars before purchasing them. Henry made the same mistake, and so was quite surprised himself to lower the sun visor while driving to work and find a Polaroid had fallen into his lap. Marked with the name “Lola” and dated March of 2013, it framed a young girl. Lola had on an oversized button down shirt with the collar crudely cut off. She wore her brown hair down, with bangs, and a pair of beguiling brown eyes to match.
Henry’s initial response to seeing the photo was one of arousal. This was, after all, the ultimate in retro barely legal fetish. More sexual than pornographic, the photo made Henry drawn to Lola’s ostensible youth (especially having recently been dumped by a shrew several years older than he). The girl didn’t look childish in the photo, but rather more innocent and full of mirth, a look of candid laughter adorning her divinely adolescent face. You could tell that Lola had a laugh that sounds like good food tastes.
The shot was clearly taken in a dark room, so it was fair to assume that Lola had some sort of affinity for photography. The flirtatious nature of it suggested that this moment had been captured by a lover, someone trusted and adored. Intrigued by the discovery, Henry decided to look into it further, overcome by a wave of stalkerly curiosity.
So he looks up some local photography galleries, not really knowing anything of the city’s scene. After finding a poster on the street for an upcoming Polaroid exhibition, Henry marked his calendar. The show turned out to be great, albeit totally beyond his understanding. He drank some wine, made a few friends, and pretended to have opinions. One of his acquaintances turned out to be the gallery owner, an avid Polaroid specialist, who educated Henry in the nuances of this niche art form.
Going out on a limb, Henry decided to share the picture of Lola. Although the owner didn’t recognize its subject, he did observe a few distinctive qualities of the print itself. According to him, it was taken with a limited edition camera confined to a fifteen shot capacity. This meant it could only have come from a select few distributors, one of which had a factory located on the other side of town.
Delving further into the depths of intrusiveness, Henry made the trip out in the battered old Neon on his next day off. The place was located in an industrial area littered with disused warehouses and barbed wire. Upon entering the factory, he was directed to its lead administrator, a woman with extensive knowledge of operational sales and the figures corresponding to said.
Rather taken aback by this person’s willingness to divulge seemingly classified information, Henry discovered that a large quantity of these limited edition units had been purchased by a local private high school for girls, St. Mary’s Catholic. Presuming these supplies were provided by the institution to its photography department, Henry contacted the school and asked if he could speak to the department’s head, a thin-voiced man by the name of Patrick.
At this point, Henry figured he was in deep enough that he had to see this thing through. So he set a meet with Patrick under the pretense of purchasing his own limited edition Polaroid to explore a growing interest in photography. Patrick knew this was a load of bullshit, but nonetheless agreed to convene out of sheer loneliness and curiosity.
The two met in the office for St. Mary’s photography department (evidently well funded) and Patrick gave Henry a tour of the facilities. Part of this included the on campus dark room, which Henry immediately recognized as being the site of his favorite photo shoot.
Connecting the dots wasn’t all that difficult, especially after getting a feel for Patrick’s unscrupulousness. It was clear that the teacher had been involved in an affair with his student — but when, and for how long? Henry decided to keep tabs, start a friendship of sorts. He would hang out with Patrick every now and again, talk women, work and woes. And after a few drinks — say, four or five? — it wasn’t all that hard to get him on the subject of his more attractive pupils.
One came up more than the others. Her name was Victoria, and apparently she was in her senior year, a fact which Patrick was less than shy in the act of bemoaning. “These lips, man, you wouldn’t believe them!”, he would say every time she came up. Judging from the lips Henry had seen in the now quite worn Polaroid, he could only assume that Lola’s true identity had finally surfaced.
How to proceed? There wasn’t a great deal left to do in terms of running into her, that would just have to be left to chance. So he went ahead and bought that camera, started to hone his photography skills (and did actually start to enjoy it). After weeks of aggressively mediocre negatives and prints, he finally singled out a few decent ones, and brought them over to Patrick at his office. To be fair, this was partly motivated by a desire to get an outside opinion on his early endeavors, but the primary incentive remained unquestionable.
Patrick didn’t think much of the prints, but nonetheless commended Henry on his perceivable effort, as well as the notable progress he’d made in the way of framing and lighting. They made plans to split some pitchers and a few games of pool later that night, and Henry walked out of the office, feeling satisfied with the critique but less so with not seeing Lola — who would simply never be Victoria to him.
She appeared to him in the hallway looking some kind of beautiful, very much a sight for sore, perverted eyes. There was no mistaking her, not after months of ogling that picture. Henry’s heart began to racing and palms to horrible sweating as he followed her from ten or so feet behind. Out into the parking lot they went, and the lovely autumn breeze did nothing to assuage Henry’s awareness of his newfound identity as a bona fide fucking stalker. She was almost to her car when he did, he said it.
She froze in her steps and turned, expecting to see her former lover.
But rather found, standing idly before her, a strange man with a Polaroid camera around his neck.
He said nothing, expressions of both sadness and relief converging on his face.
And then, Henry snapped another candid for his collection.
to be continued