BY SCOTT OGLESBY | I want to help with the car,” my newly retired wife announces. Keeping it parked legally on the street, I think, is what she means. I smile, and resist my macho-sexist ownership of all things auto.
“That’s wonderful, dear,” I reply.
Parking the car, or PTC as I call it, has always been my job in our nine-year marriage. Along with the laundry, shopping, cooking and cleaning. Yes, basic homemaking, but don’t judge: In New York City, everything is an nth degree harder.
“How would you like to help?” I cautiously inquire.
“I want to help park it, silly,” she smiles. “Just give me the plan and tell me how it works.”
My fears multiply. How can I tell her that there is no plan? She’s just retired from 21 years in an elementary classroom — the virginal birthplace of the term “plan or die.” Can I really say “no plan” to a teacher adept at rising five days a week at 5:30 to meditate, exercise and then rehearse lessons, prepping for the organized bedlam of a third-grade class?
Me, I’m a writer. No one plans to be a writer, or plans after they’re a writer — unless they’re paid writers, and I heard one of them died last year, and the other one’s on life support. I don’t plan. I live by the seat of my pants and that’s how I approach PTC.
“Well,” I explain, “on our street, alternate-side parking is in force four days a week; no parking Monday and Thursday from 9 to 10:30 a.m.; same for the other side on Tuesday and Friday. No rules for Wednesday and weekends.”
“O.K.,” she says, “that’s simple enough.” Plans sparkle in her eyes.
“One of us just babysits the car from 9 to 10:30.”
“Not exactly,” I wince. “You do that, and for four days you’re stuck killing an hour and a half trapped in the car. Why play by their rules?”
“Don’t they make the rules?” she asks.
“Sure, but they’re bendable.” I place my hand on her shoulder. “Listen up, this is what I do — I park the car on Sunday, so that it’s legal for Monday. You’re already up a day, right? Then on Monday, I move to the other side 45 minutes before it’s legal and sit there till 10:30. That way, I don’t have to be down there at nine in the morning. I repeat this on Tuesday and Thursday and the car’s good for three days — Friday through Sunday.”
I see a question forming on her lips but I forge on.
“If I miss the Sunday option, then I move the car at 9 on Monday to a meter, feed it enough for 45 minutes and scoot back upstairs for a quick breakfast. Then I run back down and move it across the street where it’ll be legal in 45 minutes. If you do the 9 o’clock thing, you only have to park twice a week instead of four.”
Her forehead is now furrowed, her mouth half open. No words escape, so I continue.
“But now,” I say, feigning excitement, “since you’re offering to help, we can just do the 9 o’clock thing and split the time car-sitting. And we save the $2.50 for the meter. You follow?”
“I…I guess,” she says and squints. “So you don’t park it the same way every week? There’s no routine?”
I can’t tell her that my routine is using the car as my mobile man cave. I play with the smartphone, make calls, talk sports, read the Times, work on my new novel. My anxiety becomes a shrug.
“Sometimes, I buy wine,” I say.
I laugh at her appalled look.
“Yeah, sometimes when I miss the Sunday option, instead of moving to a meter, I drive to the discount wine store and load up a case; it’s half the price of the corner store.”
“God, it all sounds so hard,” she says, shaking her head.
“Nope — hard is when I move the car off the meter or return from the wine run and all the spots are taken,” I tell her.
“That’s happened?” she grimaces. “What do you do then?”
“You circle around a few blocks to the west and pray for spots with an 11-to-12:30 spread.”
“Oh, my God,” she whispers.
“Or you can meter park and feed the beast,” I continue. “It’s a beast now because there’s a 60-minute limit, so you have to hustle down every hour until 6 that night.”
“Ughh!” she grunts.
“Uh huh,” I nod vigorously. “Well, there’s always the party option: You crank up some rock and roll and drive around till you get lucky.”
“Don’t they have an app for this?”
She stares at me, with a resigned look.
“Okaaay,” she drawls, “so what time do we have to move the car tomorrow?”
“Well,” I smile, “do we need wine?”
“Aaah,” she groans. “I could certainly use some right now. And a routine!”
“Shall we flip a coin for the 9 o’clock shift?”
She drops her head and growls. I’m bringing this up in therapy.
In the first month of my wife’s retirement, I’ve lugged three cases of wine up our four flights; we’ve become borderline alcoholics, and our therapy sessions are loud and volatile. The car, on the other hand, is safe — legally parked until 9 in the morning. Or is tomorrow a holiday?