Joe was a Driving Test Administer.
|His first name was Joe, but his coworkers all called him Jay-Jay. He didn’t like it, and he told them he didn’t like it. They would put on an act and crinkle their eyebrows and ask him why he didn’t like it. “Why not, Jay-Jay?” “Yeah, Jay-Jay, why don’t you like it?”
“Because it isn’t my name,” he told them many, many times, but it didn’t stop them.
In fifth grade, a kid named Al Tunny used to slap Joe in the face and ask, “Does that hurt?” “Yeah!” Joe would say. Al Tunny would say, “How ‘bout this?” and slap him again. “Yeah!” Joe would say. “That hurts too.”
Those were the days of young Joe when he had hair on his head and his whole life ahead of him. He had been fat back then and everybody told him he was fat. He was still fat today, even more so, and he waddled when he walked, though for some reason nobody ever mentioned how fat he was any more, only that he waddled when he walked. Often times they even demonstrated for him exactly what he looked like when he walked.
Joe was now a Driver’s-Test-Administrator at the DMV in Encino, having worked here for sixteen years. He wore a woolen, navy-blue clip-on tie and a short-sleeved white button-down shirt every day but Tuesdays and Sundays. At work he carried a clipboard with two Bic pens attached by a little rusted chain. One of the pens had blue ink. The other red.
If you passed Joe’s driving test, you got your license to operate a motor vehicle sent to you in ten working days. If you didn’t pass, Joe would hand you a thin yellow piece of paper filled with check marks and circles in red ink explaining exactly what you did wrong. Joe always wrote the time out in military style. “Try again in two weeks,” he would say to a failing test-taker and then walk away. Sobbing was of no help to you if you failed Joe’s test. Begging on your hands and knees didn’t work either.
When Joe saw the thin young man standing by the orange Pinto, he didn’t think it possible that the kid was old enough to drive.
“Please get in the vehicle on the driver’s side,” Joe instructed. The kid did as he was told and Joe got in the passenger’s side door and left the door open. He put the clipboard on his lap.
“Joseph Santini, but you can call me Jay-Jay.”
Joe looked over. He studied the side of the young man’s face. The young man was adjusting his rearview mirror.
“Date of birth?”
“January 30, 2002”
“It’s your birthday,” Joe said matter-of-factly.
“Yes sir,” the kid said. He adjusted his side-mirror.
“Please start the engine,” Joe said. He slammed his door shut and locked it, then administered his seatbelt.
The kid turned the key and the old car coughed twice, then sputtered to life. He patted the dashboard. “That ‘a girl,” he said and smiled at Joe. It was a good smile, a happy smile, showing straight teeth and dimples in both cheeks. It was the smile of a teenaged boy with his whole life ahead of him. The kid buckled his seatbelt.
Joe made a mark on the form in his lap.
“Please exit the parking lot at the driveway and turn left,” he said.
Joseph Santini put the car in gear and drove toward the exit, where he came to a complete stop and looked both ways before applying his turn indicator and making a careful left turn. He picked up speed as he drove down the long street with his hands holding the steering wheel at the ten and two positions.
Joe’s eyes slid to the speedometer in front of the kid and saw the needle rising.
“Take a right at the next street,” he said.
The speedometer needle kept steadily rising. Joe saw the kid pressing the brake pedal but didn’t notice the car slowing. If anything, the car began picking up more speed. A stop sign was ahead and coming up quickly. Now the kid was stomping on the brake. In the intersection ahead they saw a bus go by, followed by car after car after car.
The Pinto ran the stop sign and went through the intersection at an excessive and unsafe speed. Joe made a circle on the form and added an exclamation mark.
“The brakes are gone!” Joseph Santini cried out. His right foot pounded the pedal to the floor. Nothing. The car was still picking up speed. They could both see the red light ahead of them. Cars whooshed past along the wide intersection.
“What do I do? What do I do?” Joseph Santini screamed.
“Make a left at the light,” Joe instructed calmly.
“We’re going too fast!”
Joe made a humph sound, for that was basically what he was writing on the form in his lap— “Failure to come to a complete stop at traffic signal.” Then: “Driving in excess of the posted speed limit.”
They made it through the intersection hearing squealing tires and horns blazing. Up ahead was a wire fence, and beyond the fence an irrigation ditch. The Pinto sped down the road with Joseph Santini's eyes growing wider. His mouth was open. The Pinto slammed straight through the fence making an awful racket and went over the ledge into the ditch and came to a jarring stop with its rear end in the air sticking up.
The occupants of the car remained silent as the engine died. They could now hear the car ticking.
Joseph Santini looked over at Joe. “Mother of God!” he said.
Joe handed the kid a piece of paper filled with check marks and circles. “You like the name Jay-Jay?” he asked unstrapping his seatbelt.
“What?” the kid asked. He took the offered piece of paper but didn’t look at it. His mouth was still open and his eyes were still wide.
“Do you like the name, Jay-Jay?”
“What?” the kid asked again.
“Try again in two weeks,” Joe said. “And maybe borrow a different car, Joseph.”