So, this guy Nicky Kalliongis, whom I only just met that day starts off our “friendship” by telling me I was late picking him up in a blizzard, then when we get to his parents’ house where the studio was, strips down to his underwear and socks and tells me off AGAIN, this time to keep the volume down (something that is NEVER said in a studio, especially when you are paying for the use of it), and then ends one of the weirdest days of my life by announcing that he and I were going to be good friends. He even goes one step further and calls me when I arrived home to ask me to come with him that weekend while he buys a car.
Now to most guys I knew, including me, buying a car is kind of a personal thing. If you do go with someone, it’s usually someone you’re close with like your parents or brother or maybe your best friend. I have never, before or since, been asked by pretty much a complete stranger to accompany them while they went and made one of the biggest buying decisions of their life. I learned that weekend that Nicky Kalliongis was not most guys.
I show up at his parents’ house early that Saturday morning and Nicky was as nice as you can be, shaking my hand and already acting like we were friends from childhood. I thought there might have been twins involved and I just met the evil, insane one the first time, but no, there was only one Nicky! He gave me an address to some used car lot on Queens Blvd. (in Queens, NY) but as I took off heading for it, he completely changed the subject! In fact, we really didn’t talk much about cars at all up until a minute before we reached our destination.
I was thinking to myself, any guy would’ve been talking my ear off about the car he was going to look at, telling me details and specs, etc., but this guy, nada!
I was actually impressed with his cool demeanor until right before we parked, when he asked me if I would mind taking the car he was interested in buying, out for a test drive!
I said, “Nicky, let me get this straight …you want …me …to take the car you want to buy for a test drive? Do you mean …after YOU take it out for one?!”
He calmly replied, “No, that’s why I asked you to come with me. I don’t know how to drive a stick and besides, I haven’t driven a car in awhile.”
Right! So this guy wants me to take some car out for a test drive because I can drive a stick and he can’t. Which means what? If I like it, he buys it and learns how to drive a stick …and by the way, WHO CARES if I like it?! Doesn’t everybody have their own personal taste in cars?! I asked him these things as quickly as I could because I saw some very shady character approaching my car, but Nicky just shrugged off everything I said. As we stepped out of my car this shady character asks me (naturally, because I was DRIVING),
“No, he’s Nicky.”
Nicky jumped in, “I’m Nicky, and he’s my friend. He’s going to take the car out for a test drive with us.”
This twenty-something year-old, tough-looking oriental guy looks at Nicky and then at me and simply says, if a bit condescendingly, “It’s a 2-seater.”
Nicky shrugs him off just like he did to me, replying, “So I’ll just squeeze in between you two!”
Squeeze in between me and this member of the TONG in a 2-seat car, with a stick no less - which made me also think, what does Nicky do, sit on the shift? Never mind that I would have to REACH BETWEEN HIS LEGS to shift!
The TONG member walks us past a bunch of old clunkers and I start figuring that Nicky is probably gonna lay down a few hundred for a beat up Opel but my jaw hit the ground when the guy stops in front of a 1973 ORANGE MASERATI MERAK! What?! Who-the-what-the-where-the!
Before I can even say anything, the TONG member opens the driver’s door and invites me to get in, then he opens the passenger door and first Nicky squeezes in and then he gets in and hands me the keys. Just like I feared, Nicky’s groin was perched dangerously close to the shift! Not only that, but the whole shift and gear box seemed to be on a slant!
I figured I could either tell him I was outta there or else, I could “man” through it, while gingerly trying to shift without knowing Nicky intimately! I decided on the latter, with the one caveat that I would bring the car to a screeching halt if my hand came into even the slightest contact with Nicky’s crown jewels!
So I start the car, it gurgles and grunts and snorts like a pig in heat. I release the parking brake and off we go! I start down this long street and actually got the car into 3rd gear before attempting to slow down. Meanwhile Nicky is talking to the guy like he knows HIM forever too – again, about everything except the car! The TONG member just stared out the windshield and remained quiet.
Back to slowing down - I touched the brakes …and nothing happens. I step on the brake pedal a little harder …and we’re still not slowing down one iota! I had to swerve and downshift as fast as I could without coming in contact with Nicky’s dingle-berry and then pull the parking brake to get the “orange pig” to stop completely!
As I’m trying hard to avert a heart attack, Nicky proceeds to ask me in front of the TONG member, “So what do you think?”
I’m like, “Nicky, how ‘bout we talk in private?”
Nicky replies, “Why, we’re all friends here!”
Yeah, right, none of us know each other more than a day, the TONG member looks like he’s “packing” and I’m not even sure he WORKS in this used car lot …but we’re all friends!
My nerves were shredded and I had it, so I answered in a bit of a holler, “Okay, you want to know what I really think… this car is old, ugly, snorts like a pig, is uncomfortable, the transmission feels loose and it looks like it’s cocked on an angle and oh yeah …THE CAR HAS NO BRAKES!
The TONG member didn’t lose a beat, stoically replying, “Yeah, well your car can’t do 180 miles-an-hour!”
To which I answered with no regard for my personal safety,
“Yeah, but my car CAN STOP!”
Believe it or not, I still had to talk Nicky out of the car! We stood there arguing for a few minutes while the TONG member decided whether he was gonna allow us to leave that used car lot alive!
Nicky finally confessed, “g, you don’t understand, I just broke up with my girlfriend and I’ve been living like a miser, never going out or doing anything. So I saved up some money and now, after meeting you I want to spend it!”
So that’s why you were going to buy … a 1973 orange Maserati Merak with no brakes …because you want to spend money?
As I started driving him back to his parents’ house he asked me, “So what are you doing later?”
I told him I always go out to the Hamptons on the weekends to hang out with friends of mine. I saw Nicky’s face light up, “MY MAN,” he said, “Can I go with you?”
I took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”
Nicky acted overjoyed. As we turned around and got on the highway, I just shook my head in defeat as he asked me, “By the way, what’s the Hamptons?”
(Continued… Part IV, “Gurney’s & Nicky buys an $87,000 motel room” will appear on Sunday, March 07)
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Dean Wesley Smith