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Getting Car Insurance: A Young Man's Story 

If you're 22 and you let your car insurance lapse, it's no picnic getting more. When you finally find a rickety office habited by an overly cheerful insurance broker with an ash-blonde permanent who looks like she has a videocrack habit mitigated only by long weekends of community service, you ought to know that you're about to experience something special. A sensation like rolling up in your mobile home to a roadside dentist's with your anesthetic in a paper bag. First, she requires you to answer a battery of questions no human being in his right mind would answer in the affirmative. "Have you ever used illegal drugs? Have you ever robbed a bank? Did you ever use a cuss word in the presence of a minor?" Then she relieves you of all the numbers pertinent to your existence: social security, telephone, employer, next of kin. After all that comes the real pitch: you can have very expensive car insurance, but it's a few dollars a month cheaper if you also buy life insurance. Now, life insurance when you're 22 is an alien concept. You begin to suspect that some adults related to you might be behind this. They plan to knock you off at first light. But this woman knows how to sell. This life insurance, she tells you, is a godsend. If you keep it until you're 40, it converts from "term to life" and it starts paying off like a videopoker machine. As the pitch comes in fast and hot, you feel like you yourself have just gone from "term to life," having noticed that an eternity passed in the hour you've been sitting in the metal bucket chair wondering where those travel posters of Canada may have come from. After another eternity punctured by snowy Canadian peaks, you nod yes just to get her out of your hair. Well then, she says, suddenly happy, here is a well-sealed paper bag, you just undo the seal yourself, take out the stick inside, rub your gums with it and hold it in your mouth for five to ten minutes. What??! You look around for a witness to this humiliation, but everyone you came with seems to have discovered something exceedingly interesting in Canada. Your own father is mumbling to himself as if talking into a cell phone. No help there, he's probably never taken a drug test in his life. The cheerful but impassive blonde holds the paper bag in front of you like communion. What the hell? You haven't had a joint in two days, you might as well defy the odds. You rip open the paper bag, take out a nasty Popsicle stick, rub your gums hard with it, and glare into the saleswoman's eyes defiantly, piece of wood sticking out between violently pursed lips. You nearly lose your intensity when your dad says, "The LSD should be hitting any minute now." Finally, the five minutes are up, you've memorized every virgin Canadian peak and the fly-spatters on them, and you pull out the stick and hand it to her. She drops it in a paper bag to send to the lab. If you pass, you get to pay hundreds of dollars for nearly a quarter of a century. Who knows? By then, you might be selling insurance, too. Not really. But you get to drive your car, baby, let me drive your car, car, car.


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