Every year, at yearbook time, Kevin missed school on picture day. Then somehow he missed the makeup photo day, too. In place of his portrait, there was a blank silhouette in the yearbook, with his name underneath. Our town is small, and the high school even smaller, so folks were laid back about his oddity. It became a kind of standing joke by his junior year. “Where’s Kevin” instead of “Where’s Waldo.”
After graduation, I found out college didn’t suit me… a nice way of saying I failed all my classes the first semester, and never had the guts to go back. I took a job at the local car lot. It turned out to be a good move for me — I’m a “people person.” People just seem to like to talk to me. I listen, maybe that’s the difference. Whatever, I make good money on commissions. I don’t miss college. I’ve got a little house, a new car, and I get a smile on my face every time I see my bank balance. In all, I think life is pretty sweet.
This afternoon, the strangest thing happened to me. I was yakking it up with the manager, waiting for a customer to come through the doors. Then they opened, and this guy walked in. He was average height and weight, mouse-brown hair, matching brown eyes. Kind of downcast expression, walked in with his shoulders slumped, looking down at his feet rather than at the shiny new cars in the showroom.
The manager gave me the nod, so I approached him. “Hi! I’m Bobby McCoy. Glad you came into our showroom today. Is there anything in particular you’re interested in, or are you just browsing?”
His head slowly lifted until his eyes met mine. He was looking at me as if waiting for me to answer an unspoken question. There was an awkward silence, and then he shook his head, sighed, and mumbled something that sounded like “no more than I deserve.”
That didn’t sound promising, but I waited, a polite, expectant look on my face. Finally, he spoke up.
“I’m Kevin. Kevin Connor. We went to high school together. I guess I was hoping you would remember me.”
Something about his posture, more than his words, triggered a memory. “Wait. ‘Where’s Waldo’ Kevin? Wow! It’s been a long time, how have you been doing? You’re looking good!”
That last comment was patently untrue. He looked sad and miserable. Looked like the world had been kicking his butt, instead of the other way around. Still, part of sales is trying to make the customer feel good, so I looked at him intently, as if his answer really mattered to me.
Kevin shrugged his shoulders, stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Not much to say. Put in my hours at the accounting firm. Take care of my mom, she’s getting up there.” His shoulders twitched again.
“Please give her my regards, when you next see her. Now, what can I help you find? Something fun? Functional? What’s your pleasure?”
An odd look crossed his face at that. I didn’t know if he was going to laugh or cry. Finally, he settled for a cracked smile, a slight lift of the mouth on one side. “I’m not sure I know what my pleasure is. But I’ll settle for a new car, two-door, white exterior, gets good mileage.”
I’ve never heard a more anonymous description for a car. But the customer is always right, so I led him out to our lot, to the rear area, where the less-attractive cars are kept. I pointed out several, but nothing elicited anything more than a grunt or a shrug. Finally at the end of the row, he pointed at the last car I’d shown him, a little Ford two-door, peppy but small.
“I’ll take that one.”
“Terrific! Shall we go for a test drive? I’ll just go get the keys.” I started back toward the showroom and turned my head to see Kevin following me.
“No need for a test drive, just write it up.”
I stopped, turned around to face him. “Are you serious? You don’t even want to drive it, before you buy it?” I’d never had a customer do that before. It was seriously weird.
Kevin shook his head. “Nope. It’ll do.”
Helpless, I led us both back to the showroom, then to my cubicle. I had him sit down in the customer’s chair, a nice, cushy, rich-feeling one. Made the customers feel powerful, like they ran the boardroom, sitting in a chair like that.
“OK, Kevin, let’s talk about options. Would you be interested in custom trim, or a higher-end radio? Those are easy to install, and you can still have your car today.”
“Nope, as-is will be fine.”
This Kevin was some tough customer, all right. Let’s see how he did negotiating the financing. We had good relationships with several banks, two of which were local, meaning a loan application could be processed over the phone, with an answer on the spot.
“You are the easiest customer I think I’ve ever dealt with! Now, moving on to financing. We offer several options, or you can obtain your own loan. What do you prefer?”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll just write you a check.”
That rocked me for a minute. Not many people are walking around with that kind of free change in their pocket. Still, it made my job easier, no loan paperwork to process. And it seemed he wasn’t even going to haggle on the sticker price, which made my commission that much sweeter.
“We’re pleased to have you as a customer, Kevin. Of course you can write a check.” I looked at the car’s information sheet, and the outrageous MSRP on the bottom line, the price that no one ever paid. Except Kevin. “We’ll just need to see two forms of identification. One of them can be your driver’s license, or any other government-issued photo ID. The other can be something as simple as a utility bill, just something that verifies your address.”
Kevin pulled out his wallet, a slim single-fold. It didn’t look as if Kevin carried any credit cards with him. He reached in and came out with a folded sheet of paper. He handed it to me, and I unfolded it. It was a temporary driver’s license, good for 30 days, with no photograph on it. He then handed me an electric bill, showing his home address, which matched his temporary license.
“Kevin, I’m afraid we require a photo ID. Do you have anything else? A passport? A non-driving photo ID?”
He shook his head, mumbling to himself. Finally, he lifted his head. “No photographs.”
It took a minute for his words to sink in.
“You mean, you don’t have any photo ID at all? How do you get on an airplane?” I just blurted that out, not a very tactful question, but I was intrigued.
“Don’t fly.” The words escaped his lips like seeds spit out onto the ground.
“Let me go talk to my manager.” I left him sitting in my cubicle and hurried to go talk to my boss. I explained the situation to him, that I didn’t want to lose the sale, but the guy wouldn’t provide a photograph. Then I mentioned the “Where’s Kevin” yearbook gag at high school.
The boss glared at me. “So you vouch for this mook?”
“I know who he is. I think we should call his bank and see if his check is any good. If it is, I say we sell him the car, photo ID or no. He’s got a legal driver’s license, anyway.”
The boss hates to miss a sale, and I didn’t want that commission flying away, either. I knew how to get to him.
“OK, get the check for me, I’ll call his bank and see if it’ll clear.”
I returned to Kevin, explained the situation. He was agreeable, and handed me his check, already written out for the full amount, down to the penny. I took it to the boss, then waited outside his office while he did his thing.
I got to thinking about Kevin, and how he wouldn’t be photographed. That meant that no one had a picture of him hanging out at a barbecue, or sharing a birthday cake, or opening Christmas gifts. No selfies posted on Instagram.
Boss flung his door open. “OK, he’s good. Just give him the paperwork and the keys before he changes his mind.” He handed the check back to me, so I could make a copy for the file.
I went back to give him his keys. I already knew he wouldn’t pose for the customary sales shot, to be posted on our showroom wall. He took them, then without a word, turned and left the showroom, headed toward his new car.
Photographs, I realized, are mementos of friendship. They document the place we have in other people’s lives. I wondered if Kevin had any friends. Somehow I doubted it. His whole life seemed empty. Black and white, not Kodachrome.