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A Slot Car Carol (part 1) - Updated 11-May-2005

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‘Eliminator’ Scrooge was a tight-fisted, mean-hearted, cheating old slothead. He was strutting out of the Slotworld Racing Center with the arrogant saunter of a competitor who had swept all before him. No glance spared he for the poor and unfortunate who scampered out of his path. Which is why he crashed headlong into the shopping cart of a bent and solitary figure, wrapped in dirty rags, who had not yielded him way.

“Street person!”, he shrieked in anger, “Out of my way!”

“Do you not know who I was?”, asked the shrouded form, who, though bowed low with age and misfortune, yielded not an inch.

“Who are you... who WERE you then?”, yelled Scrooge, his anger not diminished a jot.

“You once knew me as Oscar Kovaleski -- the godhead of all things model car.”

“Oscar!”, replied Scrooge in alarm and wonder. “Bah, humbug! You can’t be Oscar Kovaleski! Out of my way you displaced person!”

“You don’t believe in me? Then look in my cart! Here are five AMT 3-in-1 model kits, mint in box. Here are fifteen Auto World Autocutters, brand new, never used. Here are a whole CASE of Aurora Dodge Charger Thunderjets, colored orange. And here is my lifetime membership certificate in the Polish Racing Drivers of America!“

“Stop, displaced person, stop!”, Scrooge cried in terror, “I believe! I believe! Tell me, O Great Oscar, why have you come to me?”

“I come to warn you Scrooge. If you do not turn from the path you now tread, you shall become even as I am, doomed to walk the streets and retail malls of this world, pushing a shopping cart laden with the barest leavings of former glory.”

“But I DOMINATE!”, said Scrooge. “I am untouchable in every class I race in! And my collection is the best in the world! I have EVERYTHING Aurora ever made!”

“Oh man”, said the twisted figure, “do you know how vain and empty those things will be to you in just a little while? You must think of more than yourself if you are to escape my fate!”

“No, I do not see the sense in that”, said Scrooge. “I pity you Oscar, but leave me be. Don’t you have a tin cup or something? I’ve got some loose change...”

“Wretch!”, cried the rag-swathed figure, suddenly drawing itself up to nearly Scrooge’s own height, “Without my help you have no hope! You shall be visited by three displaced persons! Expect the first when you get to 5th and Main! Abide them, pay them heed, or you shall be lost forever! Look to see me no more!”

And with that Oscar left him. In an instant he and his shopping cart disappeared in the crowd, as if they had never been.

“It’s, it’s humbug,” Scrooge said haltingly. Then with more conviction, “Humbug! An old bundle of rags claiming to be Oscar Kovaleski -- no, it cannot be. Still, he did have that case of orange Chargers... Damn! I should have asked what he wanted for them! Too late. He’s gone now...” And shaking his head, as if to clear it of unpleasant memories, Scrooge walked down the sidewalk, towards home.

“Fifth and Main”, said Scrooge as he looked about him. Nowhere did he see anything unfamiliar, anything amiss. “And no displaced person... I knew AHHH!”, he cried, startled by the sudden sight of a wizened figure that stood practically at his elbow.

“I am the displaced person of Slot Cars Past”, said the aged, white-haired apparition. “I was fortold to you, was I not? Come, touch my blanket, I will transport you to a time in your past.”

Scrooge wrinkled his nose, “Yech, your blanket is filthy! And it smells! Must I touch it?”

“You must”, the street person said evenly, but firmly.

Gingerly Scrooge fingered the tattered wrap, and instantly discovered himself indoors, in a dank, dimly-lit basement.

“Displaced person! This is my parent’s basement! This is where I worked on my cars, where I had my layout! Who... who is that... who is that over there?”

“Can’t you tell?”, said the old man. “Look closer. Your mind does not yet believe what your eyes are seeing.”

“Why it is me! That’s me! I must be, oh, twelve years old. Certainly no more... what am I doing? Stop! Oh, STOP! Don’t do that!”

“He cannot hear you, Scrooge. Nor see you. We are phantoms here.”

“Oh but displaced person, see what he is doing! That is a brand new orange Dodge Charger! And he is going to cut the wheel wells on it! Oh no! The knife! Oh I can’t look! Oh no, oh no. I couldn’t have, I couldn’t have!”

“You were young”, said the old man, kindly, “you wanted to put slicks on the car. You did that to all your cars...”

“No, oh no”, wailed Scrooge, “oh how could I have been so stupid, so utterly, utterly stupid. Spare me displaced person! Take me back, leave me! I don’t want to see any more!”

“There is more you must see, if you are to be saved. Touch my blanket, we go to another time.”

“What place is this?” Scrooge looked around him. Another basement, but well lit. Before him a four-lane layout of lock-and-joiner plastic track. Suddenly joyful yells and shouts reached his ears. A flock of exuberant youngsters pounded down the basement stairs and swarmed about the track.

“Why that’s Carl!”, cried Scrooge, “Carl Dreher! And Billy Frankenfield! And Ed Bianchi! My old racing buddies! Oh look how young we all are! And see, displaced person, see how happy and enthusiastic and joyous we are! These are happy times, displaced person, thank you for showing me this!”

“Watch, Scrooge, watch. I did not bring you here without a purpose.”

And Scrooge watched. And he almost burst with pride, for his young self was in top form, dusting the competition. Indeed, his car fairly flew around the track. None of the others could keep pace with him.

Suddenly, as if by silent agreement, the other cars stopped. “You’ve done something to your car”, accused a young voice. “I want to take a look at it.”

“No!”, cried the young Scrooge. “I won’t let you!” But he grabbed for the car too late.

“What is this underneath the car? It looks like, it looks like a magnet, like from out of a pot-holder.”

“That’s what it is”, young Scrooge said sullenly. “It holds the back of the car down.”

“No fair! There’s nothing in the rules allowing this!”

“And there’s nothing in the rules against it either!”, young Scrooge said defiantly. “So I can use a magnet if I want to. It’s perfectly fair!”

“Well I’m not going to race against you! What’s the point? I haven’t a fair chance, and I’m not going to run just so you can beat me!”

“Me neither! Me neither!”, cried the others. After a brief, stony silence they all gathered up their cars and left.

“Displaced person!”, cried Scrooge, “Call them back! I can take the magnet out of my car! They don’t have to leave mad at me! They can still have fun! Oh stop them displaced person, please call them back!”

“I cannot”, said the DP sadly, “and neither can you. This is done. This is all long past. Touch my blanket, there is more you must see.”

“This is a show”, Scrooge said.

“Yes”, the displaced person agreed, “Many years have passed. Do you see your former self?”

“There I am. I have a table. I must be in my thirties, by the look of me. Who is that I am dickering with?”

“We can see, Scrooge. And hear. Let us draw nearer. They will not notice us.”

And though Scrooge stood practically at his own elbow -- that of his younger self -- he was not noticed in the slightest. “That’s Vic Trayder! I know him well displaced person!” Scrooge listened intently to the conversation; peered closely at the goods being discussed.

“So”, said the younger Scrooge, “Isn’t this a fine piece? Certainly this is the Batmobile you’ve wanted for your collection. Look how the figures are painted, the detail! And do you notice how the rear wheel wells have been slightly enlarged? The real Batmobile had racing slicks, and this car has been fitted with them too! A fine collectors’ piece.”

“It is beautiful -- I’m afraid to ask you the price.”

The young Scrooge smiled, “I have another buyer who will give me $250 for it, but Iknow you’ve wanted this car. Give me $200 -- just don’t tell anyone I let you have it at that price.”

The buyer’s face fell, “I can’t afford that much. I’m behind on my rent as it is. Will you take a check?”

“Cash only. ESPECIALLY if you are behind on your rent.”

“I just don’t have that much right now. Damn I want that car! Will you take a deposit and hold it for me?”

Scrooge shook his head, “I told you, I have another buyer. Look, let me see what’s in your box. Maybe there is something I want.” The box was proffered; Scrooge opened it. His eyes scanned quickly, his expression edged microscopically downward in disapproval. “There isn’t much here. I’ll give you $50 for the lot.”

The buyer’s disappointment was palpable, “I’d need $100.”

“Right”, said Scrooge, “Look, I’ll give you $75 for the box. Give me $100 cash and owe me the $25.”

The deal was done. But as the buyer retreated with his prize Scrooge’s face underwent a slow transformation. It started with his mouth. A smile was born, a smile which broadened into a grin, his eyes flashed with glee, his eyebrows arched high. All his visage became a picture of wicked merriment. Soon a chortle escaped his lips. A chortle that grew to a full-blown belly-laugh.

“You have cheated that poor man -- don’t deny it!”, accused the displaced person.

“Yes, I have!”, replied the elder Scrooge, “I screwed, blued and tatooed him! The car Isold him wasn’t worth a tenth of the price I got for it, and every car I got in return was worth at least as much, or more! One was worth $150. I made money like a bandit on that deal, I’ll never forget it!”

“You are not ashamed at how you abused the trust of that poor man?”

“Not at all!”, gloried Scrooge, “I did him a favor! He eventually found out I had taken him, but he learned valuable lessons in return! Ones he will never forget! He learned to get his own facts -- to know what he is buying and what he is selling, and what they are worth. He also learned that a deal is a deal. He learned that lesson hard, but I made sure he learned it!”

“But you did not bargain fairly! You lied to him about another buyer. You misled him about the quality of the car. You told him the defects that made the car valueless were selling points!”

Scrooge was unrepentent, “I told him the condition of the car accurately. He chose to believe that it was worth the price I quoted. A thing is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. He paid for it willingly, even eagerly!”

“You indeed have much to learn Scrooge”, said the displaced person of Slot Cars Past. Disapproval was evident in its entire being. “My time with you is drawing to an end, and I’m not sorry. Come, touch my blanket one more time.”

“Yech”, said Scrooge, and suddenly found himself on the corner of 5th and Main.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4