One morning, a man ran a stop sign and totaled my 1980 Toyota Tercel. I'd been driving for nine months without insurance, but just two weeks before the accident I'd finally gone legal. After the cops came and filed a report (somehow failing to take a statements from the six people across the street at the gas station and the twenty or thirty kids watching from the bus stop fifteen feet away), I started up my squeaking car and continued on my way to the hospital where I was working as a stockroom delivery technician. Two blocks from the accident, a car behind began honking and motioning to pull over. Once parked behind me, a heavyset overly-Italian man in tinted sunglasses hopped out, leaned casually on his hood, tilted his sunglasses downward, and said, "Seen better days?"
"What?" I was completely befuddled.
"Seen better days?" he repeated, leaving his stubby fingers on the sunglasses as if posing for a calendar.
"I'm late for work, man. Whaddayaneed?" I said with a hint of impatience.
He began his pitch, "Let me tell you something...[dramatic pause] your neck hurts." I instantly knew what was happening, but I wanted to hear it again so I feigned confusion, "What?"
"Your neck hurts."
This was an Ambulance Chaser. A real, live, Ambulance Chaser.
He introduced himself as "Eddy" and handed me his card with a little tow truck logo. "You think the insurance company gives a fuck about you?"
I pondered whether this was a rhetorical question.
"You go to them and tell them you got nailed by this guy and they'll tell you to go fuck yourself." He paused again for impact. "That's where Joe Martinous comes in. Joe Martinous will be like a... a... mouthpiece fa you." I forgot all about my tardiness and marveled at this well-rehearsed performance.
My mind said,"Oh, these are the people that get you to claim millions in 'emotional damages' for slipping on ice. These are the people that make the rates go up for everyone else. These people have all the moral compass of Billy 'Effin' Mitchell." And then my mouth said, "Sure."
He handed me another card for Martinous Law Associates and asked me where I worked. Then he told me Joe would be by to see me later that day.
Just after lunch, when I'd finished my second round of deliveries, Eddy showed up in the loading dock. He put his hand on my shoulder, "Gavin, Joe would like to see you." He led me out to the middle of the parking lot where a large black SUV sat idling. He opened the front passenger door for me, then climbed in the back. The car had leather seats and wood paneling. It was heavily air condition, which was a stark contrast to the 95-degree weather we'd been suffering. Behind the wheel sat this man:
A small, rat-faced man with hair like a wet tire tread in a reflective black three piece suit, Martinous played the greaseball Italian mobster/lawyer role smashingly. He shook my hand, "Call me Joe." He asked me to describe the accident. I told the story in full detail and he nodded his head often, having seen this sort of thing before. When I was finished, he put his hand on my knee, "Now. Eddy says your neck hurts."
Eddy put his hand on my shoulder - a "do the right thing, kid" gesture. We had a moment there, this odd laying-on-of-hands linking us like a dirty blessing.
I recognized this as a pivotal moment in this part of my life. I tried to remain non-commital, not evil, not good, "Well, my neck has been hurting a bit for a week or two really."
"And what about your back? You feeling any aches... any pain bending or standing or walking or anything whatsoever?"
"I don't know... not really," I said regretfully, wanting to be in more pain.
"I don't know... I mean, right now I feel ok. Maybe tomorrow I won't feel so hot. Sometimes muscle trauma takes a day to sink in," I hoped aloud.
"You want to just take a few days off work in case?"
"Uh. I don't really think I need to...?"
"Well, as it stands, we can get you the cost of your car, not much else. You take some time off work, there's a lot more we can do for you."
"And you're experiencing no pain in your neck?"
"Not really, man..."
"Ok, well you think about it, see how you feel in a day or two. Let's get this stuff signed." He handed me a pen. He waited for me to show some sort of amusement, and when I didn't, and nobody in the car moved, he motioned with his eyes down to the pen in my hand. It read "Martinous Law Associates."
"Oh, cool," I said.
He handed me some sort of contract. I scanned as he translated for me, "That just says that if you don't get paid, we don't get paid. When you DO get paid, we get 33% of the awarded money..."
"Cool," I said whilst signing. He told me to keep the pen, and then Eddy got out and opened my door. Joe shook my hand instructed, "Give Eddy a call if you have any car trouble." I nodded, and marched back to the loading dock through the tar frying pan.
Later that evening, on my drive home, the hood of my car started smoking. The head gasket had been blown for two weeks, and apparently getting rammed by a station wagon was the final straw. I pulled over, climbed the embankment to get off the highway, and found a pay phone.
"I'll be there in nine minutes," said Eddy, and hung up.
Nine minutes later Eddy arrived, motioning for me to get in the car. He said my car would be "dealt with" and we sped off to his auto place. Twenty minutes later he handed me the keys to a 2002 Taurus. When he saw my surprise, he said, "In your insurance policy it says that they are only responsible to provide you with a 'comparable' replacement vehicle. But fuck that." I was excited about driving this car with air conditioning so I did not argue.
The next day Eddy sent me to another member of The Family, the Manzolillo Chiropractic Center. A young overly-Italian Dr. Manzolillo surveyed the damage not-quite-done to my back and asked me how I was feeling. I told him "pretty much normal."
"And it says here your neck hurts?" he asked.
"Uh... no, not really," I stammered, trying to remember if I'd written that somewhere.
"A little?" He seemed incredulous.
"I mean... it's a little achy, I guess?"
"Well, here's what we'll do. Just to be safe. I'm gonna prescribe that you come down and see us three times a week for electric muscle therapy. I'll check in with you once a week to see how we're doing. I'll put you down for, say, three months worth?"
"You need a note to take some time off work?"
"No, no I'm cool. Thanks though."
The next three months were wondrous. Every other day I'd stop in to the M-center for a little bit of the zap. A pretty young hispanic woman would lie me face down on a bench with a hole in the facial region and gently apply four suctioned electrodes to the areas of my back that Dr. M thought we should focus on. A mild current would heat up that area for 20-30 minutes until the timer buzzed and she would return to peel them off me. I loved the feeling of that. Then once a week Dr. M would haphazardly thumb my vertebrae, pretending to make an adjustment somewhere in there. But he applied so little pressure that I never knew when the exam was over. It was a strange charade: pretending to heal someone who knows they are not sick. And we continued the game for three months - he for the money, and I for the sensation of having those thing peeled off my back by the Spanish girl's hands.
The insurance company awarded me $2000 for the car (which I'd purchased for $200 a year earlier). I was also able to cancel the insurance and get a $300 refund for the few months I'd paid for that would go unused due to my lack of a permanent replacement. The Family took their cut, and I used the remaining money to pay for the recording of my next record (which I wrote about the Hospital where I'd been working).
A year or so later, long after I'd received a letter stating that 100% of the damages were accepted and paid for by the insurance company of the man who'd hit me, I found myself in a room with a lawyer from my old insurance company, a lawyer from the culprit's insurance company, another lawyer to mediate, and, staring me in the face, the man who'd hit me a year or more previous. After I described the incident again, and drew a picture clearly depicting the man and the recessed stop sign he'd run, I was dismissed. I received a letter in the mail a week later saying that my insurance company was accepting 50% of the damages for his vehicle. When I called (just out of curiosity) and asked my insurance agent, "How is it possible that they can be 100% responsible for the accident, and I can be 50% responsible?" He replied, "That's how it works."