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Short Stories - Thistle

published in Undercurrents in Fall 2003

by William Doonan

Jake, I got your message. Congratulations on your promotion. Senior Associate Vice President has long been a dream of yours. Youíre going to need a bigger house now, some very expensive golf clubs, a time-share, and youíll need this car. An ordinary car will no longer suffice. Youíll need a Thistle. Iím guessing thatís why you called me. I know your machine is going to cut me off soon, so Iím going to make this brief.

First, letís note that this is not going to be an easy process. Everyone wants a Thistle,

Jake. Everyoneís neighbor wants a Thistle, as do their neighbors. You can try to buy one at your local Thistle dealer, but you will likely be shown the door. Itís just not that easy. This is a special car. This is the kind of car that says youíve arrived, and when youíre driving one, youíll be able to do just that.

So letís get down to business.

Iíve been working at Thistle for almost a year now, long enough to know what it takes to sell a car and to buy a car. Selling is easy. Sure thereís paperwork involved, but the overall process is disturbingly simple. I fear I might one day soon be replaced by one of those robots that take your order at Taco Barn. Remember when they put those in, Jake? That happened fast; it felt like overnight. I think that happened, but Iím not wedded to the notion. Looking back, there might not really be any robots currently working in fast food, but there sure could be, and Iíd be among the first to bitch and lament. Given that, this is a car that sells itself. And a company that builds a car that sells itself does not require salesmen. Yet they employ me. Why? Because this car is not for just anyone. 

You have to be absolutely sure you want this car and I have to be sure you want this car. This car is nothing but attitude. It has that to offer and very little more. As such, it demands the same; attitude, and very little more except an ass-load of money well-spent.

The whole sales transaction will be taped and closely monitored. If you make an error in the buying process you will not get the car. And you will have to wait six years before you even try again, and even then you might make another error. So let me give you some pointers here. The first pointer; weíll call this pointer number one, is that you need to be doing a little introspection. So take your shoes off and light some incense and think this through.

Just you calling me suggests that youíre developing a broader perspective, that you now have more information about yourself and the world around you than you did some years ago. Still I worry. Remember back when we were in college and you dated that girl Laurie? Can you even think about her now without crying? She was perfect, Jake. What was not to like? On a scale of 1 to 50 with 50 being the top girl, Laurie was 50 and change. But you had never had a girlfriend before and so you didnít know she was a 50 and you treated her like an 11. And after her you were looking at one 12 after another with maybe a 17 thrown in every couple of years, like that number last summer, the one with the butt. Point being, you have to know know what quality looks like and feels like. Otherwise youíll fail, Jake, fail to recognize it when it drives by. And if you fail, you wonít be the one driving by, not in a Thistle, no sir.

Do you know, Jake, that the sun is going to blow up in five billion years and roast the whole planet? I think about that every day. Every car I sell, thatís in the back of my mind. So letís nip this in the bud right now because I can coach you all I want but youíre still going to have to come into the showroom to buy, and our interaction is going to be taped. So be forewarned that when you come at me with even a hint of concern about gas mileage, the environment or whatnot, Iím not going to sell you this car and neither is any other Thistle consultant. This car gets really, really bad mileage. I shit you not, Jake, youíll burn a gallon of gas rolling down the window. So just remember that the planet is already halfway to the crapper and we can forget the issue of gas mileage. If you mention gas mileage in the dealership, I will press a button and they will shoot you with a little dart and you will wake up at a picnic table at the duck pond. Youíll be looking at ducks.

This car is so special. This is the kind of car that people who dream about making cars think about while theyíre making babies. Tibor Thistleís parents were those kinds of people, making Tibor the kind of baby that people who dream about making cars make when they make babies. Following me?

If you think about it, Jake, you and I live in tremendous times. So much change within the span of a single life. I can still remember when calculators had buttons on them, and when rectal thermometers had little digital readouts instead of soft reassuring voices.  Back then cars were nothing more than basic ostentation, a vehicle for oneís ego, an outward manifestation of how you got from there to here. But Thistle changed everything.

He made a whole new kind of car. You know - the way he incorporated the fuel cells into the door handles. Why did it take so long for someone to realize that you could tile the roof with solar panels? It was all so obvious, but Thistle was the guy who put it all together. Even the colors - the reflection of the Sienna and Peach upholstery on the Umberine dashboard is thoughtful.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Jake, but it behooves us to discuss the fact that weíre not going to be discussing horsepower. What really is horsepower? Itís an antiquated measure of the power of a horse, which is really both immeasurable and not of any interest to anyone except those who still commute atop horses. Nobody sits in a Thistle and wishes they could get from 0-60 in half a minute. If you need to be somewhere in half a minute, you should plan your day a little bit more carefully and maybe get a note pad.

This car has a little plastic wiper on each rearview mirror. One door. Jake, the car has one door. Even a puritan might object, and puritans do. Oh, the inconvenience! Jake, we need to face the fact that two doors, even four doors makes a certain kind of sense, but they surely do lack the style, the ťlan, the focus that one door brings.

I think I told you this already, but it bears repeating - this car has a little voice that whispers in your ear. It has speakers in the headrest that whisper just loud enough for you to hear, not the person next to you. Itís just for you. Itís a whisper you can trust, Jake, to alert you to an open door, a forgotten seat belt, an unanticipated weight gain.

You can even get a Thistle with tilt-wheel steering.

Why do you need this car, Jake? Why? Because the world is not what it used to be. The whole country feels this. After the stock market scandals, the airline consolidations, breath mint deregulation, church reorganization, energy reregulation, and banking reamortization, Thistle Industries restructured corporate operations, and sold off its produce and hosiery divisions to concentrate on its core products; toasters, breath mints, and the Thistle 900, the finest car the world has ever known. By comparison, even the Thistle 800 was like a skateboard with a little girl skating on it to make it go.

All this required a new philosophy of automotive salesmanship. Thistle Motors is the company that came up with the 50% deposit, 50% interest financing package. Take note, Jake, if you come to me looking to buy this car, I will offer you rustproofing for an additional $298. You say yes. Itís just the first in a series of tests. Say no and I will welcome you out the door and move on to the next customer. And if you try to come back in, they will ask to to go back out. And if you do not go back out or if you try to come back in again, they will encourage you even more firmly. Do we have to go through this again? If you refuse the rustproofing, I will press a button and they will shoot you with a little dart and you will wake up at a picnic table at the duck pond.

And to be fair, itís not like Tibor Thistle just keeps all the money and uses it to buy more stuff like furniture for Thistle Manor. He gives most of it away. Have I told you yet about the Thistle Foundation? Itís part of the sales pitch, or the sales experience as we like to call it. Youíll buy the car and there will be profits. Lord will there be profits! But Tibor Thistle is using these profits for good. Heís already wiped out gout in Tourmaline, and dropsy is a thing of the past in countries like Simaroon and Carambique. Thanks to the Foundationís efforts, literacy in the Carolinas is once again something to write home about.

The ultramarine floor mats come standard but Iíll offer you a spare set for $180. You nod to signal your agreement.

This is the way it works, Jake. I donít really get paid to sell the car. I get paid to sell you the little things that make the car even more special. The car sells itself. Just look at it; itís an art piece. Check out the polish on the delateralized carbothrusters. Even your mother could see her reflection in those. Feel the thrust of the intake valves. Look at the whoosh of the hyper-domed alloy clutch; itís breathtaking. The hood ornament was inspired by Gaudi himself. Thistle is a damn genius! The four tri-camisoled antennas allow for unbeatable sound and whip like thin metal tubes at speeds as low as 19 mph. Portholes - why was this not obvious to earlier designers? Weíll just have to shake our heads back and forth in disbelief because we will very likely never know.

OK, so youíve agreed to the rustproofing and the floormats. Weíre on our way but weíre not there yet. As a Thistle consultant, I have to sign my name on a little line confirming that youíre ready. I have to be sure youíll appreciate a vehicle that brings together the convenience of an SUV, the maneuverability of a Vespa, and the reliability of a Swiss watchmakerís Swiss watch.

This means weíre going to have a chat. If your name is Lou, weíre going to spend a few moments talking about Lou. Is Lou quick to anger? Does Lou know that this car will be kept in a garage? Itís not a suggestion. Thistle Motors offers a $900 reward to anyone who spots a Thistle 900 spending the night by a curb or on a driveway. Youíll lose the car immediately if this happens. Weíll take it back. This is all outlined, Lou, in the contract youíll sign. You need to understand that the polycarbonate composite body is impervious to weather and completely dent resistant, so this is really about respect.

Lou, Iíll tell you as I hand you the waiver; you will promise not to adorn, bedeck, or affix this vehicle to any manner of stickers, nor will you sully any of the antennas with anything fluffy or flaggy. No pinstripes. Youíll sign this or youíll walk away with no Thistle to drive away in. Weíre going to have to talk about button and lever colors, there are ninety options so we have our work cut out. There will be nothing in the way of something hanging from either rearview mirror.

This much goes unsaid - you will hold your own cup, so donít even ask. No cup holder. And if you want a place to hold your CDs, you get a hat because this car is not about holding your things. Not this car, not a car whose toggle shaft inverters glow both at dawn and at dusk, this is not a car with a special place to hold your CDs.

This car is about detail. Detail is Thistleís motto. They say he even named his cat Detail but no one knows for sure. Heís quite a recluse --even Thistle canít get him to interact. Youíll appreciate the Door Ajar light, the way itís big and central to the console, the hope and the dream of all Door Ajar lights that came before. When that door is ajar, you will know.

Thistle vulcanized the chrome epoxilators, and buffed the poly-pinions to a high sheen.

The little integrated change purse is woven from synthetic llama wool.

Are you interested in adding some pinstriping? Were you not listening? There will be no pinstriping. Air conditioning? Itís like an extra three grand but itís so worth it. It keeps you cool in the summer and its just plain unnecessary in the cooler months. Pay or walk, Lou.

But enough with Lou. So Iím telling you this, Jake. Youíll pay and pay because this car is worth your every last dime. Its the kind of car that Senior Associate Vice Presidents dream about when theyíre still Junior Assistant Vice Presidents. And they pray, Jake. They pray. And then one day, god willing, they pay, Jake, and they pay. This car is nothing but attitude.

I guess what Iím saying, Jake, is that you have to be ready for this, not just ready for the car but ready for the car-buying experience. One last thing, Iíll try to sell you some mints - Thistle Mints. They go for $6 a tin and thereís only six in each tin, so thatís about a dollar per mint and theyíre not worth it but you need to buy the mints. I was born to sell the mints and the cars. Itís the last test. Buy the mints and you could very well drive out with a brand new Thistle as well as six mints. You promise to love and obey this car, to be faithful and change the oil every three hundred miles, and you might have yourself a new car.

So congrats on the promotion, Jake. What Iíve shared with you this evening are some thoughts. If you get this message, call me back.


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