Summer-soaked and sticking to the cracked-leather seats of my trusty veggie-Benz, Gretl, I schlep north on the 5 to meet my veggie-oil purveyor at our supersecret San Fernando Valley rendezvous, dreading the exchange. When I first converted my 300TD, back in the winter of '06, it was easy to fill the tank. There were plenty of eager, young, environmentally minded entrepreneurs collecting and filtering WVO (waste veggie oil) and selling it — some delivering it — for a fraction of what everyone else was paying at the pump, even back then. When my WVO sources were M.I.A. — playing gigs in Ventura, making runs to Humboldt and tripping balls in Black Rock City — a brand-new 5-gallon cubie of soy oil was still less than $2 a gallon at Costco, and filling my tank was never an issue.
These days, Costco's fetching as much for soy oil as the local Chevron gets for gasoline, and the WVO boys have gone on to bigger, better and less messy pursuits. All that's left is E., a 50-something fishing enthusiast who sells WVO out of his converted diesel truck. He started off friendly enough; we'd chat about nonsense and wax hopeful about renewable resources and a happier planet, then friendly morphed into too friendly and now buying veggie oil is bankrupting my soul. Big time.
We pull up to our supersecret spot at the same time. E. greets me with a huge smile and outstretched arms. I dodge the hug and head straight to my trunk to hand over my empty cubies, distracting him with rote small talk and questions about his latest fishing trip. He gushes about all the trout he killed, and then, it starts …
“You know, you're my last client who only pays 10 bucks a cubie,” E. says, unloading oil-stained, cardboard-encased cubies onto the sidewalk between us. “Everyone else is paying $15 now.”
“Lucky me,” I beam, knowing exactly where this is going.
“You know, we could arrange it so that you don't have to pay at all.”
“Really?” I ask, smiling dumb and dazzling. “And, how would that arrangement look?”
“You could come skinny-dipping in my pool.”
“Hmmmm …,” I say, having heard this proposition before. “And, would your wife be joining us?”
“'Course not!” he says, laughing away my feigned naiveté.
“I see,” I say, hoisting the 35-pound cubies into my trunk as fast as possible. “Just a little afternoon swim in exchange for free oil?”
All the free oil in the world wouldn't lure me to E.'s pool, bathing suit or not, but I play along, sort of, for the sake of my thrice-weekly treks to Venice and the odd impromptu road trip.
“And then I can pleasure you,” he says, “for hours and hours.”
My stomach churns while I struggle to keep my smile, not wanting to upset the bear, not wanting to lose my last WVO connection, not wanting to deal with this shit anymore.
“Huh,” I say, slamming the lid of the trunk. “Food for thought.”
I hand him the cash and turn to leave.
“Can I get a hug?” he asks, semipouting, adopting the intonation and posture of a 5-year-old boy.
I step in to hug him, grateful for the service he's providing, horrified that this is what I have to put up with for this service, flabbergasted that he thinks I'd even consider frolicking naked with a suburban married man old enough to be my father, and really, really bummed that I'm engaging this dynamic at all.
He clings on as I squirm from his embrace. He grabs on to my waist as I step away, dragging his hands up my torso, brushing the sides of my breasts with outstretched fingers and a shit-eating grin on his face.
I race home, skeeved out, desperate for a shower.
Later that night, E. e-mails me: “I had a great day thanks to all your positive energy. Hope I had the same effect on you.”