Al Pallone bought his 1975 Pontiac Grand Ville four years ago. Pallone, who had just made the change from industrial sales rep to middle school physical-education teacher, felt the car might make a nice change from the "sedate metallic four-door" his former company had provided as a perk. "I bought it for a thou, with sixty thousand miles on it," Pallone recalls. "It was a white whale of a car at the time. People laughed at it, and my kids would cringe."
Now they really have reason to cringe.
Pallone gave his car a name: Zabeast. He appreciated its casual look--the fact that he didn't have to watch it for every nick and ding. He could, for instance, put a sticker on the car's bumper. "It was an Eagle helmet bumper sticker," he remembers. "It looked neat. I thought, let's put some more sports crap on it, huh?"
Decals and stickers started accumulating on that Pontiac like iron filings on a magnet. Soon they overran Zabeast's bumper and crept onto its trunk. Then Pallone found a set of ram horns at a thrift shop and mounted them inside, on the carpeted platform below the back window. One of his five children contributed a Transformer action figure, which he promptly glued beside the horns. His students, inspired, contributed a score more of plastic figurines.
After a year the white whale looked like a traveling salesman's suitcase gone berserk, and both dashboards sported complete dioramas of plastic warriors, cartoon figures and fluff-headed Trolls. Yosemite Sam "Back Off" mudflaps took the place of floor mats. Faux zebra-skin seat covers appeared. Rubber gorilla claws emerged from Zabeast's hood and trunk.
"Then I got one of these air horns, so I could sound like the ice-cream man if I wanted to," Pallone says. "Kids came running, and boy, were they pissed! Finally, I realized I had built the concept car of the century. But what is the concept, exactly?"
While pondering this question, Pallone, who has the summer off, likes to drive around town in Zabeast, parking it occasionally and basking in public opinion. "I stand back and watch people's thoughts and conclusions," he says.
On a typical afternoon in Larimer Square, Pallone drapes himself over a bench while a phalanx of young men in No Fear shirts come over to gawk.
"Dude," one of them says. "There's, like, a sticker on your car."
"Five thousand, I believe," Pallone replies.
"You got Metallica? Pantera? Anthrax? How about the Washington Redskins?"
Yes, yes, yes and no. "I have accomplished this little by little," Pallone apologizes.
"You got Minnie Mouse? Mickey? Goofy?"
Yes, yes, yes.
"You say Goofy's where?"
Two places. Inside, among the action figures, and currently appearing as Zabeast's official hood ornament. The more elaborate ones get stolen quicker, but vandalism or no, Zabeast is in a continuing state of design flux. Several weeks ago a jar of Grey Poupon (full, for roadside emergencies) was glued to the hood, just left of center. Today it is joined by a plastic Hum-Vee with six pink-haired trolls inside it. From a ten-foot remove, looking at Zabeast is like looking through binoculars at wildlife. After a while, you notice that behind Oscar the Grouch is Bugs Bunny and that glittery Pogs hang in the foreground. A Burton Snowboards sticker only partially obscures a sedimentary layer of Increase Da Peace Grateful Dead skull decals.
Across town, in a no-parking zone directly in front of the Brown Palace Hotel's grandest entrance, Pallone maneuvers Zabeast into place. "Like docking the goddamn Queen Mary," he says affectionately. To a liveried doorman who pokes his head in the driver's-side window, he says, "Yeah? Oh? Is Princess Di in there? Tell her we're gonna wait another two minutes for her, but that's it. No, she's not? Well, do you have a Brown Palace sticker you could give me?"
He does. In return, Pallone gives the doorman a peek inside the X-rated trunk interior, where stickers inappropriate to Broomfield Middle School students are displayed.
"How do you get the trolls to stick on the roof?" asks a woman loaded with high-rent shopping bags.
"Double-sided tape," Pallone responds. "It adheres extremely well. Time to go," he adds, noticing a cop car on the corner. Zabeast also attracts obstructed-rear-window tickets.
"I tell them, `Officer, I'm making a statement here,' but they get all staunch and stoic and steadfast in their writing of these crucial tickets," Pallone says. In fact, Pallone is well on his way to the obstructed-dashboard title as well, but he doesn't care. Such tickets, he says, are no-point violations, so he pays the fine and gets on with his life. Reduce some of the clutter? Never.
"Why?" asks a woman in City Park whose three-year-old boy will not leave Zabeast's side.
"Did you ever have a bunch of things you wanted to show the world?" Pallone asks her. "So you put it all together, and you did?"
"Hmmm," the woman responds.
But there's more to it than that. On summer days like this, when Pallone should be spending his leave time painting the Broomfield house he shares with his realtor wife and kids, his head begins to spin instead with dreams of beastly grandeur. He envisions all kinds of vague sponsorship deals.
"Maybe Le Bakery Sensual could use me," he muses. "Or I could go down to Gate 12 and see if they could use me as the official--or hey," he decides, taking a sip of iced tea, "I should write to Snapple. I could be the Snapple car. I could be David Letterman's company car. I could engage that LoDo chicken car in a terrible battle. I should call up about that."
Chances are he won't. What Pallone really likes to do is drive around, and there are no official sponsorship deals for that. In the next hour, he hits the entrance of Neiman Marcus ("Rich people love this car"), the Denver Country Club (where he tries the Princess Di shtick again and gets a frosty reception) and the skateboard pit at the corner of Arapahoe Street and the 16th Street Mall.
"Step right up," he tells the crowd of aimless teenagers that materializes. "Take it in. Look inside. Help yourself."
"This is fresh," breathes a fifteen-year-old with wide eyes and no shirt. "This is the freshest fucking ride, I..." He trails off, at a loss for words.
"Psych," argues another bystander. "This is an ugly goddamn piece of shit car. Y'all be standing there looking at it. Psych." He walks away in disgust.
Pallone loves it. "Zabeast is controversial," he says proudly. "Zabeast smacks of controversy."
"Can I tape a green condom to your car, man?" someone asks.
"Can we hear your CD player?"
"Where's Nirvana? Where's Goofy? Where's Bugs? Oh, Depeche Mode!"
"Step right up," Pallone says from behind Zabeast's trunk, trying to find a White Zombie CD and bumping into a meter reader instead.
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"You," the meter man says to Pallone, "cannot park here. You must move. Now."
"Okay, okay," Pallone says, hopping into the driver's seat, grabbing one of six metal-flake suicide knobs on his steering wheel and preparing for departure.
"Oh, if I had that ride," sighs a boy with a skateboard. "All day I'd give people rides. All day I'd drive around. All day I'd cruise."
"I do," Pallone says, as he peels from the curb. "I do.