Friday, February 25, 2011

Getting Mobile 2

Getting Mobile, part two #excerpt

I wrecked the car on a Friday. Saturday morning my stepdad stuck his head in my bedroom, partially woke me and asked me through my half awake daze a question with the words “go” and “with” in them. I automatically responded “no” in that asshole teenager way I seemed to have perfected with almost no practice. In a few minutes I was asleep again.

What was he thinking anyway, I wondered through that medium dream-state that happens once someone has disturbed you, I never wanted to go anywhere with them. Ever. Especially not when I was sleeping. It was Saturday. What did he say anyway? Something about “going with them” and “looking” and.. CAR. “We’re going to look at cars for you, do you want to go with us?” That’s what he had said. They’re buying me a car I realized and shot up in bed now fully awake. Crap!

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted a car I just didn’t want a car that he would buy for me. We didn’t have the same taste in anything and the only thing we ever agreed on was that I shouldn’t handle a firearm around him anymore. Even that meeting of the minds only happened after I shot him in the face with a twelve gauge shotgun. Allegedly.

This, I decided, was how my stepfather would get even with me for wrecking the car. A recurring topic of conversation amongst him and his friends was the reminiscing about their first cars. The theme was always how great it had been, how much they lived the car and the fact that they wished they’d never gotten rid of their first car. I was already making plans to get rid of my first car and I wasn’t even sure what it was going to be. I paced my room and made myself sick worrying that this important milestone in my life was going to suck.

Like a lot of times when you let yourself get worked up it’s not about the solid information you have in front of you but about the grey and malleable information you don’t have. A good strong and creative brain can fill in the blank spots on any situation and turn it into something horrible and completely unlivable. I had such a brain.

I had convinced myself that there would be terrible retribution for my car accident but I came to this conclusion with missing information. What I didn’t know was that my stepfather had completely totaled his brother’s nineteen sixty three convertible Chevy Impala. Even better, he wrecked it on the way home from taking his test for his driver’s license. I lasted almost three months before I had an accident. He didn’t even make it one day!

The other important bit of information I didn’t know was that my stepdad loved cars. A few old cars had cycled through our driveway over the years and if I had paid attention I should have recognized this. First a Volkswagon Thing with a rotted convertible top then a chunky Chevrolet from the fifties or sixties was delivered to the house by tow truck and pushed into the garage where it remained for a few years until the oxidized paint was covered in greasy kid’s handprints and it was pushed back out of the garage and whisked away by a tow truck. I thought of these cars like I did the piles of junk building up in our basement, meaning I thought they were OK to play with but don’t get attached since they could disappear tomorrow. Or, I assumed, we had junk cars because we just couldn’t afford anything any better.

Looking for a used car was real fun to him. Looking for a used car without me along was even more fun to him so it was a win/win situation. I was upset that I didn’t go with him but, to be fair, he had given me a chance. Asking me while I was asleep and then darting out the door when he got the answer he wanted was a dirty trick. A dirty trick I thought I had invented. I didn’t feel like I had the right to be too mad about that after using the same technique on my mom the day before.

By two in the afternoon I had exhausted my brain with visions of what car he was picking out for me for punishment or just because of his own bad taste. I had it mentally narrowed down to a two toned Pinto station wagon missing its muffler and a clear plastic garbage bag in place of the drivers side window and an ancient pick-up truck its bed rusted away and the remaining frame and body painted with yellow house paint, the brush strokes allowing the original blue paint and rust spots to show through in uneven stripes. This wasn’t totally my imagination since I’d seen these same two cars around town for years.

When my Stepdad and his, sometimes drinking buddy sometimes hunting buddy, showed up all he said said was “Come on we found you a new car”.

“New?!” I said, a little excited. I heard the word and reacted before logic kicked in.

“New to you” laughed the redneck friend who went by the initials BG and was always looking for a place to spit tobacco juice. I had assumed my mother had gone with him so there had been a little hope that she would be there to temper his decision a little bit. But I was wrong. It was a full on redneck shopping trip.

We didn’t talk much on the way but this wasn’t unusual. Our relationship had developed into that of cordial but distant neighbors that didn’t have much in common except a property line. It was for the best anyway. The sick feeling over what I was about to see had my ears buzzing and my guts fighting to stay in place.

I don’t know how far we went before turned off the highway onto gravel, then off gravel onto a dirt road with deep ruts and mud puddles, then onto a road half grown over with grass.

“Well there it is” He said indicating a car half obscured by tall weeds beside a rather large farm house. The house and the car I learned had belonged to a man that had died around five years before. The seller was the son of the deceased who, in his words “had to do everything because his lazy bitch sister was out tramping around with every hippy in town”

“Dad bought this car brand new then retired so he didn’t drive it much” He was half talking me and half talking to my stepdad not knowing who had the final decision.

My stepfather picked up the sales pitch. “It only has fifty five thousand miles on it. There’s a little rust on the rear driver’s quarter panel and a little bit on the bumper. Three sixty V8 engine with…” I tuned him out like I usually did. I didn’t know about car specs and didn’t care about any of that sort of thing.

“What year is it?” I asked in what I thought was a neutral tone.

“Nineteen Sixty Four” one of them answered.

My face must have been unreadable because the seller jumped in the driver’s seat, started it and drove it around to the front of the house to give us a better look. It was the right thing to do. Away from the house and out of the weeds we could see the car in its full twenty feet. The paint was faded and the color of cheap turquoise Indian jewelry. Towards the rear rear of the car, written in chrome cursive letters, was Custom 500.

“Go ahead get in” the seller coaxed.

I did and once inside the sun showed through the windows and struck a dashboard full of chrome covered buttons and gadgets. The resulting reflection on the interior gave the same effect as a disco ball. The front seat was as big as a couch and had a bounce to it from the heavy duty springs.

The steering wheel was the biggest I had ever seen in a car. It was big enough to steer a boat. No not a boat. A yacht. The center of the steering wheel was a mirrored half circle the size of the steering wheels I was used to. It was the horn. I tested it and the sound that came out of the dual horns under the hood was louder than any ordinary car and harmonized. It was like hearing a freight train about to hit a semi truck.

“So, think it’ll work” My stepdad asked. He had a smarmy smile on his face. That bastard was proud of himself.

I almost said ‘no’ just so he didn’t win at whatever contest I had made up in my head, but I was in love. “yeah, it’ll work” I answered trying not to pee on my new seats from the excitement.

“Think you can drive it home?”

I said “Yes”. I said “yes” instead of “of course I can drive it home. It’s just a car! how hard can it be!” Afterall I had just wrecked a car the day before.

He paid the seller five hundred dollars and I followed him back to roads I recognized. From there he sped off toward home.

On the way home I learned a few things about cars. I learned about power steering and more precisely how hard it is to steer a car that doesn’t have power steering. I learned about power brakes and that without the power part you have to stand up on the brake pedal to get slow down three tons of steel. I learned about brake pads and more precisely what happens to brake pads that have sat for five years without being used.

Once I was nearly exhausted from steering, braking and the fear of not doing either in time. I learned what happens to tires that sit too long. They don’t hold air. I had already learned how to change a tire but I hadn’t yet learned to check and make sure the spare tire, or the snow tires, aren’t already flat before putting them on the car.

Four flat tires aside I was in love with my first car. Over the next year I would replace the brakes, the tires, the generator, the upholstery and parts of the engine that haven’t been on a car since nineteen seventy. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the paint was flat and faded, I didn’t care that it was older than I was, I didn’t even care that it was the same car Andy Griffith drove as the Sheriff of Mayberry.

The only thing that bothered me, that niggled away in the back of my mind when I wasn’t paying attention, was that it was my stepfather that had chosen the perfect car for me. Could we be more alike than I ever considered? A deep visceral asshole part of me wanted to reject the car just because he was the one who chose it.

Instead, I convinced myself that we liked the car for different reasons. He liked the big American made engine while I liked big comfortable seats, he liked the classic design while I liked the fact that nobody in town had a car even close to mine, he liked that it was a reminder of his childhood and I liked that it was an antique.

Our uninterested neighbor relationship changed to an uneasy partnership that, eventually, grew into something more like car owner and trusted mechanic. My role in this new situation meant I got to drive my friends around in the car, smuggle alcohol in it, get laid in it, get laid on it and show it off at school next to the fifty three Chevy owned by the mayor’s daughter and Edsel driven by the weird senior boy that looked and dressed like Harry Truman.

For my stepfather’s part I allowed him to do any of the many repairs that cropped up on a twenty year old car.

It wasn’t wrecking my mother’s car that changed me that Summer it was having my own wheels, my own freedom and, finally, my method of escape. From that point on fights with my parents would end with me thinking “I could just leave ya know. I can get in my car and just get the fuck out of here” but then I would cool off and think about it. I didn’t have enough money and didn’t have any place to go so I ended up staying. Still, for the first time that I could remember, I felt like if I stayed it was my decision.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if I have ever read better historical fiction. Joyce Carol Oates may come looking for you.