For two long months, my memoir-writing students sat through my critiques of their work. Finally, they’d had enough. “Show us what you can do,” they said, in various shades of unison. So I did. The following is my answer to a descriptive writing assignment featuring a place or thing with great personal meaning.
I Can’t Forget My First Car, Damn It
The day I bought my first car was somewhat less than exciting. I had just celebrated my 18th birthday and thought pretty highly of myself. After all, I’d worked a couple jobs and saved some money. As a senior in high school, I managed to put most of the hard classes behind me. College lay ahead, somewhere, somehow, but the prospect didn’t interest me all that much. What I wanted was transportation of my own.
My folks had been pretty good about letting me use one of their cars, to get to work mostly and occasionally for dates. But I still had to ask for permission to use it. Independence demanded the ability to go from one place to another without anyone’s approval.
I needed wheels.
And I eventually got some.
My first car, a 1956 Ford, was only a few years younger than me, but it showed a great deal more wear and tear. The original two-tone paint job remained largely intact and consisted of a white that had faded to cadaver gray and a blue-green color that didn’t appear in nature. Peppered here and there in varying sizes were rust spots, dents, scratches, and dirt. Lots of dirt.
The interior looked even worse. Cigarette burns in the cloth seats could not be hidden by the stains from whatever the previous owners had spilled. Clean up seemed not to have been on any of their agendas. Nor did air fresheners. Rather than sporting a new car smell, my Ford’s aroma was more reminiscent of vagrants and wet dogs.
Boiled down to its essence, the only thing my car had in its favor was the fact I was the sole owner. I paid cash, $450 as I recall, plus the towing fee to haul it to my address where it hunkered down in a corner of the driveway and continued to decompose.
After a few nervous weeks I became resigned to the idea that the “friends” who swore to help me restore the vehicle were loathsome liars, utterly feckless fiends undeserving of my trust, to say nothing of my remaining assets, paltry though they were. The aging Ford was mine, and mine alone–leaky oil pan, “Baldini Supreme” racing slicks, and vile vinyl interior included. I knew, with complete certainty, I was on my own. The cavalry wasn’t going to appear over the hill, at the last moment, to rescue me from my folly. Life sucked.
Ditto, the Ford.
“Pride goeth before the fall” ‘tis said, but I had no idea it would make a beeline to the JC Whitney catalog, where parts were available for virtually anything that ever sported wheels or laid claim to the description “automotive transport.”
Ah, but what the catalog also contained was a wealth of accoutrements which would make my terminally arthritic auto uber-appealing to prospective buyers. I had my choice of an endless supply of racing pillows, flags, shiny hubcaps, and more chrome “doodadery” than the adolescent mind could possibly comprehend. Naturally, I wanted all of it: every last, glittery, pointless, impractical, preposterous, nonsensical piece of car-related crap I could get my hands on.
I wasted none of my precious funds on carburetors, tires with actual treads, mufflers, spark plugs, windshield wipers or dipsticks. Heaven forfend! I wanted a skull-shaped gear shift knob, glow-in-the-dark dice hanging from my review mirror (or, at least the spot from whence a mirror once hung), a chrome steering wheel knob for hard, possibly life-threatening turns, and rear window speakers for the AM-only radio. An antenna would have made more sense, but geez, rear window speakers. Come on!
I even bought a gallon of paint-restoring auto wax, guaranteed to generate a showroom shine. It never dawned on me that getting rust to shine might be tricky.
I ended up with the finest looking pile of fecal Ford that ever graced a driveway. My parents were less than pleased. My alleged vehicle had two tires which actually held air. The other two were disturbingly flat on one side.
“How’s the spare?” Dad asked.
“Spare?” Head scratch. “There’s supposed to be a spare?”
I learned a lot.
None of it good.
With my permission, Dad had the shiny pile of automotive excrement hauled away. He got $200 for it which he gave me in a bank deposit envelope, minus twenty bucks which he claimed as a storage fee.
Sometimes, growing up is hard. Sometimes it’s expensive. The alternative, however, is infinitely worse.
And so that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.