My Life

Memory Remix: Running On Empty – Part II

Click here to peruse the first part of this story…


Amazingly, the confession session with Mom did not turn out to be nearly as brutal as I had anticipated. After all, in the previous fifteen minutes, I had bellowed rude and hateful things, stomped away in anger to signify my displeasure with her existence, and then promptly wrecked two family cars. I was fairly certain that I was not her favorite child at the moment.

But she took things rather calmly. It would have been a perfect opportunity for her to unleash 17 years of frustration and provide unsavory commentary explaining exactly how I had ruined her life. Yet she did not take advantage of this understandable outlet, and instead again resorted to one of those mysterious Mom Things wherein they operate in a manner that is contradictory and confusing to the child.

Granted, she was far from pleased. And as I continued babbling in the hopes of somehow achieving salvation, her mouth got smaller, which, I learned long ago, meant that she wanted to say more than she was saying, but was holding it back for now. As long as I didn’t do or say something else stupid, those particular words might never be spoken and there would be peace in the valley. I immediately shut up and tried to appear angelic.

She dismissed me shortly thereafter. The only form of punishment that she bestowed upon me was the decree that I could now only drive the station wagon, assuming that my vehicular frenzy had not left the thing inoperable.

Wow, that was easy. So what if the wagon had a bashed-in door? I had long since grown to hate that thing with every fiber of my being, long before I had the soul-depleting opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat. It was already a completely humiliating horror show to maneuver that succubus around town. How could it possibly damage my reputation any further if the door was hanging off?

How wrong that thought proved to be.

From a functional standpoint, the station wagon was fine, just uglier. From an operational standpoint, things got a little murkier. From a frustration standpoint, I nearly lost my mind. Several times. Ever wonder what might lead an otherwise sane person to commit acts of shocking violence? I was about to find out.

The driver’s side door, mashed in as it was, created a challenging new environment for the driver. While things on the dashboard remained exactly where they had been prior to impact, the position of the driver did not. With the door taking up more space than a door should, you were forced to take a seat somewhat to the right of the optimal location.

You had to reach somewhat to the left in order to gain full access to driving implements that should have been directly in front of you. This was not a desirable situation, unless you are one of those annoying people who embrace life challenges and then star in a documentary detailing how you did so. For instance, let’s consider the steering wheel. It was impossible to place your hands in the strongly-advised, clock-inspired positions of “ten” and “two”. It was more like “two” and “three”. Or whatever hour you could latch on to as you strenuously reached to your side, contorting your body in manner that might attract the attention of people who owned travelling circuses but did nothing for your own sense of self-worth.

The gas pedal? That was relatively okay. You could get at that thing fairly easy with either foot. The brake pedal was a different story. It was now in the “dead zone”, a difficult-to-reach space created when the door was re-located. Because the main portion of your body now rested in the wrong place, you had to snake your left foot in an awkward manner and stretch out your toes to reach the pedal.

And I was sadly mistaken about the humiliation level concerning the redesign of the station wagon. Yes, it had always been ugly, but in a benign and slightly sad way. People would avoid me, based on the appearance of my pathetic ride, assuming that my life was of little interest and I would probably die of alcoholism at a young age.

Now we had ugly mixed with crash-test-dummy accents. This combination brought the crazies out of the woods. People in neighboring cars at stoplights would point and show the kids. Other cars would honk while passing, as if giving me an aural high-five for surviving the crash. Old men at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket would walk up in their baggy pants, scratching their butt and spitting tobacco, and ask “How’d you do THAT, son?”

That always killed me, all the people wondering how I “did that”. From a purely logical analysis of seeing the damage, it was clear that another vehicle had hit this one. Why did people immediately assume that I was somehow responsible? Shouldn’t they be feeling sorry for me, as the unfortunate victim of a tragic mishap, instead of assigning blame?

Of course, I couldn’t point out that another car had hit this one, because then I risked follow-up queries that might lead to further humiliation since, basically, I had been the one who hit me. In my own driveway. Life was hard enough, so I didn’t need to open myself up for further suffering or the pseudo-sympathetic looks from people who were convinced that I was another lost youth headed toward the underbelly of society.

Eventually, step-dad got one of his drinking buddies to bang on the door for a few days, and things improved slightly. You could actually open the door if you were on level ground and the temperature was right. The driving experience became a little more tolerable. But it was never the same again.

And it wasn’t long before it didn’t really matter if the door opened or not.

You see, I really didn’t know much about the inner workings of a motor vehicle. I had the basic concept down, but that was it. I didn’t want to know any more. Because from the age of about seven, my real dad, who worships cars, had been trying to instill that same fervor and excitement in me.

This did not work out so well.

Because I really didn’t care. I had no desire to learn the specialized skill of adjusting a timing belt. This incensed my dad. A real man should be able to completely take a car apart, like he can, and then put it back together, like he can. Thus began many sessions of him schooling me in the art of automotive maintenance. These classes took place in his garage, on the weekends when my sister and I would visit him.

It was torture.

Every session went the same way. I would stand beside the car for hours, aiming the stupid flashlight wherever he needed me to aim it, and getting yelled at every fifteen minutes because I handed him the wrong damn wrench again. (He had 500 wrenches, organized in some mystical configuration that was beyond my cognition. They don’t have that many wrenches at NASA.) This damnation would go on for an eternity, until he was finally done doing whatever, dinner was ready, or I broke something. Hated every minute of it.

As a result, I learned nothing. (Well, except for the fact that you cannot cause a garage door to slam down on your dad’s vehicle using mental powers alone.) I didn’t learn about the timing belt. I didn’t learn about maintenance. I certainly didn’t learn about changing the oil in a car on a regular basis.

Which led to the downfall of the battered station wagon. I never even checked the oil, let alone changed it. It simply did not cross my mind to do so. Even when Mom would mention it every so often, because, well, she was a mom, and mentioning annoying things is in their job description. But what person of high school age actually listens to their mother / comptroller / destroyer of dreams?

So there I am one day, probably headed off to a play or something artsy, because I was already showing that fondness for the humanities that so appalled the more macho members of the family. (I certainly wasn’t headed to the drag races, lugging bottles of Strawberry Hill and the one remaining cheerleader that wasn’t already pregnant.)

I’m innocently tooling along the road, obeying all traffic signals and driving friendly, when suddenly there’s an astonishingly loud bang, the car lurches and dies, and I am coasting along with no power. What fresh hell?

In a slight panic, I crank hard on the steering wheel so the car will turn and roll into the nearest parking lot, which happens to be the local Wal-Mart. Well good, then. At least the car won’t look out of place while I figure out what to do.

I get out and approach the front of the car. Since that startling noise had come from this direction, and the engine had stopped running, chances were pretty strong that I might find something interesting under the hood. I popped it open, and peered inside.

That proved to be a pointless effort. Things looked okay to me. Then again, I had no idea what the hell I was looking at or for. There could have been a coal furnace in there and I would have thought, wow, I didn’t realize cars needed one of those. I dropped the hood back into place.

Based on some weird instinct that I couldn’t really identify (maybe something HAD sunk in during the evil garage sessions?), I dropped to one knee and peeked under the front of the car.

There was something sticking down. I didn’t know what it was, but it didn’t look right. In fact, it looked seriously wrong and reeked of impending doom. I started to get the first trickle of realization that this was somehow my fault. Oh boy.

I found a payphone (remember those?) and called my friend… um… let’s pretend her name was Delilah, just to avoid any litigation fallout that might result from me now spilling my guts. Delilah was my buddy, and she would get me out of this mess if anyone could. I gave the details of what had just happened. Bang, power loss, rolling turn, Wal-Mart, thing sticking down. She needed more information:

“When was the last time you changed the oil?”

Why was everybody so damn concerned about the oil in this car? God. I seriously did not get a memo somewhere. “Uh… not lately.” (Translation: never.)

“You threw a rod. I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Then she was gone. I heard tires squealing before the line disconnected.

Next thing I know, Delilah is roaring into the parking lot, her cute little car purring like a kitten and in perfect condition. She knew how to take care of her transportation. Dad would love her, assuming he could get past his proclivity to disavow any humans who did not have a penis. Maybe we were switched at birth? Might need to check into that someday.

Delilah takes about ten seconds to fully investigate the situation and then turns to me. “Okay, here’s the plan.”

“Plan? We have a plan? Why do we have to have a plan? Am I going to jail again?”

She sighs. “Look, there’s not a drop of oil in this thing. There’s no way you can’t be blamed unless we do this just right. Listen carefully.”

I was getting that surreal feeling again, where everything hasn’t registered yet and I’m waiting for things to click and make sense. Was it suddenly going to become necessary for us to run for our lives and hide out in Arizona? I didn’t know if I had the proper wardrobe for such a development.

Delilah gave me an exasperated look. “Quit being all drama queen in your head and pay attention.”

The movie soundtrack in my brain abruptly stopped. I faced Delilah and assumed a position of total concentration. “Ready.”

“Okay, run in to this Wal-Mart and buy a couple cans of recycled motor oil. Recycled, do you understand? Not the new stuff. Then come back out here and we’re going to pour some all over the engine and the rest under the car. Make it look like there was still oil in there and the damn thing just fell apart.”

I stared at her in amazement. First, how the hell did Delilah know that there was such a thing as recycled motor oil, and that you could get it at Wal-Mart? And how did she come up with a plan like that so quickly? What kind of life has this girl led?

But I had some concerns. “What if-”

“Just go! Now!”

I turned and scampered into Wal-Mart. She was kind of scaring me a little.

15 minutes later the deed was done. Operation Save My Ass was in full swing. Further phone calls were made, discussions took place, and the vehicle was eventually towed to a dubious locale owned by another of step-dad’s drinking buddies. I seriously doubt that anyone really believed me. I certainly didn’t. I don’t remember any direct accusations being made, but surely the family was a little suspicious of my story, at the very least.

If they did believe me, then I might just be in a wee bit of trouble when I hit “publish” here in a few minutes. Maybe I better call Delilah, all these years later, just in case my revelation does not go well with the family and I suddenly need a fake passport or plastic surgery. I’ve got her number around here somewhere….


Originally published in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” on 01/14/10 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 06/11/16. Slight changes made, but I still don’t understand why Wal-Mart stocks such a huge amount of recycled oil. They had an entire aisle devoted to such, with a spokesmodel using her cleavage to point the way. Swear.

P.S. Anybody have any tips on how to live incognito and off-the-grid in Phoenix? I know somebody who used to live there, but she moved…


20 replies »

  1. This post is great. 🙂 It’s wonderful how a good friend can save you from humiliation and a lifetime of hearing “that car story” told and retold at family evemts with added layers of embellishment and exaggeration thrown in for extra flavour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! My bestie “Delilah” saved me from a lot of things. Sadly, she couldn’t intercept all of my misbehavior and there are plenty of “those stories” that my family nearly salivates at the chance to tell…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oddly there was only one time the no motor oil = deceased car thing happened to me. And it was hubby’s fault. We were married by then and that whole automotive maintenance became HIS responsibility. He forgot, I pulled up to our house after driving somewhere, and there was a horrific grinding noise, all the dash lights lit up and a little smoke drifted sadly away. I went in the house and got hubby, who came out and demanded to know why I hadn’t checked the oil. I glared and said “YOU’RE supposed to take care of that %$!@! You say I have to do laundry and clean the house. That’s MY %$@# job.” The car was donated to KidneysRUs or one of those charity organizations, we got a different car, and there was never another word spoken about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In retrospect, I think I actually did the family a favor by unintentionally killing that wretched beast. We had FAR too many cars at our house for there to be any degree of self-respect. Granted, we did provide a local landmark of sorts (“turn left at the junkyard”), but it was terribly humiliating. (Notice how I am glossing over the fact that I destroyed my only ride at the time. The first step in healing is self-denial…)


  3. This brought back so much guilt for the jerk I was as a teen. My parents were good, kind people and always tried their best. I eventually made it up to them but this needed reminder will keep my head from puffing up in future. And you caught the angst of those years so perfectly. Seriously, Brian, you must WRITE THIS STUFF IN A NOVEL!!! (Just call me Mom. Or perhaps just a PITA)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love reading your stories!
    We had a station wagon when I was a kid, but not a woody. I took my driving test in it and had to parallel park! Later on, we had one that looked like wood siding, but not, and our girls liked it okay, I guess. They liked the ‘way back’ seat best.
    I’m pretty sure I threw a rod in my first car, a Ford Falcon, and had to be rescued from the side of the highway by my Dad.
    Yep, check the oil…a valuable lesson, and one my husband made sure my girls knew how to do from the get go, he being a mechanic for a time, just like his Dad. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Barbara! I remember loving the “way back” seat as well. It seemed like we were miles away from our parents and we could do whatever without getting into trouble. Of course, parents being parents, they knew exactly what we were doing and would yell at us anyway. So we just learned to whisper and torment each other quietly.

      I definitely learned my lesson with the oil change thing. These days, I’m rolling into the service center at my dealership the very second my mileage hits the next milestone… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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