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 in her general direction, angrily stomped out of the house 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 nearly two decades 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 life-satisfaction 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 a 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 abruptly re-engineered. 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 an apparent collision. 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, stepdad 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 this busted-ass 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 babbling about past indiscretions. 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. Would I like the food? What if Delilah didn’t want to go with me? I would be all alone and unable to drive cars because I apparently didn’t know how and I would never get a real job because you need a car and I would have to work at a gas station that only had one pump and I would never be happy again.

  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, the swirling violins rudely truncated. 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 stepdad’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. She’ll know exactly what to do, and I’ve got her number around here somewhere….

Previously published. Some changes made, but I still don’t understand why Wal-Mart stocked such a huge amount of recycled oil. During my furtive and sweaty run through said emporium, they had an entire aisle devoted to such, with a spokesmodel using her cleavage to point the way. Swear. (“Dirty oil makes me tingle. And you can get a whole case for five bucks! I have a coupon between my pistons if you want to grab one.”)

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…

31 replies »

  1. I think your Ma did a decent Solomon job there. The lesson Grasshopper, is ‘how to deal with ones reverses.’ And Delilah sounds a treasure- ie; your question -‘what if-‘ Her snappy reply ‘Just go! Now! I think she knew how to cut through your angst and double-guessing of your self.
    PS; Need a hideout in Phoenix? Sneak into the Pueblo El Mirage RV and Golf ‘Resort’, find an abandoned/Snowbirds double-wide, jemmy the door and hunker down.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ma had her shining moments when she was just in her reaction to certain developments. (Not so much in other situations, like The Gay Thing.) And Delilah? I greatly admire(d) her. She somehow learned at a young age that life was too short for extended foreplay, and she had little patience for politeness and negotiation. She got to the point, we got things done, and then we were off on another adventure…

      I have duly noted your advice on the proper way to avoid detection in Phoenix, and I have updated my antiquated Palm Pilot accordingly…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My father used recycled oil. Said it cost less, just as slippery. If I had told him he was being environmentally friendly, I’m sue he would have stopped.

    When I was in the national guard, the base garage had drums any anyone could access full of recycled oil. For 6 years I never needed to buy oil at all.

    I don’t think you can get it any more. It probably all gets burned in cargo ships as fuel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t run across any recycled motor oil for decades, either. It must be a relic of the past, just like my virginity. Of course, the current unavailability of such makes this tale suspect when I share it with younger readers, with said youngers immediately doubting the veracity of my nostalgic exposition. But I’m used to that, by now. Different place, different time, different stories…


  3. #1- I’m beginning to think we’re some kind of weird north/south doppelgängers because I side swiped a telephone pole in the cursed Ford Falcon station wagon I had to drive as a kid which rendered the passenger side doors inoperable. From 1979 on, entry was made from the drivers side and required sliding into position.
    #2- Any chance I could could get Delilah’s phone number? We all need one of those friends in our lives!

    Liked by 1 person

    • #1 – I just KNEW we had a deeper connection that hadn’t quite been explored, just yet. This is both exciting and mildly worrisome. We’ll see where it goes…

      #2 – I actually, briefly, hooked up again with Delilah, circa… 2010? 2011? (The year is murky, but I know that it was not long after I joined Facebook.) At the time (whenever that might be), I was sharing, on Facebook, my original blog posts that eventually led to my book, “Screaming in Paris”. She dutifully followed the posts for a while, but at one point she commented that I should “get to the point. I need to know what happened!” A few posts later, she disappeared forever. That was typical Delilah. She wanted immediate results, and if she didn’t get them, she was done. So, I would imagine the phone number I scribbled next to her name in my day planner is no longer relevant. She’s probably moved 47 times since then…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Disappointing to learn Delilah is no longer in your life…. she sounds extremely blog worthy. As for our connection, I’m going with worrisome. My husband will attest that one of me is more than enough.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. There has to be some unspoken rule somewhere about teenaged drivers and station wagons. I had to bear the indignity of driving a 1956 Ford Galaxy station wagon, which a member of our church had sold to my father for $1. We lived in BFE Utah, a ‘bustling’ rural community which boasted one bar (where you could get ‘beer’ ((the Utah version)), two gas stations and one big ass grocery monopoly owned by the richest guy in town. We lived in a subdivision that had recently been someone’s cow field, but a clever and far ahead of their time developer saw the potential. That developer had wickedly keen foresight, because now “BFE” is a big sprawling mini-city. But I’ve digressed. The point is that one needed transportation out there among the cow pats and alfalfa. Pop didn’t ever drive, but Ma did and the scars are many that anyone who ever rode with her carry. Our cars were routinely breaking down because we often had $1 specials. That farmer used the station wagon to chase/herd his cows around his pasture. So you get the picture of that station wagon. It ran. Sort of. It was also roughly the size of a barge and as heavy. I broke down one fine summer morning smack in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown Salt Lake City. Fortunately two young men pushed it to the side of the road for me. I wonder whatever happened to that thing… Memories might be made of this, but a lick of paint and some recycled motor oil, and they’re fresh as the day they were made, hmm. Thanks for sharing YOURS. ☺

    Liked by 2 people

    • I feel your pain so immensely right now, truly I do. My youngster days were riddled with those damn $1 specials, as both the driver of and the hostage-occupant of such. I didn’t know much in those days, but I knew enough to be greatly annoyed by THAT set of parents (and I had many configurations over the years), because they were always spending enormous amounts of money (for us) on crapped-out vehicles, hoping to get them running again for one more day. If they had just saved their pennies for a DECENT ride, they wouldn’t have had to deal with an endless string of disappointment.

      Some people just don’t learn, and they are unable to envision anything beyond the next day. And sadly, that still holds true for much of America…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. And now I have that Tom Jones song Delilah in my head. What a great story, and oh how it’s making me flash back to my dad trying to teach me to drive standard (Och, will ye stop grinding the gears?!) and bashing the side of the Mercury Marquis in whilst attempting to back out of a parking garage. And that Marquis would have been as long as any station wagon on the market–what a boat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • First, I used to have a massive crush on Tom Jones, hundreds of years ago. Not sure why. There was just something intriguing about his aura. But then he opened his mouth to do something other than sing, and the misogyny fell out. I was essentially done at that point…

      Second, so many folks today have no idea how massively-huge some cars were back in the 70s. You could comfortably fit 15 people in one, with plenty of room left over to play racquetball, should the inclination strike. But trying to park one of those barges in a respectable manner? Holy cow…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My assigned auto was “Bertha”, a mid 70s chevy of some sort. It was big and ugly and sucked gas. I started driving in 85… I had to wait til I was 17 cuz mother didn’t want to pay for my insurance.

    My first car of my very own I got the same day I started my job… at an on-site Dry Cleaners… in the summer. My car was a 1970 Datsun 510, red. A much cooler car than “Bertha”

    Mother’s boyfriend told me to buy oil and a filter, and not make plans for Sunday. I was instructed on how to change the oil. Did It all myself. I’ve appreciated my car knowledge ever since.

    I was “practicing” driving with my step-dad once and we were in the brand new Volvo station wagon (fancy) and I turned weird backing out and broke the left front headlight on the Volvo and the right rear tail light on Bertha.🤦🏼‍♀️😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s fair to say that I would have learned much more about automotive maintenance as a troubled teen had my father not been so Hitler-esque about it. He made me hate cars, and I developed a mental block. Of course, I eventually learned about the proper care and feeding of hoopties, but it was much later than most people do.

      I also drove a Datsun for a while in my turbulent Early Twenties. Said vehicle was another occupant in the perpetual but constantly-changing collection of vehicles in that set of parents driveway. (I have many sets of parents, long story.) I’m not sure of the exact model. 280Z comes to mind, but I can’t swear that’s right. Anyway, with THAT car, I was overzealous with the adding of motor oil, to the point that I added too much, and it caused an issue. (In all fairness, no one TOLD me that the oil gauge on the dashboard was broken and I should check the oil-level manually. How was I to know that? Geez.)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Driving mishaps are a requirement for youth. But I was a grandfather when following my son’s Toyota RAV4, which he was driving at the front of a family caravan on a vacation outing. I was driving his other car, a Toyota Corolla, when I assumed he was going to merge onto the highway. I was busy looking back at a gap in the flow of traffic and gunned the Corolla so we could both merge into that gap. Except when I turned my head forward, I realized my son had decided not to merge and was still at a complete stop when I accelerated into him, crashing both his cars in one fell swoop. It seems Toyotas are accident prone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interestingly enough, I’m currently driving a Toyota RAV4, and I’ve been driving the same one for 15 years. So I think I might be doomed…

      On the flip side, and speaking of surprise rear-endings, such a thing happened to me with one of my other first cars, a 1970 (I think that’s the right year, not sure) Volkswagen Super Beetle. Said Beetle had been involved in a not-so-great collision, and though it was still drive-worthy, it needed some attention. My mother was following me as I drove toward the auto-shop of a family mechanic-friend, with the intended plan that she could then take me back home, when she suddenly slammed into me whilst I was making a fully-understandable deceleration maneuver at a stop sign. Said impact effectively ended the life cycle of the Super Beetle…

      Mom never fully explained what distracted her attention. I considered it payback karma for my own distraction when I wrecked two family vehicles at one time, and I just let it go. The Circle of Life, you might say..


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