To me, chassis, piston, and crankshaft are stripper names. If you asked me to venture a guess about what each of them did, I’d probably say some snarky comment about you needing to go back to your mom’s basement and watch Bladerunner again, you Cheetoh-eating, D&D-playing geek. Of course, to the well-informed, responsible car owner, they are parts of your automobile. But this idiot couldn’t tell you the first thing about cars. When I hear “horsepower” mentioned in a commercial, I still imagine Honda’s newest model being led to some straightaway where it was raced against the Belmont’s finest.
A car I do not want or need was an item left behind the wake of my mother’s death, pun intended. Back in ’99, after my parents’ divorce settlement was finalized, my mother decided to do something extravagant for herself to celebrate. This resulted in a purchase of a Mercedes-Benz SL500 convertible in a color referred to as “champagne,” with an interior that Simon calls “peanut butter.” Model year? 2000. Number of miles on it when my mom went to the Masarati lot in the sky? 40K. Personally, my dream car is a new paint job for my bicycle, but I will swoon into a puddle when confronted with a mint-condition hot rod, preferably if there’s a tattooed man involved in its maintenance. But, seriously, hand me a skateboard and I’m happy. My mom’s ‘cedes-spending spree was ridiculous in my eyes, but it made her happy and feel like a new woman, so I couldn’t scoff too much.
Now that she’s gone, I’m the asshole with the Mercedes. Please buy my Mercedes. Please.
So far, my attempts to sell it have included a Craigslist posting and a doe-eyed sales pitch to any person over the age of forty who looks like they have a steady job. Of course, the main problem here is that I am wholly ignorant when it comes to sales, cars, and selling cars. Not to mention the fact that I’m impatient as all get-out and distrusting of people.
I own a used Volkswagen Jetta, model year 2000. This gray, beat up, lovable vehicle replaced the first car I ever had, a 1998 VW Golf that was totaled by a speeding 90 year old in a Cadillac, resulting in a mild shoulder injury and phobia of the elderly. If you asked me to tell you about my car, I’d say it goes fast and has a good sound system. I’d tell you that its prime features include a passenger seat that’s easy for the driver to make out in, and a fun console that glows blue at night. I don’t know how many miles are on it, how many miles it gets per tank of gas, or why the radiator decided to blow out in the center lane of traffic on a highway last week. Also a mystery, why Goodyear originally tried to charge me $1,300 for the repairs, but knocked it down to $822 when I turned on the waterworks. Apparently cars require fewer repairs when their owners are pathetic.
I knew I was in over my head when the first response to the Craigslist post was the question, “Can I have the VIN#?” Vin number. I was about to research what vin was the prefix for in Latin when my dad emailed me back. “Vehicle Identification Number. Should be in car someplace.” I didn’t point out that calling it “vehicle identification number” and putting a hash mark after its abbreviation makes it read “vehicle identification number number,” but I did take note of it. If I wanted to seem with it, I’d better just call it a vin.
Once I located the VIN, which took three trips to the car, a YouTube video, and some words that included a hash mark or two of my own among other symbolic punctuation, I was able to respond to the email. Several more were exchanged, and a date to view the car was set. On Monday at five-thirty I met Gene, a forty-something Polish gentleman with a close-cropped beard and sandals. He arrived ready to go, and set about circling the car like a lion circles a fallen gazelle. I assumed that this was a sign that Gene knew about cars, had possibly driven one just like it, and wouldn’t turn to me – the staring half-wit dressed like an extra for a 1998 Hole video – for any information that would make or break his decision to settle and speed the thing out of my life.
“How do you open the trunk?” he asked.
I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say that I would have had more luck trying to rip open a hole in the fabric of the universe. If scientists had recorded it, it would have been a screaming example of how humans are similar to monkeys when confronted with the unknown. The answer to Gene’s question was you press a button. But it took fifteen minutes of random knocking, twisting, and head-scratching to get there.
Gene started the engine. Gene twisted the steering wheel. Gene figured out (without consulting me) how to pop the hood and look at the robot inside of my mother’s car. “Is that the gallbladder?” I joked, pointing to some knot of metal and wires. Gene looked at me earnestly and answered. “No.”
There was some inspection of some things I couldn’t explain or tell you. I gave up trying to exude any aura of confidence or intellect following the trunk fiasco, so I basically just stood back and observed a man acquainting himself with a car.
“We go for test drive now, okay, yes?” Gene asked and commanded. Okay. Yes. I hopped in, realizing that I’d left my cellphone, wallet, identification, and oblivious boyfriend in the house. No matter. I was in a German convertible belonging to my dead mother with a stranger who was either interested in purchasing the vehicle, or interested in abducting a tattooed, androgynous moron. Unless the ransom was going to be a box of Raisinets and a bundle of RSS feeds, I seriously doubted I’d ever see Simon again.
“Where can we go to test engine? Open it up. Nothing crazy,” Gene said.”
I am the kind of driver who is more afraid of the police than a fourteen-year-old suburban kid who smokes pot for the first time. I do not know where to speed anywhere, because I try to obey the speed limit everywhere. Due to my inherent aversion to math, I respect numbers of any kind.
“Uh. Left?” I said.
The car suddenly began to imitate a personal massager. It trembled. It shook. Separate from requiring two double-A batteries, it vibrated. I might know nothing about cars, but I do know that they are not designed to induce orgasms.
“What is this?” Gene asked.
“Uh. I don’t know?” I said.
We drove for twenty minutes or so, the vibrations becoming intermittent, at times less severe, other times I felt my teeth rattle in my jaw. Gene stopped at every traffic light, revved the engine once or twice, brought the car up to sixty-five and dropped it back down to the school-zone-friendly thirty-five, and finally made the U-turn to lead us back to my house.
The word mechanic was used. My mother’s car could be hiding a deep, dark secret beneath its gilded exterior: the need for a brand new transmission. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t care. It can’t be that bad. After all, Transmission is one of my favorite songs by Joy Division.
Drop me a line, AinsleyDrew at the gmail one.
Thank you to everyone who donates. You keep the wheels on the bus going ’round and ’round.
Hire us if you have a need for speed. Or just, you know, text.