Ultimate Phallic Symbol
“Dad, can I have the car tonight?” said seventeen-year-old Scott, somewhat apprehensively.
“What? Wait ‘til I finish this paragraph.” When I finally looked up from the evening paper, Scott half-whispered, with just a touch of exasperation in his voice, “I said, can I have the car tonight?”
“Scott, you have your own car. What are you asking me for, out of gas again? Here’s a couple of. . .” I never got to finish the sentence. Looking very uncomfortable and shifting from foot to foot, all six feet of him looming over me, “Dad, I don’t need any money. I wondered if I could, ah, borrow the Mustang tonight?”
I knew where this was heading, and I didn’t like it. “Are you kidding?! That car’s fourteen years old. I want it to last another fourteen. No way!”
Suddenly his voice turned soft and he seemed to shrink six inches. I was back in the drivers seat, so to speak. “Ah, come on Dad, I’ll be careful. You were young once, weren’t you?” Now that hurt. “I thought I still was.” I leaned back and smiled, enjoying the power, an increasingly infrequent experience in our relationship.
“Big date, huh? Do I know her?”
He smiled back, aware that the odds of getting that gorgeous hunk of metal, that rare, beautiful, yellow convertible with the red leather upholstery, in perfect condition, had slightly increased.
With a shit-eating smile on his face, he said, “Yeah, you know her, it’s Alice.” Yea, I knew her, all right. She was every seventeen-year-old’s—and forty-two year old’s dream; beautiful, long brown hair, great tits, legs that wouldn’t quit and shorts that began half-way up her ass.
“After the way she played you and Mike Reynolds off against each other, you still want to take her out?” I knew I was going to let him have the car. I could picture him with her in that beautiful piece of living metal.
“That was last year, Dad. I’ve learned a lot since then. I won’t let that happen again.” Can one broken heart and 365 days make a young man wise? I didn’t think so, but what the hell.
“Can I have it?” He waited impatiently.
“Scott, if anything happens to that car . .!” “Don’t worry Dad, it won’t! I promise.” He couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “I”ll take good care of it. Thanks a lot, Dad.” He almost bowed as he backed away from me with the keys.
I went to bed thinking about my Mustang, Alice, and Scott, in that order; another difference between seventeen and forty-two.
I’m sure I had been asleep for about four hours when he shook my shoulder in the pitch-black bedroom. He was careful not to wake up his mother. “Dad, Dad, wake up.” As though I had a choice. “Don’t wake Mom up, Dad. I need to talk to you,” he whispered.
“Are you alright?” I stumbled out of bed and followed him into the kitchen. “Yeah, I’m all right,” he paused nervously, “but I can’t get the Mustang started.” That jarred me awake. “What do you mean you can’t get the Mustang started?” I tried not to shout. Is it OK? It’s not smashed up, is it?”
“No, Dad, it’s OK, but I lost the keys.”
“You what?!” I was shouting now. “Where are they?” Now that’s a dumb question, I thought. But I’m entitled to at least one at 1:45 a.m. Scott avoided my glance, fearful of the response he anticipated.
“I dropped them in the ocean.” That did it. If I got my car back safe and sound nobody would get their hands on it again. “The ocean!” I shouted. “The ocean! You dropped them in the ocean?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “How?”
Scott stammered, “We were parked on that cliff above the beach. You know the one I mean.”
I nodded, picturing the Mustang, gleaming in the moonlight doing a swan dive into the ocean 100 feet below. “Well, we were standing looking at the ocean and they fell out of my pants.” Did he really think I was that dumb?
“Ah, come on, Scott, tell me another one.”
“Honest, Dad, it’s true.”
“Yeah, Scott, I’ll bet you that wasn’t the only thing that fell out of your pants.” I was too tired to pursue the matter any further so I got my spare set of keys, and we drove down to the cliff. There it was, safe and sound. The top was down and the seats were damp from the dew. But at least nobody had pushed it off the cliff in the hour it sat there unattended.
Scott drove the family car home, and I drove the Mustang. Back in bed, the seat of my pajamas still damp, I thought about a few adventures of my own when I was 17. There was the time when I drove fifty miles to see a girl and thought I could get away with it because my father wouldn’t check the odometer. He did, just pointed it out to me, and, as was his style, didn’t say a word. I think I fell asleep with a faint smile on my face.
Dignity and Transportation
From the episode involving Scott and the Mustang, you may suspect, not without reason, that I had some small, vested interest in my automobile. Looking back with chagrin, I can’t deny it, although it didn’t seem so at the time. Actually the incident with the Mustang was only one in a series between Scott and me concerning cars—and possibly autonomy, masculinity and other “inconsequential” issues.
“Dad, can I have the Cadillac for the Senior Prom?” A brave request since he’d never driven the Cadillac alone and knew it represented health, wealth and the family jewels.
I raised an eyebrow.
“Come on, Dad, you were young once!”
Ah, that classic line. I couldn’t believe he would try it again after what happened with the Mustang. But I must admit it brought to mind a vivid memory of making out with my high school girlfriend behind steamy car windows while Tony Bennett sang “Blue Velvet.” One of the great nights of my life! Was it the Senior Prom? I couldn’t remember. It really didn’t matter.
“You don’t exactly have a great track record with our cars, Scott. I don’t know.” Once again, he picked up the ambivalence in my voice. Being a superior general, he rushed his troops into the breach of my uncertainty.
“I’ll be careful, Dad, I promise.” To insure the victory he brought out his big guns. “I’ll wash and wax it. It’ll look fantastic!”
And it did. He sang all day and even brought his date and the couple they were doubling with home for pictures. We always recorded special events in the same place, the front yard against a background of African violets and palms.
I felt a rush of pride, and a tinge of envy, as they drove off to begin this very special night. Barbara could not refrain from giving the obligatory lecture about drinking and driving, get home early, etc. I was proud of myself, I just told them to have a good time, certain that Scott would be extra-careful this time.
And he was. I must admit one of the first things I did the next morning was walk around the car looking for missing fenders, broken windows, etc. It looked great! I relaxed.
After a lazy day, Barbara and I dressed to meet friends for dinner. Looking at our shiny chariot, we both remarked on the fine wax job Scott had done. And then I opened the door. The stench of vomitus was overpowering! Someone had thrown up in my car. I went from pride to revulsion to confusion to anger in an instant. Barbara did her best to calm me down. After all, what would the neighbors think! Like two bloodhounds, we pinpointed the offending source to the back seat and spent the next half hour finishing the deodorizing job that Scott had begun the night before. He came home just as we finished.
“Honest, Dad, it wasn’t me, and it wasn’t my date either. I told her to stop drinking.” She looked so innocent when we were taking pictures of the two couples the night before. “It was Bob’s date. She’s the one who got drunk. Honest. It was a girl!”
If it were he, I would have known what to say. If it were Bob, I would have managed a response. But Bob’s girl- - -?!
“Good night, Scott,” was all I could muster.
Barbara and I drove off to dinner in our dignified way in our dignified car with the faint odor of vomitus stimulating our appetite.
SO MUCH FOR MECHANICS
In self-defense, I bought Scott a car of his own, an old Chevy. But I had another motive, too. From the moment he was born I dreamed of the day when I’d surprise him with his first car. His eyes would light up. He’d shout, “Gee, Dad, thanks!” And after fondling the steering wheel lovingly, he would take me for a ride. And it happened almost like that. As we drove, I marveled at his coordination. He’d never driven a stick before, but after one time around the block, his shifting was smooth as silk. That’s my son!
My fantasy had a second part. I also imagined a love affair between the two of them, Scott and his car. You know, whenever I wanted to find him, I’d head for the garage and follow the trail of disconnected feet sticking out from under the front wheels or the Wrangler Jeaned butt protruding from under the hood. That car needed work; he’d learn something about mechanics and responsibility, occupy his spare time constructively, and stop borrowing my cars.
One for two isn’t bad. The junk kept breaking down and costing me a fortune. I’d forgotten that we both had a mechanical aptitude of zero or less, and he was more interested in spending time in cars rather than under them. Within six months, he’d palmed the heap off on some unsuspecting fool for what we had paid for it and went on to love affairs of a different sort. So much for mechanics--like father, like son.
“Line three, Mr. Lewis,” she whispered. “It’s the police.”
My undetected illegal life flashed before me as I picked up the phone.
“This is Paul Lewis,” I answered somewhat shakily. I couldn’t recall doing anything that would cause the police to call me. The voice on the other end sounded like Sergeant Friday.
“This is Detective Polsky. Mr. Lewis, do you own a Lincoln, license plate. . .” I interrupted him, “Yes, yes I do.” “License number FVP-3671,” he continued.
“Yes, I think that’s right, officer. Is something wrong?” My mind was racing. I’d let Scott use it last night. He was going to spend the night at his friend John’s house.
“Well, it’s parked up on Mt. Sally in Lovers’ Lane”, he said disgustedly. “You better get it out of there before somebody beats it up.”
“How did it get there, Detective?” I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth that that was a stupid thing to say.
“I don’t know Mr. Lewis. We find them, we don’t lose them.” He hung up, disgustedly, before I could respond.
I punched the secretarial intercom. “Jill, drop what you’re doing. We’ve got to go and pick up my car.”
On the way up the mountain, I told her the story, which she enjoyed immensely. Only a few years older than Scott, she knew the place well. I looked around the spot. It was a gorgeous day, and the view was fantastic--the city at our feet, resting on a carpet of verdant green and Pacific blue. It sure beat my make-out spot overlooking the stunning coal mines of my home town.
I wasn’t even angry anymore. In fact, I complimented myself on being able to handle these situations with ease. After all, he was a good kid and hadn’t gotten into serious trouble.
Then I unlocked the door, buckled my seat belt and turned the key. I waited for the familiar “zooommm.” “Come on, key, turn on”, I shouted.
I sat back in the seat, gave a big sigh and accepted my fate. Here I was at nine o’clock in the morning in lovers’ lane, for the first time in twenty-five years, alone. Just my dead battery and me. Since the place was deserted, I had plenty of time to figure out what happened the night before. He’d parked, turned on the radio, obviously for too long, and ran down the battery. Somehow he’d gotten a ride to John’s house and planned to rescue the car the next morning and get it home without anyone suspecting. Except the police and I beat him to it.
Maybe my wait wouldn’t be so long after all. About 10 am, he and John drove up, jumper cables in hand. You wouldn’t have believed the look on his face!
HUFFIN’ & PUFFIN’
Once again we needed a car, this time for our youngest son, Jack. I’m amazed by the way cars come and go in our family, like disposable diapers. Scott’s favorite methods of destruction were accidents, mechanical neglect and abuse. Barbara simply wore them out in record time. The Mr. Hyde in her came out when she got behind the wheel and she zoomed from stop sign to stop sign, tearing up brake pads like newspaper, leaving a trail of rubber easier to follow then Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs. Why was it that I was the only one in the house who took his car and pampered it? No mystery there; I paid the bills.
I did have some hope for Jack. In the year since he got his license, he hadn’t had a single accident or traffic ticket. Scott had two or three of both by then. But I still wanted something big and safe for him to drive, a tank to encase the adolescent impulsivity and faulty judgment in the driver’s seat. He, of course, wanted a sports car, a Ferrari or 280 SL that would attract women like bees to honey.
We settled on a sporty, ten-year-old Pontiac, that, I kid you not, was owned by an 88-year-old man who drove it back and forth to church and gave it up reluctantly when he couldn’t pass the drivers’ test. What a contrast. One man at the end of life, another at the beginning. One sad, the other ecstatic, united in their love of a machine. And then there was me, the man in the middle, observing both, easing the way for both. Always in the middle, always observing.
Jack was thrilled with his car, and so was I. So much pleasure for $1200. Jack spent the next week cleaning and polishing what was already spotless, as well as installing the inevitable stereo. When he left for his date, he was on top of the world. Barbara and I waved him off and settled down to a nice quiet evening—alone.
He was back fifteen minutes later, huffing and puffing, shoulders slumped, the picture of dejection. He could barely get the words out.
“Jack, what happened!”
“Nothing.” Huff! Puff!
“Nothing? Something’s wrong.” A lack of words was very uncharacteristic. “You’re not sick are you?”
“No.” Huff! Puff! ‘It’s the car.”
$1,200 out the window. I should have realized.
“Did you have an accident?”
“Well, sort of. . .” Huff! Puff!
“Jack, will you please talk to me. What happened?”
As he slowly regained his speech, Jack described driving down the long hill not far from our house; somehow managing, inadvertently, to throw the car into reverse and end up on the shoulder of the road—facing uphill!
I was very calm on the drive there, reassuring him that everything would be OK. I was speaking to both of us. After all, parents should figure into their budget at least one fender-bender per teenager per year. But throw the car in reverse and end up going uphill? That was a new twist, so to speak. Sure enough, there it was, all by itself among the trees, a beached whale.
“Dad, we can’t drive it, can we? The transmission’s gone, isn’t it?”
As usual, he expected me to know everything. “I don’t know, Jack, but let’s not take a chance. Tom’s gas station is at the bottom of the hill. Let’s go ask him.” I was really calm now. I’d dealt with my own feelings and could pay attention to his.
Tom reassured us both. The car was probably OK. In any event, he’d go get it and call us later. We kept him in business, so he always treated us well. We drove home quietly. Halfway there Jack looked at me, eyes shining, one step away from tears. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Forget it, Jack. If that’s the worst thing that happens to you, we’re in great shape.”
“I really thought you’d be mad.”
“Nah, I’m an old pro at this parent business by now. Your brother broke me in pretty good. Anyway, I owe you one or two.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, maybe I owe your grandfather one. Did I ever tell you about the time I burnt out the engine on my Ford, or the time I rear ended a car in front of me and smashed up the front end of the beautiful red and white, ’55 Chevy Grandpa just bought for me?”
His eyes widened. “YOU did that?” Tell me all about it.”