Sunday, March 13, 2005

a penthouse in egypt with a view of the river

breaking up is hard to do, let alone write about, let alone publish in cyberspace ... so it's time to change the subject (shout out to abs) slash return to denial here is an utterly random item about me and cars:

I guess it all started when i took the moped class instead of the simulated driving lesson as a post o-level bonus at school. Not that the bike lesson went all that well: inching along tentatively at about one foot per minute, I evoked a hitherto unseen aggression in our instructor. “Turn your wrists!” he shouted, “move it!” And I did. And I shot off out of the car park and onto brook green. I was heading straight for Hammersmith Broadway. I had no idea how to stop. Luckily the instructor grabbed a bike from another student, raced after me, and knocked me over onto some grass. Perhaps I am generally vehicularly-challenged. I am certainly ignorant, inexperienced and innocent when it comes to cars, bikes, all things with engines.

For example, a couple of years ago I asked one of my students if the little oilcan flashing on my dashboard meant anything important. "When was the last time you changed your oil?" she asked. "I have never changed my oil," I replied. "How many miles do you have on your car?" she asked. "About 36,000 I think." She became a whirlwind. It was my turn to learn. First of all, I had to learn how to open the bonnet of the car. I knew about the lever you pull inside, but had no idea that there was also a little button you had to press on the bonnet itself. "How could you go that many miles and never change your oil!" she cried. I told her that I had thought that the guys who did the annual state test on the car and told me what needed to be fixed would have told me to change the oil if it needed it. So I learned how to change my oil. Then I drove behind her to Jiffy Lube so the car could have an immediate check-up. I sat in the waiting-room, and a procession of weeping men paraded different parts of my car before me. "Look at this!" "Look what you did!" "How could you let this happen?!" It had almost as strong an effect on me as seeing the x-ray of the evil gums at the periodontist.

The thing is - how am I supposed to know this stuff? I can get you anywhere in London using the Tube without seeing a map, including which car to stand in to be nearest the exit. I can tell you all about Abraham and the idols; who won the FA cup most every year since ww2 ... the four-letter word for the entrance to a coal mine and all the words to ‘Gee Officer Krupke’ from West Side Story. When I lived in the Shenandoah Valley, all my friends rotated their own tyres, detailed the insides of the car, changed the batteries and designed space rockets. I panicked the other day because all the dashboard lights were out ...turns out that my energetic use of armorall wipes had turned a small dial to the left. I went to evil wal-mart to buy car wax, and came back with many terry towels and some Harry Potter lego. I have a masters degree in hebrew literature, and a plastic dashboard bobblehead diva that knows more about carburetors than I do.

We did grow up with a car. It belonged to the synagogue, and my mother was the only one allowed to drive it. My father taught her to drive in his strawberry-pink Nash Rambler with the rusted-out bottom through which you could check whether you were straying into the other lane. When we came to England, he just had to pass the sight test to get a license. “Can you read the number-plate on that car over there, sir?” they asked him. He replied, “there’s a car over there?”

My favourite car was ODH 197K. She was a purple ford cortina estate, and she loved us. She would wink at me through the chrome frame of the passenger window. In the end, she gave her life for us. Driving us home from a summer in the south of France, my mother felt something loose underneath her seat banging up and down. The french mechanic she consulted in Dijon said that to drive any further would cause the car to blow up. But ODH got us all the way to a hotel near Orly airport. We were tired and grateful. As the car was being unloaded, my father put the only copy of the manuscript he had written that summer in a safe place. Later, from the hotel room window, we watched him chasing pieces of white paper across the tarmac. The next day it took us 6 hours to get to Calais, but ODH got us there. We waited in line for the last hovercraft across the channel that evening. The loaders are mathematical wizards. They park the cars in a way that fits the most into the least amount of space. The hovercraft was nearly full, and the man in charge realised that two cars behind us would fit better than dear ODH. As he waved them towards the entry hatch, my father leapt out of the car and stood in their way. We got on. We reached Dover late in the evening, and there it was that ODH died. There was a rail strike going on, and no cars for hire, and as we headed to a small b&b with pink nylon sheets and kippers, I can still see the tow truck dragging her away.

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