"to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee." --Ahab, captain of the Pequod
We were young in those days and light of resource, but we lived as the storybooks said and were in love, thus oblivious to time's great arrow. The depth of our privation was not measured in anguish, but in the resourcefulness with which we adapted to having little. We would make due where others had failed. We were not going back to live with our parents.
My car was a 1973 Mercury Marquis Brougham, a frigate of an automobile requiring all the legendary torque of the Ford 460 cubic inch V8 to accelerate from zero to twenty five miles per hour in less than a hamster's lifetime. It got eight miles to the gallon of gas and the brakes were worn to the metal. Yet, it served to the bitter end despite rust, poorly set points, and numerous ill-conceived modifications. If the seats of that car would rise up from the scrap heaps of Kearney, New Jersey to speak they'd tell stories that would send your fair narrator running screaming into the night.
Alas, we shall not tarry our attention upon that winsome steed but focus instead on the vehicle the woman brought to our burgeoning conjugality. For this vehicle was forged in the fires of Satan's heart--a machine whose planned obscelence blossomed at the end of the assembly line. Surely, God abandoned us the moment my nubile young bride took possession of the 1972 vintage Ford Maverick.
It was the color green adopted by bodily fluids in fermenting repose atop a blistering sun-baked street. In those days cars were sometimes capped in vinyl, and this was no exception. But we were never sure the color or texture of the roof as designed in Detroit for it had become saturated with the spores of a firm New Jersey cheese mold and had rotted away leaving the appearance of a vehicle capable of contracting leprosy. My young mind feared the good Lord himself could not have fixed that roof, and as Christ had chosen not to visit the Jersey shore for several thousand years I took to it with an ice scraper and removed the last vestiges of vinyl and cloth liner leaving bare metal and rivet holes (which only decayed more rapidly in the summertime rain).
When you're in love, your conveyance's appearance is less relevant than its ability to transport your bones and blood to Denny's for a Grand Slam breakfast, or to work to make a wage upon which in hallucinations one might support themself.
And lo! It was in the bottom of dark winter the Maverick's brakes decided to stop functioning and to assume a condition not reparable by those whose chosen profession could be called "mechanic" of things not accursed by the Lord. Though they accepted our dollars, the Ford's brakes would not function correctly.
As resourceful youngsters we learned to make creative use of the parking brake while in motion. And when that failed eventually, as all things must, we resorted to throwing the transmission into Park at red lights and any time a quick stop was required.
And now the pawl. There is a pawl in the transmission whose sole purpose for sharing existence on our planet is to engage the power train so as to prevent the rear wheels from rotating when the shift lever is moved to the PARK indicator. It is the breaking of this small piece of machined steel to which I refer when I state that the time came when God in his infinite wisdom determined the conveyer of the Maverick should no longer have the power to compel the vehicle to come to a halt.
And because we were in love and having sex multiple times per day we drove the unstoppable Maverick anyway, becoming even more creative with our usage of the public works to stop the car. We scraped guardrails and drove on the shoulder.
And there was always reverse.
The last days of the Maverick were destined to become part of the immutable Akashic Record. One day I yearned to take advantage of the new phenomenon of home movie rental, and drove 10 miles to the only place in the vicinity, scraping the Maverick along the divider strips to bleed off speed.
I was standing in line at the check out counter, several movies in hand. The Maverick was parked in a seemingly level parking lot, its rear end pressed gently against a lamp post to prevent it rolling down what I thought might be a one percent backward grade.
While I stood in the queue, my very own mother burst into the store. Our eyes met. She grabbed my forearm and dragged me out of the store, pointing to where she had last seen the Maverick. She had seen the empty car moving across the lot and knowing only one unstoppable Maverick to be licensed for use in the continental 48 United States and its owners penchant for movie rental, knew where to find me when she pulled over and ran.
Alas, the car was neither resting against the lamp post nor where my mother had seen it as she drove by on the highway in front of the video rental outlet. What I thought was a one-percent backward grade turned out, through the illusion of optics, to be a two-percent forward grade. Now the laws of physics and the devil had taken possession of my snot-green vehicle and like a character from a terrible Stephen King story, were impelling the driverless car's mass across the parking lot with increasing speed.
We recoiled in horror when after several hundred yards the Maverick plowed into a large white Cadillac head-on with force that by today's standards would have set off the airbags in both vehicles.
I quickly moved the Maverick away from its Cadillac kiss, and after assessing the absence of damage, drove back home without movies, firmly resolved to rid myself of the vehicle at the first chance.
The car sensed my anguish. Immediately, the timing chain snapped. After two rotations of the cam, the car spurt blue-hot gas flames through the valve covers, out the grill, and through the slots in the front of the car where the hood met the fenders in an imperfect seal.
Now I chose to abandon my dear wife's flaming car as it rolled down the highway, but finding no viable mechanical means to bring friction to bear on my forward progress, my only choice seemed to be to leap to my death at fifty miles per hour. That might hurt more than the explosion.
Because I was young and presumed I could survive the inferno, I didn't do it. I stayed with the smoking car until we reached a Sunoco station. The mild upward grade slowed my movement until it came to a halt as excited Sunoco gas jockeys bolted from their seats in the office, screaming in fear I'd bring the car close to the pumps and take out most of eastern New Jersey in one titanic ball of flame.
Dear one, this did not happen.
For the Jersey Shore remains a summer destination, and your earnest narrator is still alive. And it was not God's will the Maverick should be burned to cinders thus relieving me of ownership or concern for its whereabouts. By divine will my burden was to continue.
After several days the Maverick was repaired in some way. The timing chain was fixed and some amount of stoppage was returned to the braking systems (after the mechanics plowed into the rear cinder-block wall of the garage, not having been warned the car had no means to slow. They did not charge me for that damage, but in the time-honored New Jersey tradition of neighborly behavior, requested never to see me or the vehicle again unless I desired my descendents or archeologists to locate my remains in a shallow grave in the pine barrens.)
The car behaved well for a short while, and my wife and I took it upon ourselves to indebt ourselves to banks to purchase a "house" (topic for another story). We decided we would use the Maverick in the moving procedure, and several of my friends filled the Maverick with incidentals and deigned to transport the incidentals and themselves to our new home to help unload the rental truck I drove.
Alas, it was upon the Garden State Parkway several hundred cubits south of the Raritan toll that the Maverick's alternator belt, previously melted and weakened in the fire, breathed its last and catastrophically delaminated, sending wire and rubber bits all around the engine compartment. Feeble connections to the master cylinder were damaged, and the brake fluid leaked so that in the few moments before the engine came to a complete halt for lack of spark, the Maverick was returned to its natural, unstoppable condition--to the consternation of my well-meaning friends who had urged the car to fifty-five miles per hour.
They managed to pull over, scraping against the median rails to slow themselves, but came to rest somehow with some of the car's wheels still in the legal parkway operating area.
Realizing the truck behind them was not going to stop, they vacated the Maverick, hurtling their bodies into the weeds beside the road as the passenger-free Maverick was rear-ended in a low-speed collision.
No one was hurt. But in these days before cell phones it took some hours before my friends, my slightly crushed belongings, and de-bumpered Maverick were located beside police cars and pick up trucks.
Yet the accursed vehicle survived.
What is it about frequent sex with one you deeply love that causes logical, well-meaning people to make decisions so clearly inferior the youngest llama would kill itself laughing to hear it said?
We had the Ford repaired to the point it could be "driven" under the definitions of conveyance, which include stopping and starting under the will of a specific, state-licensed human being. We thought we could trade it in, as if one could trade Lucifer's mother for blue book value of greater than zero dollars. We purchased a replacement car and endured the salesman's cackling at the idea of taking the Maverick. And so we had both the Maverick and a brand new Volkswagen Rabbit, that despite its economical status was so superior in its response to driver control we began to realize the precision to which a car could be motated was far above what we'd been acclimatized to expect.
Eventually, the Maverick decayed due to our neglect and one day a neighbor suggested the "eyesore" be removed from the street in front of our house or we might find it reduced to flaming rubble or worse, our invitations to the Labor Day barbeque would be recinded. I replied that I was hoping it would become "stolen" so I could report it so to the authorities. My neighbor contacted car thieves who assured us our Volkswagen was a better target. Thus we decided not to have the car stolen for fear that the thieves' aim would be less than accurate and we'd find ourselves relying on the devil for transportation. (In those days, planned theft was an option to northern New Jerseyans.)
One day we came upon an ad in the Star Ledger newspaper. The ad stated that the man would pay fifty dollars for ANY car. Underlined. When I called him I asked him if upper-case, underlined "ANY", denoted a strict interpretation of the word, and were vehicles that actively attempted to injure or kill their occupants included?
He said they were, but depending on the condition, the price might be slightly less than fifty dollars.
When he showed up with his flat bed truck he told he wanted twenty bucks to get the car away from my house. I told him the gas in the car was worth more than that, and so he gave me five dollars and I handed him the title and registration.
When he drove away I felt the divine grace of God once again illuminating my life and my new wife and I celebrated by having sex on the kitchen table.
Dear reader, you might expect, even hope, the story ends here with two lovers fucking happily in their little rabbit's nest. But fate is rarely kind to lovers and New Jerseyans.
And so it was only two weeks later the phone rang, and with no small measure of distress I found the voice on the other end to belong to a detective from Newark who was investigating a string of robberies in that city.
It seemed the perpetrators of the crimes had been known to drive the world's only unstoppable bile-green Ford Maverick with scraped off vinyl roof. They had been spotted scraping along parked cars and pedestrians trying to bleed speed while escaping the scene of several 7-Eleven robberies. The police had impounded the vehicle and located us through the license number on the registration sticker on the windshield, which in my glee to rid myself of my Satanic machine I had forgotten to remove.
Had I been involved in any crimes lately? And if not, had I sold my car to someone who was--because at the moment we were the only lead.
It was at this time my wife and I stopped having regular sex. After being interviewed by the Newark city detectives we wondered if our lives weren't cursed. We reevaluated our life-altering decisions. Our marriage. Our home and auto purchases, our decision not to take a larger policy on my life.
We stayed married, had children, and moved to California.
Our luck changed for the better.
But I would be untruthful if I was to make an oath swearing I never expected to be called one day and held responsible for some evil perpetrated by that accursed vehicle.
For it will resurface someday--
--which is why I sleep with a harpoon next to my bed.