Vehicular Homicide

It gnaws at me the way a mouth full of canker sores feels when you’re eating a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips.  With each breath, I inhale the poisonous memories of treachery and betrayal.  The one I have taken in and cared for as my own has absorbed my love and given nothing but pain in return.  I dream of leaving her, but I cannot.  I am trapped.   Moonbeam is the only vehicle I have.

My suburban, Panzer, died suddenly in his sleep a couple of months ago.  I suspect that Moonbeam killed him in some way.  Why she would do that I can only guess.  I don’t see how it could have been jealousy, as much as she seems to resent belonging to me.  I suppose it was simply another way to hurt me, like she delights to do any chance she gets.  She wanted to bring me under her power—to reduce me to a position where I was dependent on her so that she could gloat in my desperation when she refused to work at the moment of my greatest need.

I hope you don’t think I’m crazy for naming my car, but once I discovered that cars are people too, we have named every car that joins our family.  It all started with Herbie, a 1970 Dodge Omni who was, of course, named after the movie star. Even though our Herbie wasn’t a VW bug with a cool racing stripe, he had a distinct personality.

Herbie had a sense of humor.  He would wait until my wife got in and had made it down the road a piece, and then the noise would begin.  It might be a whine, a clank, a whistle, a rattle, or the “1812 Overture”.  Whatever it was, it would scare my wife to death.  She would make a U-turn, and to hear her tell it, barely make it home.  Apparently, Herbie would impersonate one of those little clown cars with the square tires and the comical sound effects all the way to the driveway. 

Herbie knew when I was listening, though.  As soon as he hit the end of the driveway, he would drop the act and start purring like a kitten. This nearly drove my dear wife to tears.  She would climb out, all hot and bothered and beg me to do something before the little fella blew himself up.  Of course, I had no clue what she was talking about, so I would, according to my wife, look at her funny.

“I’m serious!” she would nearly sob.  “I could hardly keep the thing on the road.  It was all I could do to keep a hold of the steering wheel, the vibration was so bad.  And the sound was deafening—like somebody knocking over a steel cabinet full of dinner plates and accordions onto a concrete floor.  And the lights!  Every light on the dash started to flash “Mayday” in Morse code.  Please, George, I’m not driving it another inch until you fix it.”

I’d walk out to find Herbie purring as natural and nonchalant as if he were in the dealer showroom.  My wife wouldn’t be satisfied until I had changed the oil, tightened the belts, changed the spark plugs, cleaned the battery terminals, vacuumed the carpet, and washed and waxed it.  In retrospect I now see that Herbie just wanted the attention. 

For the longest time I thought my wife was hallucinating.  It didn’t help her credibility when she came home one day with a triumphant look on her face.

“Herbie was really acting up today.”

“Yeah, right!”

“I’ve got proof.”

“Proof?”

“Yep, I was driving down the street, and I heard this huge clattering bang.  It was so loud that I knew something had broken.  I stopped and got out, and sure enough, there lying in the road was a big part that had fallen off of Herbie.  It was really heavy, but I picked it up and opened the hatchback and put it in.”

“A big, heavy part fell off?  Was it a muffler?”

“I don’t know, come look at it.” 

Look at it I did, but I wish I hadn’t.  I made her take the part back and put it in the street exactly where she found it.  I think they arrest people for stealing manhole covers.

From that point on I wouldn’t believe her stories until the day she convinced me to try something.  I felt really stupid at first, putting on an act for a car, but women can be really persuasive sometimes.  We both walked out on the front porch where Herbie could see us.  My wife had her purse in one hand and Herbie’s keys in the other. 

“Say, George,” She sang out loudly, making sure to enunciate and project for the benefit of our audience, “I need some things at the store.  I think I’ll make a quick run to town.  Do you want to come along?”

“Oh, no thank you!”  I called, feeling the hot embarrassment creep up my neck, “I am feeling quite tired now.  I believe I will take a nap while you’re gone.”

We kissed, then she climbed in Herbie and started the engine.  I waved goodbye, and made a vast show of stretching and yawning.  Then as my wife shifted into reverse, I turned and sauntered back inside.  As soon as I was out of view of Herbie, I grabbed my toolbox which I had pre-positioned, and raced out the back door.  I ducked through the back yard and sprinted to the concealed vantage point of a thick tangle of brush beside the road.

No sooner had I gotten into position when I saw Herbie pull out of our driveway.  Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as his tires hit the pavement, he began to lurch and hop and squeal like a stuck pig!  I could hardly believe my eyes.  When he drew abreast of me I leaped from the bushes brandishing a wrench.

You never saw a more surprised look on a car’s face.  His headlights opened as wide as basketballs, and he braked so hard, I thought he was going to bury his front bumper in the road.  From that time on I advised Gaylene to carry a wrench with her and show it to him whenever he tried anything. 

Not a sparkplug wrench, or an oil-pan wrench, mind you, but a great big honkin’ wrench like you would use to dismantle the transaxle, or jerk out the head gasket or something.  It seemed to work.   Herbie must have gotten the hint, because after that he settled down and became a sensible, dependable mode of transportation until the arthritis in his suspension system got so bad that we had to put him down. 

We’ve had a few colorful characters since then.  There was Oscar the K-car who liked to spit his CV joint bearings into the snow at 40 below at least 4 or 5 times a winter. There was Clifford the Nissan King Cab who hated wearing windows.  He would take any opportunity he could to find something to knock them against.  I think they made him hot and itchy.  Oh, yeah.  I mustn’t forget to mention Sylvester.  We eventually modified his name to Slyvester Stallin’.  Perhaps you can guess why he got that name.

There have been others, but I don’t think any have been as deviously malicious as Moonbeam, my current rig. You would think a blue Mercury Villager mini-van would have a sweet disposition, wouldn’t you?  Nothing doing!  Moonbeam thinks it’s funny to lock her doors when the keys are inside, but when I’m in Fairbanks and I have a load of expensive stuff, do you think she’ll lock for me?  Noooooo, of course not.

I push the electronic lock button, and she clicks it off again.  I lock again, she unlocks.  Lock. Unlock. Lock! Unlock! Click, click, click, click!  I wind up walking around and manually locking each door, and even then, half the time as soon as I get finished locking the last door—Click!  You guessed it.  She pops them all unlocked.

By sheer determination, I usually stick it out until I win.  The doors finally stay locked.  I peer at them suspiciously for several moments until I’m sure the battle is over, then turn to walk away.  “Honk!”  She just has to get in the last word.

Where the battle really rages, though is in the arena of winter starting.  Moonbeam refuses to run in the cold.  I’ve tried to winterize her, but as soon as she saw that block heater coming, she squinched up so tight there wasn’t enough clearance to install it.  So I bought a circulating heater, but I swear that she reconfigured her hoses to make it impossible to install that either. 

The other day it was a bit nippy.  40 below or so.  My wife took Moonbeam to town, squawking and protesting the whole way.  Moonbeam did some protesting too.  By the time she returned, Moonbeam seemed to have become resigned to the fact that we wanted to ride her that day.  My wife parked her.  Three hours later I decided I had better go start her and let her run a spell so that I could get to work the next day.  Wouldn’t you know it!  Moonbeam had gone on strike.  She simply refused to start.

I drained her oil, brought it in, heated it on the woodstove, and poured it back down her throat.  You would have thought she would have appreciated that.  Nope!  I covered her with a blanket and tucked an electric heater under her chin.  Nada.  I even went so far as to lay on the ground and caress her belly with a heat gun until my fingers froze solid and shattered into little shards inside my mittens.  She couldn’t have cared less.

My love was spurned, and my generosity was crushed under her tires like so much road kill.  If I didn’t need her so badly, I would just drive her into a gravel pit somewhere, drop a grenade into her gas tank and walk away.  But she has me where she wants me. I need her, and she knows it. As much as it pained me to do it, I drug out the kerosene space heater and blasted her down with hot air until she relented.

Perhaps I shouldn’t complain.  I remember the days in Moose Hole when I had to coax Herbie to start.  Every night I would disconnect the battery and carry it in by the wood stove, along with the generator.  In the morning, I’d get up two hours early, haul the generator outside, plug in Herbie, and let his circulating heater work. 

Then I’d slide a piece of stove pipe up under his oil pan and burn a weedburner in the other end until the oil on the bottom of the oil pan caught fire.  That would be my signal to douse the flames with snow, then race inside, grab the battery, hook it up before the oil reverted back to jello, and start him up.

That was a serious pain in the neck, but at least Herbie had a sense of humor about it.  You can’t really stay mad at a car when he’s grinning at you and cracking jokes the whole time.  Moonbeam, on the other hand, is pure evil.  She thinks she’s getting away with it now, but her day of reckoning will come. 

Someday I’m going to come home with a friendly vehicle.  A big vehicle.  Something with monster tires.  I’ll name him Abrams and I’ll tell him about Panzer.  He’ll make Moonbeam his personal parking lot.  Just wait and see.

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