By Jack McCarthy
The cars I drive
don't look like much I will admit,
but mostly they've got engines that won't quit
this side of a nuclear explosion.
The Shitbox Mystique: when new friends
point at dents, concerned, and ask,
"What happened to your car?" I answer,
"It was like that when I bought it."
When I met Carol she was driving
a pretty good car,
except for the air-conditioner,
which used to make the engine overheat.
Carol also brought into my life
her son Seth and her mechanic, Peter ---
that's another feature
of the Mystique,
becomes part of your family,
we see more of Peter than we do of Seth,
we invited him to our wedding ---
though I'll admit, Peter wasn't actually
in the wedding and Seth was.
Now Carol likes nice things,
but what with college bills and all,
a couple years with me
and her blue Subaru
went downhill fast
and I got to see a new
side of her, that her idea of a good day
is breaking down outside a gas
Eventually her engine started
overheating even without
the air-conditioner; in fact
the only way to keep the temperature
out of the red zone on a hot day
was to turn the heat on.
I don't think Carol's mother
ever really bought
the unlikely physics of that
I think she thought we were
trying to make her and Ed
go home to California.
When you've got
two people driving shitboxes
you get to make some interesting decisions ---
like which one to take to Connecticut.
One has no windshield fluid
because the plastic thing leaks
and Peter hasn't been able to find
a used one that fits;
the other has something really scary
going on with steering...
but we take it anyway,
because on the map
the road to Connecticut
looks pretty straight.
Sometimes I get home from work
and Carol's ecstatic.
"Jack, I met the most wonderful
towtruck driver today. We towed
the car to Peter's,
and he brought me back
all the way to the door.
We had the most incredible conversation!
He's a very unusual person."
Right, Carol; like you're not.
A couple years with me she's on
a firstname basis with every
towtruck driver in Middlesex County.
Triple-A has us on speed-dial.
One time we were driving
somewhere together and she reflected,
"You know, if your first marriage
had worked out better, you
wouldn't have been available
for me. And vice versa."
I thought what a classic she is,
the miles look good on her.
But both of us came as is,
with dented fenders, and random
detritus in the trunk, and I said,
"It's as if we both broke down
outside the some gas station
at the same time."
And she smiled
and then she laughed,
and then we both laughed,
a long soft asynchronous laugh
like the ticking of an engine it will take
a nuclear blast