Not a whole lot happened this year, except, of course, with my car. It was a 1965 Rambler American that I had to get rid of about three months after I got married, in February, when I found out my wife was going to have twins. We were in the radiology department of the Kaiser Hospital on Zion Street, Jane lying more or less naked on a table with light blue jelly smeared over her abdomen, and the sonogram technician passing a wand back and forth over her, the sound waves bouncing around inside and casting through the gadgetry these ink-blot images of the inside of her body, and spreading them over a TV screen in a wiping motion like blades across a windshield, when the technician, who hadn’t said anything for ten minutes, announced quietly, “I see two babies in there.” I looked at Jane and she looked at me, and both of us felt this unearthly surge of love and surprise, and we knew right then and there that for the rest of our lives, God willing, we’d be needing a four-door.
Luckily Jane’s best friend had just come into a used Mercedes diesel from his dad, and had a ’67 Plymouth Signet for sale. It had good tires and the radio worked, so we bought it. For the first time in my life I owned more than one car. Three cars are what l owned: my Rambler, the Signet, and half of a 1978 Fiat sedan, by marriage. One morning I picked up the phone to talk to my insurance agent about a fleet rate, but Jane told me I was crazy and made me promise to sell Whiplash, that is, the Rambler, so named for its jouncy suspension and lack of headrests.
It’s pretty amazing what one year can do to your sense of transportation. As I sat in my office-garage, composing the text of the classified ad for Whip, I mused on how only one year before I’d been living alone in a bay-view apartment, my life compactly organized in integers of one: one bedroom, one tea ball, one television, one car parked on a one-way street; one night a week, Jane would come over in the Kissmobile (the Fiat), and we’d have dinner and take a long walk through Hillcrest, looking at the houses. Then, at Christmas, she’d said that she was tired of our meaningless relationship, and that if I didn’t want to marry her then at least we should see a family counselor and find out what was going on. (Sooner or later they always want you to see a counselor, the premise being that when something is wrong with the relationship, it will surely be improved if only the man will try to explain his feelings to a professional listener, who, while being careful not to affect adversely the man's input with un-constructive feedback, such as laughing or thumbing through an issue of Quest, finally leads the man to admit he’s screwed up, and whatever happened, it was his fault, but the fault can be corrected if he’s willing to join in the process of working it through.)
Actually, going to a counselor was helpful. Jane and I, who had never quarreled, got to quarrel politely for three or four sessions, which got us in shape for the title bout one night after a sullen meal at Figaro’s. Returning to the Kissmobile, I tried to lighten things up with a joke about the Fiat’s dependability, which skidded and hit the wall in flames (the joke did, I mean), and then I said that her recent demand of marriage was, to me, worse than a trap; it amounted to her raping my future to satisfy her social lust, to which she replied by throwing two pumpkin pies in my direction from the window of the car and driving off.
I made it home in forty minutes and banged off the walls for a while. So I was incapable of love, eh? I was going to spend my old age alone? That witch! I fetched up the phone and told her to get her pert self ready because I was coming over to lay something on her she wouldn’t forget. Which was: a deal. We’d get married if, and only if, she never ever made me walk against my will again.
I reluctantly finished the classified ad and turned it in. I remember its every word:
SURFMOBILE. 2 dr. Rambler American. Runs fine. Surfrack included. $200.
All kinds of calls came in. I nearly sold it to the first guy who came out, only because he looked a little like my brother (or how my brother used to look), with his ponytail and Buck knife and this wallet about the size of a dictionary chained to his left hip pocket. But he didn’t like the way that Whiplash sounded between the idle and the middle r.p.m.’s, and addressing me with his very blue eyes, he said that he was looking for a car to fix up and sell, and he might end up putting too much into this one so no thanks.
The next guy was neat and beefy, asked me to call him Frank or something, and had a teen-ager with him who never said a word. I took them for a ride around Golden Hill and gave them an honest sales job. I showed how the gear shift knob came off in second unless you were ready for it, and told them how the engine sounded kind of bad between the idle and the middle speeds. Frank offered me $150 but I was ready with my line about the wife expecting twins and all. We shook hands on $200 cash and I signed it over. I’d bought that car for $250 five years before from a Navy brat in Bonita who had shown me all the receipts for the work her dad had had done on the engine, and then for some reason she’d started to tell me about the affair she’d been having with her gym teacher at Southwestern College, and how he was married and what a mess she was making of her life. Man, I hated to see that car go. Next week in the paper I saw an ad:
TRANSPORTATION. Rambler American. Runs fine. 24 m.p.g. Cheap. $475.
Two days later a woman called to say she’d just bought a car from a man named Frank, who’d said I could tell her what kind of oil to use. I asked her to describe the car. Then I asked her if this Frank had done any work on it. Then I told her it was partial to Pennzoil 30 weight, and hung up, and screamed. Jane thought this was funny, but then (and I hate to say this about someone I love), when it comes to cars, she is not a sensitive person.
Well, everyone asked me how I liked the married life, and I said it was nice to be on Jane’s dental plan, and to have major medical coverage, but that the real pleasure was to go down in the morning and find that your sweetheart had filled the tank. Of course, every marriage comes across a distressing lump or two, and we discovered our first when I was unexpectedly offered a job at the University of California at Los Angeles, where I had earned my master’s in car culture. My thesis advisor wanted me to be his assistant at the sociology department’s new Institute for Exhaustive Studies. On the positive side, it would mean a salary increase of one thousand three hundred percent, and on the negative side, lung damage. Jane analyzed it and decided that she could handle the lung situation with the right kind of clothes. But I put my foot to the floor and said there was no way I could live in a city whose dips didn’t compare to what we had right here. New York has potholes, LA has traffic jams. Here, the golden mean: more dips per linear mile of surface street than any other Western Block city. You’ve got your Ebers Street in Ocean Beach, your Meade Avenue in Normal Heights, your G Street downtown. Fantastic. It’s exciting and I want to be a part of it.
So, here we are. The bambini — Nova and Malibu — were delivered in mid-July, and we had their nursery and car seats all ready for them. Life with children is different from any other style of living, because whatever you do, you always get to the drive-in late. A few months ago we loaded the Twinmobile (the Signet) and went to Del Mar to see For Your Eyes Only and part of Tattoo. Nova conked out in back (she’s a good kid as long as you keep her topped off), but Malibu started screaming unconsolably. She didn’t want her bottle, didn’t need a burp or a change. I tried to reason with her but that didn’t work, and then I lost my temper. It seemed there was nothing to do but walk her around outside and talk about downtown redevelopment, which, for practically everyone, has a calming effect.
It’s strange, you know, walking back and forth with a baby in the deserted front row of a drive-in. The faces on the screen look like Mt. Rushmore and the noise from all the speakers is soft but omnipresent, the way crickets would sound if they all turned into people reading screenplays. Malibu settled down when I explained about tax-increment financing as a debt instrument for the shopping center construction, and I could feel her breath against my neck, and every once in a while she’d raise her head and let it fall against my shoulder.
For Your Eyes Only was at the part where 007 and the girl were in a Citroen Deux Chevaux and were being chased by the killers in a Mercedes sedan. I have ridden in a Deux Chevaux and so I know a little of what James Bond and the G-girl were going through. The gear shift is weird; it comes straight out of the dash and has an upward bend in it, like the peg on a coat rack. As chase scenes go, this one didn’t show me anything beyond The French Connection, except the details about harvesting olives, but for some reason I enjoyed it more than any other sequence of a movie I’d seen in twenty-five years. If only I could git that feeling back. My baby was with me, she was healthy, and I had a wife, and another baby, and a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, and the insurance was paid on both cars. I suddenly felt bad about having renamed Jane’s Fiat “Fix It Again, Tony.” I guess I had just, for a moment at least, found peace. Nineteen eighty-one — the year my new wife said, “Well, if we buy a big color TV, then we won’t have to go to the drive-in. We can park the car in the living room.”