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: