Today, I Wrote Nothing - A Local Icon (or, Boring People Drive Gold Cars)
A Local Icon (or, Boring People Drive Gold Cars)
What I can’t remember exactly is if I had met Gary Arms, my one-time English professor in college, for coffee shortly after I had moved back to Dubuque in the late summer of 2005, a few months after I had graduated; or, if I met him when I was preparing to move away from Dubuque, leaving it behind, in the spring of 2006.
What I can remember is that I didn’t so much ‘meet’ my former professor, but rather, I had to pick him up, because what I didn’t know, and what I learned after we had scheduled this meeting via email, is that Gary Arms did not drive.
Gary was my English professor for two classes during my final year in college—a 20th Century British Literature discussion class. I can remember it became very loose near the end of the semester, and grew increasingly less British, since the final book we discussed was Life of Pi1, which is, to this day, one of the worst books I’ve ever read.
He also taught a poetry class—full of English majors, those who had taken enough English classes to declared a minor2 but never did, and then a bunch of communications and physical therapy majors who were taking the class as a general education requirement. This was the class where, at one point, he referred to Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot as the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg of their time.
We struck up a friendship of sorts—the kind of friendship you could only make with professors when you are in your final year at a small liberal arts college. Gary had lent me a copy of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius because he thought I might like it. We discussed the merits of both the original and the Jeff Buckley cover of “Hallelujah”—I burned him a copy of Buckley’s Grace (he thought the pacing was too slow on the album’s second half, which is a valid point), and for a long time, I had borrowed a Leonard Cohen cassette3 that I was weary of listening to, for some reason, and by the time I did, I can remember not really caring for it.
He was awkward and a little theatrical in his mannerisms. He wore a lot of old cardigan sweaters, as one does when you are an English professor at a small liberal arts college. He had a graying beard and a receding hairline, and if I recall correctly, often futzed with the chalk from the classroom, occasionally placing it in the pocket of his sweater.
Gary lived on a very narrow street in Dubuque—many of the streets in the city are incredibly steep and narrow. When I picked him up for this coffee, the first thing he did was make a comment on the color of my car.
The car—a 2002 Chevy Cavalier—touted itself as ‘champagne’ colored, which is perhaps a nicer way of saying ‘gold.’
A dull, kind of dirty, shade of gold.
With Gary plopped in the passenger seat, I turned around in his narrow street, and began driving toward One Mean Bean, one of the coffee shops I used to haunt frequently during the nine months I lived in Dubuque after college.
As we drove away, he began rattling off some kind of anecdote about the color of cars people drive, and what that says about them. I don’t remember much of what he said now, except that when I asked what kind of people drove gold cars, he said, “boring people.”
There had been a gold car parked in his driveway.
* * *
In 1998 and 1999, when I was learning to drive, prior to turning 16, I learned in my mother’s car at the time, a 1996 teal colored Chevy Cavalier—it had a CD player and air conditioning, and when she had gotten it in 1996, brand new, it was like a revelation for the both of us, in comparison to the gray Pontiac hatchback she had driven throughout my childhood—a car that didn’t even have a cassette deck.
I also learned to drive through the use of the vehicle I would eventually go on to inherit as ‘my’ car—a hulking white Pontiac Trans Sport mini-van—a van I would slowly destroy over the course of two years, beginning with accidentally and carelessly backing up onto a curb and taking out a neighbor’s mailbox. The mailbox, then, in turn, tore off a large portion of gray, plastic siding from above the rear tire.
The destruction of the van arrived in the form of a collision during the winter of my final year in high school—I slowly made my way through a yield sign, and thanks to the amount of cars parked on the street I was trying to get across, did not see the car speeding down it—another teenager, Shauna4 was her name if I am remembering this right. She injured her hand in the accident, and I remember, as we waited for the police to arrive, she said she had ‘stuff’5 in her trunk she wanted to keep on the low.
Within a month or so after that, I had erroneously purchased a used car that had been for sale in the parking lot of the barber shop I went to as a kid—a cream colored 1989 Lincoln Town Car. It was fun to drive, though terribly fuel inefficient, and wound up being a money pit—I said goodbye to the Lincoln mere months after buying it when the transmission6 went out suddenly on the trek back from Rockford, Illinois to Freeport.
A few weeks later, I left for college, and save for the few times I would borrow a friend’s car to run an errand off campus, I gave little, if any, thought to ever needing to own a car again.
When I graduated, I had no job prospects, and moved back home for a bulk of the summer. Toward the middle of August, I had accepted a job7 that would take me back to Iowa—working in Dyersville (home to the actual field from Field of Dreams) and living in Dubuque.
So I needed a car.
I returned home one summer afternoon after having lunch with a small group of high school friends—all also recent college graduates trying to figure out what to next—when my mother told me she needed me to go with her to sign a bunch of paperwork. Unbeknownst to me, a down payment had been put on a previously owned car—a car that was, after the ink was dry, going to be my responsibility.
I signed the papers. It was all happening very quickly, and I was all of 22 years old, so I never really thought, at any point, to ask questions about what kind of car I was even signing up for.
After all was said and done, I stood in the hot, Illinois sun, and watched as the car that was now ‘mine’ was driven up for me to take.
A 2002 ‘champagne’ colored Chevrolet Cavalier—parked right next to the car that my mother was driving at that time, a 2000 ‘champagne’ colored Chevrolet Cavalier.
We each got into our respective Cavaliers, and drove the short distance from the car dealership to the town house where my mother lived.
The car came with a small remote to lock and unlock the doors—a luxury that I had never experienced prior to this. When pressing the lock button twice, it would arm the car’s alarm—when you pressed either of the buttons, the headlights would flash. I imagined that, as I walked toward the car in the morning and pressed the button the remote to unlock the doors, as the headlights flashed, the car would say, “Hello Mr. Matthews,” in the voice of actor William Daniels, who had portrayed Mr. Feeny on the television show “Boy Meets World.”
He also was the voice of KITT on “Knight Rider,” a show I’d never seen, but there were just some things, so deeply embedded in pop culture, that you knew them.
When you’re young, something you do, I guess, is name your car.
I named my ‘champagne’ colored Cavalier Mr. Feeny.
* * *
I don’t remember what the starting mileage was when the car was first purchased, but I drove Mr. Feeny all over the Midwest for roughly 13 years, and it tapped out at over 170,000 miles, reaching a point both cosmetically and mechanically, where it was on the verge of falling apart like that police car at the end of The Blues Brothers movie. The odometer had hit the milestone of 100,000 in late 2009, on a trip out to Menards, which was fitting, I suppose, for the time—we had just purchased our house, which was not in a state of utter disrepair, but needed some work, and that meant daily (sometimes twice in a day) trips to the hardware store for something.
Across those 13 years, Mr. Feeny required myriad repairs—including, but not limited to, new wheeling bearings, probably three new mufflers, two new batteries, new brakes, and at least two new starters—the starter being the last thing that was replaced prior to the car’s unceremonious end.
As the car began to age more and more, when it would need to be taken in to the repair shop, my wife began to set a limit to the dollar amount that we should spend on the work; if it was going to exceed that amount, then we needed to reconsider if it was worth it, or if it was time to start looking at getting a new car.
Every year, the dollar amount continued to drop, but somehow, Mr. Feeny always seemed to squeak by—sometimes just barely getting in under that limit. That new starter put in during the summer of 2018? I took the car in and was told that if it was over $500, we shouldn’t do it.
The repair work was just slightly over $400. Mr. Feeny lived to see another day.
When a series of tornados came through our community in late September, a large branch from the silver maple tree that was, at one time, behind our house (after the storm, it was mostly on top of our house) landed within mere centimeters of Mr. Feeny. While I was out surveying the damage to the house after the storms had passed, I looked at just how close the car had come to being crushed by a large, dense branch—the car lived to see another day, though at this point, not for long.
Mr. Feeny had been in two accidents, and in two fender benders.
The fender benders both occurred while I was driving, and both involved someone ever so slightly tapping into the back of the car—and, as should be expected, both times involved me overreacting—like, not Robert Loggia in Lost Highway8 overreacting, but more than was warranted for either situation.
The first occurred on an evening after retrieving my wife, Wendy, from the job she used to have a number of years ago at one of the colleges in town—this would have been in late 2009.
Northfield is famous for a number of things, one of which is the scent of sugary sweet cereal being manufactured at the Malt-O-Meal9 factory, which rests near the train tracks that cut through the town. The factory itself is on one side of the street, while the employee parking lots are on the other side—there are crosswalks, yes, but no matter how well you try to draw attention to the fact hat there are crosswalks, and that people need to use them, more often than not, I get the impression motorists aren’t very good at stopping to give them the right of way.
On an evening, after picking Wendy up from work, we were driving back home, past the Malt-O-Meal factory when, as we approached one of the crosswalks, I saw someone standing near the curb, wanting to cross the street. It may have been a little abrupt on my part, but there was someone waiting to cross, so I slowed down and came to a stop so they could.
It may really have been too abrupt, or maybe the car behind us just wasn’t paying close enough attention to stop in time, but as we came to stop, and watched the person crossing the street, we felt the minor impact come from the car behind us hitting our back end.
There’s a lot I can’t recall about what happened next—I suppose mostly because I was so overcome with an unnecessary rage. Wendy was pretty shook up, and I think I angrily threw the car in park, and got out, storming over to the driver’s side door of the car behind us. It was full of young people—college students, more than likely, and here I came, lumbering over in the darkness, illuminated by headlights, and the dull glow of Malt-O-Meal’s outside lights.
Here I came, absolutely ready to ruin their evening.
I think I screamed at the young man who was driving the car—if not screamed, spoke in an exaggeratedly slowed down and loud voice. I think every young person in the car was probably afraid, or, at the very least, incredibly uneasy by just how fucking pissed off I was. I think I probably waved my hands around a lot. DID YOU NOT SEE THAT I WAS STOPPING TO LET SOMEONE USE THE CROSSWALK, I more than likely bellowed, among other, more colorful things, into the driver’s side window.
At some point in the conversation, I conceded that I did not see any visible damage to either car, but that we needed to ‘exchange information.’ However, in doing so, I was still so full of blinding rage that, when taking down the young man’s car insurance information, I only wrote down the policy number—not his name, or the name of his insurance provider.
I think about this car full of kids sometimes—I think about how I overreacted, and how I must have appeared to them. I think about how I, more than likely, ruined their entire evening.
But I also don’t care.
The second fender bender Mr. Feeny was involved in was during the summer of 2013, in the parking lot of a Caribou Coffee.
This would have probably been on a Sunday morning, and this time, I was alone in the car. The Caribou Coffee in question has a very unnecessarily congested parking lot, as it is right next to a Subway and a Taco Bell—eventually, the traffic coming out of each business just kind of converges trying to get back to the main road, and nobody is really certain where, exactly, they’re supposed to be.
I was stopped, near where all this traffic often converges, waiting for someone to leave the Caribou parking lot so I could pass through.
Then I felt a slight bump against the back of the car, the motion causing me to lurch forward slightly.
There is, again, not a lot I can recall about what occurred next. I can remember aggressively placing it in park and turning off the ignition—why? I am not sure. I can also remember screaming, to no one in particular, WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK!?! and then, again, pushing the driver’s side door open, and stepping out of the car.
From what I seem to remember, there was a larger vehicle behind me, pressed right against the bumper of Mr. Feeny—a SUV, or a pick-up truck, and there was an older man, maybe in his 50s or 60s, behind the wheel. He seemed befuddled by what had just happened, or perhaps he was surprised that I was reacting in the way that I was.
He claimed that he ‘thought I was moving forward,’ which is strange, since I was in a full and complete stop, waiting for the moment when I could safely pass into the parking lot. This man was on his phone—talking to whom, I’m not sure. It was a flip phone, and he had it cradled on his right shoulder, pressed against his right ear. He eventually brought it down, and held it in his hand, though he never ended the call. The person on the other end, I am sure, heard nearly every word I said to this man.
I said many words to this man.
I said these words with the volume of my voice going higher and higher. I was, more or less, becoming aggressive and belligerent, hurling obscenities into the window of this man’s car. People were beginning to stop and stare—I could tell. I suppose it’s natural, when you are walking through the parking lot of a Subway, and you hear someone screaming WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR FUCKING PROBLEM GET OFF OF YOUR MOTHER FUCKING PHONE, you turn and see what is going on.
Hours later, after this incident occurred, I met Wendy for lunch and conveyed to her what had happened—she was mortified; glad that the car was fine, I suppose, but could not believe I had acted in the way that I had. “What if you see him again?” she implored me.
What if I had seen this man again?
In 13 years, Mr. Feeny had been in two accidents, and in two fender benders—I only really now put it together just how close, in time, that the actual accidents were to these minor incidents that, in the moment, had blown out of proportion.
* * *
I joked that Mr. Feeny, as a car, died doing what it loved—being an absolute burden to me. The unceremonious end began on a Saturday afternoon.
I used to go home quickly over my lunch break, so I was headed back to work, when someone began creeping out from behind a stop sign when they did not have the right of way, and I had to suddenly slam on my brakes (followed by angry honking10, hand waving, and saying, out loud in my car, What The FUCK?!?!.)
Mere blocks later, I needed to slow down in order to turn left, and I found that it, suddenly, required a lot of effort to bring the car to a stop; like, I needed to mash down on the brake pedal with both feet.
This is strange, I thought as I parked the car and started walking back to work. What was wrong now?
I found this situation hadn’t magically righted itself during the remainder of my shift—nor did it overnight, as I found when I left for work on Sunday morning, when I had to throw all my weight down on the brake pedal, pressing it down to the floor.
At some point, I noticed the ‘BRAKE’ light was illuminated on the dashboard; in referencing the owner’s manual, it stated that if you were having severe difficulty braking (it described the situation I found myself in perfectly) and the ‘BRAKE’ light had come on—you needed to take the car in immediately to have it serviced.
I continued to drive it until Wednesday.
I took the car into the mechanic11 we’d been using for, like, seven years, and as graciously as I was able to, explained the circumstances with the difficulties braking, and that after they assessed what, exactly, the problem was, to give me a call with the prognosis—the budget for keeping Mr. Feeny alive was very, very low, and both Wendy and I wondered if this, in fact, was it.
This was, in fact, it.
The mechanic, more or less, took one look at the car, and called me back, telling me I needed to come down and retrieve it; upon retrieval, the lengthy list of problems currently facing Mr. Feeny was rattled off to me—the trouble with the brakes was due to the fact that the brake lines were incredibly rusty, and the force of suddenly braking to avoid an accident had broken them. There was, as I had also anticipated12 but did not say anything about, yet another problem with the exhaust system.
Our mechanic continued to tell me all of the issues beleaguering the car, but I think I kind of stopped listening, only hearing it was going to costs thousands and thousands of dollars to replace and repair everything that was wrong.
For unrelated matters, I was aware that Mr. Feeny—a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier, with over 170,000 miles on it, was worth, on average, according to the Blue Book website, $253.
I thanked our mechanic for humoring me, as he had so many times in the past, and slowly walked back to where the car had been parked; I carefully drove it back home, backing it as far as I could toward the very far end of our driveway. I removed as many of my personal effects as I could—the old first aid kit from the trunk with long expired ointments and aspirin, worn-out maps, et. al—then I got into our other car, what I commonly had been referred to as ‘the good car’ for the last three years, and I drove to Target, buying a heavy car cover—a body bag, I guess, that I would bungee cord down over Mr. Feeny’s dull, ‘champagne’ colored frame.
I emailed our insurance agent and told him to remove the car from the policy.
* * *
We lasted about nine years as a one-car family. It meant that one of us had to be okay with being dropped off and picked up, and the other had to be okay with the one doing the dropping off and picking up.
Sharing the car became more of a logistical hassle in 2015, when Wendy had become more involved in the regional theatre community, and had rehearsals in the evening in a neighboring town—about 15 minutes away. She couldn’t always lean on her friend who was also in the cast as the one to drive the carpool.
This was when I was still writing for the local newspaper, and I found myself, more and more, being assigned to, much to my chagrin, cover evening events.
Wendy’s brother had just gotten a new car—done all of the research, etc—and bought a Ford Fiesta. We thought, if it was good enough for him, it was probably good enough or us too, and in early August, 2015, we became the owners of a new car—a black Ford Fiesta.
Our house has what is apparently called a one and a half car garage; it means it’s big enough to fit one car comfortably, with room to move around on all sides—but, it’s not quite big enough to fit a second car. This mean that Mr. Feeny was ousted from his place in the garage, relegated to the driveway at night, exposed to the elements, which, in retrospect, certainly contributed to the expedited speed of his inevitable demise.
* * *
Rest in piss. 2005-2013.
Before I indefinitely sealed Mr. Feeny in the car cover, I took a photo of the car’s back end—covered with old, faded bumper stickers. I captioned it ‘Rest in piss.13 2005-2013,’ and posted it on Instagram. Like so much of what I put out on social media, it didn’t get very much traction in the way of interaction. My friend Parker was the only person to comment on it—“A local icon.”
The car, and therefore I, more or less became identifiable over time by the stickers I had placed on the back end. The bright red lettering that demanded you ‘Kill Your Television,’ or to ‘Fight Primetime—Read A Book.’ The two Radiohead stickers—sun bleached from having been on the car the longest. The large, purple rectangle with white lettering that read World Leader Pretend—advertising an obscure and almost forgotten rock band I was obsessed within 13 years ago. The vegan propaganda—the PETA sticker on the back window, the ‘Love Life, No Matter Who Whose’ sticker from the Herbivore store in Portland—same as the ‘Wings Are For Flying, Not Frying’ sticker.’ The large white rectangle on the bottom left that said ‘My Rabbit is Smarter Than Your Honor Student.’
The worn, red sticker on the bottom right for ‘Dogs Against Romney.’14
The Sub Pop Records logo sticker just under the curve of the trunk—a sticker, probably sent to me with one of the countless records I directly ordered from the label, that always opened itself up to a conversation with someone in town who told me (on multiple occasions) how he, at one time, was roommates with Bruce Pavitt.
At one time, there was a sticker that said ‘Just Married’—a reference to the 2007 Chuck Palahniuk novel Rant15; the sticker was available as a promotional piece from his publisher. I think out of any sticker I’d ever put on the car, this one caused the most confusion, and there was only one person16 I had ever encountered who understood the reference.
Sometimes the stickers only got me dirty looks for a middle finger thrown my way in traffic; sometimes they were conversation starters—usually conversations, much like the one about Bruce Pavitt, I just didn’t want to engage in.
I started putting stickers on the car shortly after I had left Illinois, and moved back to Dubuque. It was christened with a small, square sticker for the band Team Sleep17—I had been hanging onto the sticker for years, and thought maybe it was finally time to put it on something. It wasn’t meant to last, however—I don’t think it was designed to be exposed to the elements.
Sometimes I think I started putting stickers on Mr. Feeny so the car was easy to find in a parking lot—for a time, champagne colored Cavaliers were very popular. Mostly, though, they were just an extension of me—advertising bands I liked, or promoting views I had.
It was an extension of me that was a one-way street. I didn’t want to hear about it if you really liked television, or thought Mitt Romney was a viable, respectable Presidential candidate; I didn’t want to hear about it if you took issue with veganism or animal rights; I didn’t want to hear about it if you thought Radiohead were overrated.
I didn’t even want to hear about it if you agreed with me.
I am a boring person driving a car that, because of its color, looked perpetually dull and dirty.
I am a boring person with opinions—who wants to share those opinions—but I do not want to engage in any way.
* * *
For a number of years, when we were a one-car family, and even after we had acquired the second, ‘good,’ car, my wife and I worked similar schedules—I would drop her off at her office, and then venture on to my own. When I left the newspaper, and started working at the co-op, my schedule—my entire week, really—changed, and it required some adjusting on our part.
Before his unceremonious end, even with bald tires and myriad exhaust issues, Mr. Feeny would still get me the mile between our home and work, and that’s all I really needed the car to do. I drove such a short distance because I start work early in the morning (6:45a) and because, when our companion rabbit Annabell was still living, I would come back over my lunch break to check on her, and give her an early afternoon treat.
Before sealing Mr. Feeny in his car cover, in removing much of the clutter that built up over the 13 years in various parts of the car, I found a pair of off-brand coveralls in the trunk. Brown duck in color, they were apparently left at a truck stop somewhere in America, found by my mother, and then given to me—to be used if I was ever in some kind of emergency where I was stranded, and cold. At the time they were given to me, I couldn’t quite zip them up all the way, but my weight has fluctuated enough over the last decade that they, quite literally, are now the perfect fit.
Even after Annabell passed away, I still came home over my lunch break—usually to start a load of laundry, or to take just a few quiet moments while inhaling whatever leftovers I had set aside in the fridge.
Now, I inhale my leftovers someplace quiet at work—an unoccupied office somewhere at the back of the building.
The sun isn’t up yet, but the walk to work is always the easiest. I’m tired, sure—sleepy, but I am not yet physically exhausted. If I keep moving, it takes roughly 15 minutes from the time I lock the door, to the time arrive at the employee entrance.
It doesn’t take long, maybe a week or so, before my co-workers figure out that I am no longer driving. Some of them put it together after they see me in the building, but no longer see Mr. Feeny—a local icon—parked somewhere nearby.
When they ask, I give them an abbreviated version of the story—“The car is no longer safe to drive,” I say.
My walks to work open up unexpected areas of engagement—and nothing, about me, has changed. I still do not want to engage in any way.
Someone asks me how long it takes to walk—I say 15 minutes. “That sucks,” they respond. “That’s, like, a half hour of your day you can’t get back.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, you should get a bike,” this person continues.
This is a very unhelpful conversation, and I want to tell them that a half-hour of my day, taken up by a walk to and from work, means very little to me. I want to tell them that nothing really matters and we all die alone.
But now is not the time for depressive nihilism in the workplace.
Other co-workers begin to treat me differently, or at least, speak to me with a different tone in their voice—a tone that implies concern over the fact that I am now walking to work. A tone that implies I am some kind of delicate flower, incapable of being able to carry myself the mile between my home and place of business.
“How was the walk this morning,” they ask, with a strange, unnecessary somberness built into the question. I always say that it was fine.
“Still walking to work,” they ask, as if it is some kind of burden I must bare. I always say, yes, I am still walking to work.
I tell them it provides me with a time for silent reflection.
The tail end of autumn, and early stages of winter, is not the best time to suddenly begin walking to work. The weather can be unpredictable—unseasonably warm, or bone chillingly frigid. The coveralls, awkward to get in and out of, help block the chill in the morning, though lead to being overheated by the end of my shift, at 3 p.m.
When it begins to grow colder, I order a ski mask with an incendiary message18 patched onto it, a suitable pair of winter boots, and an inexpensive, thicker winter jacket.
I buy a larger set of headphones to wear over my ski mask—the mornings provide a time for silent reflection, yes, but as I reflect, I prefer it to be accompanied by ambient droning or rap music.
We wonder what the odds are of remaining a one-car family. We somehow survived for nearly a decade with one car—we could probably do it again.
There’s concern about the cost, sure, of taking on another car payment—but there’s also the question of necessity. Do we really need another car?
Wendy asks if, when the time comes and we are ready to adopt companion rabbits again, if they will really want me, or even need me to come home and check on them, every day, over the lunch hour—or, if this was something I had started doing in effort to curb my perpetual anxiety.
I’m not sure how to answer the question.
I concede it was a little bit of both.
* * *
During the 13 years we drove Mr. Feeny, the car was involved in two fender benders, and two full blown accidents—one relatively minor, the other, much more serious, specifically because of the circumstances surrounding it.
The first occurred on a Thursday in early December of 2009; the first day it snowed—Wendy was driving the car when it happened. She was trying to exit a parking lot at the college where she was working at this time, but she put the car in drive, one of the campus snowplows happened to come along the right side of the car—tearing off a third of the front end.
She wasn’t hurt—just shook up by the accident itself. We paid our insurance deductible toward the repair, and Mr. Feeny, after roughly a week, was returned to us. During the interim, we were given a Prius as a loaner car—a luxury neither of us were used to. It was fine—just a source of temporary stress and a hassle.
But, perhaps, two weeks later, after we were slightly rear ended by a group of college students, maybe this accident is why I reacted as vehemently as I did.
Have you ever been in a car accident?
It happens so quickly, but even as it’s happening, your brain can slow it down and process it fragment by fragment—and, for me anyway, it always seems to begin with thinking, “Maybe this isn’t actually going to happen.”
It most definitely always actually happens.
The second accident we were in with Mr. Feeny was on a Saturday morning in mid-May of 2013, maybe about two weeks after I had unloaded on that unsuspecting older man who I encountered in the Caribou Coffee parking lot.
There was a time, from 2012 until 2015, when we lived with two companion rabbits—Annabell, and her sister Sophie. Her actual sister; her littermate. They were a bonded pair.
On the Friday evening, Sophie was not well—not eating, or just eating a bite here and there, and seemed to be uncomfortable. Rabbits are considered to be exotic animals to the veterinary world—our regular vet, at the time, was a sizable car ride away, and finding a 24-hour emergency clinic that would treat her would have been difficult.
We’d decided that if she were not better by morning, we would take her in to our regular vet’s office right away.
We had barely left town, and gotten onto the highway to travel from Northfield to Bloomington, Minnesota, when the sky turned gray, and it began to rain. Already driving slowly and anxiously because of the sick rabbit in the backseat with Wendy, the rain made things worse.
We weren’t very far up the highway at all when I felt Mr. Feeny begin to swerve on the wet pavement; I braked, perhaps too suddenly, and tried to correct what was going on, but it didn’t work.
There was a moment, after I had lost control of the car, that I looked at my wife, sitting in the back seat. Our eyes met—our faces, both stricken with fear; neither of us said anything, but I thought, “Maybe this isn’t going to be so bad.”
Maybe this isn’t actually isn’t going to happen.
We spun off the road, and landed, rear end first, into the ditch.
This is a story that I don’t like thinking about—or telling—for a lot of reasons.
We, eventually, were towed out of the ditch—a rear axle was bent because of the impact—and we were able to get Mr. Feeny to limp up the highway a little further, at the suggestion of the tow truck driver, to a repair shop19 right off of the next exit.
Mr. Feeny could be, and would be, eventually repaired, and after a series of unfortunate and tense events, that continued to escalate, Wendy’s brother came to bail us out, and drive us, and our sick rabbit, to the vet.
Sophie wasn’t any better by the time we arrived, but the veterinarian on duty20 that morning was unable to find anything obviously wrong with her. We were sent on our way, with a prescription for a digestive motility drug, and eventually, within a day or two, she began recuperating.
This is a story I don’t like thinking about—or telling—for a number of reasons.
For a long time, I struggled with being on the highway, and driving by the area where we had gone off the road. And there were moments, in those last two years before Sophie passed away, where I would be sitting with her, patting the top of her head while she rested, and my mind would begin to wander, taking me back to that day—and I would, more or less, relive the accident. I would see the look of fear on my wife’s face, I would feel disoriented and dizzy from thinking about the car spinning around on the wet highway, and I would think about how everything shook upon impact.
I would think about all this, and an awful, tight feeling would grow inside of my chest.
* * *
I’m not a ‘car guy’—I’ve never been one, and I don’t think at this point, I’m capable of that.
I don’t know how much horsepower a car has; I don’t know how many cylinders the engine holds. I don’t even really like driving all that much—but it’s a necessary evil, I suppose.
I’m a boring person who drove a gold car, covered in bumper stickers that advertised my opinion, though I didn’t want to engage in anyway.
I drove the car long enough that it, in a way, I became synonymous with it. Mr. Feeny, whether it new it or not, and whether I wanted it to be considered one, was ‘a local icon.’
It’s not like we’ve taken absolutely perfect car of our newer car21—the ‘good car.’ The day we received the license plates for it, it was also christened with a barrage of stickers—a vintage Radiohead sticker from 2001 that I bought off the internet; a white oval promotion our love of The Notorious B.I.G.; a white rectangle that demands equal rights for rabbits; the Supreme logo, set against a bright red background.
We’ve had the Ford Fiesta for four years now, but it’s not synonymous with me—not yet, anyway. Maybe it’ll never be. Maybe it’s because my wife sometimes seems to use it more than I seem to.
Or maybe even after four years, it’s still too new to become synonymous—to be ‘a local icon.’
Maybe I don’t want it to become a local icon. Maybe I just want to advertise my opinions, and be left alone.
In the morning, on my walk to work, it’s quiet. It’s not like I’m the only person out, though—a number of cars will pass me along the way. But it’s quiet—it’s still. It can be peaceful. It’s especially quiet, and peaceful, if it’s just snowed. There’s a beautiful, introspective silence that comes along with the snow; it’s really like nothing else.
Despite how much disdain and frustration I felt for Mr. Feeny, especially in its declining years, there is are memories—a sentimentality, I guess—both good, or at least important, and bad—very bad, that are still attached to the car.
I tell people that I used my walks to work as a time of silent reflection22. Maybe, I should use those 15 minutes I now have, five days a week, and try to learn how to let go, or at least process. The sentimentality—those memories, good and bad, attached to a rusting, decaying piece of machinery, wrapped up and left at the end of my driveway.
Unlike the expired first aid kit or worn out maps found in the trunk, those memories are not as easy to sort through and throw away.
1- Life of Pi was written by a Spanish-born Canadian. It’s also a terrible book.
2- I believe there were a number of times when one of my English professors had encouraged me to declare an English minor, but I passed—one of the many decisions I made in college that I now regret.
3- I do not recall which Leonard Cohen cassette it was.
4- If I am remembering who it was correctly, Shauna now seems to be really, really into car racing at the local race track in Freeport, Illinois—I stop short of saying this is ironic.
5- Probably beer—I didn’t press her for details.
6- My friend Trale spent, like, a whole day under the car with me trying to swap out the transmission with one we bought at a scrap yard—it got the car running, kind of, but it still didn’t fix whatever the real problem was.
7- This job was doing wedding videography (among other things) for a company that was more or less a side hustle of this very eccentric appliance salesman. Like the job itself, he was horrible, and the nine months I spent doing this are probably worthy of its own literary exploration.
8- There is a scene in Lost Highway when Robert Loggia is out for a joyride and becomes irate at another motorist for following too closely.
9- Malt-O-Meal was bought by Post Holdings in 2015, so the sign on the building says “Post,” but it will still always be Malt-O-Meal to me.
10- I arrived at this point in the story and realized it may look like I have a bit of road rage. I would say that I don’t, because I’ve, like, never run anybody off the road or followed someone to their destination to berate them about something—but maybe I have some unchecked anger I need to work on behind the wheel.
11- Even though we had been using the same mechanic for a long time, I always left with the vague impression that I was, somehow, being taken advantage of.
12- The car regularly had issues with its exhaust system, specifically in recent years. I think sometime in either late 2016 or early 2017, there had been some exhaust work done. You could always tell when there was a problem—I mean, I had been driving around with the ‘check engine’ light on for a long, long time, but also, the car became loud as shit because there was more than likely a hole in the muffler. Again.
13- The expression ‘Rest in Piss,’ while it has gotten me in some trouble in the past, is mostly a joke that I picked up on the internet somewhere; it’s also the name of a song from Brotha Hung Lynch, from his Season of Da Siccness LP.
14- Dogs Against Romney was a social media campaign launched by someone who was outraged over that at one time in his life, Mitt Romney had strapped the family dog, in his crate, to the top of their car, and went speeding down the highway on a vacation. The dog had become ill with fear and anxiety—the crate was covered in shit by the time they stopped. Romney thought this story was funny. The person running the campaign wanted to let people know that Mitt Romney was, in a sense, a remorseless animal abuser.
15- Rant is about a lot of things, as many of Chuck Palahniuk’s books are. I think it’s about nihilism (but of course), as well as time travel, and an underground society of people participating in late night demolition derbies. It was one of the last Palahniuk books I bothered to read before I realized that he is not that great of a writer, and more than likely a problematic person.
16- This was a punk rock teenager named Ella, who I met while I spent a year of my life working at a youth-run youth center. This year, as expected, deserves its own verbose personal essay.
17- Team Sleep was the one-time side project of Chino Moreno, the frontman for the Deftones. Their record, original recorded in 2001 or 2002, leaked onto the internet, and the entire project was scrapped for a few years, before the songs were re-recorded, and additional material was generated, for their one and only album, released in 2005. The project, to my knowledge, has been dormant for a number of years now.
18- The mask is from an underground clothing line called Fuck Your Lyfe, run by a Coney Island, New York based rapper named Nems. Every week, he drops a new, limited edition design, stitched onto snapback hats or sweatshirts. He occasionally has other things too, like yoga pants (for the ladies) or the ski mask I happily ordered.
19- The name of the repair shop in question is Parks Auto Repair, in Elko New Market, Minnesota. I would strongly discourage anyone from ever going to this shop for any reason, and six years later, the anger I have never been able to let go of over how I was treated there bubbles up to the surface every time we pass the exit for Elko New Market.
20- The vet on duty was a woman who we had not worked with before, despite having taken our rabbits to this clinic for just over a year. She was, apparently, not incredibly confident in her abilities, as she spent a large portion of our visit attempting to coax Sophie out from under the chair she had chosen to hide underneath.
21- For what it’s worth, we named the new car El Chapo; I call it Yung Chop Chop.
22- This is a reference to a joke in the first season of “True Detective.”