When I was 18 years old, I purchased my parent’s 1967 Cadillac sedan deville for $500. It was a massive car. The front grille, bumpers and trim were all made of chrome. It looked like a mobster's car with a huge trunk for, you know, "dead tings". It was a bit rusty all around the wheel panels but I had it fixed up for a new paint job. I wanted to paint it black like a mobster’s limousine, but my parents insisted that I have it painted the original sea-foam green. I eventually agreed and it was done. There I was; a skinny teenager driving around in a great big Cadillac. I looked like a member of the Peter Pan crime family.
I could hardly afford to buy gas for the beast, so repairs and maintenance often included used parts and duct tape. I wasn't mechanically gifted. When I got really stuck, I called our neighborhood friend, Jimmy, to help me. Jimmy was a teenage mechanical genius. Imagine "Doc", the professor from Back to the Future, as a very happy teenager and you'll have a good picture of Jim.
On this wintry afternoon in December 1977. I was having problems with my car restarting after it had been running a long time. I needed to go on a very important errand so Jimmy came over straight away. He takes one look at the motor and says “I can fix that for ya”. He removes a spark plug and, presto, the car starts. Although it sounds like an old tank chugging along “lug, lug, lug"
I didn’t know a car could start without one of its spark plugs; let alone that it could run too. Of course, we couldn’t put the spark back into the engine while it was running. Even if we could, we had somehow lost the spark plug in the operation. I was running out of time so I asked Jimmy to come along on my errand in case the engine exploded or something.
My car needed gas and I needed to return a ring that I had purchased for my future ex-girlfriend. So during a typical northern New York snowstorm, Jimmy and I head for Boardman’s Catalog Store in Queensbury. It was Christmas time so the store parking lot was jam-packed full. I decided to circumvent the hassle of parking and pulled up to the storefront. I jumped out and told Jimmy to sit tight, but “…move the car if you have to”. I wouldn’t be long.
I was at the counter, dreaming about a full tank of gas when a frantic woman comes running into the store screaming, “Help me! Some maniac just ran into my car and took off!”
“What kind of car was it?” someone asks. “I think it was a Cadillac” she says. I didn’t panic yet, I mean; what are the chances that Jimmy had to move my car? Jimmy is a very capable driver. There are plenty of Cadillacs in the world. Yup, I was screwed.
“What color was it?” someone asked. Then, a Christmas miracle, “I don’t know,” she says, “I’m color blind.
" Hmmm", I thought, "maybe I am innocent".
I looked outside to the parking lot. Jimmy was definitely gone. Everyone else was looking towards the parking lot too; no sign of a roving Cadillac. I decided I should leave the store. I asked the clerk if he could finish my refund. I felt like a spy standing there while the store manager and the lady discussed my car. The guilt was terrible. How could I confess my role and surrender my friend? The clerk began counting out my money, “Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three…” My head was bobbin’ up and down in rhythm. The ring was cheap; it would be over soon... or so I thought.
Then, straight out of the Stephen King demonic car novel, I hear the growing sound; “Lug, lug, lug, lug, lug, lug, lug”. “AAAAH, THERE IT IS!!!” screams the lady as if Godzilla had put his face up to the store glass. I turned around to see my Cadillac sitting directly in front of the store. I was dumbfounded. I cunningly motioned for Jimmy to leave. The car sits there defiantly “Lug, lug, lug”. I thought perhaps my car was actually possessed. Was Jimmy dead inside? The store lights mysteriously reflected off the car windshield preventing everyone from seeing the driver. If there was one! In fact, the entire car glowed in a reflective light that made the color indescribable. It was ominously evil as it stared back at everyone.
Trying to remain inconspicuous, I motioned again with a jerk of my head and a thumb pointing left as I quietly mouthed, “Go… go”. The store crowd feared the demonic car might try to ram the store and kill us all. Some began to hide in the back of the store. Others were much braver and approached the windows to get a closer look at the mirrored beast. The exhaust from the 8-cylinder engine created an evil cloud around the tail. The front end was tilted left and steam was rising from the chrome grille like hot breath pushing through its giant teeth. It snarled at the onlookers in disgust. The scene was surreal among drifting Christmas snowflakes. Still, a few brave patrons inched closer and closer, some holding shovels and tools like an angry mob.
Suddenly, the monster roars with increasing volume, “LUG, LUG, LUG...”. The front end of the massive machine lurches upward. The crowd jumps back gasping in fear. The rear tires spin rooster tails of snow. The back end begins to fish-tale like a giant alligator thrashing its way across the storefront. With surprising grace it weaves between parked cars and out to the main road. The giant fin taillights make for a blazing red trail as the monster disappears into the darkness. The entire store is silent. Slowly, the frightened emerged from their hiding places.
It was only a matter of time before the patron detectives would figure out the car had returned for someone in the store. It was about to become a very biased whodunit with me as the primary suspect based on my age, my lack of transportation, and the fact that I was entirely guilty. My Peter Pan mobster days were over. I was going to jail.
“Think” I said to myself. I had to leave the store before the police arrived. I couldn’t be an eyewitness to my own car. I knew I would crack at “Hello son...”.
The store was returning back to business surprisingly quick. I made it to the parking lot (as if going to a car) without anyone stopping me. I eventually made it to the main road and found a phone booth across the street.
None of my friends were home. I had to call my parents soon or freeze to death. I thought up a great story that Jimmy had dropped me at the store and then went to get gas and… he must have run out. I made the call home.
Moms always know when their kids are lying when they give more information than is asked for. My mom calmly asks “Why didn’t he go to the gas station across the street and isn’t that where you’re calling from?” Rats! I was at the gas station. I hadn’t thought this through! I had to come to grips with the situation quickly.
“Mom, I’m cold." I said in a shivering voice, "Can you just come and get me?"
It was a brilliant. Moms can’t stand to think of their children suffering; it’s something instinctive… like lying is for kids. “I’ll be right there” she replies. As I waited, I began to build my story around Jimmy’s disappearance. I was going to say Jimmy must have went someplace to get money. Okay, that was it.
My mom arrives 20 minutes later. “Then where is he?” she asks, “Why don't you wait for him at the store?” My brilliant story was unraveling. “I don’t know” I kept saying, “I think he forgot me.” The fact that Jimmy was occasionally absent minded like most geniuses, the zaniness exhausted my mother and she stopped asking questions. We headed for home. The silence was comforting, and short lived.
“Okay, I see Jim here walking along the road”, says my Mom.
“Mom, that's impossible”, I replied.
How, you might think, could she possibly recognize Jim from behind, in the dark, in a snowstorm? That’s easy to explain: Jim walked like a happy orangutan.
My mom pulls up to him, “Jim, are you okay?” she asks.
Happy as always, he replies, “Oh, hi Mrs. Newell, I'm fine, how are you this fine evening?” Jimmy was adored by all adults. He was a handsome kid, great smile, always chipper and always willing to help others.
“I’m fine” she replies. “Where’s my son’s car?”
“Oh, it’s back there someplace; she ran out of gas” he explains. Well, it seems I was telling the truth after all.
“Get in Jim” she says.
“I think we’d best get that car some gas” Jim says laughing, “I got her parked in somebody’s driveway.”
“Whose driveway?” says Mom.
“I don’t know” replies Jim, “I wasn’t about to ask” laughing again. My mother laughs too.
I didn’t think any of this was funny. My Mom brings us to the abandoned car. I was surprised to see my car was completely undamaged. Steel chrome was great stuff in those days. My mother instructs me to march up to the house, knock on the door, and explain the situation to the homeowners. Me? I had trouble knocking on doors on Halloween – this, no way. Mom points to the house, "Go" she says. The housewife listens to my story and has no empathy whatsoever. She yells at me instead.
“You’d better get that car out of our driveway before my husband ‘gits’ home!!!", she screams.
I thought to myself, "Geez, what is wrong with her?" and then I ran off.
I became terrified. That “husband gits home” threat has a profound affect on skinny teenagers. I begged my Mom to drive us home. I didn't want the car anymore. She insisted we wait there while she would fetch a canister of gas. It was the longest 20 minutes of my life, which I thought would end soon. My mom finally returns and we are out of there before the child-beating husband man arrives. Exhausted, we arrive home. Jimmy explains to me that he didn't know that he had hit anything at all, but when the mob formed, he decided to split for a while.
After a sleepless night of overwhelming guilt... and story building, I contacted Boardman’s Catalog Store in the morning to ask for the lady’s phone number "having pertinent information as to the events of the prior evening". I called the woman and confessed my entire story; how I left a "partially retarded person" in my car while I was at the pharmacy next to Boardman's getting a prescription filled for my sick mother; how I spent the entire night looking for my car; and how, after I found my frightened friend, that he explained his panic and running away. Realizing that I was teenage idiot (and she likely didn't have teenage children), she accepted my story as the truth and asked what I was going to do about the dent in her car. As it turns out, the damage was far less than what I had imagined. Jimmy jumps on the phone and says “Hi, this is Jim. I can fix that for ya.” The lady is instantly enamored with the wiz-kid mechanic (not realizing he is my imaginary retard) and agrees to bring the car to Jim's home-garage. Jimmy patches up her car as good as new, except... one of her spark plugs went missing.
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