Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Nana's Car

Sometimes I feel the need to embarrass myself, so here I present a completely true and highly humiliating story from my awkward teenage years...

Fresh out of high school, I was seventeen and living with my mom--sharing a bunk bed with my eight-year-old brother. I didn’t have a job or car, or much of anything else on the horizon. The real world I’d been preparing for was proving to be a fog of daytime reruns and late nights out with friends.

I had few worries as I drifted through those long summer days. My main concern was whether there would be enough milk left for my cereal and ducking that Navy recruiter who’d gotten a little too pushy after all of my waffling.

With so little going for me it was quite the amazing feat how I’d stumbled upon a girl. She was still in school, a shaky driver, and finding ways to see each other usually entailed a series of coordinated efforts that would befuddle any decent NASA comptroller. 

Most of our time was spent on the phone, and this was the mid-nineties so by phone I mean a real phone with a line in the wall and everything. This took some deft maneuvering, because my girlfriend, who we’ll call Allison, wasn't allowed to take calls after eleven.

To further complicate matters, by eleven my hyperactive little brother was finally sleeping off the demons, and as stated, this was before cell phones, so I couldn't risk waking a sleeping beast with a ringing phone. Never to worry, I came up with a work around.

Around eleven I would dial up the Jenny Craig hotline, (yeah, I’m not kidding here, there was no limit to my affection for this girl, and sitting through testimonials while waiting for that sweet, wondrous call-waiting beep tells you all you need to know about my dedication). The plan was nothing short of genius, so I thought. Then one day—and again, this is completely true—a concerned “weight loss consultant” called the house to discuss the desperate cry for help reaching out at 11:06 every night. Would that person like to speak to a representative? Mom shot me a look. It was on to the Flowbee hotline after that.

But through it all our relationship progressed, or progressed as far as a bus pass and a bike would allow. Each and every very weekend carried with it the thrill of a rendezvous at a dead end street with bored friends who were growing tired of being used.

I was quite inexperienced when it came to girls. In every way. Emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Especially physically. And with all of our plans involving other people, it seemed destined to stay that way. But desperation inspires ingenuity, and as any Jenny Craig consultant could tell you, I was desperate. So I put my underutilized and hormonally amplified brain to use. I came up with a plan that didn't’ involve weight consultants or hair products.

My grandparents were church-going, respectable people. But more importantly they owned two vehicles. A vehicle meant freedom, and freedom was ringing.

My grandparents agreed to lend me Nana’s car for a date. It makes me shudder now, thinking back to Nana picking me up in her unassuming little Ford Tempo for my date with destiny. Papa had it cleaned to a shine, although I don’t think that was for me, he just kept it that way. The interior was as spotless as ever. Grandma’s breath mints, a pen and notepad, maybe a bible study guide in the backseat. Did that give me pause? Please, I was devoid of pride or shame. I was a guy planning to get lucky in the backseat of his grandmother’s car.

I set off on my journey, adjusting the seat and mirrors. My grandparents waved from the bay window. Maybe I waved back, maybe I was mortified. Either way I was an idiot.

Even without experience, I knew that I needed…you know, something. So my next stop was the grocery store. Along the way my mind shifted with nerves and anticipation. My heart raced, my palms moistened—actually I think that was just Papa’s Armor-All on the steering wheel. But I was a mess of nerves by the time I pulled in the lot.

How did this work? The whole buying condoms thing? Later I would learn to scope out gas station bathrooms—finding the ones that sold those and all sorts of other blush inducing things out of vending machines mounted on filthy walls scrolled with some grammatically horrendous messages.

But back then I wasn’t privy to such discretion, so after a pep talk in the Tempo, I summoned the courage to enter the store. Like I said, I’d worked myself over with embarrassing scenarios. What if I saw someone I knew? A teacher or preacher or an aunt or uncle? I guessed that an uncle would give me a wink and a light punch to the shoulder, but still, why hadn’t I gone to the outskirts of town for this little quest?

Inside, the store hummed with Friday evening activities. But I may as well have worn a t-shirt that read: Where are your condoms? I stood stock-still, like someone who’d just landed from Virginopolis. But where would they be? Medicine? Maybe. Household Supplies? Not likely. Feminine Hygiene? Gulp.

After a few shaky laps around the store I found them in an aisle crammed with Friday night shoppers. I wasn't about to just waltz on over and scoop up a box like I had any idea of what I was doing. Instead I staked out the aisle, thumbing through a magazine until it was clear. Time crawled. My forehead grew sore from worry. Then, just as the coast cleared, I made my move.

There was no time for browsing. I strolled past with a whistle, snatching the first box of Trojans without breaking stride. I tried to blend in, play it cool. But I couldn’t just put them up on a counter for all the world to see. I needed cover. The magazines. Yes, that’s it. I went back for the Sports Illustrated. Nothing sinister going on here, nope. I rolled the magazine over the condoms and headed for the front.

The wait was torturous. And every time I saw a familiar faces enter the store I found something mesmerizing on my shoe sole. Days passed. I neared the cashier praying that there wouldn't be a price check.

When I set the box down, under the magazine, the cashier hardly paid attention. Or maybe she did, or he did, I was so rattled by then that a Yeti could have been ringing me up and I wouldn't have known the difference. I wasn't making eye contact or even acknowledge that other human beings were in the store or existed at all.

Sweet Success. All that was left then was the deed itself. My steps quickened, my pulse raced. I would soon enter the territory of Man. I would no longer blush when guys talked about, you know, stuff. I would naturally relax. My brain would work normally. I had a lot hinging on that night.

I jumped in the car and turned the key. My mind was a kite in the wind, floating between euphoria and adrenaline. I put the little Ford in gear, the car that took my dear Nana to church and to luncheons and fellowship meetings but tonight would become a vessel of immorality.

I hit the gas, looking ahead and away as I drove over lines of empty parking spaces, closing the fertile ground between me and my fate at the shortest possible route. No more waiting. I had to get there…

The impact jostled me from my glorious visions. Everything was lost in seconds. Well, not everything, my virginity stayed intact. But my planning, my courage, my timing, all of it evaporated in a wrench of metal.

I don’t remember the make or model that smashed into Nana’s car. That so abruptly changed the course of my evening. I can’t recall the person who came around the corner, following the traffic laws, perhaps thinking of a grocery list or how they needed more skim milk when a madman in a gold Ford Tempo shot out like a comet of lust.

I hopped out of the car, stammering and reckless. Maybe if things hurried along I could be on my way.

Yeah yeah, insurance information, address, Nana’s good for it. Now look, if you don’t mind disengaging your bumper from the fender I need to be on my way...

But there was damage. Headlight damage, fender damage, the other car’s front grill was hanging off the bumper. An officer arrived and I stood there, pimple-faced and slumped. The condoms in my pocket a burning reminder of all that was lost. Any hopes I had with that back seat were off to the salvage yard.

I made two calls. The first to my girlfriend. The plan was off. Yes I'm fine. No, I don’t mind if you make other plans. Then I called my grandparents.

Papa arrived. I apologized. He understood. Insurance would cover it, he said. We rode along in silence, an absorbing silence that amplified the inner nuances of the engine and the sharp clicking of the turn signal. I turned to the window, sinking as we passed houses and traffic on the way to my mom’s house, my excitement swallowed up in the muggy warmth of the night.

At home, I shuffled towards the townhouse. It was dusk and the sun lent a sort of jaundice glow to the apartment. Through the kitchen window, I saw my mother at the sink, shouting over her shoulder at my brother making a fuss in the other room. She was getting tired of our arrangement. Of my lounging around. Soon she’d get cranking with the get-a-job talk. She’d start small, passive aggressive-like. A bus schedule carefully placed on top of the classifieds. But I still had a month until I was eighteen, so I headed up the stairs, where I climbed into my top bunk to sulk.

I still had a few hours to kill before it was time to call Jenny Craig.


  1. Oh gosh. What a great story. I love your honesty with your readers opening up on this moment of your life!! Can't wait to read more stories! Have a good weekend.

  2. Thanks, yeah, twenty years and I still remember it all. What an idiot!