Sweetie was driving her family to Our House of Warship one Sunday when she noticed the rattle that had been shaking my car, Shiny Zoom-Zoom, in the ass-end for several weeks.
“What is that noise?” she asked.
“Umm…my umbrella rolling around?”
Sweetie gave me that looks that translates as, “Are you some kind of flaming dumb-ass?”
“Noooooo.” she said. “That’s your car’s ass-end.”
Sweetie takes good care of me so she found time to swing by the body shop and ascertain that, in ten minutes and for few dollars, they could throw a few screws into it and stop the rattle. But that wouldn’t be the right way to do it. The right thing to do would be to leave the car overnight and “wonk wonk-wonk wonk-wonk…several hundred dollars.”
We made the appointment for the last Wednesday in February. This was remarkable because the body shop is also a state inspection site. As luck would have it, my inspection was expiring in February and that meant I could renew it before the end of the month. I was a little bittersweet about this happy accident as I generally get an extra three to six months off of each inspection. I’ve come to think it’s a better value. (Or, I’m just a dumb-ass. You’d have to ask Sweetie about that.)
But I did get to squeak an extra day out of my 2009 sticker. Although it didn’t snow worth a damn around here all winter we got about twelve inches of heavy wet crap that morning. Trees and power lines fell all around us. Sweetie called the body shop on her cell from our cold, dark house.
“Roads are blocked,” said Peggy, the taciturn Yankee who answers their phone. “You can’t get here.”
So Shiny kept her shimmy until we could reschedule. This Wednesday before work we caravanned up the winding road to the shop. I pulled into the side yard and tucked Shiny into the parking space I remember as the last known resting place of Carla, our beloved Honda Civic who met her maker at the hands of those same body shoppers last year.
We met Carla on the Bowery in New York’s Chinatown in 1997. It was love at first sight. We were walking from the Grand Street subway to the basement Vietnamese restaurant at the Bloody Angle where we ate every week. Sweetie scribbled down the number on the For Sale sign and a few days later an earnest young Asian man drove her out to Brooklyn for our test drive.
“Why are you selling it?” we asked, wondering why anyone would let go of such a glorious car. She was small enough to fit into any parking spot; efficient enough to get to the suburbs and back on a single tank. She was six years old: in Honda years, a mere infant. We didn’t know what our future held, but we knew we’d see that odometer roll over 100,000 miles.
“My girlfriend can’t drive standard shift,” he said. He shrugged in a way that said, “Women. Stick-shift. What do you expect?”
We gave each other that look that says, “Is he some kind of flaming dumb-ass?” And then we bought that sucker’s car and drove off into the sunset.
I was thinking of Carla when I walked across the yard to Sweetie’s car. She came out of the office, having dropped the keys with Peggy, and said, “What did you park there for? Park it out here.”
I dutifully pulled the car into the space in front of the garage bay.
“What did you park there for?” Sweetie said as I climbed out of the car for the second time.
Peggy was coming out of the office. “I’ll move it,” she said. She threw it into reverse and backed into the side-yard spot Sweetie had made me vacate.
“Nice driving,” said Small from the backseat. I gave Sweetie that look.
Maybe it was the pain of losing Carla, but we both had forgotten that, in our experience, “overnight" in the body shop translates to “most of the week.” When Sweetie called last night to say we were on our way over to pick up Shiny, Peggy did not answer the phone. Instead, Sweetie got the answering service, and she got really pissy about it.
“Remember that time we brought Carla in?” I reminded her. Carla failed her last inspection due to some wear and tear on her own ass-end. We were told it would be a two day job, but every time we called to pick her up she wasn’t ready yet.
“Why is this taking so long?!” Sweetie exploded when they put us off yet again.
“That hole is really big,” explained the body shopper. “And the filling material keeps catching on fire.”
The service promised to try to reach someone and not fifteen minutes later, Sweetie was on the phone with another body shopper. He was telling her that Peggy should have told her it was a three day job, and she was trying to negotiate a ride to work this morning. That’s when the doorbell rang.
Of course, it was BirthPie.
“We’re trying to get my car out of the shop,” I said.
“Do you need a car?” said BirthPie, handing me a bee-keeping video for Sweetie. “You can borrow my car. Can you drive stick?”
I wanted to remind her that I’m an ass-kicking lesbian feminist and if I can’t drive a goddamned stick shift you should take away my black belt and put me out to pasture. But even I realized that the Big Dyke Around Town thing would lose a little gravitas if I tried it in my mudroom, wearing an apron and negotiating the loan of a back-up station wagon.
So it came to pass that I did my errands in BirthPie’s Safety Mobile. She doesn’t like to start unless you pump the clutch just so, you need a secret password to get her into reverse, and she locks all the doors when you take her out of park. Frisbee’s I survived medical school beads hold the spiritual place of my harmony Buddha, but otherwise, it’s the same car: same pre-sets on the radio, same snack detritus in the back seat, same pollen and coffee stains on the console. I was at the food coop with his car when Frisbee called inviting Small to a concert on Sunday, while BirthPie and Sweetie go to bee-keeping class together.
Yesterday I was chatting with someone at the gym who asked me, “Do you live in the Quirky Mill Town on the Unfashionable Edge of Our County Seat?” and also, “Do you know BirthPie?”
I wanted to say, “Honey, the question is, do you know BirthPie?” BirthPie makes the Quirky Mill Town my village; she makes my life make sense. I might be wondering how I got here from Doyers Street, where my ass-kicking boots went and whether it's Sweetie or me who is the bigger dumb-ass, but to BirthPie, none of that matters. She just lets herself in the back door and saves the day.