by Maurice X. Alvarez
Copyright © 2009 Maurice X. Alvarez
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I discovered Fleetwood Mac in the summer of my twelfth year. That discovery changed my musical appreciation, which as one can imagine, at age twelve was not very discriminating.
It was in that old black 1930s car, forgotten amidst the tall grass in the corner of the lot with the scary dog that barked at all the kids who got too close to the entrance. The ironic thing was this particular corner of the old lot jutted into another lot, once belonging to the Bohack supermarket, abandoned for years when Bohack closed and refurbished when the old Bohack building was upgraded and reopened as a Greenpoint Savings Bank. But during those few quiet years, we children played there nearly all day long. And one particular child, your storyteller, obsessed over that old black car just three feet away, on the other side of the barbwire topped fence, in that lot with the mean dog.
I would imagine that one day, when I was older, I would have a car like that… that car. I would take that car from the lot, after all, its owner had to be dead or close to it. What able-bodied person would abandon such a work of art to the overgrown grass and elements for so many years? I would rescue her from those weeds where the grasshoppers ate and thrived. I would fix her up and she would be my antique.
Then one day, as I peered through the fence, squinting as I tried to catch a glimpse of the ancient interior through the dust-glazed glass, I realized that I could not hear the dog. Curious, I walked around the lot, passed the short side, where we frequently caught the grasshoppers for fun and put them in empty Entenmann's box to keep as pets, and just a little further along the 31st Street sidewalk to the gate keeper's little house. This was a mystery of its own, for no one I knew had ever seen inside, its windows obscured by a clutter of indistinct objects piled along the inside. The little house of peeling gray paint sitting on its slab of spalling concrete most likely dated back to a time when my favorite abandoned car was shiny and new. I was sure it remembered better days, when that shiny black 1930s car rumbled in and out past its gate under its own power. And certainly it remembered that fateful day when the slightly used black 1930s car was parked in that corner of short grass, its motor cooling one last time as its owner walked away, never to return.
How I envied that little house for its memories.
And what did I find this one time as I walked past the little house? The chain was across the entrance to the lot, and the gate keeper and his dog were nowhere in sight. I must have stood there, stunned, for nearly a minute. Tentatively I approached the chain; I didn't trust that the keeper and his dog weren't simply inside the enigmatic little house. I stepped over the chain and peered through the glass-paned door. It was dark inside; there was no one there!
I had only been inside the lot once, maybe twice before. It was one of those places the other kids dared you to go, and that you went into just to prove you were brave. But you always got chased away by either the gate keeper or, more often than that, that mean dog. So it was quite the eerie feeling I had walking there in that lot, making my way past the newer cars toward that corner. Grasshoppers hopped out of the way; things I could not see scurried away as I stepped through the overgrown grass. But I hardly noticed them.
I don't remember those first few seconds when I finally stood within reach of the old black car. I must have been so overwhelmed that my mind has blocked out that memory. But I remember the first thing I did after that. I got right up close to the passenger side door, shielded the glass from the sun's glare, and careful not to touch the glass with my face lest I smudge the dirty glass, I took my first close-up look at the interior. I had never seen the inside of an antique car before, and I remember expecting to find a mess of deteriorated upholstery and corroded metal. I expected cobwebs and insects everywhere. But it was almost nothing like that. It was old and showed its years of neglect, but you could still see the rich brown color of the leather on the seat and dash. And what simple controls!
My eyes wandered down to the door latch. Surely the owner had locked the doors before leaving on that fateful day. But times were different back then, as my eager hand discovered, pulling the latch and opening the door before I was even aware of it. The tires were quite flat, and the car was so low that the overgrown grass made it difficult to open the door all the way. But I was young and wiry, so even a small opening was enough for me. It was so clean inside that I dared to climb in and sit on the passenger side of the bench seat. And there was only a front seat. I studied the old dials and the simple steering column, memorizing everything in case I was never again able to make it back into the lot. I had to commit it all to memory; I had to etch this into my mind so that I would never forget.
As I sat there studying all, I again wondered about the owner. Had he been very old when he'd taken that last drive? Had he walked home from parking his car in his spot in the corner with the short grass and shortly thereafter fallen ill and died? Who had he been? And in wondering, it became my task to find out. I now looked for knickknacks, on the floor, in cracks and crevices. In the glove compartment. I was disappointed to find nothing much of value but a dusty music cassette tape. Time had faded most of the small print leaving behind only the larger bolder print to identify the band and album title. It was Fleetwood Mac. The album title was Rumors. I had never heard of them. I put the tape back, closed the glove compartment and continued my search thinking I'd try the trunk next.
A noise outside startled me, and I realized I was pressing my luck being there inside the old black car, inside the lot that was usually guarded by the mean dog. I had to go before the gate keeper returned with the dog and discovered me there. Realizing that the tape would be my only connection to the owner of the car, I opened the glove compartment and took the tape in my hand once again. I stared at it, warring between my ‘Thou shall not steal’ Catholic upbringing and my ‘This thing's been abandoned for years’ logic. Finally logic won.
With great reluctance I closed the glove compartment and extricated myself through the slightly opened door. I closed the door, crunched through the overgrown grass not remembering that it had been so crunchy on the way in, but then my heart had been pounding so loud, one noise must have drowned out the other. I passed the gate keeper's still dark little house, stepped over the chain stretched across the entry, and raced back home.
I cleaned the exterior of the tape, all the while hoping my dad didn't come home before I got the chance to play the old dusty tape in his player. He would never have allowed it. But the tape looked clean enough that I felt it wouldn't damage the heads.
I was surprised when the tape actually played. And I listened to those sweet, sad harmonies, listened to the pain in the lyrics. And I don't know if it had to do with the source of the tape, or if it had to do with some kind of connection with the owner of that old black 1930s car, or if it was simply due to the twisted emotions of a band in turmoil. Whatever the reason, I was enchanted by the music immediately.
I listened to the tape many times after that until I was old enough to realize that the quality was quite deteriorated. I then purchased the LP, then the CD, the MP3. But no matter the media, whenever I hear those tunes, I'm transported back to simpler times, in the front seat of that old black 1930s car.