The Stupidly Sentimental Loss of a Car

 If I were a car person, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a shock when my reliable Chevy Prizm died. Not died in the sense of “needs a jump,” but died in the sense of “funereal bouquets and little catered sandwiches.” A car is a tool, in the broad sense of the word, and since I live in the country, it’s a necessity. A means to an end. It’s a mass-produced machine, not a work of art, and many identical cars are still on the road.

And yet, the moment that large, expensive machine stops working evokes all kinds of weirdly sentimental feelings. Even for someone like me.

The Chevy Prizm was in truth a Toyota Corolla sold under the Chevy name. My car had a couple Chevy logos slapped on the outside, but like a contrived TV show situation with a masquerade ball and mistaken identities, it wasn’t fooling anyone. Are we supposed to believe that the characters legitimately can’t recognize each other because they’re wearing slim, sequined carnival masks (I’m looking at you, Gossip Girl)? As if they don’t have recognizable chins, noses, body types, or that black trim running along their doors? “LOOK, I HAVE A GREAT DISGUISE. NO ONE WILL KNOW I’M A COROLLA, HAHA.” My first Prizm even said “Toyota” on the cassette player.

The characteristics of a car map conveniently to one’s own personality. Our stuff forms our identities more than people would like to admit. More than I would like, anyway. My Toyota Corolla definitely a Chevy Prizm was the car of a practical person who doesn’t give a shit about brand names, and sat in the same category as my cell phone and my old laptop: things I always said I would keep until they broke (which I did), rather than getting new ones just for the hell of it. In my car, you could see my personality and my socio-economic status.

You could also see a large dent in the side where I accidentally threw a log at my car because there was a snake one time.

Over many, many hours of life, my view of the world was literally framed by the shape of my car’s windshield. I’m not going to go into depth on that, because that’s verging into post-modern territory, and Here be Dragons and Opening a Can of Worms*. Still, there’s some subtle effect.

The nine years with my Prizm feel like eleven; my first car was also a Prizm, and met it’s fate after some awesome teenagers (So full of life! So awful at making left turns onto a busy road!) barrelled into me. The insurance money allowed me to upgrade to a second, slightly better Chevy Prizm (CD player! 4-speed transmission!). As long as I’d had a car, I’d had a Chevy Prizm.

Nearly every adventure my partner and I went on over the course of eleven years started the same way: fresh cups of iced coffee, a new mix CD or tape, and time spent packing everything into the Prizm. We went places in the Prizm that car advertising will tell you are reserved for owners of Subarus and SUVs.

The Prizm saw me through different phases of my life, from

The creepy writing is appropriate because I was married on Halloween.

commuting to school to working second shift and living in my first apartment. I drove it to Boston’s green line twice a week to take a copyediting class at Emerson College, which was probably the first active decision I have made in my life. I spent the first few car rides trying to breathe and listening to music while my anxiety and dread over the claustrophobic subway tunnels revved inside me.

I’ve eaten meals (and “meals”) in my car and taken naps. I’ve driven to dreaded doctors appointments and job interviews, and spent extra minutes in the car “just to finish this song,” even though I had it on CD. I’ve screamed angry depression screams in the car as I drove so no one else would hear me.

Mechanics always told me, “That car’ll rust out from under you before the engine dies!”

Well, the engine died.

When the mechanic told me, I made one last mix CD to play in my Prizm, which I had been told might last a few more weeks, or might die on the way home.

Like someone watching a story of their life, I actually did cry on that last ride, with that last mix CD, as I told myself in a self-consciously narrative sort of voice that I knew my old, reliable Prizm would get me home one last time.

I wasn’t wrong.

For two-and-a-half years now, I’ve driven a green Corolla. It’s practically the same car, only cleaner**. Once again, it’s easy to forget that I ever had another car. My grieving process for my old car only lasted so long; I may have been attached to the Prizm, but not install-human-brain-in-the-engine-so-it-will-keep-on-living attached.

Sometimes I see the Prizm in pictures from long ago adventures, or from my wedding, or am reminded of it when a friend loses a long-term car. And because this is all more emotional than losing a mass-produced vehicle which I owned solely for practical purposes should ever be, it’s like seeing pictures of a fun cousin that I haven’t seen in a long, long time.


*And the dragons would just fry the worms into crispy fried-onion-like topping, probably. Green bean casserole? Hell yeah.
**While my Prizm was famously a huge mess, my Corolla won a bet for its cleanliness:

Chicken coop makeover

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Real afternoon shadows mingling with painted shadows beg the question “What in our lives is really real? Is life just a shadow on the wall of a chicken coop?” Right?

Our flufforaptors have grown into sleek, russet-feathered chickens. They aren’t fully grown just yet, but it was time for them to move out to the coop. After extensive online research, I learned that moving chickens to a new home fifteen minutes away is generally a five-hour process, and you should expect to spend most of that time attempting to lure them into a cage with chive flowers and lentils because picking them up is impossible.

Oh wait, that’s just what we did.

But first, I spent some time earlier this week tricking out their coop.

Initially, we painted the coop a light blue color that I’m told is “colonial blue,” whatever that means. It came from a one-gallon can of Home Depot Oops Paint—the paint that is returned to the store, and then has extra pigment added so that no one can run an awesome Home Depot Oops Paint Scam with their friends.

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“Yesterday we lived in a cardboard box. Today, we have our own three-by-eight foot coop. It’s the American dream.”

Anyway, I painted weeds on the sides, just in case anyone didn’t know that my partner and I (any my mother-in-law, whose house the coop is at) are all kind of hippies. I based the design on a typeface called Aierbazzi, which has drawings of meadow weeds instead of letters. The drawings stack together so that a word becomes a single clump of weeds rather than one letter-drawing after another, all in a row.

To get the color, which I wanted to look like shadows on the side of the coop, I mixed black paint in with the coop’s base color. We’re all happy with how it came out, but the chickens don’t care. They’re basically just happy that their new home has plenty of interesting structures to fly on.

As it turned out, I gained some skills at picking up chickens. My partner and I were so pathetic at getting them out of their box that we actually googled “how to move chickens,” followed quickly by “how to pick up chickens,” because we needed less advanced information. Then, after one of our failed efforts to lure them into the cages with flowers (yes, exactly like a five year-old might do), one them them escaped.

Quickly and firmly, as this blog suggests, I scooped her up and yelled, “Grab a box!”

Dan freaked out, and we had what was probably a really stupid dialogue:

“What do you mean? What box?”

“A box. Like a box. Cardboard!”

“What box? What box?”

“A box! A box! A box with flaps.”

In the end, that was how we moved them all to their new home. The first few times I tried to grab the other chickens, they freaked out in a crazy flurry of flapping wings and scattered pine shavings. That made me freak out, and I’d let the chickens get away. But I kept telling myself, “quickly and firmly.”

Don’t let their freakout become your freakout. That’s the other thing I learned. It’s probably a good strategy for dealing with people too. Thanks, flufforaptors.

Flufforaptors: on having baby chickens

Baby chickens turned out to be fascinating, and I didn’t expect that.

Baby chickens in a box

Classic milling-around-before-we-do-something-insane baby chicken behavior.

Despite being on board with keeping chickens as part of a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, I’ve always kind of viewed chickens as fairly dull farm animals. To be fair, I had spent very little time around flesh-and-blood chickens. That just changed. My partner and I have had baby chickens for nearly a week. We’ve spent much of this time suffering from something called Chicken Hypnosis, because that’s what we named it. Chicken hypnosis occurs when you try to do a thing, but are unable to because you walk by the chicken box and end up staring at their antics for twenty minutes.

After five days of Acute Recurrent Chicken Hypnosis, we’ve learned a few things about baby chickens.

Baby chickens are baby dinosaurs.

The idea that chickens are descended from dinosaurs is something I’ve heard people talk about a lot the last few years. Within a few hours of having chickens and watching how they move and function, my partner and I agreed. They are totally dinosaurs. He nicknamed them Fluffosauruses, because they are indeed adorable, fluffy, vicious little monsters. I like Flufforaptors, because they do kind of move like velociraptors.

Of course, this is all kind of dubious. We can watch the chickens and say that they move how dinosaurs move, but our idea of how dinosaurs move comes from Jurassic Park and various documentaries. And for all I know, they based their ideas on how dinosaurs move on the movements of living birds.

Baby chickens are fast.

Back to that velociraptor comparison. For some reason, I imagined that baby chicks would bounce around like fluffy little anime monsters. Maybe I didn’t actually know what chickens were before we got them. I didn’t even realize that I’d imagined them moving this way until I saw them dashing across their living area, tearing up the mulch behind them with their little talons. Once their wings started coming in, they began to use them for extra bursts of speed. Which is so cool to watch.

Baby chickens do not give a shit that you named them.

Or at least that you named the three of them you can tell apart from the others. Maybe when they’re older, they’ll learn what their names are. Human babies take awhile to learn their names, after all. But I also think that chickens just don’t give a shit. You named us Suntop, Redbeak, and Chickotay*? That’s beneath us. We’re the scions of dinosaurkind, and we’d basically eat you if you weren’t three hundred times our size. Or something. We’re chickens. Counting isn’t our forte.

Baby chickens are a mosh pit.

The chickens sleep in a clump, something I’m told they’ll do until they’re older and learn to roost. At various times during the day, they nestle into clump formation and take what I can only assume are power naps. Other times, they’ll bundle together and just kind of mill around. Then one of them will jump into the group and disrupt the whole thing, and basically, it turns into a mosh pit.

awful baby chick illustration

It also does my vector graphics skills no justice. I want those five minutes of my life back.

Finally, this picture does baby chickens no justice.

They may have been little balls of golden fluff for the first couple days, but they still had cold reptile eyes and pointy little talons. Like many of my favorite creatures, both real and fictional, they are both cute and vicious. Chickens in a yard tend to eat bugs. At two days old, they ate** a bunch of ants I kidnapped for them from the garden. Any sort of cartoony illustration of Easter chicks is really just a caricature. Especially if there’s a bow involved.


*Speaking of Star Trek Voyager, chickens can live longer than Ocampa.
**Or at least brutally murdered.

Painting the way

Even though I enjoy exploring the woods beyond the beaten, dog shit-lined path, I like trail markers.

Maybe it’s simply the sight of a colorful splotch of paint on rough tree bark.

Maybe it’s the secret code aspect of trail sign, bits of twigs arranged in symbols and arrows, miniature rock cairns reassuring you that “this is the way.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a hiker my whole life.  I can remember all the way back to when I was three years old, running through the woods, ahead of the rest of my family, following the bright paints.  Because the trail markers showed me where to go, I could run from the hot sun to the relief of tree-shade and be safe, cool, and alone for a moment, until my family showed up.

Trail markers went with shade, rocks to climb on, and a canteen full of sun-warmed water.

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It’s weird, but I have a mild fear of becoming lost. Weird, because I’m good with directions, and have only been truly lost a couple times in my life.  If I’m driving somewhere and want to try a different route, I can usually wing it and end up in the right place.  Winging it does not include GPS, which is no fun.  It’s hand-holding, and on the inside, I’m still the kid who ran ahead of her parents.  Trail markers, maps, and compasses reassure me, but I can get by without them unless I’m in a totally new place.

I’ve been writing a children’s chapter book with the working title “Pumpkin Goblins.” The main character is a kid who’s having the worst Halloween ever, and I gave her my fear of getting lost. Only for her, it’s not a mild fear that crops up now and then.  It’s a big enough deal that she wears a compass around her neck at all times.  My own fear may be minor, but it made me curious.  I didn’t know why being lost scared me until I wrote most of “Pumpkin Goblins.”

Becoming lost is a loss of control.  And if you keep a tight enough hold on your map and compass, if you keep your trail markers in sight, maybe you never have to experience it.

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Lichen, not a trail marker at all. You’ve been had.

That’s a false hope.

 

Google maps glitch… or space-time distortion?

It might not be immediately obvious what’s wrong with this picture.

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A lone diner from the other side of the country.

The map is a portion of Clinton, MA. Note the address of Lou’s Diner.

Yeah!

At first glance, it looks like there’s some kind of glitch with Google Maps that caused a diner from Las Vegas to appear to be in a town north of Worcester, MA.

But…but…but… Google is infallible, right? Google doesn’t glitch. And its eventual planetary hegemony will be a good and benevolent time for the human race, won’t it?

Of course! Because of this, it is seems rational to entertain the possibility that there has actually been a space-time distortion, and a diner from Nevada now exists in Massachusetts. It raises a lot of questions.

Is Nevada now actually a part of Massachusetts? Is Massachusetts now some kind of geographical bag of holding (or pseudo-science-that’s-actually-magic term that means the same thing) that can contain oversized states from way out west*? How do Massachusetts gambling laws affect the State of Nevada now?

Furthermore, do I still want to stop by this place to grab a bite, knowing that the anomaly could cease and I could be snapped up and transported to Nevada, a place that I imagine as a vast desert crossed by a handful of infinite highways and a splotch of neon-lit gambling?

For someone with an extreme aversion to hot weather (like, over 70 F) and an overblown fear of snakes, the desert is easily the worst place in the world.

Would you dare enter such a diner, knowing the risks?

UPDATE: Driving through Clinton, MA the day after I wrote this post, my partner and I did not see any sign of Lou’s Diner. While it’s possible that we were distracted by talking about the Wachusett Reservoir, or Klingon language issues, it seems just as likely that Lou’s Diner has been returned to Nevada where it belongs.


*I use the term “way out west” to signify the western part of the United States. This is in contrast to the Massachusetts meaning, which may indicate any part of the state west of Worcester.

Christmas swashbuckler

Today, I am a hero. Both the regular kind of hero, and the Christmas kind.

Actually, hero might be too strong of a word. Is there a word to refer to someone who fights against their normal morning slothfulness to do errands before going to work? Who finally returns DVDs to Big Lots for a refund after they’ve been sitting on the passenger’s seat for a month? Who pretends they don’t have social anxiety and asks people to be job references? I’ve overcome a lot of my lesser tendencies today.

But, I’m also a Christmas hero. Between this paragraph and the last one, I looked up “hero” on thesaurus.com. After all the synonyms meaning “hefty sandwich” was a list of awesome words. So when I say I’m a Christmas Swashbuckler, you know that this is not so much a reality-based or funny story-based title as it is a thesaurus-related whim.

Anyway.

My awesome new apartment has very few downsides, but one of them is that we aren’t allowed to have a real tree. This is due to the landlord’s insurance policy and the fact that dropped needles are a fire hazard. My mom got us a nice little spruce shrub in a pot, but adorable as it is, I’m having a lot of Christmas Jealousy over other people’s trees.DSC02239 My partner and I agreed that it isn’t worth it to buy a fake tree if it’s going to look like it’s made of pipe cleaners and sadness, so we agreed to go clearance fake tree shopping on December 26th after I get out of work and spend the evening decorating our new tree.

Today’s specific timeline of errands and car repairs made me decide to order Chinese food for lunch and dinner. Since I was six minutes away from the restaurant and the food would take fifteen, I pulled into a store that I hoped would have maple sugar candy (another errand, this one Grandma-given), even though I kind of knew it was actually a thrift store now.

The thrift store used to a large gift store, the kind of place that sold maple sugar candy, Yankee candles, and country primitives. Despite my lack of interest in most of their stock, I always liked going there around Christmas because it had that craft store cinnamon smell and was always decorated full-on for Christmas, like it was Santa’s workshop. Basically, depending on mood, it would either warm my heart with Christmas magic, or send me into a crushing depression.

The gift store was now a Christmas Thrift Store, at least for now, and as soon as I walked in, I saw a small grove of artificial firs. One of them was short and full, just like the real trees we always bought, and it had the same kind of realistic branches that I saw on a $400 tree just yesterday. “I am not lucky enough for this tree to be for sale,” I said to myself. “It’s probably a decoration.”

But I was lucky enough, because Christmas Magic.

As it turned out, the timing was even better than I realized. After I pulled up my car to get the tree in, I heard the woman at the store talking to someone on her phone. “Well, we had one you would have liked, but someone’s picking it up now. One is ugly. Yeah, like the Charlie Brown tree. And the other has fake snow on it. It gets everywhere.”

If the morning chain of events had been a couple minutes later, the store could very well have reserved the little tree for the person on the phone.

Instead, I now have a tree in the back of my car. Here is a Christmas tip from me to you: if you have a compact car (say, a 2001 Chevy Prizm) get a 5’ Christmas tree. It will fit in your backseat, even though your eyesight will tell you that this cannot happen.

Later, when my partner is asleep, I will sneak the fortuitous tree into our living room and decorate with the sneakiness of an elf and the daring of a swashbuckler.