I was half asleep when he knocked on the door.
“Rich, you up?” He entered the room and sat at the end of the bed.
“Yeh, what’s up?” My voice reflected the late night before.
He glanced around the room, noting the strange art and artifacts that made my habitat. Then he directed his eyes toward me, attempting to feign a smile.
“Tell me what you think of this…”
When my dad would start off a morning like this, I knew he had done a lot of head scratching the night before. He continued: “What do you think about me trading Dan the Thunderbird for that ’54 Mercury he has sitting behind the garage?”
A sarcastic grin emerged on my face. I guess it was that time of year again, the time in the winter months when he would forget how much he loved his Thunderbird and would start thinking about another toy. The T-Bird sat dormant in the winter months, resting from a full summer of enjoyment. It was these times that the good memories would fade and new ideas emerge.
Like the year when he almost sold the car for a trailer in the Poconos, or the year before that when he almost acquired a drive-in in the middle of Ohio.
Luckily, these fantasies had quietly passed unattended. This time it was different. It was serious. This time his interests were piqued by another car, a Mercury. He constantly reminded me how his father had a variety of ‘50s Mercurys, and his childhood love for the Big M never dwindled. Sighting one at a car show would start him reminiscing about his father and his younger days.
But his true love was his Thunderbird.
At almost 30 years old, the T-Bird was still the most luxurious car he owed. He would pilot it proudly down the boulevard in the summer months, listening to his AM radio blast some tinny old rock n roll.
He never waited long enough for dust to settle between washes, and in the warmer months he would often spend the entire weekend attending to its needs.
But now it was the end of February, and although it lay protected under its heavy fabric coat, the neglect piled up.
Just the thought of some of the work the car needed in the upcoming months would deter him from wanting to uncover it.
His thoughts wandered easily.
Two hours later, I returned home. As I drove up the street, the lacquer of the cherry red ‘Bird glistened in the sunlight.
“You know, the ’54 Merc, it’s turquoise and white, with a nifty little pushbuttons on the dashboard,” he rambled on like a child.
I could see he was going to act on this one.
“My dad had one you know, red and white,” he stopped, thought for a moment, and added, “that’s OK, maybe I’ll paint it.” He smiled satisfactorily.
He went on to explain how he would strike a deal with Dan. According to dad, it was an offer Dan couldn’t refuse. He talked me into taking a ride down to the garage with him.
The peeling wood and glass plate door rang a tinny sounding bell to announce our arrival. The garage was a local hangout for nostalgia buffs and greasers alike. In the garage there was a variety of classics in various states of disrepair.
Dan, a short guy with thick glasses hiding a perpetually confused look, greeted my father and quickly started to throw a car story at him. I faded into the woodwork as the men became engrossed in their tales.
After a while my father asked if the ’54 Merc was still in the back of the garage, knowing very well the answer. Dan grabbed a set of keys off the board and lifted his glasses to identify them. They left for the lot behind the garage, I followed quietly.
I recognized the car from my father’s ranting and ravings. I inspected it as he informed Dan that his father owned the same car when he was young. He played it so cool not to let him know how much he wanted to snatch the keys and drive her home right now. He nonchalantly mentioned his Thunderbird as trade bait.
Dan stopped for a moment, his greasy hand scratched his chin. For a moment, his normally confused look turned into a contemplating grin.
“No,” he shrugged. “No way.” His voice cracked. My dad’s mouth was still and empty. “I’m here to sell cars. I can’t take a trade.”
Dad tried to get a defense in, but Dan interrupted. “Sell your car, and then talk to me.” That was the end.
My father was ,to say the least, disappointed. His short-lived fantasy came crashing down like Hindenburg, burning him up as it collapsed.
He wasn’t interested in hanging out there too much longer. The ride home was quiet. I dropped him off at the house.
Two hours later, I returned home. As I drove up the street, the lacquer of the cherry red ‘Bird glistened in the sunlight. As I pulled in front of the driveway, I saw him hard at work removing the polish from the huge front bumper. He stood up and smiled, “She looks great, doesn’t she?”
I knew I wouldn’t hear about trades for at least another year.
— Richard Pierce, Staten Island NY
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