I have a tendency to anthropomorphize objects. Sometimes this is a ludicrous tendency, but other times it works to my advantage. One case in point is an old ’69 Volkswagen Bug I used to have. My first car, acquired used when I was nineteen, I wound up driving it for thirteen years. It started out red, but that summer a friend and I decided to paint the doors and fenders with comic book action words: zot! pow! whoosh! And one door read “Schlep!” The car became marginally famous around the Westside of LA and may even have inspired a Saturday morning children’s show.
I loved that car almost as much as I love my pets—it was so cute and round and creature-like, how could I not fall in love? But I admit that I used it hard, in the way the young and thoughtless will. It never complained, doughty to the end.
One night during my college years, I drove home from my night job, past midnight, and in a long stretch of urban wasteland with sparse lighting. The car just died, rolling to a stop on that dark street blocks from any telephone (this being in the olden days before cell phones). Though I tried and tried, the engine would not turn over. I sat for awhile with the vague hope that a police car might roll by, but when that didn’t happen and it grew later and later, I started talking to the car.
“Please start, little car. Just get me home, that’s all I ask, and I promise to take you into the garage in the morning. Just get me home—please.”
I tried the ignition again. The car started right up. I drove home (about three miles), and the second the wheels hit my driveway—no exaggeration—the car died again. I coasted to a stop, safe at home, and my little Bug had to be towed to the garage the next day. The mechanic said he didn’t know how I’d gotten it started the night before. Apparently, some wire in the engine had worked its way loose and without that particular connection, the car was impossible to start.
Now, I know next to nothing about the insides of cars, and I have to take the mechanic’s word about the wire, but I do know about loyalty. That car was loyal and maybe loved me back a little bit. I prefer to think that rather than that it was a freak coincidence, some hoodoo voodoo, or some other form of miracle or mistake. I like to think that sometimes when we really need them, even inanimate objects have an anima, some vibration on the sub-atomic level that responds to the need in our human souls. Do I care if this is irrational? Not in the slightest.
Many years later there came a time when my poor ancient little Bug couldn’t hack my long work commute any more. It groaned through the Sepulveda Pass on a daily basis, sometimes barely limping home, and required frequent trips to the mechanic. The frequent repairs finally added up to more than car payments and I was forced to make a hard decision: to use the car for a trade in on something new. As I handed the keys over and got into my new car to drive away, I felt I had abandoned not an inanimate thing, but a living creature. I could almost hear it calling to me, “Please don’t leave me!” That was probably a surfeit of imagination, but…
I still feel guilty.