"I've got to blog this," I thought, looking up at the pylons of the George Washington Bridge, solid and shining against a picture-blue sky, as "Sexual Healing" played on the radio. I was dancing in the driver's seat, jigging, shimmying and cackling as my car expertly shouldered between a towering truck and bus. (Yes, I can drive and dance at the same time. I regard driving as a form of dancing and rock'n'roll as a navigational aid.)
A few hours before, I was thinking, "This is like being a slave to an idiot." And I knew he was feeling, "This is like being a beached manatee ordered to jump through hoops by a sadistic ringmaster." It was that bad. Then my helper came, the guy who will come whenever I want because I overpay him, the luxury I allow myself only once in a blue moon, the guy J doesn't like because he talks too much, but is pretty funny if you actually listen to him. I know he is strong, he is grateful, he is familiar, and when he's with J I leave the house without looking back and forget it all exists. I become an amnesiac, adrift without a past, without a home, and time slows way down as I drift to Starbucks, to the bus station, ride the bus for what seems like hours but is barely half an hour, get off in Teaneck and notice how good it smells, of trees and things -- if it smells this good just in Teaneck f**king New Jersey, think how good it will smell all the time in Chapel Hill, restoring this whole missing chunk of the flesh of life.
I've come out to Teaneck to get the car going; it's been sitting in its rented garage since the beginning of June with the battery disconnected so the security system won't drain it. Can't be good for a car, and I can't just jump in and take off on an 8-hour drive with a carful of cats and crips without finding out if there's dust in the muffler or sediment in the gas tank or whatever. I buy cheap milk and laundry soap and donuts for J at the corner strip mall, and then I go to "my" $85-a-month garage, for the last time, open it up and there's my dust-encrusted, slightly tire-sagging car.
Open the door, open the hood, connect the battery -- the alarm system starts caterwauling. My car is utterly convinced that I'm stealing it. Eventually it stops, but if I touch the car, try to get in, put the key in, turn it, off it goes again; and the engine won't start. I call AAA and all they can do is suggest a tow. I trudge over to the helpful black-owned gas station across the street and ask them, "WTF?" It is explained to me in ten words or less that you have to put the key in the ignition and turn it BEFORE you reconnect the battery. Aha! A small bit of automotive arcana that I will discover almost nobody knows. I return to the car, which screams in protest till I re-disconnect the battery, insert the key and turn it, reconnect the battery, and sure enough, it gives a cozy little "ding ding" of recognition, like a baby's sigh and gurgle, and we're off.
A stop for 75-cent air, and then to the car wash. It's at the car wash that my dreamy state sharpens to ecstasy. The car radio is playing U2's "With or Without You" as the attendants hose down the car. Head thrown back, mouth open, I feel as if the grit is being washed off my soul. I give over control and the car moves into the tunnel, waves of soap blind the windshield, the interior darkens as it's smacked by sargasso straps and spritzed and buffed by spinning pompoms -- a fun-house ride simulating death and rebirth. When we emerge into daylight the car and I are sparkling, scratches and all. We lay down a little rubber as we light out for the bridge . . .
I'm back home now, shrunk back down small, and I can't quite remember why I felt so inflated and elated -- as thin and bright as a red balloon.