(The car in this completely true story was recently featured in a song which appears on my upcoming record, "Life is Long". In the song, I change the car to another of my brothers lemons....a Green Rambler.)
I was 19 in 1984 when my brother, Kim impulsively bought a rusty 1962 Chevrolet Impala.
He lived at home with our aging parents and wasn’t working and was trying to finish up his long-winded philosophy degree. A habit of poor choices kept the fighting regular at home. Money and privacy infringement and disappointment and alcohol and drugs....My mom was always writing him checks for unpaid parking ticket fines. My dad always cursed him as he forked over the money my brother begged him for in order to maintain his insurance policies or pay private debt. Shady "friends" came calling at all hours and his real friends were ending up in jail or with AIDS. This car raised all kinds of new hell.
She was light blue, long, low and the shadow of something that was once very pretty. Even peppered in rust and dented and lopsided, anyone could imagine how proudly she would have rolled through town back in her glory day. Especially my brother. Driving down 73rd Avenue he showed off by going fast and when he hit a pothole, the rusty floor under my seat/the passenger seat cracked and the weight of me and my seat bent the rusty metal beneath me and I dropped a good foot and a half and could hear and feel the road beneath me, scraping the underside of the car and sending sparks about. The car had been charming. Now it was junk. Tens of thousands of dollars in debt, unemployed and not handy at all, my brother announced to my parents that the student loan check he'd be getting was going to be spent at a body shop where they'd be restoring the old car. His vision was clear, and I'd have loved to have seen it happen. But the cost was way too high, and led my parents to panic. We all agreed that this would ruin his life and that the selfish act would destroy the household. Fighting over nothing would have to wait…there would be real hell to pay. The way it was with him was that the more you tried to talk sense into him, the greater his resistance. I relate. But his stubbornness was in a league of it's own. He was determined, and even if our logic sunk in, he couldn’t cave in now. He would have his newly restored ’62 Chevy. Stay out of his way.
But in just another attempt to save him, and to protect my family, I got in his way.
Late on the night before he was expecting his check to arrive, I took the car keys I’d copied and I drove the blue ’62 Chevy Impala to a dilapidated waterside levy just outside the gates of Fort Totten in Queens. I drove past the parked cars and parked right next to the water. Brad and Alan met me there in Brad’s annoyingly conspicuous Trans-Am Datona 500 pace car, and we proceeded to get wasted. We waited until the others parked there in cars had finished getting high or laid or whatever, and then there, under the Throgs Neck Bridge I poured blackberry brandy and lighter fluid all over the seats and dashboard and set my big brother’s ’62 Chevy Impala on fire. The flames flipped and swayed and jumped after me and I walked slowly to Brad’s hot rod and got in as he and Alan were crapping themselves and screaming at me for actually having done it. Heading for the Clearview Expressway I took one last look at the heartbreak I’d ignited. The solution I’d executed.
My brother, Kim vowed to cut the throat of whomever had stolen his car, should he ever find him. He cried and cried. My parents were upset but mixed due to the unspoken blessing at hand.
My dad sat across from the dining room table from me a few days later and asked if I knew anything about it. I was stoned and still overwhelmed and couldn’t hold back my guilty smile. His eyes narrowed and he said "That is NOT O.K." But given the insanity that reigned in that family, given how out of touch with his joy and with reality my brother was, and with this expensive and dangerous undertaking just hours away, we both knew that it would have been bad. So I chose a different bad. I know it was bad.
I’m really sorry to have caused him so much distress. But if he could ever listen to reason, and now with so much time since that night, I think he’d understand.
Can't say I endorse or recommend spontaneous acts of destruction. These were extraordinary circumstances. Or so i rationalize.
My brother was a searcher. A depressive philosophy major who never made a move without a book or a saxaphone in hand and who, thru self education or with the help of his misfit associations studied meditation, martial arts, kaballah, buddhism & once claimed (to the delight of his junkie friend Nicky & the near demise of our jewish mother) that he'd accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. He never found love in a partner. The couple of women he spent time with were either prostitutes or still living at home with their moms.
I fantasize that he got the car fixed and took off across country. That he met someone. Someone also running from something and toward they knew not what and that together their search gained steam and that they found something real.
Rusty and broken, perhaps.