On May 1, I paid off my car, the only brand-new car Sam and I have ever owned. The foreplay was intense, to be sure, with the buildup of the countdown being almost too much to bear. With each preceding month's automatic bank withdrawal, I uttered a breathless itemization: Only four more—three more—oh God. No question, there was a release in being freed from that particular shackle and a self-satisfaction that I had paid for, and now owned, outright, a relatively nice ride. It also didn't hurt to have an injection of greenbacks flowing to the team. Oh, the shoes I'd buy.
Fast-forward to reality and that fresh income drained right back out to the kid's new and more expensive pre-school. But education doesn't depreciate the moment you drive it off the lot, and therefore the flow and ebb feels less begrudgingly painful than a monthly payment for a vehicle worth less than I paid for it, and every ding, rattle, creak and lurch of which I now own.
Scrape on the right rear bumper? It's mine. Dent on the driver's side door? Alllll mine. When a rock flew up and hit the windshield on a family outing one cloudy day in June, Sam tightened his grip on the wheel, his jaw clenched. “We own that divot!” I shouted, stabbing my finger in the direction of our pockmark. “We own it!” I said squinting at his profile. I wanted him to understand the full magnitude and ferocity of my pride.
Then, sometime in early July, the car started making a whirring sound while in drive. I claimed that with honor, too. “That Jetsons-esque hovercraft sound,” I'd tease my husband when driving together, “Yeah, baby. We own it.” Then we'd do the terrorist fist jab in a show of unity and self-righteous vehicular dominance.
But the spaceship sound only got worse throughout the summer, so I finally took the car in for a look-see. Turns out that sound? It was only the transmission. Our transmission.
Now, I don't know car parts, and, to be honest, I really don't care to know them. Call it a lack of curiosity, but any explanation that incorporates words like “piston” or “crankshaft” or “intake port” makes my eyes glass over the same as if I were cornered by Alan Greenspan at a dinner party honoring accountants. I just want the thing to turn on and go forward when I tell it to. All I care about is that the important parts work, parts like the engine, the brakes, the antenna—must have my Morning Edition—and the CD player (and FYI: Prince is not safe for toddlers, and you might give his music a re-listen before your kid is begging for “Darling Nikki,” Momma, just one more time, puuhleeeese?).
Yet, even with my self-imposed ignorance, something about the sound of trans-MISH-uhn made gave me pause.
The number just to the right of the words “TOTAL INVOICE” was the kind of number that can level even the most frugal and well-budgeted family. It left me speechless. Me. Speechless! And you thought there was no such thing.
It all seemed so implausibly wrong: No sooner had I received the title to my 4-year-old car than the $4,300 whirring sound began. I'm convinced all objects with a motor come complete with a built-in self-destruct function that detonates in T-minus 37 seconds after said item is officially yours.
My iPod Shuffle up and died on me today—I'm not making this up—and it's already my second one in a year. And while I don't think Steve Jobs holds the patent on built-in obsolescence, don't even get me started on the time I got all Office Space on my credit-obliterating Apple Performa 6300. Every tech weenie on the planet knows exactly what I'm talking about. They're nodding in solidarity right now. Don't hurt yourselves, guys.
But back to that $4,300 transmission. Fortunately for us, Dario, the slick and thoroughly detestable salesman who sold us the car—who tried to talk us into a minivan but who acquiesced when we insisted, Fuck no, no goddamned minivans or cruises or felines or Crocs in this family, ever—managed to strong-arm us that night into purchasing Honda's extended-care package. It's one of those things I've grumbled about ever since.
Well. I grumble no more. The result of Dario's expert ability to exploit my role as a sucker, is that instead of that big ol' number also appearing on a bank withdrawal slip, we had to pay only a much, much, much smaller number—basically the cost of an oil change at the dealership, which is still a rip-off. I was so thankful about not having to shell out thousands of dollars on something that isn't world travel, I almost forgave the fact that they neglected to put gas in the empty tank. The shysters. OK, so I'm still grumbling.
Since we didn't go into debt over this car that we own, I decided to have a teeny, tiny peep-toe celebration and ordered a pair of the most gorgeous little T-strap shoes you ever did see. I wore them out and about and got all the requisite oohs and ahhs and where-did-you-get-thoses. I was just as in love with my feet as I've ever been. As far as closure goes, this was (comparatively) inexpensive and especially happy.
But then there's that embedded self-destruct function, and wouldn't you know it but T-minus 37 seconds after their third appearance, my irreplaceable lovelies broke while I was exiting the car that I own.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.