They weren’t there. The keys, I mean. I always put them on the mantle. Maybe it was the cat. Her favorite entertainment was clearing the mantle – as she would put it if she could talk.
“Pop, they’re not there,” said the voice of my sweet daughter – key seeker. Also, now my landlord. Her voice had the professional tone of my ex Army Master Sergeant. She repeated, “They’re NOT there”. She sounded like Sgt. Bilkin when I hadn’t finished up KP – or Kitchen Police, as civilized people called mess hall duty. My only alternative given the conviction in her voice and her stance – hands on hips, face thrust forward – was to moan. “Pop, you’re through driving,” said the ex Marine Drill Sergeant.
Remember, my jury had been my passengers for forty years. I was the captain of the ship, they were only cargo who had no voice in navigation and propulsion. And now having safely arrived at thousands of destinations – over half a century – I was being court martialed.
I gasped. What did I do to deserve this? I was a young 83 years. Been driving for 68 years and never had a moving collision. What gave me away and brought on these dictates from my family were a few notches, dents, scrapings in the four corners of my vehicles – where elderly, clumsy drivers had parked beyond their allotted space and forced me to squeeze in a space three inches shorter than the width of my car. No real damage – a couple of busted rear lights. Stuff like that. Nothing serious. And most damaging to the case of the prosecution was the age of my car. Twelve years. So in twelve years I had accumulated a few scraps. Big deal. If the car was three years old and it looked like it had survived the battle of the bulge, well maybe they had a case. But a few dings in twelve years were a tribute to my eyesight and judgment.
“You’re dangerous to yourself and others,” shouted the sergeant, now reinforced by both brothers – my sons - who you’d guess should be on my side. They were dangerous, too. I remember when they confused brakes, accelerators, and clutches. I tremble to think of those days, but I never hid the keys. I did put florescent signs on clutch, brake pedal, acceleration and buy special insurance covering the entrance into grocery stores through the plate glass window instead of the door. If there’d been any surplus Army body armor on the market, I’d have bought it.
And these, these were the gang kicking me out of my car. How many soccer matches, baseball games had I taxied them to? How many dance lessons – in the dark of night, even? And they claimed my night vision was defective! Me, who could land my ten year old Mercury on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Regan.
“Pop, it’s for your own good.” That reminded me of the old days when I banned their third cheeseburger and alcoholic beverages – “for your own good”.
Wonder where they hid the keys? Obviously, the car was innocent. I’d have to start parking around the block and keeping the keys in my pants pocket.
I’m young enough to take out the garbage – garage to street – with obstacles like stones and bikes and lost kids. All you gotta do is steer the 20-pound green monster to the curb. So if I can navigate that, why can’t I navigate a self-propelled car? Well, I just wanted to make the point that if I can drive a garbage can, I can drive that antique car. And by the way, thirty years of driving that green thing (remember it has no brakes) from garage to street I never had a wreck. And not one violation from the cops. Oh, maybe one or two collisions with small, crawling children who had no lights and were wearing non-reflective diapers.
Yes, carless brothers, it’s a sad day. The day they unanimously decide to ground you. You can see it coming. They sort of bunch up in the living room – kids – even grandkids, if you’re old enough. They usually begin with extravagant courtesy: “Pop, lemme get you a drink and a snack before supper.” (For some unknowing reason they always strike in the afternoon.) Beware of kids with snacks and drinks. Then as you’re relaxed sipping your drink they begin a catalogue of your physical weaknesses, the ones that make you a road monster: You can’t see a 2014 Lincoln fifty feet away, you can’t hear the cement truck that’s trying to pass, you bumped into the fire hydrant you thought was a little kid. They cite every lightly scraped bumper for the last thirty years, including the drunk who ripped off your fender when you were in the convenience store, fifty yards away, buying breakfast coffee.
It’s a sad day. You’ve lost your manhood. The best solution I know is to jump in the car – grab your hidden set of keys – and race away.
I remember. . . how degrading for the students to throw erasers at the teacher.