Friday 15 February

12:45 P.M. Friday, 15 February, 1991

The Cabin Tavern, Richmond Beach, WA.

“I was really trying to clean things up, you know?  But they just didn’t understand what was going on.”  Malach poured another shot glass of beer out of the bottle of Rainier that Reggie had placed on the counter, next to the popcorn and peanuts.  “Those assholes.  They were just as bad as me.  How could they do it?”

Reggie lit a smoke and shook his head from behind the bar.  “Malach, I don’t get it.  You mean to tell me that they fired you because you quit drinking?”

“That’s exactly what happened.  Three months ago, I realized that I wasn’t doing my job too well anymore.  So I checked in to detox, and succeeded in getting off the booze…for a while anyway.”  He poured another shot of beer and drank it down, a curious habit he had picked up in the Army.  “They fired me.  Can you believe that shit?  They got rid of me because I started doing a better job than everybody else.  Fuckin’ alcoholics felt threatened by my new work style.”  He poured another shot.

“Man, that don’t seem like much reason to fire someone. I say you’re better off without them.”

“Yeah, but Reggie, I’m 52 years old.  I’ve been working at Wesco South for 27 years.  What sort of job can a guy like me expect to get at this age?  The company has taken the best years of my life and now I don’t have anything left.  Everything’s just going down the toilet.  I can’t even get Nicole to let me see the kids.  I miss them alot, and now for some fucked up reason I miss Nicole too.”

“Shit; you must really feel bad if you wanna see her, Stan.”  Reggie put his cigarette butt in a half-empty beer bottle.  He had known Stan Malach for 14 years and had never seen him this down.  Of course, about the only way that he did remember Stan was sloshed and hanging onto the bar for support; Stan was a good customer for many years.  Unfortunately, Stan lost his wife and kids for being a good customer.  And now he was losing the rest of his life because he was no longer a good customer.  Life had a tendency towards the cruel.  “Well, what do you think you’re going to do, now that you don’t have to work tomorrow?”

Malach swallowed another shot.  “I going to start by finishing this bottle, and I’m going to finish by starting another one…”


 

1:15 P.M. Friday 15 February, 1991

18110 Ashworth Avenue North, Seattle, WA.

Clem threw the last suitcase into the back of his pickup.  “Bitch, you can’t accept anything! Well, accept this.  Our marriage is over.  Me and Dinelle are headed for Westport and you can’t stop us.”

Stacy had tears in her eyes.  “Clem, you can’t leave.  What about our daughter?  What sort of life do you think she’ll have when she finds out that her own father ran off with a seventeen-year-old high school drop-out?  Don’t you think that’ll give her an awful bad view of you?  Our marriage is supposed to be forever, not for as long as it’s convenient.  Can’t we work something out?  I just want what’s best for the both of us.”

“Well, I don’t give a shit what happens to you anymore.  That means I’m leaving you for Dinelle and heading for her Dad’s lumber company.  You should have seen it coming, Stacy.  You’re too restrictive. You’re always wanting to do stuff with my money like pay those stupid doctor bills.  I’ve never seen a baby that gets so sick in my life.  It’s not my kid if it’s always getting sick like that.  So I’m saying goodbye to you and that sick little crying skinball to live a better life somewhere else.”  He hopped in the truck and tore down the street, leaving Stacy with more than tears in her eyes.  He left her with a mortgage, a daughter with asthma, a twenty-year-old Dodge, and an empty checking account.   All Stacy could do is sit on the porch chair, curl up, and weep in silence.  Her life had never looked so bad, and she could see no positive ways out of her situation.

But deep down she knew that Clem really wasn’t the right man for her.  She could tell that when the first doctor bill had been due for two months, and Clem bought a dirt bike.  If only she had been able to see that side of him when they were eighteen and horny.  At the time, it seemed as if their marriage would work, but as the years crawled by, Clem had proven himself to be selfish and undependable.  Even so, she was willing to accept a little sacrifice for the sake of her daughter.  Kaile deserved a family background.  Stacy didn’t want to explain to her someday that her father had left both of them behind out of sheer selfishness, but she knew that the day would come to tell her the terrifying truth, that she was kin to a dickhead with a rubber neck.

As the clock in the house struck two, she decided that it was time to check on her sleeping daughter and call her mother.  What else was she going to do?…


 

2:15 P.M.

Almost finished with his fifth bottle of beer shots, Malach was starting to get drunk, as if he was under the influence of a self-induced anesthesia.  The words to “Misty Mountain Hop” rolled off his lips in a smooth slur, caused by the beer that had passed down his throat over the last two hours.  He couldn’t remember getting so drunk from five bottles of beer.  In fact, he had difficulty remembering catching a buzz off six or seven.  In three months, his tolerance to alcohol had disappeared.  He drunkenly justified to himself out loud that “rehab has made it cheaper to get wasted.”  

Cross-eyed, he looked around the bar to see the two Reggies walking in parallel behind the two bars.  Two men, identically dressed, were playing solo games of pool at two matching tables.  He looked outside to see his two cars sitting in front of the bar.  He knew that he should go home and sober up, but wasn’t sure if he could negotiate the two sets of lanes going east towards his two homes.  Better have one more, he said to himself, because there’s no booze at the house.  He took another shot.  The feeling in his throat was so familiar and welcome; he never wanted to go back to reality again.  Reality is what fucked him over, and he felt better avoiding it.  He had missed beer over the preceding months.  Often, beer was the only one that could make him feel good.  Beer was always there.  Beer always listened to his problems, something Nicole quit doing about the time that Malach really needed reassurance.  The emptier the bottles became, the more room they had inside to listen.  As soon as the empty bottle of Rainier turned into the two empty bottles right in front of his drunken double vision, Malach knew it was time to go.  

He stumbled out the door to his awaiting blurry car.  He dropped into the driver’s seat like a lead ball and sat fumbling his keys for several minutes.  “This is the best part,” he mumbled.  “I love this drive home.”  Home was six miles east, a drive that Malach had made F.U.B.A.R. many times.  After the last bottle, he now had the confidence he could do it one more time.  He pulled away from The Cabin and headed east towards North City…


2:25 P.M.

“Yes, he’s gone for good, Mom.  He left with that sleazy little Dinelle about an hour ago.”

“Well, it’s about goddamn time.  I never liked him anyway.  He was almost as worthless as your real father.”

“Come on, Mom, he wasn’t that bad, was he?  I mean I’ve only seen my Dad about ten times since I was twelve, but he seemed like a nice guy.”

“He was a lazy, worthless man.  But the thing that bugged me about James the most is that he would sit in front of the TV and clean and cut his toenails while I was eating.  Imagine that while you’re trying to eat a turkey pot pie.  He didn’t give a damn about what was going on around him.  Do you realize that he ran out on his child support during the last two years?”

Stacy was experiencing deja vous.  Her real father sounded just like Clem.  It was a good thing that her mother had found a boyfriend not long after her Dad left town.  “How come you and Ray never told me?”

“Honey, when Ray was alive, he loved you more than James ever did.  When the payments stopped, he was more than willing to take care of you himself.  We both felt it was best.  He hated Clem; I want you to know that.  You meant more to him than anything.  He saw Clem taking advantage of you all along, but was afraid to say something and hurt your feelings.”

Stacy was crying again.  “Mom, I miss Ray.  He meant a lot to me too.  I wish he was around to help me raise Kaile.  All I want is for her to have a family life.  She deserves that.”

“Well, Stacy, it’s time that you and I do that together.  I miss Ray too, honey, but the two of us can raise Kaile just fine.”

The line was silent for a few seconds.  “Do you want my opinion, Stacy?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I say you get out of that rat trap home of yours and move back to Edmonds.  You know I have lots of space.  You can go back to college, honey.  We’ll work it out.”

“Mom, I don’t have any money to go back. And what do I do about Kaile?”

“Now don’t you worry about either one of those.  They’re both taken care of.  You just come home, Stacy; it’s never too late to start over.”

Stacy hung up the phone, and went to check on Kaile.  She was sleeping soundly in her crib.  Stacy stood and looked at her for some time.  She was so adorable in her innocent youth, sleeping as if there were no cares in the world.  Stacy thanked God that Kaile looked nothing like her father; to go through life looking at someone resembling Clem would be painful.  But now he was out of her life and was never coming back.  For the first time she was beginning to feel relief that he was gone, and looked forward to taking another crack at college.  She could now see light at the end of the tunnel.  Together with her mother, she would raise Kaile to respect independance but not abuse it.  With Clem gone, this would be so much easier.  

She started packing a batch of belongings that was going to her mother’s.  Kaile’s clothes and toys of course went first…


2:30 P.M.

“I can’t believe I’m lost,” mumbled Malach.  “How did I get on this street?”  He maneuvered his Chrysler through a noisy U-turn at the end of the cul-de-sac and rumbled down the street, attempting to regain his bearings.  The last two bottles of Rainier were now starting to take effect, and he began to feel sick to his stomach.

He pulled into a church parking lot, and fell out of his seat onto the grass in front.  He looked up to see a carved wooden angel perched on the church’s sign.

“Forgive me father, for I have…HERRRRAALLLPHFFFF!!!!”  He strained against the heaves that turned his insides out, breathing furiously between attacks.  The convulsions made his back hurt, and his already sour stomach hurt even more.  Finally, it was over, with the car still running and Malach curled into a fetal position on the grass.  He lay there for what seemed like hours, and started to cry.  “Oh God, what have I done?  Is my life so shitty that I have to lose out on whatever’s important to me?  Why is my worn out body still around?”  As he cried out for solace, the angel just stood and watched.  A light rain began to fall, creating tears on her face.  Nature seemed to be looking on him with an all-knowing eye of sadness, and as the rain came harder, the angel looked more and more despondent over his pain.  Malach crawled back to his car and got in.  He sat in the seat, drenched from rain and tears, whimpering for salvation.

“Please, God, if there’s justice in this world, I won’t see tomorrow.”  He put his car into gear and headed for the intersection of 185th and Aurora…


 

2:35 P.M.

Stacy packed the back seat up with clothing and toys after strapping Kaile into the car seat.  Even though her car was twenty years old, it had her husband beat for dependability.  Her Dodge was a relic of mammoth proportions, big and safe.  The one thing that Stacy always liked about the car was that it had so much room to pack things.  Three or four trips to her mother’s and she would be moved out of her house.  The furniture stayed; it was disgusting and old.  Whoever bought the house could do with it as they pleased.

“Okay, Kaile, we’re on our way.”  Kaile’s laughing grey eyes gave Stacy reason to smile back and kiss her on the cheek.  “You’re the best thing I’ve got, Skeeter.  You and I are going to Grandma’s–for good.”  Stacy strapped herself into the Dodge, pulled out of the driveway with her first load, and headed north to Aurora and 185th…


2:37 P.M.

The intersections were melting away for Malach.  To him, the world was one big beautiful blur.  The street signs and lights moved by him in an almost surreal fashion, surging toward the back of his car.  He tried to concentrate on the road, but kept losing his train of thought as he passed trees, driveways, and anything that would catch his eye in a weird way.  He looked at the speedometer.  Does that say 10 or 70?  He couldn’t tell.  Ones and sevens looked the same to him at this point of intoxication.  “Whatever speed it is,” he thought to himself, “it doesn’t matter.  I haven’t felt so free since the last time I was at The Cabin.  Nothing can stop this feeling now.”  As his Chrysler screamed down 185th at 70 mph, he could feel all his worries and troubles being magically wiped away.  His sudden feeling of freedom was engulfing all his senses.  He could see the intersection with Aurora coming up on him fast and blurred.

“Is that light green or is it red…?”


 

2:37 P.M.

Friday.  This was the day that rush hour began early for commuters on Aurora.  Stacy was able to squeeze in behind another car going north as she pulled out onto the road.  She had always been amazed at the amount of traffic that built up on this street on Friday, as if everyone was just out goofing around.  She started to move with traffic as the car in front of her moved forward.  It had moved well ahead of her and left quite a gap between them.  Rather than move up right behind, she maintained her distance, thinking of safety and speed.  

Passing through the intersection of Aurora and 185th, she looked around at traffic conditions.  She saw nothing out of the ordinary, until the last second.  Barreling down on her from Richmond Beach was a giant Chrysler, doing well over the legal speed limit, and apparently not seeing the red light he was about to run.  She screamed in mortal fear and slammed on her brakes.

But the roadway was wet, and her reaction was too late for her car to be missed…


 

MOTORIST KILLED IN NORTHEND ACCIDENT

Stan Malach, 52, of North City, died in a two car accident yesterday.  Uninjured in the accident were Stacy Bonnaham, 22, and her daughter Kaile, 2, both of Edmonds.

Mr. Malach was reported to have run a red light while traveling east through the intersection of North 185th and Aurora at a high rate of speed.  According to witnesses, he impacted with the front end of Ms. Bonnaham’s northbound car before overturning into a telephone pole.  King County Police are investigating the possibility that Mr. Malach was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Ms. Bonnaham and her daughter were treated for minor cuts and bruises at Stevens Medical Center and released.   

————————————————–

Written in 1991 as a college assignment – ed.

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Tech Support in 1,000,000 years BC

Me: This is Kralc
Caller: I can’t get my Rock to work
Me: In what way?
Caller: It’s not doing nothing.
Me: What’s it supposed to be doing?
Caller: Killing stuff. But it just sits there.
Me: Is it stuck in something? Like, does it move?
Caller: Yeah it’s loose.
Me: Are you able to pick it up? Or is it too heavy?
Caller: I can pick it up.
Me: …so you can pick it up. What happens when you throw it?
Caller: What do you mean, “Throw it?”
Me: In order to start killing stuff, the user will lift and grip the rock with their hand, raise it up next to their head and back a bit, then push their hand forward fast before letting go. The rock will connect with the thing in front of you and kill it. Is that what you’ve been doing?
Caller: I thought these things killed on their own. No one told me I had to ….throw it.
Me: Why would you think that?
Caller: Because Kleck tripped and fell the other day, and the rock killed him from the ground.
Me: Well there’s a difference here. Throwing the rock is killing. Kleck had an “accident.”
Caller: Well this thing doesn’t work. Can you send someone over to fix it?

Along The Boardwalk

 

I saw my first fallen-down drunk when I was four years old.

For the first part of my life, our family lived in a remote fishing village on the east end of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. It was a place where fishermen would get their paychecks on Friday, then drink them up at the bar by Sunday. On one Sunday evening we were walking from our home to the chapel for evening service, when I looked off the boardwalk to see a man just lying there. He wasn’t moving, like he was asleep in the grass and sprawled out like he fell. “Mom what’s wrong with him?” I asked.

“Just keep walking,” she replied.

Later on at the chapel I was told that he had been drinking and that he was passed out. Since my parents helped care for the physical and emotional well being of our fellow villagers, I can only surmise they determined he was fine and just needed to sleep off his booze right where he was. They would have NEVER left him in that spot if there was danger. I don’t recall ever seeing him again. How did this impact a four-year old kid?

I remember enough of it to share the story nearly fifty years later, and know first hand what true alcohol abuse looks like.

I never wanted to be that guy. I have never laughed about it. Through my teen years I remembered him. When I had my first alcohol ever, that dude along the boardwalk was on my mind. I was dry for about ten years during my 30s, because his sprawled out frame kept showing up in my head, and I didn’t want to end up lying in the grass somewhere completely unphased by passers by. This summer, while walking to a restaurant in White Center, I passed a man who was passed out and encircled by malt liquor cans – right along the sidewalk; immediately the man in Sand Point popped into my head and said, “Yeah that was a bender.”

Even last night, as I relaxed with my wife, I looked at my beer and thought of him.

He didn’t seem glorious, or a champion, or anything remotely like a life goal. He was a sad representation of a life wasted, alcoholism, and self medication. Was he using the bottle to run from depression? Bad relationships? Abuse? I’ll never know. Maybe he couldn’t stop, which was common among many of our friends in Sand Point. We knew a brilliant painter on the island who was also regular resident at the jail, and a slave to the bottle. It happened, and it was sad. Maybe this guy just overdid it after having a good time.

But when the result of your good time puts you face down in the tundra in the Alaskan bush, maybe the end game outweighs the excitement at the start.

At 53 years old I can safely say I won’t be him because I saw him, early enough to make the right impression at the right time. I know where to drink and when to stop. I like coffee just as much as I like Rainier, and can easily switch when it’s time to be responsible. Thanks to this unidentified man, sleeping off a weekend along the boardwalk to an island church, I have stayed clear from the damage of heavy drinking.

In some odd way, that fallen-down drunk kept me safe.

How will you know which pictures are of me?

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“Can you send me the pictures?”

The woman asked me to take some photos of her at a formal event I shot last Saturday night. And one of the things I knew I would need – and ultimately forgot – were contact cards for this very purpose. I had to admit my goof up to her.

“Yes I can. But I forgot my business cards.”

“Oh I’ll give you one of mine,” she replied.

She had a wonderful name. I quoted it back to her. “Thank you,” I said while raising the card in the air.

“How will you know which pictures are of me? She asked.

Earlier she had arrived at the event in a floor-length sequined white dress that hung over one shoulder; it was cut to follow her shape. She walked and danced with smooth grace. A willing smile blended innocence with charm, and was punctuated by expressive green eyes. In photos with others she smiled even wider while fitting her shape to that of her companion. Her shoulder-length red hair shone with the color of Autumn’s turning leaves. Of all the people at the event, she was by far the most memorable to me. And, to be honest, she was a person who would be hard to forget.

“Are you kidding?” I replied. “You’re beautiful. I’ll know which pictures are you.”

She gave me one more smile and thank you before hitting the dance floor.

The Life We Hide

“I always looked up to you.”
 
I commended my high school classmate for being amazing, when I had lunch with her in 2002. She is successful, highly educated, and very approachable. She has a way of making people around her feel comfortable and engaged. Always has in the nearly 40 years that I’ve known her.
 
“I was a misfit in high school,” I continued.
 
“Never completely connected socially with any one group, and I always felt out of place, not knowing the right things to say or how to start a conversation. It didn’t help that I was an awful student. But YOU. You had it all together; you were social, connected with so many people, and a great student. Everyone loved you.”
 
“Oh Kurt,” she replied. “What you don’t realize is that, by the time I was a Junior, I was coming to school drunk every day.”
 
I was floored, and had NO idea she was a heavy drinker, or that after high school she ended up running with a very rough crowd. I had no idea she sustained serious injuries during that time, and has spent a lifetime reversing that damage – both physical and mental. The force and internal fight that drew her to alcohol at such a young age is the one that defined several years of her future – and nearly killed her too. But she crawled out of the gutter; she got back on the street, and made something of herself. She thrived once she came to terms with her life.
 
But she never forgot that her day as a 17-year old started at The Bottle.
 
At that point in 2002 I realized our lives in the eyes of others can be skewed. The life we FEEL inside isn’t always visible to the outside world. Maybe this is by choice. We may do this for social stature, or as a way to lift ourselves up through denial. Some people look at struggle as weakness. We want to look strong, organized, fully in charge of the hustle. Sometimes we don’t want to be reminded that sometimes life sucks, and the quickest way to forget it is to bury it.
 
Humans can be highly skilled at hiding what we don’t want the world to know – sharing our “Instagram Lives” instead for an adoring public.
 
The world may not know the struggles we face. And alternately, the people we meet could be hiding a struggle from others. In short, we all struggle with something. The fight is more acute for some, but the fight exists. Mine is weight; I’ve struggled my entire life with extra pounds, portion control, and hunger. It’s pretty messed up; it controls my way and my day. Thoughts of food or meals seep into every activity, warranted or not, because I’m almost always hungry. Why am I this way? No clue; I’m wired for food, and it sucks. While my struggle can be measured differently against the reason a teen gets drunk every day, it is a struggle nonetheless.
 
So that person you think you know? You may not know them at all.
 
What you see on the outside is merely an aesthetic. Inside, that person might be hurting. Bad. You might not be able to see it. But be open to share in what they FEEL. If you have to, put away the politics – because pain isn’t partisan. Find common ground and build on it. Connect with their heart. Share in their struggle as best you can. And share yours with them. Love and understand that humans are humans. We make mistakes. Every one of us. When the minds align, all will be fine.
 
And eventually, you can look up to each other.

Most Epic Procrastination Ever

This is a story that I documented years ago, because it was frustrating and funny at the same time. Someday, David will be famous for his ability to turn a situation around for his benefit. After reading this, you will probably understand why!

In 2009 David had some homework to complete on a Thursday, because it was due on Friday morning. He was not yet 8-years old.  At the time my work schedule allowed me to pick him up at home and take him out to look for trains – along with doing his homework. Generally this method worked well; we both love trains and it was a way to keep him engaged. I tried to help him work at his own pace, while setting the goal that the work needed to be completed. The key with him is to maintain his flow rather than forcing my own. But on one particular Thursday, his flow became so funny that I started taking notes. It started when we got trackside in Seattle, at 2nd Ave S. and S. Horton Street at around 5:30pm.

Kurt: “Okay, now that we’re trackside let’s do some homework.”

David: “Not yet. I want to eat first. I want Burger King.”

BK is a mere block away from where we were shooting video. So we watched trains for awhile, went and got our food (Angry Whopper meal / Kid’s Plain Cheeseburger Meal) and went back to Horton. After eating our food and watching a few more trains, it was time.

David: “Not here. I want to do homework at Holgate.”

So we headed that direction, just in time to have a massive freight train go through the crossing. We parked along the side of the road and I shut off the truck.

Kurt: “Okay let’s get started.”

David: “No, not here.”

Kurt: “Why not?”

David: “Because we’re not at Holgate.”

He was right. I had parked on South Lander Street by mistake. So we headed north to Holgate and parked.

David: “I can’t work. The sun is in my eyes.”

Kurt: “Turn your back to it. This is where you chose to do homework.”

David: “…But I need to go to the bathroom.”

There isn’t a public restroom for miles in SODO. No parks.

Kurt: “Then we’ll need to go to Georgetown, mister. There aren’t any public restrooms around here.”

David: “Okay, I’ll start working on it. Can we play at the park after I do homework?”

Kurt: “Yes we can.”

So we headed south to Georgetown.

David: “Where’s my board?”

He was referring to the piece of wood he uses as a tabletop while sitting in the truck.

Kurt: “It’s behind the seat.”

David: “I can’t work without my board.”

We were almost there, so we parked the truck near the Georgetown Playfield. on a side street. I dug out the board from behind the seat. David looked down there and saw something else.

David: “I’ve got Hot Wheels down there.”

He tried to dig a bunch of stuff out.

Kurt: “It’s not time for Hot Wheels; it’s time for homework.”

He managed to dig something out anyway.

David: “Look…what’s this?”

He pointed a Potato Gun at my head.

Kurt: “I’ll tell you after you do homework. DON’T point that at people, mister. Even if it’s a toy.”

David: “Why? It’s not even real.”

Kurt: “Because it’s still not okay to point toy guns at people. Bad habit.”

David: “Where’s my pencil?”

He had managed to lose his pencil between Holgate and Georgetown.

David: “I don’t see it anywhere, Daddy. Did I throw it out the window?”

Kurt: “I really don’t know if you threw it out, mister. Here’s another one to use.”

I pulled another pencil from the visor.

David: “But my pencil had a Tiki eraser on it. I want that one.”

Kurt: “There are no choices here. That pencil is lost and I have another one.”

David: “Okay. What are you writing Dad?”

Kurt: “Nothing mister.”

I documented some more of our conversation on the back of an envelope. Then I went silent and looked out the window for the next 15 minutes, while David completed the three final pages. Total time involved to finish that last 15 minutes worth of homework?

1 3/4 hours.

Most Epic Procrastination Ever!

It’s Gotta Be An Oldsmobile

Olds 442

This story was written originally in 1991, then revised in 1993 – KC

“It’s gotta be an Oldsmobile,” Teddy explained when I asked how he liked my recently-purchased GTX.  “You ain’t nothin’ if you don’t got a 442, Larry.”  Of course, I didn’t like what he was telling me, but anyone who knew Teddy would say that his response was normal.  He had been like that since high school.  I should know; I’m his best friend.

In 1973, after years of college living, I was finally making enough money to get out of my college car.  My rust-bucket ’58 Chevy wagon had seen over 148,000 miles and countless clothes hangers, bungee cords, hose clamps, and retreads.  It made it to the East Coast in five days and on seven quarts of oil, carrying five drunk decision makers of the future.  It went to L.A. in ’71, serving as the Attitude Adjustment Project Vehicle for me and my roommates.  We drove straight through to escape Washington State University for spring break, and with the exception of five quarts of oil, two tickets in Oregon for doing 95, three busted fan belts, and a flat retread, the car made it without actually stranding us.  The Chevy was my only mode of transportation (and often my only source of headaches) for two years of high school and four years of college.  I knew every inch of that car intimately; every inch had needed repair at one time or another.

Because of its myriad of problems, it’s safe to assume that, by the time I graduated in May of 1973, I had made the decision to retire the Chevy. Me and all my college buddies had to drive the worst cars ever to roll down the roads of Western Civilization, and the Chevy was by far the grubbiest.  It only suited our purpose because of its size, and I only kept it because of my poverty.  But now, out of college, I felt compelled to get a car that had the great feature of dependability, with the option of getting in, turning the key, and driving away without going through some ritualistic series of whacks, adjustments, or pumps on the accelerator.   

I got a good job and started saving money.  Putting some away from each check was hard with rising gas costs, but my need to replace the Chevy far outweighed my hatred of paying the upward side of 45 cents a gallon. I didn’t care about gas prices.  The lines of cars that curled around the gas pumps and out into the street didn’t bother me either.  Bad gas mileage didn’t even bother me.  In fact, nothing could stop me from getting rid of that ’58 Chevy.

Combing the car lots, I found a beautiful three-year-old GTX.  The Plymouth dealership was practically giving the thing away.  $1495 was roughly a third of what it had sold for new in 1970.  Gas mileage was the issue of the day and a GTX with a 440 and digger gearing was on an economy death list.  Therefore, the dealership couldn’t unload this car no matter what they tried.  I was able to get my desired price because of this, and a decent trade-in on my rust bucket.  I didn’t care about OPEC; I just wanted something better than I had before.

Teddy disagreed.

It needed to be more than something better; it had to be an Oldsmobile.  He was like me when it came to the gas crisis, which meant he didn’t care either.  But what he did care about was whether or not it was an Oldsmobile.  He was weird that way.  Any time a buddy of ours would buy a car, Teddy would say “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”  We could always tell if he liked the car by the tone of his answer; if his “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile” had bubbly inflexion, we all knew he liked the car, but didn’t want to admit it.  If his “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile” was under his breath or had no enthusiasm, we knew he didn’t like the car, period.  After scoping out my GTX for about 15 minutes in silence, Teddy let out a slightly enthusiastic “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”  It was his way of telling me that, deep down, he liked my Plum Crazy B-Body Plymouth, but had too much conviction to say so.

Outwardly, Teddy was never the odd sort.  He was just like the rest of us, drinking the same kind of beer and throwing the same ounce of dart.  But his Oldsmobile fetish really put him on the wrong board.  His first car had been an Oldsmobile, a ’51 Holiday 88 2-door.  The back seat was the size of Rhode Island and was probably the main reason why he now has a daughter living somewhere in Oak Harbor with her mother.  That car was the biggest thing I had ever seen when he got it in ’67.  But as soon as he bought it, all his friends could see that Teddy’s personality was beginning to change.  It was almost evangelical; he would collect data and literature on Oldsmobiles with zealous enthusiasm.  Warthog, his ’51, had many rare and collectable parts installed as our years at Shoreline High School progressed.  She received a full set of Strombergs, side pipes, fire paint front covering a flat-black body, and eventually power steering from a ’63 Starfire.  Teddy, who was the type that never had to study, would spend every available hour on Warthog, before and after school.  It became his obsession, which received his loving touch end to end.  

A conversation with Teddy would eventually get around to Oldsmobiles.  I would be talking about a date or outing and he would usually interject with “what kind of car did he/she have?”  If it was an Oldsmobile, it was all over.  He would go in to something like how the Starfire had a special blend of paint, or how the 442 had a super-stiff suspension.  After his sermons, he was always euphoric, smiling and pliable.  Apparently, he saw something in their marquis that none of us could pinpoint; something called to him from behind the chrome and emblems, and he felt a need to indoctrinate his friends in the glories of his faith.  But Teddy wasn’t always a good orator, and could never make his true feelings known to us.  Therefore, it remained a message that none of us heard, but one to which Teddy had the right frequency.

Just before I left for college in ’69, Teddy began to collect more than Oldsmobile data.  He began to collect Oldsmobiles.  Storing Warthog for awhile, he bought a ’64 four-door 442, a car that was not only hard to find, but also unknown to many collectors.  Teddy’s was an ex-police car, the exact purpose for which the 442 was formulated.  It had a 330, a 4-speed, 4 doors, and about 120,000 cop miles.  When he brought it home from the Everett Police auction, he muttered a dreamy “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”  To an outsider, Teddy’s infatuation with Oldsmobiles would have seemed physical in origin.  But physical love is so shallow and misleading.  No, Teddy’s love for Oldsmobiles was spiritual in nature, rooted far deeper than a lust after a physical body style.  

Something other than design drew him to the marquis.  

As Teddy pursued his own type of education, I struggled through classes that had no real-life purpose. I feel that way because I spent four years in confusion, not knowing when my next meal would be slapped aluminum first on the TV tray. When the stomach growls, the brain doesn’t think.  But getting an education meant more than just going to unnecessary classes and receiving a diploma.  It meant living like a rat for a few years and learning to enjoy it.

Teddy got a job at the local Oldsmobile dealership in the Parts Department right out of high school and quickly became the only one who could find rare or hard-to-come-by parts.  He knew it all.  The dusty parts books spoke to him clearer than to anyone else behind the counter.  

1969 was Oldsmobile’s heyday, the time for “The Newmobiles for ’69” and “Dr. Olds.”  Their 442s were running faster than ever, thanks to improved induction systems, and a little rule-bending from inside the corporation.  Even their station wagons could be purchased with performance options, under the guise of “towing packages.”  As a performance car manufacturer, Oldsmobile was climbing to the top.  Teddy’s knowledge of rare parts carried him right up the ladder with them.

All along, Teddy collected the cars and the data.  It was spiritual.  Each month, he would contribute 25% of his gross earnings to his cars and his acquisitions.  Every time I’d arrive home from school, Teddy would have another Oldsmobile or more parts in the garage of his home out in Bothell.  His third Oldsmobile was a close-to-new ’70 442 W/30 with only 3000 miles on the odometer and a toasted wiring harness from a severe electrical fire.  His dealership had taken it back on warranty and gave the owner a new one.  Teddy bought it for some ungodly low amount and towed it home.  Painstakingly, he rewired and stored the car, occasionally driving it to Oldsmobile shows.

He was a fanatic about restoration.  He would get into what we called “the restoration mode,” becoming a man of few words, and usually limiting a conversation to varied grunts and “uh-hums.”  For many nights at a time he would spend countless hours in the garage on one of his projects.  It was almost as if he was on a quest for something, to create in real life what only he could see in his mind.

Yes, Oldsmobile can be called Teddy’s devotion.  While our friends were experimenting with drugs or singing folk songs at church youth groups, Teddy was spending the wee hours of the night reading Oldsmobile Technical Service Manuals, and periodicals on Oldsmobiles.  He also combed the classifieds from several Washington newspapers, looking for Oldsmobiles and parts for Oldsmobiles.  He made a pilgrimage to Oldsmobile’s R&D Office, so he could see their research and development up close.  We jokingly called his home “The Sacred Shrine of Oldsmobile,” pointing to all the posters and amassed parts that cluttered his garage.  We also referred to Linda Vaughn, the bikini-clad spokeswoman for Hurst/Olds, as “Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration.”  When we bugged him, Teddy would shrug and explain in a determined tone “maybe you guys need to read up.  It’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”

Since Teddy was so deep into Oldsmobiles, I have to admit that I considered getting one instead of my GTX.  I thought I was starting to see reasoning behind his obsession, and figured if they were good enough for Teddy then they would be good enough for me.  I had looked at a beautiful ’72 Cutlass Supreme before I got the GTX.  There was no denying that it was a really nice car, plush and comfortable.  But I just didn’t like it in the same way that Teddy did.  When I talked to him about the ’72, he replied, “Hey man, that’s a great car.  Rochester made a lot of changes to the Dualjet for ’72.  They ain’t as finicky to adjust no more.  And that 350?  What a puller.  Just watch out for that fourteenth lifter…damn thing gets stuck all the time…” and so on and so on.  Sure, I like the technical side of cars, but after strapping my ’58 together with Duck Tape for six years, all I wanted was a car that went fast and didn’t break down.  For me the Cutlass was too soft and too quiet.  I wanted rugged and loud.  Everyone has their preferences; Teddy’s doctrine wasn’t for me.

I guess that Teddy considered me a sinner after I bought the GTX.  But even some of Teddy’s hardest, fastest iron couldn’t come close to my 440 4-speed, except when he’d catch up to me at the gas station.  Every time I’d race Warthog (by now complete with a Dyer-blown 455) or against one of his 442s, Teddy would scratch his head, complaining “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile,” which implied that he didn’t understand how my Plymouth could run as hard or as fast as an Oldsmobile, and not be an Oldsmobile.  He couldn’t see Plymouth as being a performance car, since his faith was in Oldsmobile.  Teddy’s sight was narrow and this overpowered Mopar was out of his vision.

Yet, he persisted in his obsession, like a bee against a window.  Flexibility was not his strong point when it came to cars.  He couldn’t visualize anything outside of Oldsmobile or why anyone would want to own anything outside of Oldsmobile.  Time and time again, he would point to the literature, saying “it’s all here in the book.  See?  Read this and you’ll see there ain’t no other choice.”  He refused to believe that my GTX was every bit as powerful, fast, loud, and unbreakable as any of his Oldsmobiles.  Teddy was obsessed, and felt his views should be everyone’s.  His faithfulness to Oldsmobile was getting the best of him, and pissing me off in the process.

But that message kept calling to him, though neither I nor any of Teddy’s friends could hear it.  His shrine grew as he acquired more and more Oldsmobiles.  He was still listening to that inner voice.  He knew something about his cars, but didn’t tell us what that something was.  He thought that his mystic vision was visible to everyone.  

As the years passed, and as he acquired more Oldsmobiles, Teddy began to collect only certain kinds.  One of the most specific was a ’78 Quasi-442, which had a 260 and a Borg-Warner T5 5-speed.  Teddy told me he wanted one for his collection, because its 5-speed was the same unit installed in the IROC-Zs of the ’80s and was worth a lot of money.

Money?

I had never known Teddy to be material.  He cleared it up for me.  “Some guy come by my place last week.  Offered me fifteen grand for Warthog.  I tell him it ain’t for sale but he can buy my big-block Vista Cruiser for seven.”  Teddy’s ’70 Cutlass Station Wagon had only 15,000 miles, and was powered by a 455 and a 4-speed.  “He told me my cars are worth a ton.  And he bought the wagon for seven.”

Then it occurred to me.  Teddy’s inner drive hadn’t necessarily been money, but rather blind faith in instinct.  He didn’t realize, until this guy’s healthy offer for Warthog, why he was collecting Oldsmobiles; he just collected them.  

Well, it’s 1993 and I still have my GTX.  The beautiful Plum Crazy paint job is now chipped and spider webbed.  In the 20 years that I’ve owned it, I’ve replaced the u-joints three times, rewired it once, and had the body straightened after two Seattle accidents, both which ironically affected the side of the car that already had the best paint.  The trunk leaks like a sieve and the windshield cracks up the middle every time I slam it into second gear at full throttle.  Even with these problems, I have to hide the keys from my 16 year-old.  To my son Jeffery, it’s not a well-used piece of crap; it’s a piece of crap with some abuse left in it.  I know that, at the hands of a teenager, my poor GTX would die a painful death pasted to a telephone pole somewhere in Lynnwood.  It’s given me almost 170,000 miles of faithful service since 1973; to have it crunched by Jeffery after that many miles would hurt far too much to bear.

This is why I considered selling it to someone who would restore it and treat it with some respect.  We are now living in an era when old muscle cars get top dollar.  Clean, low-mileage examples of my GTX get well over $10,000 with the 440.  If it’s an original Hemi car, don’t even bother looking at it if you have less than 30 or 40 thousand.  My GTX is no Hemi, and is neither choice nor low-mileage, but it does have the original, unrebuilt 440.  This means that as a restorable, it’s a great deal for someone who wants to take the time on it.  But I found out that it’s not near as desirable as any one of Teddy’s 442s.

Remember the W/30 he bought in ’70 with 3000 miles?  Well, it now has 8500 miles and is worth $35,000.  Warthog is worth about $20,000 (now sporting an alcohol-burning, injected and blown 455 that will lay molten rubber for an entire city block).  There’s no telling how much his collection is worth, considering most of it is stored and low-mileage.  His cars are in great demand because of their condition and Teddy’s devotion to detail.  He knows everything about every car he’s ever owned.  He can tell a guy what plant the car was built in, along with the exact month and day.  He sold his four-door 442 and paid off his mortgage, and then his ’78 5-speed to buy his daughter an ’86 Firenza as a college car.

Needless to say, I wanted this sort of stuff to happen to me.  My GTX wasn’t nearly as pristine as any of his Oldsmobiles, but it was complete.  I hoped there was someone out there who would want my car.

Teddy told me of a guy who was looking for a restorable muscle car and gave me his phone number.  Apparently, Teddy’s collection was too rich for his blood, because the demand and price for performance Oldsmobiles had gone through the roof.  This guy wanted something to restore that he could buy for less.

I could sense the inner voice now that Teddy had followed.  The voice that had pushed him on for all those years was speaking to me, and making me realize that it has to be an Oldsmobile to be worth something.  I listened to Teddy in high school, but didn’t hear what he really meant. His consistent comment didn’t relay all that it stood for.  But Teddy had listened to the voice; it told him to buy Oldsmobiles.  “Buy them for the future, because in a few years, your small investment and your annual 25% offering will become a fortune in your garage.”  That’s what the voice was telling him.  And since he blindly followed, the deities of his faith looked kindly on him and rewarded his efforts.  All this time, his quaint little phrase had more meaning than it seemed.  His collection was now worth big bucks.  Any performance or modified Oldsmobile was like gold.

Although I was sure that my GTX was worth something to someone, deep down I knew I would never be able to get as much for it what Teddy could get for any of his cars.  Still, as a restorable car, I was hoping to get some some good money for it.  I called the phone number Teddy had given me.

“Yeah, I’m looking for something restorable,” the guy said.  “But Teddy didn’t tell you.  I want to restore a 442.  They got that super-stiff suspension, and I already got a Vista Cruiser to use for parts.  The lines of the ’69 hardtop really put a hook in me when I was in high school.”  There was a short sigh of euphoria.

“Sorry, man, but I don’t really wanna restore a Mopar.  It’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”