whoa-oh, black betty

See this car?

This is the 1996 Acura Integra I’ve been driving since May 1999.  My parents got it for me when I was 21.  I drove it in Houston, I drive it in Austin, I drove it all around the country.  If I’ve given you a ride anywhere within the last ten and a half years, it was in that car.  It’s the car I brought Maude home in the day I got her, when she was so terrified she wouldn’t look at me or sit down in the passenger seat.  It’s my favorite car I’ve ever driven, and it has more than 171,000 miles on it, only 40,000 of which are not mine.

Or maybe I shouldn’t call the car it. Her name is Betty. Betty the trusty Acura who, despite a few flat tires and some things that were not her fault, has never ever failed me in any significant way.

Betty’s sick, you guys.  She’s like an old lady who has retained her sound mind even as her body’s falling apart.  The engine runs just fine; I never have any trouble with that. But on Tuesday I went outside, unlocked the car and pulled the handle on the driver’s side to open the door just like I always do.

But the door didn’t open. I pulled harder, and that’s when the door handle broke off in my hand.

Since then I have become one of those people who has to get into their car through the passenger side.

It sucks. It sucks if you’re not wearing a skirt, it sucks worse if you ARE wearing a skirt, it sucks even worse if you’re wearing a skirt and two guys in a pickup truck point and laugh as they watch you try to crawl into your car without flashing anyone.

But this isn’t the first broken thing.  A few weeks ago I was in the car and I turned the little lever that washes the back windshield.  That lever is supposed to squirt washer fluid onto the back windshield and then run the wiper to clean it.  No washer fluid came out, though, so I turned the lever again. And again. Nothing came out, and the wiper kept waving back and forth uselessly. I guess I need to refill the washer fluid, I thought.

When I felt something wet on my shoulder, I looked up to see washer fluid dripping from the dome light.

And before that, I got pulled over downtown on a Friday night. I was on my way to drink one of Paul Rudd’s beers with friends during SXSW, and the cop that stopped me said I had a headlight out.

“Which one?” I asked.

“This one,” the cop said, and he walked over toward the passenger side. When he slammed his hand down on the hood of the car near the headlight, it went back on.

(“Like THE FONZ?” someone asked me later. Yes, it was just like the Fonz.)

The cop wrote me a warning and told me to fix the headlight. Since then I have to Fonz the headlight every now and then.

The fact that I still have this car is one of the many ways in which I’m like my parents, who tend to keep their cars forever. My dad drove both his Chevy Citation* and his Plymouth Grand Voyager into the ground.  The fabric on the ceiling of the Citation came unstuck and was sagging down onto his head, so he put a thumbtack through the fabric into the ceiling right above the driver’s seat so he could see to drive. Then he tore the fabric down, and my sister and I would play with the cracking foamy substance that was left on the ceiling. I used to reach up and trace my name in the foam with my finger and bits of it would rain down on me.

We complained to my father for months about the Citation. The radio didn’t work, the seats were sticky vinyl, and the car itself was embarrassing and probably toxic.  “It’s a perfectly good car!” my dad would say.

The Plymouth Grand Voyager (which I drove to Senior Prom) was fine until it wasn’t. My dad drove it to work one day, and that afternoon he called to ask my mom to pick him up and take him to the car dealership. He left the poor dead Plymouth in the parking lot of his office for the Salvation Army to pick up. He and my mom STILL have the used Ford Explorer they bought that day.

I don’t know what to do about Betty. The little Headley voice in the back of my head says, “Come on, it runs fine! You have no car payment! It’s a perfectly good car!” The other voice says, “It’s probably going to die in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. You can’t keep getting in and out of the passenger seat like that! You’re 31 years old!”

So, readers, I’d like to ask your opinion.  Here are all the facts I can think of:

Car pros:

  • No car payment
  • It’s very comfortable
  • It runs well
  • After 10 years, I’m awfully good at driving it
  • Nobody wants to steal it
  • It’s small and I can park it almost anywhere
  • But when I fold the back seats down it can carry a shitload
  • Its airbags and seatbelts are all good
  • Jeffrey Ross has been in it
  • It gets great gas mileage
  • It’s a hatchback, so I never have to drive a group of people anywhere unless they want to squish into the backseat like sardines
  • NO CAR PAYMENT. Did you get that part?

Car cons:

  • The A/C doesn’t work very well–if it’s over 90 degrees and the sun’s out, I arrive everywhere covered in sweat, which is half the year in Texas
  • It’s a black car, which makes the above much worse in the summer
  • One time I left a pair of boots in there for a few months and they grew mold
  • The anti-lock brake system doesn’t work
  • Washer fluid leaks onto the driver
  • There’s only one door handle, and it’s on the wrong side
  • The tint is all wrinkled so I can’t see out the back windshield very well
  • It’s a hatchback, so I can never drive a group of people anywhere unless they want to squish into the backseat like sardines (Shaun used to say getting out of the backseat of my car was like being born)
  • The retractable antenna started making a CHUNK CHUNK CHUNK sound, so my dad had to replace it with a regular antenna, which is held on with electrical tape
  • There’s no CD player and the tape player doesn’t work, so I have to listen to my iPod through an FM transmitter/charger thing, but the cigarette lighter stopped working so my iPod doesn’t charge while I’m listening
  • Years of parking outdoors in Texas have melted all the paint off the roof

So, do you think I should:

  1. Fix everything I can on it and then drive it into the ground
  2. Get a new (well, newER) car soon and sell Betty for scrap metal or maybe have her bolted to one of those billboards where the crumpled car shows that people survived an accident because they were wearing their seatbelts

Right now I have enough for a small (SMALL!) down payment on an early-aughts Honda/Accura of some kind, but I’d rather not use it now if Betty and I can keep going for awhile.

What would you do?

*who names a car after a ticket?

dog bunches

Brendan came over yesterday after work and told me that the Taco Bell dog died.  I don’t remember my exact words to Brendan about it, but I can sum up my general statements thusly:

  1. I hated those commercials.
  2. I hated it even more when people would meet Maude and be all “Yo quiero Taco Bell,” like that joke was
    1. funny or
    2. original.
  3. How sad for the owner of that dog.
  4. But at least she had a good long life and was well cared for.
  5. Oh no, that makes me sad about when Maude’s going to die! And that makes me want to hug Maude! C’mere, Maude!

To which Brendan said, “Yeah, that’s why I broke the news to you in person instead of e-mailing it to you. Since I knew you’d be sad hearing about a dead Chihuahua, I thought I’d make sure I was here when you found out. You know, for moral support.”

How well does that guy know me?  Damn.*

Oh, and 6. Maude’s cuter than the Taco Bell dog, but I don’t think she has the mental acumen to perform for cameras.

*And then this morning Brendan told me that last night he had a dream that he was growing dogs in a garden. Each row of his garden had a different breed–collies, German shepherds, Chihuahuas, etc.

“The garden wasn’t too big, so I guess it was a small operation. I was like a subsistence-level dog farmer.”

“You ATE them?”

“No, I think I sold them. But the funniest part was seeing this collie sticking halfway out of the ground, barking at me.”


“I know! Oh, and the Chihuahuas grew in bunches.”

The image of Chihuahuas growing out of the ground in bunches is totally making my day.

the end of self-flagellation?

When I first started seeing my current therapist last year, he told me that part of my problem was that I thought I was SUPPOSED TO do too many things.  There are, of course, things that one really IS supposed to do, like eat and sleep, pay the bills, feed the dog, etc.  Those items were getting accomplished, but I was also thinking about all the other SUPPOSED TO things.  When I came home from work in the evening, I was doing the same stuff other people do–eating dinner, checking the internet, reading, watching tv–but in the back of my head was this flashing, scrolling marquee that read, “I’m supposed to be writing! I’m supposed to be posting to my website! I’m supposed to be doing something productive!” Half the time I didn’t even have anything in mind for the “something productive,” but it really bothered me that I wasn’t doing it, whatever it was.

At the height of the SUPPOSED-TOs, I wasn’t enjoying anything I was doing, because whatever I did paled in comparison to some nebulous task I should have been accomplishing instead.

Last night I got home from work at 6, hot and tired from my commute. My evening plans had fallen through, so I had some ideas about other tasks–putting hooks in the bathroom for swimsuits and extra towels, moving the folding chairs to make room for the vacuum cleaner, straightening up the living room, and so forth.

But then I decided to finish watching the episode of True Blood* I’d started on Tuesday, so I got in bed with the dog and my computer** and watched it. Then I didn’t want to get up because I was comfortable, so I put on a South Park episode, and then I fell asleep.  When I woke up at 10, I took the dog out, called my boyfriend, read a little, and ate some grapes while watching another South Park. Then I fell asleep again.

And I didn’t feel guilty about it at all.  The scrolling marquee in the back of my head hasn’t disappeared, but it’s off a lot of the time these days. I can come home and watch TV and fall asleep on the bed, and when I wake up three hours later, instead of thinking “OH MY GOD I DIDN’T GET ANYTHING DONE!” I think, “Gosh, I must have needed that.”

In part I have therapy to credit for this, but I think I’ve also come to terms with what it means to suffer from chronic (albeit well-treated) depression and anxiety.  To keep myself on an even keel, I need to get enough sleep. I need to leave the house every day. I need to eat right and try to exercise. And sometimes I need to turn myself off and do absolutely nothing. If that means I get fewer things done than other people do, that’s okay. Those other people aren’t me.

And I’m getting pretty good at recognizing when I need to turn myself off.  Having my brain is pretty stressful most of the time: I overthink everything, I’m always planning and planning and worrying about worst-case scenarios, and I almost never truly relax.  A brain like that can’t keep going without a little rest, and whether that rest is sleep or just spending an evening doing nothing at all doesn’t seem to matter.

I’m off work all next week, and for awhile I thought I wanted to take a trip somewhere. Why waste my week off staying at home and doing nothing? I thought. But look at this list of places I’ve been so far this year:

Fredericksburg, TX
Houston, TX
Bryan, OH
Long Island, NY
Des Moines, IA

I’m planning a trip to New Orleans this month and a trip to Minnesota for a wedding in September and a trip to St. Louis for Christmas probably, and who knows where else I’ll go. When I thought about that, staying in Austin started to sound pretty good. I can read and sew and do stuff to my apartment, I can go swimming a LOT, I can take day trips to San Antonio and the Guadalupe.

Or if I want, I can do nothing at all.

*This show is not good. But I’m invested in the plot for the time being, so I watch it anyway.

**When I go to work in the mornings, I leave the bedroom A/C on and the living room A/C off, since the former has a thermostat and runs more efficiently.  I turn on the living-room unit when I get home, and then hang out in the bedroom until the living room cools down.  This makes for a lot of watching DVDs and such on my computer after work.