The naugahyde was cool against your cheek. I remember that.
Driving back from Roxbury. Rambling along the Charles on Storrow. The car pitched and yawed on its butt-sprung suspension and the spidered pavement. You could reach down and lift the floor mat to see the asphalt roll by through the rusty pinholes in the floor, where the road salt had done its work, and worked overtime, too.
Pop was operatin’. He was like a sub commander. Steering through shoals with vision obscured. Our moist breath fuddled the windshield. The defroster exhaled on the glass like the dying animal it was. Pop wiped the fog away with his hanky, and pressed on.
Little brother was already asleep on the seat next to you. Mom packed blankets and pillows around him to hold him on the seat. I bivouacked on the rest, and tried to align my face on the part where the cushion wasn’t split from a thousand butts. The edge of the rip would cut your face and the foam would tickle you.
The scene was framed, imperfectly, through the lens of the side window. Left to right, the world ran past. The drops of condensation coalesced on the movie screen of the fogged window, ran down, and revealed the Cambridge shore through the mist. Low-watt Christmas everywhere. The enormous billboards were shrunk by distance and time and poverty to faraway smears of luminous color with winking neon and the stink of death on their topics. FULLER OLDS. NECCO. KASANOF’S. The window made them into a kaleidoscope.
The useless wipers went scrreee-BAP, scrreee-BAP over and over, and Pop would fiddle with everything to no effect and keep going. Mom would look out the window and over her shoulder and her thoughts were her own. The Christmas presents from doting Aunts who asked over and over, “Which one are you?” shifted and tumbled over in the trunk an inch behind my head when we got to the huge sign that said REVERSE CURVE — the one that caught Pop by surprise, every time, even though he was born a brisk walk from it.
There was sometimes a hand free to twist the huge, mostly useless dial on the radio. Snap, Crackle, Pop, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, came out of that thing. At night the big stations like BeeZee would bleed all over the place, and bizarre incursions of French from Canada would appear, unwonted, fight for primacy like radio chimeras, then disappear as Pop searched again for whatever you could catch and hold.
Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone…
We rolled on into the night.