COAL: 1985 Oldsmobile Regency 98: Chopped Liver

A 1985 Regency 98, not mine, because I have no pictures.

The time has come to sing of Oldsmobiles.

I remember, the year of my bar mitzvah, the GM advertising campaign “NOT YOUR FATHER’S OLDSMOBILE” and the only Oldsmobiles I knew were the ones that belonged to my father. Dad is an modest man of pride, which is to say, he was proud, satisfied that he could buy a well-made, comfortable car smack dab in the middle fifth tranche of the GM brand hierarchy, with his hard-won earnings as a young doctor, and when he did his showing off it was with displays of generosity rather than acts of conspicuous consumption.

Dad would never have bought a Cadillac for himself, nor even a Buick. So, there were four Oldsmobiles from 1977 to 1998, and mine was the last.


It was my father’s *friend’s* Oldsmobile.

Mine was a 1985 Regency 98. Its original purchaser was Barry Eisenman, a pharmacist. Barry ran the pharmacy department inside of Sullivan’s Department Store from 1969 until 1988. when he opened Family Drug on Broadway in Monticello. Barry and his wife Marilyn formed one corner of the square of extremely close friendships in Liberty that included the Klafters (a dentist and his psychologist wife), the Jaffes (an accountant from a Borscht Belt hotel family and his insurance adjuster wife), and my parents (doctor and office manager/enabler). Cars trickled through this group of friends from first owner to oldest children of friends, in the great cycle of existence. So Barry passed on his Olds to David Jaffe’s oldest daughter Elise when she went to graduate school in Wisconsin, and then, in 1993, Elise passed the car to her youngest sister Rachel.

Barry made delicious chopped liver by the way. Egg and schmaltz and caramelized onion and it would just melt in your mouth. He died of a stroke three years ago.

What you could expect before I was born

The first time I rode in the car was the morning of Sunday, March 28, 1994, which was the morning of the second day of Passover. My mother was still mourning her mother, so to save her the effort of preparing a Passover Seder, Dad had purchased five tickets to the communal seder at the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake. This seder was attended by two thousand people. I remember the waiters in their red jackets carrying around jugs of slivovitz to top off the shot glasses of diners, and I distinctly remember some odd little egg custard tarts, made in the Concord bakery by another family friend, Walter Klein (who was in the Kinderlift in 1939 and whose wife Hanna’s mother was my grandmother’s playmate in Munich in the 1920s).

The Concord Hotel, 2000, right before they dynamited it. My bar mitzvah was in a suite of rooms directly under the cameraman who took this picture.

I didn’t feel well leaving the seder, but I drove the wagon back to Liberty while Mom and my sisters rode with Dad in his Lincoln. I remember restless overwhelming dreams about turkey tetrazzini, shreds and chunks swimming in oceans of brown gravy, and woke at 2am to sprint to the bathroom where I projectile vomited the Concord seder in my stomach into the bathtub, floor, hallway carpet, sink, and stack of National Geographic magazines on the back of the toilet tank – everywhere, in fact, except for the toilet, which was to receive a different offering after several hours. I was violently, convulsively, comprehensively ill, from a foodbourne illness.

Vintage Donnatal, just like what Dad pulled out of the meat dinnerware cabinet.

My second battery of preliminary examinations for the spring of my freshman year were the last week of March and the first week of April. My father knew this. I could not stay in Liberty to recover, because I would miss those exams He dosed me with Lomotil – to control the diarrhea, and Donnatal, to soothe my gastric cramps, and sent me up to Cornell in Rachel’s Oldsmobile (previously arranged) during the therapeutic window for the two drugs.

I’d known Rachel since we were toddlers. She was two years older, very pretty brunette with a dazzling smile, and I had a crush on her that I definitely could feel despite the acute gastroenteritis being held back by the Donnatal sandbags, and we had a great drive back to Ithaca. She dropped me off at my dorm (Eco-House) and I felt okay.

Two hours later, the Donnatal wore off. I vomited once, twice, four times, coffee grounds, I was so sick I left my dorm room and stood in the hallway convulsing from low electrolytes, and spent two days in the hospital on intravenous fluids, where I missed my exams in autotutorial biology, calculus, and news-writing.

The buying of the car. I came back from Ithaca in August of 1996 with thirty-five hundred dollar bills, behind the wheel of the bent and smashed Pontiac, and there was going to a complicated interfamily vehicle trade.

I would cough up $3500. My sister would inherit Elise Jaffe’s 1991 two-door Pontiac Grand Prix, since she had moved from her Yale political science PhD program back to Philadelphia so her husband Dan could do his law degree at UPenn, and couldn’t keep a car in Center City Philly. Rachel had parked the 1985 Oldsmobile at her parents house, and I would get that, plus repairs and a commitment to pay the insurance for one year in exchange for my wagon settlement.

When I got the car, it had 125,000 miles and smoked. From “the valve gasket covers” which Bruce repaired. It smelled still of Barry Eisenman’s cigars, although Barry himself had quit five years earlier. It had a stupid digital calculator on the dashboard, with preset functions that never worked right, and were impossible to use at speed. The air conditioning was broken. The driver’s side window would fall into the door if opened more than halfway, and then I would have to lift the door card, extract and lift the window into position, and run the electric window motor until it was secure in place. There were new tires.

I moved my things back into the dorms and used the car to drive to gaming night. One evening on Triphammer in the fall of 1996, the alternator belt snapped. I didn’t really know how to even open the hood, because it opened the wrong way! (forward.) Okay, that was repaired at a garage in Fall Creek. A month later, the turning signal module went bad, and – my first automobile repair! I picked a new module up at NAPA and replaced the old one under and behind the dashboard.

Irena’s parents’ newspaper

I met this very pretty Russian girl that fall walking across the Arts Quad to a shared political science class. Irena! I took her out on a date and we drove up to Fuertes Observatory and drank Sam Adams cherry wheat beer while making out in the Oldsmobile. I can’t believe that she left me take her out in that car, because she had an Acura and flew back to New York City every other weekend to help out her parents at their import-export business in Brighton Beach, and at their newspaper, also in Brighton Beach. I guess she liked me. I loved her, my god, I loved her.

The first time I’d ever driven to New York City – yes, four years into my driving career, hadn’t done it before, despite my hometown’s proximity – was in June 1997 in the Oldsmobile to visit Irena at her parents’ house in Jamaica Estates – a house one lonely block away from the manse in which our former President was conceived. We had jello shooters and whiskey sours in the old Fulton Fish Market, and then Irena went on her summer tour of Europe, where she broke up with me on the phone.

The Oldsmobile carried me back and forth to class and work that fall and winter and spring, when I moved out to the middle of nowhere past the airport into a basement one bedroom apartment of gloom and died in the summer of 1998, just after I’d moved back into town with my friend Howard.

I was hungry for something, and it was the middle of the night, so I drove the Oldsmobile up to East Hill Plaza, which was open 24 hours. Something bad happened to the oil pump while I was buying my crap, and the constellation of warning lights lit – low oil lights, check engine – on the hill going back down my shared apartment. I switched off the ignition and coasted downhill until I could park next to my Seneca Street apartment. The next morning, I drove out Route 13, engine getting rougher and rougher, until I reached a Jiffy Lube. They could not help me. I turned around, drove back into Ithaca, and stopped at Patterson’s garage. Dave Patterson diagnosed a dead oil pump, pointed to the gasoline squirting out between the heads, and said that the motor was seized.

185,000 miles, and a fifty dollar salvage check.