COAL Dust • The Rest of the Stories + Afterword

Speaking of the Lancer, shortly after it reported for duty in Denver from its nearly-thirty-year slumber in California, it needed a brake job: wheel cylinders, master cylinder, shoes all around, surely some wheel bearing grease and seals, though the drums were practically new. No surprise here; hydraulics that sit for decades don’t wake up in good condition. It wasn’t going to cost anywhere near enough to pose any threat to the family finances, but that didn’t stop mother just about blowing a head gasket, screaming at dad that she’d had it up to here with that stupid Lancer! (which we’d had for maybe six weeks or so). Dad took the car to Colorado Chrysler-Plymouth, where worked a mechanic—I think his name might’ve been Maynard—who daily-drove a ’66 Barracuda and was very handy with the early A-bodies; he did the job, and the brakes worked as well as 9-inch drums without self-adjusters could do, until the disc brake swap a good number of years later (though there might’ve been another set of shoes in there somewhen). Thinking back on this now, along with some of the other tantrums I’ve described along this line, I newly wonder if maybe Dad kept and drove the Lancer not only as a way to bond with his son, but also as a passive-aggressive thumb in his irrational wife’s eye. If it had occurred to me to ask while he was alive, I’m sure he’d’ve denied it, but I imagine there might’ve been just the faintest trace of a twinkle of a smile in the corners of his eyes, very briefly.

There are (too) many stories about my mother that didn’t get included in my COAL posts, because (too) many of them had nothing to do with cars. (Too) many of them did, though. That whizbangly-named Flamenol high-temperature wire I used to repair the oxygen sensor harness in the Spirit R/T came from the oven that had been in the kitchen when I was about 11 or so, at home alone for the evening and done with my homework. I decided to install a replacement broil element she’d bought at the GE appliance parts store a few days before when we were out on errands. It cost about sixteen dollars at that time, which is about $39 in today’s money, and she hadn’t got around to doing anything with it. I decided fixing the oven instead of parking in front of the television set would be a good way to participate in keeping the house in shape without being asked, which is an evergreen and very valid topic of household conversation when there are kids. It was an easy job, and I did it carefully, correctly, and neatly. I turned off power to the oven at the circuit breaker, swapped in the new element, checked all the connections, turned the breaker back on, and verified the oven worked. Even put away all the tools. Mother came home and I showed her what I’d done—you’d think I’d have learnt by then, but no. YOU IDIOT! I HADN’T DECIDED WHETHER TO FIX THE OVEN OR GET A NEW ONE!! She chased me up the stairs with a belt, and I was duly terrorised; I ran in my room, slammed the door and secured it somehow (desk chair under the knob, I think), called the police and told them she was going to hit me with a belt. They came, two of them in a Dodge Diplomat cruiser, talked to mother and then came upstairs and ordered me not to touch appliances in the house without permission. One of them said “nice engines” on his way out, about the pictures of small engines I had cut out from manufacturer brochures and pasted on the South wall of my room. The oven, as repaired, worked fine and didn’t get replaced for many years after that. It was a high-end GE P7 double wall oven from 1966 in avocado green, original to the house.

Just like this, but it was in our kitchen rather than wherever this one is.

There was another kitchen appliance incident like this—cleaning the condenser coils on the fridge one night lost me my bedroom privileges and got me banished to the basement, though that one had nothing to do with cars. But the basement did have its uses. When I was about 17, convinced D’Valiant was the best car in all the world, I took an interest in the activities of the Denver Regional Council of Government’s (DRCOG, commonly called “Doctor Cog”) activities related to pollution created by motor vehicles. That was a real problem in Denver, and probably still is; the area is prone to temperature inversions that keep the cruddy air down near surface level, and bowled in by the mountains so it often can’t be blown away sideways, either. I was more enthusiastic than knowledgeable, which is a polite way of saying I felt my uninformed opinions were at least as good as anyone’s smelly ol’ facts, and I felt I had some skin in the game since I liked old cars and there was talk of restricting their use on public roadways. I was on the phone one afternoon to the administrator discussing an upcoming meeting in which I wanted to participate. I’d learned by experience to take the precaution of making calls from the basement phone, out of mother’s earshot, but she picked up one of the upstairs extensions, heard a short bit of my conversation, and flew down the two flights of stairs. She grabbed the phone out my hand and at the top of her lungs, clearly audible to the administrator on the other end of the line, she let fly with the scorn and mockery about how I had no business with any regional council and they didn’t need Daniel Stern telling them how to run the government. My opportunity to participate, ah, did not materialise. Neither did much of an impressive list of activities and involvements materialise to put on my college applications, for some strange reason.

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