She had been nameless for five years before one found her.
Helen is—or I should say was—the first car I’ve bought with my own money. She was a 1993 Subaru Impreza. She was a trusty four-door, a quirky, crimson streak on the road.
My best friend Joe and I were driving around our gay neighborhood, windows down, music blaring, having a gay ole time when it just felt right, you know, to name the thing that is giving you pleasure, like my ex-boyfriend’s dick or the knife I used to slash his designer suits when we broke up.
It was serendipity or something when Church of the Poison Mind by Culture Club came on the radio. If you know this song, you know that the soulful wail of Helen Terry, the band’s backup singer, commandeers the song’s bridge before a joyous harmonica takes over. When you are a die-hard fan of a band, you know the names of all their back-up singers, girlfriends, pets.
I had joking called the car "Helen." Everybody knows how you get stuck with a stupid nickname right? Can you explain how you got the nickname "Curly," "Red," or "Asshole"? Your friends playfully use the name a few times and then suddenly it sticks. And now you’re afraid that it will end up in your tombstone.
Now, I don’t normally name random non-living things, but naming Helen must have unleashed some kind of dam. Since then, other things in my house had garnered a moniker, most significantly my body pillow which I had christened "George" after the Looney Tunes episode where Marvin the Martian captures Bugs Bunny to give him as a pet to the Abominable Snowman ("I will call him George and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him"). God, anyone ever notice how those old Looney Tunes shows were so gay?
I have lived in Chicago for twelve years; Helen had carried me faithfully through work, leisure and love for eleven of those.
Helen still looked great despite a graze on one of her rear doors. There is a depression on the driver’s seat that conforms nicely to my shapely aerobicized ass. Under the seat, probably $3.62 in lost change and a two year-old french fry. I had been in at least five accidents while driving her, none of which I am at fault, or so my attorney says. I could have lost my life in one of them but I had walked away deeply shaken, but unscathed.
Sometimes I think of her like an old dog: loving, loyal, arthritic. The spirit is still there, but the dog poop ends up in the house instead of out in the backyard. In the back of my mind, there is a sense of dread.
In my job as a consultant, I drive a fair amount to my client out in Naperville, over an hour away by car. A couple of weeks ago, the air conditioning which had been sputtering for awhile finally conked out. The repairs were going to be over a thousand. I had already spent $800 to get the tie rods fixed only a month ago. For a car whose Blue Book value was less than $1,500, it made no sense to get Helen repaired.
Brian and I went out and got a new car. A dark blue 2004 Volkswagen Jetta. At the dealership, the sweaty guy behind the desk offered us $100 as a trade-in for Helen.
I fucking lost it, man. I yelled at the guy, I did. He offered me another $100 as an appeasement. After all, the deal was nearly done, why fuck it up? He’s already made his money. I had no fight left, I gave in.
We took our old plates and put them on the new car. It felt weird. It’s like somebody other than Sarah Jessica Parker wearing the "Carrie" nameplate necklace.
I loved that car.
Goodbye, Helen. I will miss you.
Next: Getting a new car - Straight Cop, Gay Cop
Pictures of Helen: 1 2
Hear the famous Abominable Snowman quote
Pillow is Perfect Boyfriend - courtesy of Peter, Changes in the Glass
What Constitutes an Asshole
Another Asshole. How about a blown-out asshole? (It's gross, but you know you want to see it)
And this one is just plain weird (not work safe)...
Culture Club and Helen Terry singles
Carrie Bradshaw. The other Carrie.
Make your own License Plate
Goodbye, Cruel World