My good friend, Teddy, once told me this wonderful idea he'd heard on NPR: "people usually narrate their life stories in terms of verbs ("I went there, I did that, etc."), imagine how much more interesting it would be if they use nouns instead.” It’s genius. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Here I’ve been dispensing my stories in the most humdrum way. Nouns are far more concrete, concise, and efficient; yes, they’ll do quite nicely.
A noun that’s been salient in my experience is one that’s common to a lot of people: cars. There are really only four that stand out in my mind: a 1980 Toyota Corolla wagon (yellow), a 1986 Cadillac De Ville (white), a 1996 Ford Windstar (mint green), and a 1990 Acura Integra (black).
The Toyota Corolla
The Toyota was the first car I ever encountered. It was bright yellow, very vibrant. Makes me think of all those times I caught strangers waving at us…they may’ve just wanted a cab ride. The only vivid memory I have riding it was when I had to be rushed to the hospital at around 5 years old. Laying in the back with a fever, listening to my parents fight in the front seats about some inane thing or another (my mom’s ‘fro shaking in anger), I remember thinking how sorry they’d be if I died right there. Oh, what a saint. She took it with such grace. If only we weren’t so wrapped up in our self-importance! (sniff, sniff). Take this scenario, minus the fever and the afro, multiply it a few hundred times, and you’ve got an adequate sketch of the rest of my childhood.
The Cadillac De Ville
Mmm…this was quite a ride. My dad used to let me start the ignition and warm it up each morning, before school (they were my first few tastes of independence). It was a large car. Good thing it was too, because this one time we had to move we needed all the room we could get to cart all our stuff from Palmdale to Santa Clarita in only two trips. Any more than two would’ve triggered more verbal bashing from the psycho-bitch that ran us out of Palmdale in the first place…moving on…
The Ford Windstar
Think: gigantic stick of mint chewing gum. What a monster…we’ve owned it for 5 years and I still find it hard to maneuver in the thing, which is why it became the vehicle of my first “hit-and-run”. It really wasn’t as bad as it might sound. Fact is I merely scratched up against a parked truck while trying to slip into a parking space of my own, but since I just got my license at the time the whole thing seemed like a greater ordeal than it really was. Seeing no one around, and not a single blemish on the “victim”, I simply walked off. Needless to say, the van was defiled enough for my dad to notice, so coming back to find the truck gone (no ominous note left on my windshield whispering “I know what you did…”) I went on my tortured way and fabricated some story about how I had been the target of a phantom motorist. I never did get in trouble for that, although on occasion my dad would playfully allude to the still present, large scrape on the front bumper and mutter something about it being my fault.
One word comes to mind when I think of this car, my car, my first-ever car: “theft”…and so unravels an important element of my life—my brother. Here’s the connection: the driver’s side of this car was jimmied one night, not so long ago, while it was parked outside our house. It became hapless prey to the rash of minor car thefts in the area. Sometime afterward, my younger brother and one of his equally rebellious friends were tackled by a neighbor for trying to steal his car stereo. A few months, hearings, and missed community service hours later, my brother’s locked up in County Jail for not providing the demanded reparations (some handful of service projects). It seems the two-month stint wasn’t so bad though; he’s quite adaptive. Also, who would’ve thought the confines of a cold, restrictive, 8-story building, with its metallic furniture that’s bolted to the ground, and its break-proof glass, would be conducive to the nurturing of family relations.
So, there it is.
I’m really liking this reductive approach. So much so that I’m thinking: “why stop here?” I should just apply this to everything, even daily conversation. I’d save myself a lot of energy, and it may even be fun for other people to draw their own connections…
-“Hey Irene, what’ve you been up to?”
-“Oh you know, red shoes, mid-term, sore throat, dentist.”
-“How was your weekend?”
-“Papers, friends, booze”
-“Why are you talking funny?”