The Truth, Mainly - 06/17/1991

11 cars excessive? Plea for tolerance
by Leon Satterfield

I don't know why Ray Peery wanted 51 suits and "dozens of pairs of shoes," according to the county attorney, but I don't have any trouble understanding why he bought those 11 BMWs, Jaguars and Mercedes-Benzes.

I suppose that number seems excessive to Mr. Peery's recent employer, the Central Interstate Low Level Radioactive Waste Compact, but there comes a time in every man's life when he needs to buy as many cars as he can. We should be understanding here, even sympathetic. I know I am.

It happened to me when I was in my early 40s. I'd find out later at Mayo's that I'd gone through a particularly virulent and undignified form of male menopause, but at the time I just thought it was awfully neat to own as many cars as I could get my hands on.

At my high-water point, I had seven of them, and they clogged up our garage, our driveway and our backyard. They were pre-owned, as we say, not brand new, and there weren't any BMWs or Jaguars among them, but I too was a multiple Mercedes man.

I HAD THREE OF them — a '61, a '64, and a '67. The '61 and the '67 were diesels and they threw out great glorious clouds of classy German diesel smoke. The '64 had a mouse's nest inside the back seat cushion, and all three were terminally rusty, but lined up next to one another in my driveway they formed a prestige fleet that took my breath away.

I also had a classy '57 Chevy two-door with a big hole in the floor, a red and white '58 Buick four-door hardtop that ran so quietly the loudest noise was the carburetor gargling gasoline at 9 mpg, an olive-drab '65 Dodge half-ton shortbox pickup with the outline of the County Weed control decal still on the door, and a green '70 Plymouth Fury III with no distinguishing features except the little wisps of smoke that occasionally came out from under the steering wheel.

By the time I acquired these seven beauties, they had run, all told, over a million miles; they'd lost most of their compression and all of their innocence and I lusted madly after them. So madly I laid out nearly $3,000 for all seven.

That cost though, was puny compared to what I paid in public ostracism. Like Mr. Peery, I was cruelly ridiculed.

"Your old man's an autophilic boob," the neighbor kids would taunt my children. "Nyah, nyah, nyah."

At first, it bothered them. "Daddy's bought another car," they'd tell my wife as I clattered into the driveway grinning lecherously. "What are we going to do?"

"Hush," my wife would tell them. "Daddy's just going through a phase. He's compensating for the diminished libido that often accompanies the change of life."

"Oh yeah?" I'd say. "A healthy man needs his transportation."

"Of course you do," she'd sigh. "Better you make a fool out of yourself buying old cars than chasing young coeds; You'll grow out of it."

And I did grow out of it By the time 1 was 47, my hormones gurgled their last obscene gurgle in my brain and dropped back into my nether regions and my automotive debauchery ended.

The trouble was, as Mr. Peery is finding out; that even after you grow out of something like that, the consequences are still there. My vision cleared as my hormones subsided and I now saw that my seven beauties were disreputable clunkers and I was stuck with them.

The pickup went most picturesquely. It self-destructed rounding a corner one day when the battery fell off its rusted out shelf onto the carburetor and sheared a fuel line, then bounced into the fan and bent one of the blades so that it poked a hole in the radiator. The gasoline from the broken fuel line caught fire from the sparks from the battery, and the whole thing burned pretty vigorously for several minutes before water squirting from the hole in the radiator put it out.

My wife said it reminded her of somebody going through male menopause.

It took two more years to get rid of the other six but finally a wild-eyed farmer in his mid-40s bought the last of them and our garage was empty except for my wife's clean little white Honda. Nothing was in our driveway except my bicycle, and creeping charlie had nearly filled in the bare spots left in the backyard by the Buick's transmission fluid and the Chevy's anti-freeze.

"Free at last," my wife whispered as we held hands in the serenity of a Nebraska sunset. "You've stopped reading the automotive section of the Thrifty Nickel in bed and you hardly ever whimper in your sleep any more. You've grown out of it."

Those of us safely anchored in this calm harbor look seaward where our younger comrades are still fighting the roaring tempests. And we shouldn't make fun of them. We should understand. We should sympathize. I know I do.

But 51 suits? Dozens of pairs of shoes? Now that's weird.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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