Monday, November 12, 2007

Art and artifice

When kitsch becomes art
I had this radio in 1975. It was bright blue. It didn't matter that it only got AM stations because, well, what was there on FM that could compete with Dale Dorman on "68-R-K-OOOOOO!" It had a special place in my heart because it was the only time I ever won something in a raffle -- at my eighth-grade graduation party in the town hall function room (good times!). I don't have it any more, but I and my friends laughed at the memory of how quintessentially '70s it was. Now it's in the Museum of Modern Art. Go figure.

Hitching a ride

The scene: Brighton, late 1986. I was sharing an apartment in a neighborhood notorious for being a student ghetto and also for having very little on-street parking, so this meant you grabbed the first spot you could find when you came home from work and you did NOT go out at night in your car, because by the time you got back, the nearest parking would be in the next county. Anyway, one Saturday my car was in the shop for repairs over the weekend and I really needed a car to go grocery shopping, so I asked my roommate if I could borrow hers. She said sure, at which point I had to follow up with the all-important question, "Where is it parked?" since you always wound up in a different spot on a different neighborhood street every night. My roommate described the location of the car and handed me a pair of keys, explaining that one was for the door and the other for the ignition. So I ventured out to find her car, a large rusty brown beater made by one of the GM companies that I'd had the pleasure of riding in once or twice before.

Eventually I found the car and went to unlock the driver's door, only the key didn't work. So I tried using the other key, the one she told me was for the ignition, and voila, the door opened. I climbed in and started 'er up with the key that I had been told was for the door. Silly cow, I thought to myself, mixing up your own car keys, though understandable since they looked very similar, with the big letters "GM" stamped on them. Anyway, I did my shopping and got back home. On a whim I returned to where I originally found her car, and amazingly enough, no one had taken the vacated spot, so I parked it right where it was, thinking how nice it would be for me not to have to try to explain the new location for her car. I tottered inside with my groceries and handed the keys back to my roommate, commenting that she really ought to get the muffler fixed since it might attract the attention of cops to various other inspection violations. She looked at me in puzzlement and said there wasn't anything wrong with her muffler as far as she knew, though of course there were lots of other problems, etc. I didn't pursue it since I knew from experience that you can be clueless about glaring problems in your own car that you would notice right away in someone else's.

A couple of days later, she and I were walking together to her car, which she hadn't driven since I used it to shop. I stopped at her car to get in and called her back because she kept walking on, oblivious. She turned and looked at me as I waited by the passenger door, laughed and said, "But that's not my car." I looked at the vehicle carefully -- same parking spot, same big brown piece of junk she'd always driven. So I replied, "If course it is, are you crazy? I drive it to the supermarket just the other day." I persuaded her to give me her keys and I opened the locked driver door with one key and started the car with the other, explaining that she had mixed up the keys when she lent me the car before. T. was dumbfounded, because, well... it really WASN'T her car -- hers was parked a few doors down the street. It just happened that the ignition key of one old brown GM car fit the door lock of another and vice versa. So I'd basically stolen some stranger's car (which has a bad muffler, unlike T.'s). taken it shopping and returned it an hour later to the same spot. And not been arrested for grand theft auto. Yeah right, tell it to the judge.

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