You can always tell when Spring arrives in New England. Daffodils pop up, snow banks are hard to find, and car freaks invade the shopping mall parking lots with their weekend car shows. These auto exhibitionists have switched their convertibles into topless mode, throwing open their hoods to expose their gleaming engines to onlookers. Some passersby will sneak a peek. Others don’t get it. To them, well polished carburetors and shiny spark plug wires are a temptation easily resisted.
It’s a disturbed mind that spends an entire afternoon with Q-tips, polishing the car’s dashboard instrument cluster. For anyone to dedicate his or her life to detailing greasy engines and simonizing bumpers and rear axles is sick! Auto engines are filthy. They are meant to be filthy! God never intended these engines to be scrubbed so clean you could eat off them. You want your scrambled eggs and bacon? Get a dinner plate. You want the grime and mud off your car? Drop a few coins in the ScrubaDub Car Wash. Leave your hood down to cover up your motor—because normal people don’t need to know, don’t even care, about that muck accumulating on your engine’s cylinder block. There are no engine police inspectors checking to see if the valve cover has gunk on it.
On the surface, onlookers might be fooled into thinking they are seeing exquisite motorcars far superior to their own rust buckets. Little do they realize they are witnessing something much darker.In reality, what they are looking at is the wasted lives of guys with troubled minds and far too much free time. I know this because I am one of those troubled guys.
What we do is compulsive. We’ve got an out-of-control obsession that is not normal. We squander countless hours fussing over our cars like a mother orangutan grooms her young. There is no single diagnosis that explains why my fraternity of troubled individuals wastes their lives with rags in hand, polishing. According to one theory, some of us have this peculiar mind-set: our cars are material extensions of our egos. If you kick our bumpers or fenders, we feel as though you’ve kicked us in the kneecaps. Alternatively, when we see people gathered around our shiny, vision-of-perfection roadsters, our egos soar to euphoric highs.
For other distraught guys, a day spent scrubbing and wiping is a therapeutic thing. According to this thesis, washing all those splotches of tar, grime, and bug splats down the drain is like purging the mind of its torment. Polishing our cars provides the same self-realization fulfillment as we would get spending an hour with our psychotherapists—at a price we can afford.
For still others, this is a transformational, Zen moment. Remember the Karate Kid movie where Japanese Master Miyagi helps the young man realize his quest to become a martial arts champ? The kid is promised that if he waxes the master’s pickup
truck, the inner mysteries of karate will be revealed to him. The kid keeps scouring and polishing. After weeks of scrubbing, he not only wins his championship and the pretty girl; he also becomes one with the universe—and Miyagi’s old truck. All of us car-washing guys should be so lucky. (I’m still waiting.)
Then there are guys who are more difficult to diagnose. They are called to the chamois skin and car wax by some inexplicable, higher force of nature. This is a gender-specific disorder, afflicting mostly guys. Car Guy feels an imperative primal urge—a bit like the wildebeest migration across the Serengeti. Car Guy gets the call. He doesn’t think
about it. He doesn’t ask questions. He just ups and goes. When the first sunny day of spring arrives, I pay homage to this car cleansing force. It is an imperative I must obey. It demands hours of dedication spent getting tired and stinking wet. Once the warmer weather arrives, my roadster must sparkle! That higher power calls down, “Grab the chamois, the soap, and the hose!”
Who am I to contradict a thundering voice like that? My roadster and I have spent winter in stuffy New England hibernation. We are desperate for a heliotropic moment. I need time under the sun, scrubbing and scouring.
Is that a scratch in the wheel well? Are there pebbles stuck in the tire tread? Is that a fingerprint on the windshield? All must be whisked away.
By the end of the day, I’ve had more than enough Helios. With sunburn, sweat on my brow, and an ache in my shoulders, I stand back to admire the immaculate results of my labors. The garage is a pigsty of mud puddles, filthy paper towels, and overpriced squirt cans. My body feels crippled, and my wife’s weekend chore list hasn’t been touched.
But not to worry. Sitting there, gleaming like a movie star on the red carpet, is my roadster. I am proud of my Mercedes. I am proud of myself. My mind is torment-free, and I’m at one with the universe. What could be better?
That’s not crazy, is it?
A Bungalow of Surprises
By Barclay Henderson