I found a car in the trash. A real one too, a Volkswagen Beetle sitting under a heap of boxes and bags parked a rotted out Maple tree in the front yard of Virgil Clem’s old empty house on Pierce Street. I say parked in the flimsiest stretch of the word, because you can’t really park a car with only two wheels.
It was going to take some work. I’d have to get a trailer, then figure out a way to hoist it up on a trailer. But I knew, clearing away branches from the hood, that I had my car. A project that might take years, but I’m not quite thirteen, so that gives me plenty of time to get the sucker up and running before I get my license.
What luck, too, because they’d only recently cleared the lot. That place on Pierce has been abandoned for years, the windows bare and dark, the framing chipped and peeled its way around vinyl siding that had all but slipped right off the house, exposing the old brick and plaster underneath it. They must’ve been getting ready to wipe it off the face of the Earth, because there’s was a blaze orange notice on the door. You know the ones, the kind of notice the put on houses that aren’t fit to be lived in. The tall grass and weeds had been ripped through and a line of red dirt ran from the sidewalk all the way underneath the sagging porch with little yellow flags that read gas.
And there just to the side, was my car. Chinchilla Gray I believe it was called. Or it cold have been egg shell white, maybe, at one time but with tree grit and dirt and some rust around the edges. Didn’t matter, the guys even said the car was going to be scrapped, I just had to figure a way to get it home.
I peeled ratty tarp off the windshield and opened the front door. The cream paint job was still on the car but under all the grime and tree grit. It took some yanking to get that door open, and when I did a bird shot out so close that I felt a feather on my ear.
Inside, the seats were torn but salvageable. Sticks and leaves and some old beer bottles on the floorboard. I wiped off a spot and took a seat behind the wheel, the springs stabbing my back.
This was it. My big score. As a connoisseur of trash, I knew that I’d stumbled upon something big. My best find up until then had been a working pinball machine. I’d found it just outside of the old laundromat, and had even asked the manager if he was really throwing it out. He’d said to take it. So now it was in my workshop at home.
I had found stereos, speakers, DVD players, pictures, paintings, a library of books, tools, furniture, lamps, and almost any other thing you could think of. But I didn’t have a car. This, I thought, gripping the skinny wheel, was the motherlode.
Some traffic wheezed past. I hopped out from the musty beetle and gave it a thorough once over. The back axle was up on cinder blocks, revealing rusted out rotors. In the back, under another dry rotted tarp I found the engine. Some rust, but still intact. Some belts were missing but it looked like simple stuff.
Around the side there were a few dents and dings and minimal rust on the running boards. There was a hole where the left headlight should be and the front bumper was twisted up with the fender. Like someone had drove it into that tree and left it for dead.
Overall I thought it was a project I could handle. All that was left was trying to convince Dad. I smiled real big, gathering up the crate of mason jars I’d found on the curb.
I had myself a car.
I cut over to Franklin Street, then to Tyler where I lived. I carried my jars around back, to the garage under the house. I clicked on my lights and waded through the days’ treasures.
Two boxes of books from the Walmart dumpsters.
A keyboard behind Office Max.
Some swirly-girly hair clips for my friend, Nita.
Not the best day in the world but then again not a bust.
After getting everything stored away I stood up and opened the big bay window to the garage. I hardly ever opened except on really hot days in the summer. Mostly I just used the little door to the side.
It was maybe six feet wide. Ten deep. Plenty of space for a VW. But there was more to it than that. I’d have to get rid of my treasures to make room for a real car. The stacks of speakers. The three television sets. Mike, the mannequin I’d found drowning in a dumpster behind the mall. The bike frames hanging from the rafters. My film projector. My workbench.
Four years’ worth of treasure hunting in that garage. And now I’d have to let it all go if I was going to pull this off. My thoughts roamed back to that car. I wasn’t even sure if Dad would let me bring it home.
Dad had just gotten home from work and looked beat. He’d picked up some extra hours lately due to the big build downtown and the renovations near the river, but he had that small smile on his face he got whenever he came home. The smile that had gone missing for a while after my brother died.
“Hey Dad, guess what?”
My dad’s a bright guy, always one step ahead of me. Without even looking up he said, “What did you find, Earnest?”
I felt the smile pulling at my cheeks. He had no idea.
“Oh, just a car.”
He took an enormous gulp of water, from the old glass that he filled every day when he got home. Then he wiped his mouth, set the glass down and looked at me head on.
Dad was tall, like Terrence was. I took after my mom and only came up to his chest.
“You found…a car?”
Now I had the good sense to know when a Lord have mercy was coming my way, so I knew I had to act. But the footsteps hit the stairs and Mom came shuffling in to the kitchen. Dad took her in his arms. They kissed and I was about to count my losses and head out of the room when Dad said to Mom.
“Guess what? Our son found a car in the trash.”
“Lord have mercy.”
I looked over at Mom. She sounded light and easy today. It was still hit and miss, her moods, some days she was all sunshine and hugs, other days it was a fog so thick that you could hardly see her face. Now, with both of them looking on, I had to talk fast, before they could shrug off my car and move to other topics such as dinner and work or bills or whatever.
“It’s over at that condemned house on Pierce. The old VW under the tree. It’s not in bad shape. I think I can buff out the paint. Gonna need some new spark plugs, and…”
My eyes found Dad’s palm. “Hang on, Earnest. A car isn’t like some old books or even a pin ball machine. It belongs to someone. And besides where would you put it? Wait. Where were you thinking about putting it?”
My dad could read my thoughts like a book. He knew what I was thinking and so there was no pointing trying to hide it.
“Well, we do have a garage.”
Mom broke away from Dad. “Earnest, are you honestly thinking about cleaning out that junk heap down there?”
“If I can have that car.”
She looked at Dad, then back to me. Something was up.
“That car. The one on Pierce. The one that’s been there longer than you?”
“Uh, I think so. I’d never seen it until they trimmed back those bushes.
“That was Virgil Clem’s car.
Dad popped his head up. “Virgil. Wow, I haven’t heard that name in a while. That man could fix anything. Had that shop down on Fourth Street. You remember. Fixed lawn mowers and such.”
“That’s him. I think his daughter was living in that old house on Pierce until a few years back. The one they’re tearing down to build something or other.”
“A shame too. That old house has to be what, a hundred and fifty years old?”
“Give or take.”
I needed to get them back on track, back to the big issue here. “Yeah, but the car. I’ve already got permission to take it. I just need to get it back here.”
Mom tilted her head. “Earnest, I don’t
I saw something in Dad’s eyes. That gleam he got when a good project came along. He looked at Mom. “Now hang on, Clara, we could probably find out something about that car. I could check with the clerk downtown.
“Roger, you’re not really considering?”
Oh he was. I could tell he was. I knew the way my dad’s mind worked. Those gears were already clicking as he was figuring a way to get that car home. And I was one step ahead of him, because guess who had a trailer at work? One we’d used occasionally on weekends to do side jobs around town? You with me here?
We’d have that beetle in the garage in no time.