Jack’s thing


We were drunk and Jack was in a destructive mood.

“Let’s throw my car away,” he slurred defiantly as he steadied himself against the table. “Let’s drive it to the bridge and push it into the river.”



Because it made him angry, Jack didn’t often mention his car. He said things like, “I can’t come because, you know,” which meant that his car was in a deconstructed state and that he didn’t want to talk about it. Not talking about the car also avoided the ridicule of his friends. We struggled to understand why he called it a car to begin with. Most cars are symmetric, factory-made things of a single colour, capable of movement under the influence of fuel. Jack’s car was not like that. From a distance it looked like avant-garde sculpture. No two panels were the same colour. Things poked out of it at odd angles. Up close it was clear that different parts had been Frankensteined together with duct tape, large bolts and welts of welding. It was a one-car junkyard. It started and made car-like noises whenever the planets were aligned, but this only qualified it as a wreck, and no more.



The car used to belong to Jack’s father who was chronically incapable of throwing things away. He had given the car to Jack to avoid having to get rid of it himself. For him, it was an extreme measure. When we were kids, I often marvelled at the collection of abandoned things in Jack’s back yard, things his father could not part with. There were three old washing machines, for example. One of them had sunk into the ground almost entirely. The second one was used as a barbeque and chickens lived in the third. Jack’s father had given up on these machines but he had not let them go. He had given up on the car, too, but he had happily given it to Jack.



Jack was like his father, only more so. Where his father had retreated, Jack declared war. He lavished a constant and violent attention upon the car, beating it up and breaking it down. Now and then his devotion paid off and the car behaved for a day or so, but that was about it. Most of the time, Jack’s progress was in reverse. The car had no windows and no bumpers. The bonnet was gone because Jack had ripped it off in a fit of rage when he tried to work on what passed for the engine. There was a wooden box where the driver seat used to be. There was also no steering wheel. In its place Jack had welded rods to the steering column. Due to a deep dent in the roof on the driver’s side, Jack wore a helmet when he drove the car and sat with his head cocked out of the window.

It was clear to everyone else that the car would never really work again, at least not reliably, but Jack didn’t care about that. To give up on the car would have meant defeat in the senseless war he had waged, a war that could now be made less senseless only through victory. Over time, Jack developed a fanatical loyalty toward his car, the kind that exists between sworn enemies. As a consequence he often trusted the car when he really shouldn’t have. He was once missing for a couple of days when he managed to start the car and decided to take a trip through the desert, where the car promptly stopped. When the car was towed home out of the desert a few days later, Jack did what he always did when the car disappointed him—he went to work on it.



Now he wanted to throw it away.

Drive it to the bridge?” I asked. “Can we even do that?”

Jack gave me a withering look.

“Don’t talk like that,” he cautioned.



Years of struggle had made Jack superstitious about the car. He never spoke badly about it within earshot. Sometimes, before he descended upon the car to work on it, he said every swearword he knew at a safe distance. The more fickle the car became, the larger the body of beliefs that attended it. At one point it got so bad that Jack only tried to start the car on alternate Wednesdays. But none of these methods ever worked. The best approach was to take the car by surprise. It could be driven by accident only, without intent.



“Let’s take a look,” I suggested. “Maybe we drive to the bridge, maybe we don’t.”



We took our drinks and staggered downstairs. We talked about other things, ignoring the car completely. Then we got into it by accident and settled down. As if he didn’t mean it, Jack turned the key. There was a strange noise.

“Fuck,” he explained. “Shit and fart and piss and drool.”

“What?”

“I forgot. I lost the rotor.”

“What’s that?”

Jack turned the key again, just to make sure.

“The thing that turns,” he muttered. “The thing in the distributor.”

“How could you lose it?”

“I took it out and hid it, but I can’t remember where.”

“Why’d you do that?”

Jack turned to me with some difficulty, shifting on his box, and studied my face as he made his next pronouncement.

“There are people who want to steal this car,” he said darkly.

I laughed out loud.

“You’re like a jealous husband with an ugly wife,” I said. “Nobody wants this thing.”

Jack sulked as he considered this possibility.

“Besides,” I added, “our chances of driving to the bridge were about the same, rotor or no rotor.”

We got out and stumbled back to his apartment.

“Why did you want to throw it away?” I asked as we sat down.

“I can’t remember now,” Jack mumbled.


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