I saw an ad on TV for a car that parks itself, and another for a luxury model that slams on the brakes if you happen not to have noticed you were about to rear-end a garbage truck.
Hooray for progress.
Suddenly, I was in reverie – doesn’t take much – and thinking of a car, my first, the one I paid for and almost didn’t get, but then did get, thanks to a tough-talking aunt who scared a swindler and saved the day.
In question was a used, two-door, '55 Ford hardtop, cream on the bottom, tan on top. The girl I was going with called the car “Lovey-Dovey.” We got married anyway.
From the start, the car caused stress.
I bought it from somebody who advertised in the newspaper. He lived on the Upper West Side and turned out to be an individual of dubious moral bearing.
Though from Brooklyn, where everyone is supposed to have high-quality street smarts, I wrote a check for the full amount, $1,100, I think, said I would get the necessary paperwork from Motor Vehicles and be back for the Ford two days later.
You will not be surprised to learn the seller had vanished when my girlfriend, a Jersey girl named Wink, and I arrived to take delivery.
We rang the buzzer in his lobby and asked neighbors if he’d lately been around.
Then we checked the street for signs of the Ford – the one we were supposed to drive back to Brooklyn, and, from there, to college in the Midwest.
“Where’s Lovey-Dovey?” asked Wink.
Phone calls to the seller went unanswered.
Extreme action was demanded, what now would be called the nuclear option. We called Aunt Edna.
Edna, my mother’s sister, was a tough cookie, all right – one of the first female “customer’s men” on Wall Street. She smoked Pall Malls, drank whiskey and rye, wore rings with stones the size of jawbreakers, spoke in a gravelly voice and, in general, demanded wide berth.
Wink and I went the next afternoon to the brokerage house where Edna was wheeling and dealing – selling long here, and short there, whatever that meant. The men around her showed respect, and when they kidded and cajoled, she got right in the middle. No one had to worry about Edna. She could take care of herself.
Now to the business at hand. My missing car.
Edna dialed uptown and, what do you know, the chiseler answered.
“Good afternoon,” said Edna. “I am attorney for Mr. Frederick J. Bruning Jr. calling in regard to a 1955 Ford automobile.”
Edna, who was an attorney like I’m an astronaut, held up the phone and I heard the fellow blabbering on the other end.
“Time to make good,” said Edna, unimpressed.
Again, the deadbeat sputtered.
“Look, buster,” Edna declared. “Mr. Fred Bruning gets his car or you get a lawsuit and maybe a knock on the door from yours truly. Could be I also will bring a friend.”
That did it. Unconditional surrender.
Posthaste, Wink and I traveled by subway to the Upper West Side and, outside the seller’s apartment, found Lovey-Dovey and the rascal, himself, who said, heh-heh, there must have been a mistake, and please assure your lawyer I want no trouble.
“Sure thing,” I said. “Off we go.”
And we did go off – to Brooklyn and college in far-off Missouri, and a million points in between.
Lovey-Dovey broke down once in Greenfield, Indiana, and a sweet guy who lived on a dirt road got us going again. Another time headlights quit on a two-lane blacktop in Iowa. We made it thanks to a beautiful, bright autumn moon and Wink shining a flashlight out the window. In Oklahoma, I feared the transmission was falling apart. On the Jersey Turnpike, Lovey-Dovey gasped.
Wink and I got married. My mother helped us buy a small station wagon – new, can you imagine? It ran like a dream. The cars we own these days are even better, though we have to self-park and apply brakes as traffic demands.
Still, there’s never been a car that meant as much to us as Lovey-Dovey – redeemed by Aunt Edna, unpredictable, intermittently ornery but, like the newlyweds inside, ready for the open road, Missouri and far beyond.