The demise of Bill Domjan's Plymouth just starts his story. He...

The demise of Bill Domjan's Plymouth just starts his story. He explains in his reader essay. Credit: Charles Thompson

After recently being hired as an engineer at the Sperry Gyroscope Company in Lake Success, I owned a new car for the first time. And there it was, my practically brand new 1959 Plymouth sedan, lying upside down on the shoulder of the Long Island Expressway.

My friend Charlie was there, camera in hand, saying, “Willy, you gotta do a handstand — it will make a great picture.” Then, two older women from streets adjoining the construction area walked over to ask if anybody had been hurt. When I said there were no injuries, one woman nodded knowingly and said, “Ah, they must have been good Catholics.” Well, not true.

Let’s turn back the calendar. It’s September 1960. The previous night, I had bought a bottle of vodka and planned to drink screwdrivers (orange juice and vodka) at a party in Forest Hills with my date, Jan.

However, unfamiliar with the effects of orange-flavored vodka, I became a “screwed driver” when we left the affair for our homes in Floral Park in my unseat-belted car. (Seat belts were not required then.)

Then it happened. While driving near the Grand Central Parkway exit, my eyes slowly closed, and my beautiful car hurtled up an immense pile of recently excavated earth (the LIE was still under construction). It rolled over in midair and came crashing down on the roof, the windshield shattering before my bloodshot and now wide-open eyes.

Jan and I were left lying upside down inside on the ceiling, amazingly unscathed. We crawled from the wreck, and soon the police arrived, requesting my license and registration. Unfortunately, my wallet was in the trunk, and when it was opened — it now opened down — my basketball also fell out and I had to chase it down the LIE. (It seemed important at the time.) I gave the police the requested documents, and they gave me a ticket for “Failure to maintain control of a motor vehicle.”

Later that night, about 1 a.m., Jan and I got a ride home from a passerby. My car was left there, not blocking traffic and safely off the road, resting on its roof.

And now, not many hours after the accident, Charlie drove me back to the wreck and set about taking “the picture.” Ironically, lying near the car was a booklet that came with my vodka bottle: “How to Have a Vodka Party.”

A few days later, the car was junked, and although my car’s story ended, the picture’s story had just begun. I would periodically ask Charlie about it, and he’d say, “Yeah, I’ll find it one of these days.”

Eventually, I got married, had kids, and when they were grown, I told them of my misadventure and of the picture taken but never seen. After that, whenever my daughter, Bobbi, saw “Uncle Charlie,” she would ask about the picture, and he would tell her what he always told me, “Yeah, one of these days.”

Then at my son Stephen’s wedding reception in 1996, Charlie made a presentation — not to Stephen and his wife, Pamela — but to Bobbi, of a poster-size blowup of her father standing on his hands in front of his 1959 Plymouth resting on its roof.

The photo had been taken 36 years earlier, and I wasn’t sure it ever existed. But it did and now it hangs in my den, reminding me of that crazy night from the distant past.

Reader Bill Domjan lives in Melville.



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