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  • The Scrivener

Story: THE NAMING OF VEHICLES, Part 1 (of 3)

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Everyone else has always been better at naming vehicles than I am; and naming pets, and naming children. When I come up with a name, it always sounds clichéd, lame, or derivative.

I had an English teacher who named his cat Astrophe.

My father called all his vehicles Matilda, after the Australian folksong "Waltzing Matilda". Matilda has a burbling mechanical steam whistle sound, and the Waltzing motif adds an itinerant kinetic element. At one point my father bought a Peugeot 403. He named it Mathilde. ("Mathilde m'est revenue..." -Jacques Brel?)

I knew a girl who had a rubber plant named Maxwell. There is no reason why that should be so à propos or inspired. Maxwell is a name like any other name. But then if you actually had to come up with a hip name for a rubber plant, Maxwell would probably be pretty much as well as you could do.

The only time my naming efforts were respectable was with the naming of my mountain bike. Until quite recently I had one of the best mountain bikes you can buy. It was a 24-speed Gary Fisher with shock absorbers on the front forks. I called it Foxtrot Oscar. Foxtrot Oscar is NATO-speak army slang for "Go away" ( ! ) The word Foxtrot seems to evoke the dancing movements your feet make when they' re moving on the pedals, and Oscar is a baroque, friendly kind of first name.

This story is about a 2004 Ford Taurus sedan named Aunt Marjorie.

Aunt Marjorie (the car) and I met in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 2013. My latest Jeep Grand Cherokee was falling apart. The back differential was making ugly and ominous noises as it ate its own entrails, and the fuel consumption was up at 12 mpg. A job became available near Seattle just as my technical sales company was failing, and I needed a viable car to drive from Massachusetts to Washington State.

The 2004 Taurus on Dan Myska's lot had a very clean interior, and had only 72,000 miles on the odometer. It also had a trunk about the size of a small cathedral. I'd been looking at hatchbacks and station wagons but the trunk on the Taurus convinced me that it might not be necessary to take that approach. The other thing about a trunk is that everything you put in there is automatically locked in and hidden.

I secured a loan on the Taurus before the banks realized that my credit was shot.

George Petrucci ran the service station in the village and did the state inspection. George's son said to me: "Don't worry. That'll get you to Seattle."

"Probably get you back again too if it turns out to be necessary," George said. "You never know. - It might."

I never told you about the origin of the name Aunt Marjorie.

The first thing you have to understand is that Marjorie never was an aunt. She never had the chance to become an aunt. She was my mother's elder sister, the first child of my maternal grandparents, and she died of pernicious anemia when she was thirteen. (This was back in England). My mother was born in 1920; so Marjorie must have been born in 1918 or 1919; more likely 1918, since my mother was born in January of '20. Marjorie being born any time in 1919 would have left too small a gap between the two births to be likely.

Granddad fought in the Great War. I know he fought in the Battle of the Somme (1916) and that he became a prisoner-of -war and then escaped; so maybe he got home on leave in time for Marjorie to have been born sometime in 1918.

If Marjorie was born around 1918 and died at the age of thirteen, she would have died in about 1931.

It must have been pretty gruesome. Pernicious anemia is caused by a Vitamin B-12 deficiency, which in turn is caused by the body's inability to absorb Vitamin B-!2. Today it is treated relatively easily with medication, but in 1931 its victims had to eat raw liver in sandwiches, to try to boost their B-12 levels.

So I thought that all things considered Marjorie had been dealt a pretty lousy hand, dying at the age of thirteen and spending her last days eating sandwiches filled with raw liver.

So I named the Taurus after her.

I thought that Marjorie's ghost might enjoy a hare-brained road trip from one side of the continental United States to the other in the company of her least reputable nephew, especially since she had not lived long enough to lay claim to her rightful status as an aunt.

I packed the Taurus until there was practically no room for passengers. The baggage included an antique clock, and a dismantled IKEA bistro table and three folding aluminum chairs. I also had a PC and monitor and my company files. My mountain bike (Foxtrot Oscar) was strapped to a bike rack on the trunk lid.

I knew I had to make the journey in nine days. I set out on Thursday, March 29, and I had to be in Port Townsend by the afternoon of Friday, April 5, to pick up the keys to my new apartment before the rental office closed for the weekend.

On the way out of town I stopped at the service station to say goodbye to the Petruccis. I spoke to Brian, one of the mechanics. "I hope it's not overloaded." I said. "I've got some friends in Pittsburgh. If the bicycle is too much, I'll leave it with them."

"Hey you don't wanna do that," Brian said. "Jettison everything else; hang on to the bicycle. You break down in the middle of Kansas you're gonna need that fucker."

I got into Pittsburgh on Friday night and stayed with Mark and Emily at their house in Greensburg. Emily had recently been waging all-out war on her increasing weight. She had done very well, and she couldn't resist waggling her newly sculpted hiney at me as she made up the day bed.

In the morning I drove to Dravosburg to have breakfast with my old and disreputable friend Charlie Fitzpatrick. We went in Charlie's car to a die-hard cafe in the declining center of Glassport, on the south bank of the Monongahela.

"I'm really worried about the weight the Taurus is carrying," I said to Charlie.

"Why are you so concerned?" Charlie said. "You don't have a safe in the back, do you?"

"There is nothing in the state of my finances which would justify carrying a safe," I said.

"I'm sure the car will be fine," Charlie said. "You're going to be the only person in there. It's usually passenger weight that puts a strain on the engine. You could have been carrying two or three. Passengers are heavy."

And when I thought about it rationally Charlie was right. You could be carrying three passengers and each might weigh 200 lb. At the airport a suitcase has a weight limit of 50 lb. before it becomes chargeable as excess baggage. Three passengers might weigh the same as twelve large suitcases.

There was no way I had the equivalent of twelve large suitcases in the Taurus.

After that I felt less worried. Marjorie (the car) cruised through Columbus Ohio, and Indianapolis. Our highway speeds were sometimes up at 80 mph.

Yumika Abe, a business associate in Massachusetts, had told me to take the southernmost route possible. I had told her I would use Interstate 70. She had said 70 might not be far enough south.

"There's a blizzard forecast in Kansas," she had said.

On Sunday morning the sun was shining on a rest area west of Kansas City. I took a cell phone picture of the car and sent it to her. The accompanying note said: "Hey this is Kansas. So where's the snow?"

The incline up to Colorado, a longtime source of foreboding, turned out to be quite gradual. Marjorie had no trouble with it.

It was a bad time of year for Wyoming and the stretch of road through it was the loneliest part of the journey. The whole state seemed to be made of sagebrush hills on which someone had spilled Portland cement dust.

The staff in the rural gas stations seemed to hate you. They gave the impression they'd rather be rustling cattle or shooting bank clerks. You wanting to buy beef jerky represented a blasphemous intrusion into the violent daydream playing on a screen behind their eyes.

The minute we crossed into Utah, all the rocks turned red.

"I think they pay someone to paint them," I told Marjorie.

(To Be Continued)...


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