Saturday, March 21, 2009

I dreamt about a new VW

It was a Beetle, but not a "new" Beetle, it was a brand new "old" Beetle. And it was black and the interior had a new, plastic-y smell, and everything worked, like new. The seats were that tough, thick vinyl they used to use, and the carpet was just the simple, dark fuzzy stuff. There was heat from the heaters and it shifted smoothly, in fact, I think it had one of those clutchless gear shift systems VW used to make... I bought the car because I reasoned (in my dream) that I used to own a VW Kharman-Ghia and was familiar with the workings of such a car, that, and it was $1,200.00 new, which I thought was a good price to pay for any new car, especially since I could write a check for it right then and there.

It's not an unusual dream, as I often dream of cars--my old cars or imaginary cars I might have owned. I dream about shifting and sputtering up the hill from Little Italy to Cleveland Heights in my first VW, my leg punching the clutch and losing speed up the steep hill which delineates the "heights" from the flat, lower lying region of Cleveland around the shore of Lake Erie. I dream of my old mechanics, Hans and Tony, who would shake their heads and say to me in their thick German and Hungarian accents, "Stevie--what is the matter with this car now? This car is no good, Stevie!"

Their shop was in South Euclid, the suburb where I grew up, just east of Cleveland Heights. My dad started taking his cars to them since he knew them from the dealership where he bought his first two VWs. He was a quiet, modest man, with modest aspirations. An english major, he became a journalist, working his way up the chain of a major metropolitan newspaper from copy boy, beat reporter, until he found his niche as an entertainment critic, reviewing theater and movies mostly, and editing the entertainment section, until the paper (The Cleveland Press) finally folded in 1982. A child of Italian immigrants from Calabria, and of the depression, he could've been described as what we would call "green" in today's parlance. He gardened a good size plot in our backyard, growing everything from corn and swiss chard to garlic, peas, and even figs from cuttings started by his father. My brothers and I still have fig trees taken from those old trees which trace their way back to Calabria. We had a little orchard, too, with pears, cherries, apples, and plums. He was a DIYer, fixing anything and everything around the house himself, although usually with mixed results; our plumbing fixtures always needed a little extra torque or turn to stop the drip. And every other summer he would put us to work touching up the paint on different sides of the house.

In an era of chrome-clad, finned gas-guzzling wonders from Detroit, my dad bought a VW; inexpensive, modest, and fuel efficient. I was fascinated by the VWs of that time--the shapes were unique--they were the "alternative" car, whether for mild mannered men like dad, or the young boomers on the coasts. I cut out pictures of VWs from magazines and made collages, and I could draw their distinctive shape in one smooth, continuous line. He owned a total of three VW Beetles from the sixties and seventies, with a Fiat thrown in between for good pan-European measure. The entire family (before my sister was born) could fit into the Beetle--Mom and Dad up front, three boys in the back, and me in the cubby hole behind the back seat. We drove to Ontario like that one year, me in the little compartment with my children's books...

My second oldest brother, who became the first of three photographers in the family, shot a roll of film in the early spring of 1968. On it are what have become for me several iconic images which crystalize some important memories. Among them is a photo of my dad, emerging from his VW after work, with fedora and wool overcoat. Another shows me further out in front of the car, taking his place. Still another shows me in a toy pedal car, and another of my mom and dad and me in the middle, looking like we've just returned from church. In the most telling of the photos is me, wearing a cape and sunglasses; the cape represented Superman, whom I was fond of pretending to be, but the interesting detail is the sunglasses. You see, the sunglasses actually represented my disguise as Clark Kent, the alter ego of Superman, the mild mannered reporter for a "major metropolitan newspaper". In becoming Superman, I chose the low keyed yet all important character of Clark. Not unlike my dad, the newspaperman, driving his little car...

March 23rd would have been my Dad's 81st birthday, two days after mine, two early spring babies. He passed away in 1994.

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