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Cadillacin: A Short Story
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“Got those highway blues, can’t you hear my motor runnin’? Flyin’ down the road with my foot on the floor.”

--The Doobie Brothers, “Rockin’ Down the Highway”

Driving down the road in a cool machine. Probably the greatest feeling a man can have. The freedom to go anywhere, do anything, and turn heads with everyone saying, “Look at that guy! What a rod!”

Some men talk to their cars. “Baby, it’s just you and me and the road stretched out in front of us!” That’s the sign of a real love affair with the automobile, when one treats a machine as if it were alive. Giving it commands to follow the road. Listening to every sound it makes to make sure it has good health and does not become over-tired. He knows that if he treats the car right, the car will treat him right. Push too hard and the car will refuse commands, or even bite back. It sounds like a mule, but it also sounds like a woman.

Some men run through cars like they run through relationships. Every 100,000 miles they trade in their former honey on a newer model. Then the getting-to-know-one process starts all over. How does she run under normal conditions? How far can I push her? Is she somewhat forgiving, or will she snap back at the slightest little thing? How long will this one last?

Then some men never tire of a dear friend. No matter what it costs, no matter how many trips to the garage, they always have her fixed up and running like new. It reminds one of a good partnership. She’s a partner who is always there in the good and bad times. Someone who gives and takes. Someone who makes one happy and is happy to be there, even at the 50th wedding anniversary. All she needs is a wash and wax and she shines like new.

Can one tell a lot about a man by the looks of his car? I don’t know. I guess it’s like looking at his shoes or clothes. A spit shine and a pressed collar means he puts great care into everything he does. Then again, he might put that effort into his possessions and not his life. He might look great, but his life is a real train wreck. Italian shoes and starched collars look good, but beauty is only skin deep.

I think listening to how someone talks and watching what he does tells the real story. If he treats others well and with respect, this shows his values, ethics, and morals. So what if he needs a new pair of shoes. People will want to be around him and they will value his ideas because of how he treats them and acts around them. I live by this belief. I feel that treating people right will attract other good people and pay rewards that money cannot buy.

“I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potatoes…”

--Jimmy Buffett, “Cheeseburger in Paradise”

I always get lost in thoughts like this waiting for lunch. I like this place and eat here often. The food is OK, and the atmosphere reminds me of good times in my past. The blend of music is a copy of my fraternity jukebox with newer tunes sprinkled in now and then. The wood throughout the place looks just like the cozy restaurants at the beach. They even have surf boards hanging on the walls and a deck for the warmer weather. If I close my eyes, I can smell the salt air and hear the crash of waves on the beach. The waitresses are younger than me, but most of them are in college studying this or that. Having gone to college, I can relate to most of what they tell me about their academic life. They’re not that young. I treat them well, and they give me great service. I respect them and that’s what counts.

“Hi, how are you today? That’s a nice sweater.” It was Jeanie, an average looking Government student with perfect teeth. She doesn’t stand out in any special way, but I think I’d have fun with her on a date. Nothing special, just a movie or something.

“I’m great. Good to see you again, Jeanie. Do you think I could get one of those world famous cheeseburgers?”

“I think we can make one for you. Would you like fries with that?”

“No fries, thank you. Could I get a water to drink? I’m watching my boyish figure,” I added with a slight smile and rubbing my belly. I always try to keep my middle-age spread under control. I really need to eat better, but it’s so nice here.

“Sure can. Can I get you anything else right now?” she asked sincerely.

“That should do it for now,” I replied with a smile.

“I’ll put this in for you. It should come up in a few minutes. Thanks,” she said returning the smile. She really shows an interest in her customers, meaning that she understands customer service. I can see how she would make a great wife for someone, too.

I think I had a crush on half a dozen waitresses here over the years. I kept hoping I would get one of their tables whenever I came in. But I never wanted to tip my hand by asking for their section. It might have showed I wanted more than lunch. I always wrestled with how to approach them. How can I ask my waitress out to dinner, especially when I just asked for a refill of my iced tea? Will she think I just come in to hit on her and the other waitresses? I wouldn’t do that. I have always had the most honorable of intentions. Well, I want to wait until I meet Miss Right anyway. I’ll have no problem asking her out. The problem is how can I tell which one is Miss Right?

I’ve waited so long to get close to someone. The disasters from my past have kept me from looking too hard. That last little girl clawed my heart, ripped it out, and stomped on it with golf spikes. I’ve never forgiven her for that. Sometimes I think I caused the break up. After what she did to me I know it was her, not me. Although, despite all she did to me, I still don’t want to see anything bad happen to her. I guess I keep a small spot in my heart for each girlfriend in my life, even her. It’s been a long time, more than 10 years since our good bye.

I remember thinking I didn’t want anyone else from then on. I’d just have female friends. That should be enough to keep me going. Now that 17 years have passed—holy cow, 17 years—I think I have missed something. I come home to an empty apartment, see no messages on my answering machine, and sigh, “Nobody loves me.” I said it as a joke at first, but now I see I talked myself into believing it.

“Ain’t nothin’ in the world like a big-eyed girl, to make me act so funny, make me spend my money…”

--Jerry Lee Lewis, “Chantilly Lace”

Just what is it about a girlfriend that makes her special? Is it her smile? Her hair? They way she walks? Talks? Sips her drink? I know I felt something indescribable whenever mine would come around. Did I feel excited because I never knew what she would say? Or was it her pheromones flying up my nose and going straight to the primitive centers of my brain, kicking all my hormones into high gear?

Maybe it has more basic roots. Something like a child wanting to be near his mother. He doesn’t do it because she told him to sit by her. It just feels right to be near her. That makes him go to her and he experiences the moment. He feels her warm body. He hears her breathing and moves with the rise and fall of her chest. Placing his ear to her ribs he might even hear her heart beating. Perhaps it comes from being inside her womb for 9 months. Somewhere deep in his brain he knows this is the right place to be. He hears the message, “This is your place.”

I can’t remember if I felt those things with any of my girlfriends. I knew the good relationships had a great physical side, but the one I remember the most was Carrie. She and I could never wait to see each other. We did everything together. We saw movies, cooked, ate, and laughed together. The time and distance of going to different colleges caused us to separate. I just remember never feeling tired of her. We saw each other for years and I always felt happy to see her. We would talk about everything and anything. I never feared saying anything to her because I knew she was my friend who would listen. I never feared her turning away from me because of anything I thought, did, or said. Now that I think about it, our open and honest communication built a rock solid foundation for our relationship. I have to remember that for Miss Right.

“Yes, I am a pirate, 200 years too late. The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder, I’m an over-forty victim of fate.”

--Jimmy Buffett, “A Pirate Looks At Forty”

I had started working on the gag gift for my cousin’s birthday when Jeanie delivered the burger. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“My cousin’s daughter wants to throw a surprise 50th birthday party for her. I want to put together a gag gift to tease her about her age.”

“Do you think she’ll get mad at you?”

“Oh, no,” I replied. “This will give her an excuse to get me when I turn 50.”

“How long before that happens?” she asked innocently. My God, I’ll have to let out my age! In my mind thunder and lightning filled the air. A chasm spewing fire and brimstone opened up right outside the window. My ego said, Don’t you dare answer that question! My id chided, You should be honest. It might impress her. My superego just rolled on the floor laughing at me uncontrollably.

I decided to be honest and tell the truth. “In about 6 years.”

“You’re my dad’s age!”

At that instant I felt the icy-hot hand of Satan himself clutch my soul and drag it down the chasm toward the gates of Hell. In the blink of an eye I aged to forty-something. All those younger women. All those thoughts. I would live in Hell for a long time. Well, I am an engineer. Maybe they’ll let me install air conditioning in my torture chamber by the lake of fire.

Trying to recover, I stumbled out with, “Oh, that’s nice. What do you do when you’re not here?”

“Oh, I like watching movies.” Great! I thought. I love movies, too. Maybe I can escape from this before the gates slam shut.

“Really? What kind of movies?” I can make this work!

“I like horror movies!” she beamed.

“Ooo! I haven’t seen a horror movie since my first year in college.” I never saw the banana peel Satan dropped in my path as I tried to escape.

“When was that?”

“I guess that was around 1980.”

“1980! I wasn’t even born then!” Oh my God, no!

“Send lawyers, guns, and money. The shit has hit the fan.”

--Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money”

My foot landed squarely on the banana peel. As I slid past Cerberus I knew all was lost. Clang! The bolt slammed home. What a slip up!

Not only did I turn forty-something in an instant, I now saw myself as the father figure for all the waitresses. I would never look at any of them the same way again. I decided to buy two of everything on my gag gift list, one set for my cousin and one set for me.

I lost my appetite for the burger and the hired help. Was it me, or did they all look like my nieces? I tried to steal a look at the figure of the nearest waitress, but I felt my face turning red with—shame? In my mind I could see Nabokov grinning from ear to ear.

“You can’t hurry love. No, you just have to wait.”

--Diana Ross and the Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love”

I felt self-conscious about my age and not having been married. I know others who married late in life for the first time. They’re normal. My path through life has taken me in a direction without a partner. I’m healthy. I like women. I have a good career. That’s normal, right? So I waited 17 years to go looking again. It’s not like I waited until my 90’s to get close.

Now that I felt out of place here, just where should I start looking? I decided to take inventory of the traits of my past girlfriends. It might point me in the right direction. I already knew great communication comes high on the list from Carrie. Sandy had good looks, but she would not exercise to maintain them because she didn’t want to sweat. At that time youth was on her side. I told her a quick jump in the shower together afterwards would make working out worthwhile. She didn’t buy that.

Then there was Jenny and her fashion sense. She looked great because she put a lot of attention into her apparel. My problem with Jenny was that she was always going to the mall to shop. She only wanted to see new clothes and accessories, nothing else. We hardly went anywhere or did anything else. Just shop, shop, shop.

I almost forgot Betty. Talking Betty. Non-stop, one-sided conversation Betty. I almost bought an iPod with the small ear plugs to block her out. I had longer hair then, and I hoped she wouldn’t see them. I felt like a receptacle for her to download her entire store of knowledge every time we met. Luckily, she found Lars in Sweden on a ski trip. If he wanted listening practice to improve his English, then he struck the mother lode.

Victoria! Not the ElDorado Victoria, but Victoria the Mustang-lover. She could steal my heart anytime. I would do anything for her. We liked each other, but I never felt comfortable around her. I always worried whether she really liked me. I would find myself trying to win her love each and every date. I guess I need to learn to relax from this relationship. I continually wondered whether I measured up to her expectations. Then again, what were her expectations? I guess I’ll never know. Guess I make mistakes now and again.

OK. Now I knew I wanted a woman with good fashion sense, a great figure who will keep it that way, honest and open communication, but not a full-time talker. Where should I go to find this Miss Right? And when I found her, will I impress her? I really needed to take a look at myself.

How did I stack up to the competition? I had a good haircut. I dressed conservatively, but in a way that would blend in with most crowds; just keep away from the mosh pits. Wheels. How many times has a great set of wheels stolen a woman’s heart? I liked my current car, but agreed I could use a new ride. I could still get a good deal with mine as a trade-in. I decided I would go looking that weekend.

But what about her age? Plack! A piece of brimstone bounced off the window. Perhaps a woman closer to my age would give me the things I wanted. I might find one who had matured and had a good appreciation for relationships. Divorcees get all the tough parts of a new relationship out of the way from what they learned in their marriage. I would only have to meet her, and I would not have to go through the difference-between-men-and-women thing of learning about the habits of the opposite sex. Maturity instills sensitivity to the other person in a relationship. Then again, a mature younger woman could compensate for maturity with her intellect. Careful observation and diplomacy skills can go a long way in bridging an age gap.

Youth and energy can put the spark into a May-December relationship. What about a younger woman? I could see myself getting back to the gym on a regular schedule. She and I could spend time together going places and eating out. My diet might even improve. Getting in touch with a younger woman would open up her generation’s world to me. I could learn about the books, movies, and music she likes and give her history lessons from my generation. That’s something to think about.

As the sun shined brightly through the window, I thought there is something good about turning forty. I could date someone half my age and not worry about going to jail.

“Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville. Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt. Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame. But I know it’s nobody’s fault.”

--Jimmy Buffett, “Margaritaville”

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