This is the story. Brother Bark and I knew a fellow. At one point, he’d been kind of a big deal in the Columbus, Ohio music scene; he called himself, and the others like him, Franklin County Municipal Rock Stars. At the age of 30, he quit that scene and he quit drinking while he was at it. Got a job in Washington, D.C. as a cubicle drone. Bought himself a new Thunderbird. Paid it off in four years. Then he lost his job in the post-September-11th fallout. Ran out of money in a hurry. Moved into a tiny apartment with his girlfriend. Couldn’t afford to leave the house much. He was starting to recognize the signs of incipient agoraphobia in the way he trembled when it was time to go outside and get the mail.
He still had the ‘Bird. It was in good shape. Just six years old. His girlfriend’s car broke down. She started driving his car to work; he wasn’t using it anyway. Some days he didn’t even leave his bedroom. One day the phone at home rang. It was his girlfriend. The ‘Bird was dead. She’d been driving it down the freeway and BANG smoke GRIND silence rolling to a stop.
“I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “I should have changed the oil when it told me to.”
“The Thunderbird told you to change the oil?” our friend asked. He didn’t know it could do that.
“Yes, three weeks ago it started showing the red light that means change the oil.” It was then, according to our friend, that he hung up the phone and started sobbing. He sold The Bird for scrap. The girlfriend left him. He took a Greyhound back to Ohio and moved into a rural basement outside Kenyon College, living on old friends’ charity and doing whatever work he could accomplish without walking outside. The next time he left the house for any substantial length of time, it was to volunteer for the campaign of Barack Obama, five long years later.
“How,” he asked Bark plaintively, “could she have thought that the light meant change the oil?”