Trackday Diaries: Nights of Wine and Ponies.
Drama McHourglass comes by her sobriquet honestly; she commands and displays her uncompressed emotional range with the cut-crystal clarity and terrifying sonic power of an early Telarc compact disc. This time, her voice in my DROID3’s speaker was pianoissimo, but I held the phone a bit away from my ear, knowing that she could summon up fortissimo possibile with no more warning than one gets from the New York Philharmonic.
“It’s just that… it’s just that…” Her lyric contralto broke into a sob. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that far away from crying myself. We’d parted ways, without so much as touching hands, more than a day before. My thoughts had followed her on the long road from Columbus to Nashville. “It’s just that… I just wish…” Wait a minute. Was that light throbbing in the background the idle of a 3.7-liter Duratec? Why hadn’t she returned her rental car?
I had just entered my teens when the first season of Voltron appeared on television, which meant I was more than old enough to scoff at the show’s unchanging basic plot. I mean… come on! Fighting the enemy with the five separate lions never works. The lions always get their asses kicked, complete with a worrisome shot of the one with the girl in it hitting a rock or cliff face really hard, the situation always becomes desperate, and the team always ends up forming Voltron to save the day.
Those of you with a quick grasp of Eighties history will realize that turning thirteen in 1984 also means that 2011 is the year in which I turn, or turned, forty. This fact was far more terrifying than anything the Lion Force had ever faced, so for my Saturday-night birthday party I had called on five women to stand, Voltron-like, between me and the alien threat. The Black Lion would be played by my ex-wife, who had graciously agreed to attend the event and bring my son for the first few hours. The volatile Red Lion would be Vodka McBigbra, hostess and planner. The Green Lion was my household manager, a curvaceous Italian in her early thirties who keeps asking why I haven’t given her a nickname yet. We’ll save that for later and just call her Green Lion. It’s more fun that way. Another Italian, a taller and brasher woman with whom I’d had a short but disastrous dalliance a while back, would be the Yellow Lion.
That left one spot open, and all true Voltron fans know that said spot is occupied by Princess Allura. I swallowed my pride, picked up the phone, and begged Drama to be my princess. There was only one problem: her not-so-trusty ’96 Taurus wasn’t up to the eight-hundred-mile roundtrip. She agreed to rent a car. Having booked a subcompact, she duly caught a ride to the rental office. The fellow working there took one look at her and had them pull around a delivery-mileage 2012 Mustang in basic black. Her first call to me from the road was a rapid-fire barrage of illegal vignettes: “Oh my God, Jack, it’s so fast… I was racing a bright blue car with a wing… then I swerved through traffic… hundred and twenty miles per hour… had the gas all the way down in the turn… never giving it back, I swear. I’m never giving it back.” She covered the distance between Nashville and Columbus in about five hours — not quite Alex Roy pace, but not for the timid either. She’d agreed to sleep on the couch the night before the party, but some time after one in the morning I heard the front door click, the whirr of a starter, and the Duratec’s uncouth scream as she hit redline in third on the way out of the neighborhood.
My experience with Ford’s current Duratec Mustang has been less than trouble-free, but surely this will be the affordable enthusiast car of 2020’s used market. It can be made to run thirteens with very little effort and it satisfies in nearly every way one might wish. The Genesis Coupe, which was supposed to have been the car to have for the entry-level driver, simply doesn’t compete. For once in this life, the “real thing” costs less and delivers more. Drama’s Mustang didn’t appear to have a single option on it, but from her perspective it was just perfect.
“You know,” I told her as we waited in line for lunch at Katzinger’s downtown, “I ran the Shelby GT500 around a racetrack recently. Five hundred and fifty horsepower. As I approached one-thirty on the back straight, with only ice-cold determination and incandescent skill separating me from a fiery demise…”
“My Mustang spins the back tires,” she interrupted. “How much would it cost me to buy one? I wonder if they would just go ahead and sell me this car.”
“As I was saying,” I resumed, with perhaps slightly less confidence than when I’d begun our conversation, “I was at a point where either the Corvette or I had to hit the brakes. But we both knew that only one of us had the unquenchable will to…”
“I knew a guy with a Corvette once,” Drama interrupted again. “If I saw him, I would race him in my Mustang and win. I could win races easily. I don’t mind driving fast. I don’t get scared. You should let me race your race car for you so you could have some trophies.” This fucking convo was going nowhere.
Cometh the evening, cometh the party. My two-and-a-half-year-old son arrived, dapper in a blue blazer and a toddler-sized Pat Metheny T-shirt. He sang “hap birfday daddy” into a Shure SM58 and strummed my Doves In Flight a bit. Fifty-something guests trickled in. Chef Carl prepared forty-five steaks while the Green and Red Lions fussed over the side dishes. I’d lined up some kick-ass musicians for the night — a Guitar Center contest winner, a fellow who’d played bass for Johnny Cash, my brother, some local heroes — and we played everything from “Equinox” to “Baker Street” while some friend’s of Vodka’s set up a temporary stripper pole in the other room. “I wore panties, which I don’t normally do,” another friend said, “because I hate girls who rub the pole naked.”
Ten o’clock. My son left, I had somewhere between twelve and sixteen shots of vodka, the “Evil Robot” amplifier was turned up, the smoke alarm went off in the house, the Yellow Lion ran out of the house crying, the stripper pole ripped out of the ceiling and Drama McHourglass herself caught it right before it smashed my favorite (by which I mean my only) Chihuly, three men and one woman all individually tried to get the Green Lion to head upstairs with them, my brother drank an entire bottle of Red Stag, the “fall back” time change came and went, somebody brought out a vintage bullet microphone and started beatboxing, and Chef Carl rewarded himself for his efforts by killing some Bordeaux and passing out on a couch. At 3:48 in the morning, my brother and I were rapping Ice Cube and Mc Ren’s parts, respectively, of “The Grand Finale” (from The D.O.C.’s stellar 1989 release No One Can Do It Better) when the county sheriffs arrived. Thus endeth the party. When the cops departed, I snuck upstairs to see what was happening in my bedroom. As I’d hoped, Drama and Vodka were snuggled together in my bed; unfortunately for me, they were sound asleep. I went back downstairs and started drinking water.
I was sullenly sober by the time the last guest left late Sunday afternoon. Drama packed her Mustang and disappeared. Now was when we really could have used Voltron — to clean up the mess — but we only had two lions left. All of a sudden I felt very much forty years old. The party had cost far too much money to throw, my neighbors were no doubt furious with me, and my Town Car had sunk sidewall-deep into the lawn. The real world was calling.
I’d asked Drama to call me when she got home, but she didn’t. Not that I really expected her to. It’s my persistent mistake, you see, to overestimate how much I mean to this girl. This woman; she just turned thirty, and I dimly recall that being nearly as bad as forty. As it turned out, I didn’t hear from her until the next night. As our conversation took its predictable course and she finally burst into a Shostakovichian flurry of percussive tears, I allowed myself yet again to think, she misses you, at least.
“It’s just that… it’s just that…” It’s just that I love you, I silently supplied. It’s just that you’re the most wonderful, sensitive, attractive man I’ve ever known.
“It’s just that…” she wailed, as I slow-faded the Droid away from my ear in anticipation of the symphony’s conclusion, “I don’t want to give the Mustang back.”
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